Ann Arbor landlords are offering tenants money or free home cleanings to get them to sign a lease for next year or to sign a waiver giving landlords permission to show the home to other prospective tenants. The incentives, offered in letters to tenants, are an attempt to get around the city’s lease signing ordinance, which prohibits landlords from showing a residence before 90 days of the current lease period are up.
Some landlords have also been sending letters requesting information by a certain date – sometimes as early as Oct. 25 – saying that, if there is no response given, they can begin showing a residence to prospective tenants. For many of the near-campus leases that start on Sept. 1, the ordinance prohibits landlords from showing the property before Dec. 1.
But landlords seem to have found a loophole in the ordinance. By asking tenants to sign a waiver, and sometimes offering monetary incentives, landlords have gotten many students to agree to allow landlords to show their apartments before Dec. 1.
Engineering junior Aaron Sachs said he and his roommates began thinking about where they would live next year after receiving this type of letter in early October. Sachs said because he and his friends didn’t know the request was voluntary, they felt rushed into making a decision to lease another house or renew their existing lease.
“Honestly, that decision kind of has to do with the rush,” said Sachs, who said he was offered up to $200 by his current landlord if he renewed his lease by Nov. 1. “It’s definitely not possible to find another place in that short a period, especially because most other people are in the same boat, and they are, of course, waiting for the last second to decide.”
Stephanie Chang, a Student Legal Services attorney, said students don’t have to respond to letters like these.
“This happened last year where landlords were offering tenants crazy incentives to give notice either way whether they wanted to renew or didn’t want to renew,” Chang said. “If a tenant does not really want to respond, that tenant is under no obligation to. Legally there is no requirement under Ann Arbor law that requires a tenant to give notice prior to (the end of) a 90-day period.”
MSA Vice President Mohammed Dar, who met with landlords and City Council members last month to discuss revisions to the ordinance, said that the overhauled law will explicitly prohibit landlords from sending out these letters.
“It’s one of the exact issues we wanted to work on with the removal of the waiver clause and lease signing ordinance,” Dar said. “It’s basically taking advantage of the waiver clause of the original purpose, which was for students who are seniors who absolutely know by necessity’s sake they will not be staying in the residence next year.”
Ann Arbor area landlords say the high demand for housing is leading them to request tenant information sooner.
Landlord Ken Liao sent a letter to his tenants in early October requesting that tenants tell him by Oct. 25 whether they planned to renew their leases. Liao’s letter provided no incentives and read, “If you decide not to renew or we don’t hear from you by the above date, your apartment will be shown to prospective tenant(s).”
Liao said that he is no longer asking his tenants to sign these types of letters before Dec. 1.
“It’s because of the housing code,” Liao said, when asked why he isn’t sending the letters anymore. “Actually, I had some students who asked me if they could sign a lease early, but I’m not leasing early.”
Ann Arbor landlord Fred Gruber, manager of Gruber Management, who said he doesn’t send out renewal letters, said students are the ones asking for earlier lease renewals.
“Enough of them want to do this early, which is the cause for this early lease signing phenomenon,” Gruber said of students who are house shopping. “Landlords don’t like it. Landlords want to wait. The ones that are saying ‘now’ are reacting to the students who are saying, ‘We want to do this now.’ “
But LSA senior Steve Wasik said landlords are most responsible for the early lease renewal letters. Wasik, who also received a letter from his landlord asking about his plans, said landlords’ motives are simple.
“We have a great location and a great place,” said Wasik, who said he was offered $100 if he and his roommates returned the letter before early November. “The sooner landlords can figure out who’s staying and who’s leaving, the sooner they can advertise what’s available.”