I frequently get into political arguments with my one of my
roommates. His political persuasion requires him to try and
convince me that the federal government needs to be smaller and
that people should trust corporations to do charity work and
provide social services. But, when it comes to landlord-tenant
relations, this line of thinking is just downright silly. Students
need to realize that landlords are corporations looking out for
their interests and their interests only, and students need to be
vigilant if they wish to protect their rights.

The state of Michigan has some of the best landlord-tenant laws
in the nation. To many, it does not seem that way, but according to
the University’s Student Legal Services — which
provides free legal services to students in landlord-tenant
disputes — landlords get away with so much because students
just do not take the time to protect their rights. According to the
last count, there are complaints against every landlord in town.
Among the worst, there are complaints consistently every year.
Repeat offenders, just do not care about the complaints of their
tenants because they do not fear the law. The tenants do not
exploit the legal opportunities available to them. We always
complain about how our landlords are slumlords, yet we are simply
too lazy to do anything about them.

But, as much as SLS can help students — which in most
cases is limited to only legal advice as initial disputes between a
landlord and his tenants must be handled by the tenants themselves
— they have a certain role. They do not advocate collectively
for tenant rights in the absence of the courts. That’s not
their function. There was, however, one organization, that did
represent students collectively against their landlords: the Ann
Arbor Tenants Union. Because of a host of reasons, the AATU was
shut down not too long ago by the Michigan Student Assembly. But,
the void of a collective bargaining tool needs to be filled, as
landlord-tenant relations have deteriorated. MSA President Jason
Mironov is working to establish a new organization to protect
students in landlord-tenant disputes (see The roof is on fire,
above). It’s about time. What Ann Arbor residents need here
is an organization that can bring them together and get them some
collective muscle against the all-powerful landlords. Landlords
have the audacity that they have because we do not collectively
organize. It’s high time they began to fear the power of the
tenants rather than taken advantage of them.

What we needed is more laws to protect the tenants. Michigan
already does have some of the best laws in the country regarding
tenant rights. In most states, for example, the security deposit is
the property of the landlord. If a tenant has a dispute over a
withheld security deposit, he needs to prove that he deserves it
back. Michigan law stipulates it belongs to the tenant. If a tenant
has a dispute over a withheld security deposit, the landlord must
prove why he can keep it. If he cannot, it needs to be returned.
Nonetheless, more legislation is needed, laws that lead to a better
efficiency in getting security deposits back. Laws that give
stiffer penalties to criminal landlords, laws that prevent
landlords from charging tenants for things those landlords should
pay for, laws that favor arbitration and do not discourage tenants
from suing landlords who do the wrong thing.

Nothing is perfect as it stands. As the saying goes, change is
good. When it comes to landlords and tenants in Ann Arbor, change
is the best option we have. The status quo should be unacceptable.
Tenants are not asking for more rights than landlords. Tenants
should be asking for the same rights accorded to every other
consumer in any other industry. And they should not stop until they
have them.

 

Goldberg is an LSA junior and a member of the Daily’s
editorial board.

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