Despite the pressure of midterms weighing on the minds of students, the word “housing” is what truly strikes fear in the hearts of many unassuming students. For upperclassmen, it’s that dreaded time of year when Friday afternoons are filled with begrudged house hunting. For freshmen, this concept may be unwelcome news. Adding to the hassle, Ann Arbor’s housing market is dominated by a few realty companies, which dictate not only prices, but also living conditions. In order to improve off-campus housing in Ann Arbor, it’s up to students to create a community where off-campus properties are peer-reviewed and tenant rights are well-known. The city of Ann Arbor needs to do more to ensure that landlords have less opportunity to take advantage of students.
Many searching for off-campus properties are doing so with little house or apartment hunting experience. Usually, students hear about living conditions and landlords from their friends or by word of mouth. This is only slightly effective — the information students receive is limited by who they know and what properties their friends are familiar with. Most students, therefore, aren’t fully informed about what to expect upon signing a lease. To counteract this problem and educate students about landlords and properties, a universal housing database should be created, where current tenants can rate properties and landlords — the RateMyProfessors.com of housing.
This won’t just give students more information to make better decisions, but it will also keep monopolizing landlords in check. Bad reviews would deter students from signing leases at those properties, detracting poorly rated landlords’ business. This will provide incentive for rental companies and landlords to better accommodate students’s needs and keep properties desirable and prices competitive — capitalism that actually works for students.
Major complaints regarding rental properties in Ann Arbor include condition and maintenance of the properties. Some landlords ignore maintenance requests and allow problems to develop until conditions are practically unlivable. City ordinances state that rental houses in Ann Arbor must be inspected every 30 months. This time period allows for about two 12 month leases to expire before another inspection. The time allotment needs to be shortened by the city to ensure safe living conditions for students.
When houses are not properly maintained, students need to be informed about available legal actions to be levied against their landlords and realty companies. Lawyers are available to students in serious incidences that require court cases filings. Ann Arbor must also take initiative and help students fight unfair housing practices. Students, the city and landlords, with the University’s help, must collaborate to reach an agreement to improve off-campus housing conditions. The first steps can include creating a housing review website to inform potential tenants about the pros and cons of each property, insisting on more frequent and thorough housing inspections and pressuring landlords to stop taking advantage of students. Plausible solutions exist for the housing problems in Ann Arbor and must be implemented immediately.