In the past, student concerns have taken a back seat in Ann Arbor politics, but yesterday, they hardly seemed to be in the car at all.

Sarah Royce
Ann Arbor Mayor John Heiftje speaks at a meeting between student representatives and landlords in Michigan Student Assembly chambers yesterday. (ALEXANDER DZIADOSZ/Daily)

Representatives from the Washtenaw Area Apartment Association and campus-area landlords dominated a discussion yesterday about the mayor’s proposed ordinance that would buy students time when signing leases in the fall.

More than a dozen landlords and Realtors outnumbered the three students that showed up to speak for the benefits of pushing back lease-signing deadlines.

The proposed ordinance would not allow landlords to enter a premise for the purpose of showing it to potential tenants or enter into a lease with new tenants until one-fourth of the current lease period had expired.

Three out of five of the students appointed to the newly created MSA-City Council committee were at the meeting, but two of them left early.

Committee members Jesse Levine, MSA president; LSA senior Mike Forster; and MSA’s City Council Liaison Laura Van Hyfte represented student interests at the discussion. Committee members Mara Gay and Daniel Taylor-Cohart did not attend the forum.

Van Hyfte said that while campaigning to become an MSA representative, most students she talked to voiced support for the mayor’s proposed ordinance.

Levine echoed Van Hyfte’s statements and said that the ordinance would be very popular among students.

However, Levine excused himself from the meeting about 15 minutes after it started to finish writing a paper for a class.

“I’m a student too,” he said.

Forster also left before the meeting finished, leaving Van Hyfte, a newly elected MSA representative, as the only student voice at the meeting for almost an hour.

Alice Ehn, executive officer of the WAAA, raised objections to the ordinance on behalf of her organization.

Ehn said landlords would not let legislation prevent them from doing their job. “Landlords will respond in whatever way they need to in order to lease their property,” she said.

Several landlords said that while they would not be able to enter into a formal agreement under the proposed ordinance until one-fourth of the lease period had expired, they could accept formal applications whenever they wanted and assign housing for the next year on a first-come, first-serve basis. The current draft of the ordinance would not prevent landlords from using an application process to circumvent the ordinance.

Ehn said that the ordinance is harmful to landlords and students because any government-imposed restrictions will create a greater perceived demand for housing resulting in fiercer competition.

“The ordinance is telling a business that they can’t conduct business the way the market is run,” Ehn said. “This is the same as restricting a retailer from putting up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.”

Campus-area landlords said the ordinance imposed unfair restrictions on personal freedoms.

“We don’t like the pressure either, – but what I’m more concerned about is a restriction on (business),” said Lelahni Wessinger, a campus landlord.

Mark Hannaford, a representative from Campus Management Realty, said he was surprised by students’ sudden support for legislation that imposed restrictions on personal liberties. He pointed to the overwhelmingly negative student reaction to the recently proposed ordinance that would ban couches on porches, which he said was also a personal-freedom issue.

“Maybe students will rethink their stance on that next time it comes around,” Hannaford said.

The discussion, organized by University Director of Community Relations Jim Kosteva, brought the two parties together for the first time yesterday afternoon to discuss the proposed lease-date ordinance in the presence of the mayor. The meeting was held in the Michigan Student Assembly chambers, with the intention of better accommodating students, though they only needed three chairs.

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