While moving out of the house he had leased for a year, University alum Taka Masuda left some of his clothes inside his closet, thinking he would pick them up on a second visit to the house after work. When he returned, he was two hours past the deadline for moving out — which he did not think would be a big deal. But to his surprise, he found the house locked, and after 24 hours of waiting for the landlord to let him back in and paying a $50 fee, he discovered that his clothes, including his best suits, had been trashed while he was at work.
“I was really bitter because they were walking all over me,” Masuda said.
Even though he complained to Prime Realty and asked for his $50 back, he said its only response was to yell at him and call him crazy. Ultimately, Masuda found that the only way to force the company into compliance was to seek legal help.
As a last resort, Masuda turned to the Michigan attorney general’s office, where he said he got help with writing a letter to the rental company. Within a day, the realtor sent him an e-mail and a fax assuring him that his $50 would be refunded. Masuda’s experience is illustrative of a larger trend on campus in which many students say they feel targeted by their landlords, especially because landlords assume that students are ignorant about their rights in a housing situation.
Some students find their landlords unresponsive to requests for maintenance or upgrades, while others disagree with landlords over what the leases entail. Ann Arbor landlords are notorious among students for making life a little more difficult.
For LSA senior Joe Seasly, dealing with his landlord has been a nightmare. Seasly, who lives with his brother LSA sophomore Ian Seasly, said both brothers felt the building manager targeted them for harassment because he blamed them for everything that went wrong in the building. Whether it was broken drywall, loud music or even cups found in the hallway or common room, the brothers said the finger is always pointed at them.
“At this point, I have lost complete respect for them,” Joe Seasly said. “It’s just been so rude of them all the way around. We can’t even look at the building manager because there is so much animosity between us.”
To warn students about their experiences, the Seaslys and Masuda have posted their comments on the Michigan Student Assembly’s housing website, which allows students to rate landlords based on how cooperative they are.
Both Masuda and the Seaslys gave their landlords one out of five points — the lowest rating.
One option for students facing landlord disputes is to approach the University’s Housing Information Office. Here, housing advisors are available to offer advice on how to communicate with landlords and how to avoid or resolve possible conflicts. In addition, the office also mediates disputes between the feuding parties, possibly preventing the need for legal action. First, the disputing parties sign a form verifying they will follow in good faith what is agreed upon in the meeting. Then, a housing advisor helps the parties involved reach a compromise on their own. According to the Off-Campus Housing Program, the service has been successful for many users who seek help for various housing issues.
Another resource is Student Legal Services. Each year, students pay fees to cover the salaries of SLS lawyers. One of the services SLS provides is consultation on student housing issues. SLS encourages students who have problems and may need legal counsel to call for advice. Indeed, SLS hopes to implement a new attorney next year that will deal specifically with landlord-tenant disputes by tracking complaints, litigating and lobbying on behalf of tenants.
LSA junior Luke Spaete is one student who has turned to the help of SLS for mitigating a problem he had with Oakland Management. Recently, Oakland charged Spaete and his roommates more than $130 for damage to an air conditioning unit located on the outside of their house. But Spaete said he and his roommates are not the culprits, and there is no evidence to show that they are in fact responsible.
Spaete said he only turned to SLS after he was unable to work out the conflict with Oakland on his own. “I went to see (my landlord) in person, and he just turned and walked away from me,” said Spaete. SLS set up an appointment with him to go over the situation with a lawyer.
“Hopefully, this will remedy the situation,” he said.