ANN ARBOR, MI — Should Ann Arbor update the city code to give renters several extra months before landlords can show their occupied apartments to other prospective tenants?
That’s the question before City Council and it’s back on the agenda Monday night, June 7.
The proposal sponsored by Council Members Elizabeth Nelson, D-4th Ward, and Travis Radina, D-3rd Ward, was first introduced in April, drawing pushback from landlords while garnering support from renters and tenant rights advocates, including some University of Michigan students.
Council agreed in April to postpone the matter for two months and the proposed ordinance changes are still at first reading, meaning a future public hearing and final vote still would be needed if council gives initial approval Monday night.
As proposed in April, the ordinance changes would increase the period landlords are prohibited from showing leased apartments to others — or entering into a lease with another tenant for the following year — from 70 to 240 days.
After more discussion with landlords and Central Student Government, there’s talk now of changing that to 210 days so the timing works out better for UM students, Nelson said.
There was some concern previously that 240 days could force student renters to begin their housing search in the spring around the time of UM’s final exams.
As it stands now, many apartment leases in Ann Arbor, particularly around the downtown and campus area, start in August or September, timed around the start of UM’s academic year. By November, after tenants have been in their apartments and under leases just over two months, landlords begin asking tenants to renew for another year or accept that their apartments will be shown to other prospective tenants.
Under what’s proposed, instead of just over two months, renters would get to live in their apartments for several months before landlords could force them to choose between renewing or having their apartments shown and leased to others.
Nelson requested postponement in April to work out enforcement procedures. She said Friday officials haven’t made as much progress as they hoped and there’s also talk now of going a new route and creating a “just cause for eviction” ordinance that would effectively achieve the same goals, giving tenants a right to renew their lease within a set timeframe.
“We would set a long timeline for that so there would be no point in a landlord showing an apartment early because the tenant retains this right to renew for a period of time,” she said.
“There are several communities in California that have done it. Burlington, Vermont is working on this now,” she added, characterizing it as new housing policy that’s helpful and supportive of tenants. “Because in other communities, failure to renew a lease often happens in a discriminatory way. I don’t necessarily think that that is happening in Ann Arbor, but a right to renew is considered a helpful tenants right.”
Nelson said she’s been in talks with Avalon Housing and Housing Commission Executive Director Jennifer Hall and similar protections are already in place for tenants in federally subsidized housing, so the right to renew is something the federal government recognizes as a value.
“Just-cause-for-eviction ordinances have this right to renew with typically a laundry list of exceptions for reasonable things like the landlord is actually pulling (the apartment) off the market, or the tenant actually violated the terms of their lease, or the tenant failed to pay rent, or even if the landlord wants the housing unit to be used by an immediate family member or they’re going to be renovating it and it’s not going to be taken off the market for a period of time for renovation,” she said.
Nelson said she discussed that idea with UM student group representatives and the Washtenaw Area Apartment Association and argued it would offer more protections for smaller independent landlords who have concerns a constrained timeline for showing apartments could put them at a disadvantage with larger apartment complexes and high-rises that have model units they can show any time.
“With a just-cause-for-eviction ordinance, the high-rises can show their model apartment any day of the year, but they don’t actually know how many units will be available because of the tenants having this right to renew that they can exercise for a long period of time,” Nelson said.
Landlords are still concerned about any contraction of the timeframe for showing apartments, Nelson said.
“We’ve had lots of conversations around their business model and how much they want to spread the workload around the year, and so these are the conversations that we’re having,” she said.
Nelson said there still are more details to work out and she expects another postponement Monday night.
Alice Ehn, Washtenaw Area Apartment Association executive officer, recently sent City Council a three-page letter saying the proposed ordinance discussed in April would be “vastly more restrictive” than current policies and create advantages and disadvantages for competing leasing models.
“If council continues on this path toward 240 days, you will create a huge discrepancy in the ability to lease,” she wrote. “This will damage our local campus housing industry. To do this as the economy, with its many stresses, emerges from the depths of the pandemic is unwise.”
The Ann Arbor Tenants Union, a tenant rights group, is advocating for the ordinance changes.
The group took to Twitter to encourage renters who are “sick of landlords walking prospective tenants through your apartment six months before your lease is up” and “messaging you every two seconds and threatening to rent out your place from under you” to email council and voice support for a 210-day “right to renew” period.
That would provide renters much more time to evaluate their housing options, solidify future employment and education plans, and make a fully informed decision to remain in their apartment or move elsewhere, the group argues.
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