Students who have looked for housing this fall know about the Ann Arbor ordinance that forbids landlords from showing their properties to prospective tenants until 90 days of the current lease has passed. For leases starting on Sept. 1, this translates to Dec. 1. But not all landlords have played by the rules. Given the pressure and competition in the student housing market, landlords have resorted to exploiting loopholes in the law. Amendments to the law promise to close those loopholes, but a real solution must go beyond that and address the shortcomings of University housing, which causes unnecessary pressure on the housing market.
Both the Michigan Student Assembly and Ann Arbor City Council have addressed this issue in the past. In 2005, they worked together to establish a 90-day moratorium to ease the burden on students, who previously had to start thinking about next year’s housing options up to 12 months in advance. The law has failed because both landlords and students have failed to commit to its conditions.
Landlords have offered monetary incentives to their current tenants to sway them into renewing their leases early or signing a waiver that allows the landlords to show the properties prior to Dec. 1. Sometimes the landlords don’t even have to ask the tenants to sign waivers: Students hoping to get a jump on signing new leases often track down and bribe the current tenants on their own.
A proposed solution is a compromise between landlord and student interests. It would shave the 90-day waiting period down to 70 days to mollify landlords, and it would also eliminate the waivers that have undermined the law. However, this solution is not perfect. The 70-day policy opens the housing market up just before Thanksgiving break, causing a hectic housing rush just as students are leaving town. This change also does not address another loophole: The increasing switch by landlords to May-to-May leases, which open up over the summer, when nearly all students are out of town.
A more beneficial proposal would be to move the opening date of leases to second semester. Other college towns – such as Madison, home of the University of Wisconsin – have ordinances that open up the housing market as late as February or March. This plan would allocate significantly more time and less stress for students to consider housing options for the following year, but it still would not address the problem caused by May leases.
A more meaningful solution must involve the University. On-campus housing, even after the construction of the new North Quad, is terribly lacking. For this reason upperclassman are less apt to live in dorms, increasing the pressure on the private housing market. The University should continue to improve and add to the existing residence halls. Along with improvements, a decrease in the cost of University housing would bring more students to University housing and leave better options for students looking for housing off campus.