Ann Arbor’s leasing ordinance, which prohibits the signing of leases until 90 days into the current lease, is clearly not working out. The ordinance was originally put in place to give students more time to decide their living situation for the following school year. But the 90-day waiting period has frequently been subverted because current tenants can sign a waiver that allows a contract to be signed before the period expires. Potential renters have even bribed residents to sign the waiver so they can secure the residence for themselves.

Many students are calling for this “loophole” to be fixed. The Ann Arbor City Council is considering it. Others have suggested the possibility of extending the 90-day period to allow them more time to decide their future living situation. But giving a faulty ordinance more stipulations will not improve it. Any type of lease ordinance is unfair to students and hurts more than it helps.

The ordinance is supported by many students because it seems to make their lives easier. It delays the date when they have to make a decision on their housing situation for the following year. But it makes the lives of other students harder.

While the current 90-day period places the signing date for September-to-September leases on Dec. 1, the signing date for May-to-May leases is Aug. 1, well before the fall semester begins. Even if the period is extended to beyond 90 days, it won’t do anything to help both the September and May tenants at the same time.

On such a crowded campus, there is immense pressure to sign leases early. Enforcing the 90-day rule does not prevent leases from being signed early, especially because of the new problem it creates with May leases. The law fails to delay the rush to sign housing contracts. Even worse, it pressures many students who are ready into less popular May-to-May leases because those are the earliest available to sign.

The leasing ordinance is not only faulty: It’s also unfair. The fairest way to determine who gets which residences is on a first-come, first-serve basis. It isn’t fair to make students who already know where they want to live wait until months later. At that point they’ll have to compete with others for the same residence. They should be able to sign up for housing as soon as they are ready.

With a number of groups competing for the same residence, it is quite possible that a landlord would offer it to the group willing to pay the most. Because landlords aren’t able to offer the contract for the following year until the 90-day period is up, they don’t have to decide the rent until then either. They could then alter it depending on the level of interest in the residence. Even worse, a group of students could secure the residence for themselves by offering to pay more than the landlord’s price. The students who decided to live in a residence the earliest would then be displaced by those willing to pay more. In this manner, the leasing ordinance could contribute to making housing in Ann Arbor more expensive.

Most students agree that Ann Arbor’s leasing ordinance isn’t working out for them. The reaction many of them have to a bad law is to strengthen it. But the situation would be made fairer for students if the ordinance were eliminated outright. While it may inconvenience students to have to sign their housing contracts early, laws cannot prevent students from finding ways to sign leases earlier. It would be best to eliminate the law and its negative effects.

Patrick Zabawa can be reached at pzabawa@umich.edu.

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