LSA senior Ross Bookman is afraid to stand on his front porch. One night, a large pillar holding the roof over the porch collapsed, landing on his car parked in the adjacent driveway. The car suffered large dents and had to be taken to the shop for bodywork.

After that, “even the mailman said he would not come on the porch because he feared for his safety,” said Bookman, adding that the inside of the house is in a state of disrepair equivalent to the porch.

Kinesiology senior Robert Herrera, who also lives in the house, said he was disappointed with the upkeep of the house that includes falling ceiling panels, holes in the stairs and broken bedroom door locks.

Similar to Bookman and Herrera, LSA junior Paul Fraumann’s house is in violation of the city’s housing code. Visitors have to step over doors that have rotted off their hinges, and they have to avoid insects that enter the house through holes in the ceiling where broken ceiling panels have not been replaced. Duct tape holds the doors closed and prevents air from drafting through the poorly insulated windows. The screens on the windows had gotten so bad that a squirrel managed to enter Fraumann’s room, scratched him and woke him up from a nap.

“It was traumatizing,” he said.Fraumann’s room, located at the very top of the house, also subjects him to outside weather conditions — another violation of the city housing code, which requires that all doors and windows be properly insulated.

“Honestly, during the winter it was probably 20 to 30 degrees in my room. I had to type with gloves on,” said Fraumann, expressing frustration with the high heating bills he and his roommates paid this winter.

While many students have expressed similar frustrations, what most of them don’t often realize is that landlords are required to keep houses in compliance with the city’s housing code — which makes ceiling holes, poorly insulated windows and leaky roofs illegal.

City housing inspectors are required to probe the off-campus houses every two and a half years and check to make sure foundations, floors, ceilings, walls and roofs are be in good repair and kept insulated from weather and rodents. In addition, stairs and porches must be maintained and “facilities must be capable of heating all habitable rooms, including bathrooms to 68 degrees when the temperature outside is as low as 10 degrees below zero,” according to the city’s code.

Areas commonly neglected by landlords include plumbing, electrical maintenance, the state of the furnace, making sure tenants occupy only the legal spaces — meaning they are not living in rooms not authorized for habitation — smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, said City Councilwoman Jean Carlberg (D-3rd Ward).

“The main concern is health and safety being protected for the residents,” Carlberg said.

Even though landlords in violation of the city codes can be denied the certificate of occupancy needed to lease a house, landlords have been known to lease to student tenants without meeting the certificate requirements, putting the tenant at risk, Carlberg said.

In order for students to protect themselves from leasing a house that does not meet city codes, students can check the City Housing Bureau and request maintenance files kept on the particular houses — which are available to the public, said Orlando Simón, a lawyer for Student Legal Services.

“If I was going to rent an apartment, before I signed on the dotted line, I’d go down with the address … and ask to see what the landlords have done and if they’ve ever had any issues, and if they did, how they took care of them,” Simón said.

Carlberg said this step is often overlooked by students who are more excited with moving into an off-campus house than making sure it meets city inspection requirements.

In instances where the certificate is denied, landlords can appeal if the house was built in accordance with city guidelines at the time of its construction. Examples of this include low ceilings or steep stairs that previously were allowed and are very difficult to change without further disruption of the house. If this is the case, the landlord must prove he can make the house safe and solve the problem even though it may not meet current standards. If the Housing Board of Appeals approves, the landlord may be awarded the certificate, said Carlberg, who is on the appeals committee.

Less prominent are mold problems. Although Doug Lewis, director of Student Legal Services, can recall one instance in which a mold problem grew out of control to the point that it covered an entire wall, he said there are not many cases involving mold in off-campus housing.

“I think it is fair to say most people don’t know a lot about mold,” Simón said. “We don’t see a lot of mold cases. We probably have seen four cases in the last calendar year where people have come in and said, ‘I think I have a mold issue.’ ”

Simón is currently helping SLS to prepare for future mold-related cases in need of litigation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, possible health effects of mold exposure are stuffy nose, irritated eyes, wheezing, difficulty breathing and possible development of skin reactions.

If walls or ceilings are discolored or if there is a bad odor that smells musty, earthy or foul, it is most likely mold.

Because of possibly severe physical reactions to mold problems or potential mold problems, SLS encourages students to call the Ann Arbor Housing Inspector’s office for a mold remediation service to look at the problem or at any sign of mold. The landlord is obligated to fix the problem, Simón said.

LSA senior Colleen Russell said having a landlord who keeps the house up to code and secures both the inside and outside of the house gives her peace of mind.

Russell, who lives in off-campus housing, said her landlord took extra precautions when he heard that a house on the same street was broken into during winter break.

“We were really lucky. We were probably one of the few people on this campus with a landlord who takes care of problems right away,” Russell said.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *