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March 01, 1970 - Image 10

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1970-03-01
Note:
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THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Sunday, March 1, 1970

Sunday, March 1, 1970 -

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

TENANTS UNION:
Rent striking for better housing, lower rents

By JUDY SARASOHN
Incensed by the high price and
"unsafe living conditions" of
Ann Arbor housing, over 1000
students have organized a Ten-
ants Union and are withholding
more than $100,000 in rent pay-
ments in what has become one
of the largest rent strikes in
U.S. history.
And with favorable court de-
cisions, widespread publicity,
financial support from the Unit-
ed Auto Workers and endorse-
ments from many city officials,
the strike has continued for over
a year.
The major goal of the strike
is to gain formal recognition for
the Tenants Union as the col-
lective bargaining agent for lo-
cal tenants.
The union is also demanding
significant reductions in rent,
elimination of damage deposits
-- which the union claims are
often not returned - elimination
of advance payment of the last
month's rent, and immediate
handling of complaints.
The last point is one of the
main reasons given by strikers
for initiating the strike. The De-
partment of Building and Safe-
ty is presently overburdened
with charges of building c o d e
violations. Many tenants have
serious complaints of overflow-
ing garbage, broken or incom-
plete tiling in bathrooms, brok-
en down stairways, and no fire
escapes.
The major thrust of the strike
is aimed at the tight-knit as-
sociation of several local man-
agement firms, the Ann Ar-
bor Property Managers' Asso-
ciation. The Tenants Union
claims the association has "tight
control over the housing mar-
ket."
The landlords being struck are
Ann Arbor Trust Co., Apart-
ments Limited; Arbor Manage-
ment; B.M.R.; Campus M a n-
agement, Inc.; Charter Realty;
Dahlmann Apartments; Misco
Management Service; Patrick
Pulte, Inc.; Post Realty and In-
vestment Co.; S u m m i t As-
sociates; Walden Management
Co.; and Wilson-White, I n c.
Apartments owned by these
firms house an estimated 6,000
students.
In addition to the strike
against thesemajor realty
firms, some students are with-
holding rent from landlords
with lesser holdings in sym-
pathy with the Tenants Union.
Tenants begin organizing in
Dec. 19"8 by securing assurance
from students that they would
withhold rent when the strike
began. On Feb. 15, after a poll
of the 1.500 students who had.
signed nledgeps, the Tenants Un-
ion bepn the strike.
Instead of paying rent as us-
ual, the strikers paid their
money into an escrow fund set
up by the Tenants Union.
In January, 1969 it would
be safe to say that everyone ex-

cept for a few idealistic, com-
pletly frustrated students were
skeptical of a successful rent
strike.
Even when students joined the
union and signed pledges to
withhold rent, the landlords re-
fused to believe the strike would
materialize. And when the strike
did begin, the landlords said,
as was to be expected, that they
will never recognize the Ten-
ants Union.
"It's ridiculous," said Patrick
Pulte, head of one of the firms.
"I don't know of any manage-
ment company in the country
that would recognize a tenants
union."
Kenneth Barnhill, manager of
Apartments Limited, also re-
fused to recognize the union
as the bargaining agent for Ann
Arbor tenants.
"Until this small minority of
activists (the Tenants Union)
can prove they can help me
more effectively operate my bus-
iness and provide better services
to my tenants and owners, I
will continue a policy of non-
recognition," he said.
Rent strike steering commit-
tee members were undaunted;
however. "The Tenants Union
doesn't exist to serve the in-
terests of the landlords, but of
the tenants," said a steering
committee member.
And now, the pressure on the
realty firms to recognize t h e
Tenants Union appears to be
mounting.
At the beginning of the strike,
most landlords maintained an
air of indifference. But there
were a number of reports of
landlords turning off heat, tow-
ing away cars, making phone
calls to parents and threatening
tenants with eviction in the
middle of exam week.
The primary thrust of land-
lord response came in the
courts. Arbor Management was
the first realtor to bring rent
striking tenants to court.
But it has been in the courts
that strikers have won t h e i r
greatest victories thus far. In
the first two eviction cases, for
example, the precedent was set
of allowing jury trials - a
ruling with rent strike steer-
ing committee members felt was
a "significant victory" because
granting of a jury trial indi-
cates that there is a quesiton
of fact.
In other words, the ruling al-
lowing jury trial g a v e tenants
the opportunity to show in court
that landlords were, in part at
least, responsible for the with-
holding of rent.
And in the first two cases
brought by Arbor Management,
the tenants did precisely that,
Arbor Management's E d w a r d
Kloian had asked for $880 from
one group of tenants, but t h e
court reduced their back pay-
ments to only $400 after hear-
ing testimony of city health
and safety c o d e violations, a

0

A third, view of life in Ann Arbor.

Striking for better

Strikers picket Ann Anbor landlord Louis Rome, executive director
of the state crime commission.

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Charter Realty,
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stoppage of heat and alleged
threats.
In addition to securing reduc-
ed rents during the trials, many
tenants were awarded possession
of their apartments. In effect,
this barred the landlord from
evicting them for the duration
of the lease.
Even if such tenants do not
make back rent payments as or-
dered by the court, the-landlord
must still bring legal proceed-
ings for damages-not for evic-
tion.
Some landlords point to the
court decisions that order the
tenants to pay at least some of
the back rent and they claim
that the tenant has lost the
case. This is a matter of inter-
pretation.
The Tenants Union claims
the decisions have been in tis
favor. Although the juries do
not say which evidence they be-
MODERN 4-MAN
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lieve is true, their decision to
reduce the back rent and award
possession indicates a belief that
tenants do have legitimate com-
plaints.
Although a tenant is ordered
to pay back rent-even if it is
not reduced-this does not take
him out of the strike. The un-
ion advises the tenant to pay.
the rent because the court has
ordered him to do so, and then,
the next month, begin to with-
hold rent once more. Thus the
landlord must again take the
tenant to court and waste mon-
ey, lawyer's fees, court costs
and time.
The tenants who belong to
the union are defended by un-
ion lawyers. The lawyers, court
and operating expenses are paid
by a strike fund of nearly $10,-
000 representing individual strik-
er's antes of 10 per cent of a-
one-month rent payment and

contributions from outside citi-
zens and organizations.
However, union leaders now
believe that in the last f e w
months the original tactic of
rent striking has ceased to be
effective and the legal strategy
of the union has to be reassess-
ed.
In a year's time the landlord's
attorneys have build strong de-
fenses against the tenants' var-
ious charges and have devised
new cases. Furthermore, the
landlords have considerably im-
proved their housing mainten-
ance as- a result of the strike,
and the tenants have less of a
case against the landlords.
The union has now shifted its
emphasis from the strike to
forming a stronger and a more
unified union. The Tenants Un-
ion has decided to press for in-
See STRIKING, Page 31

housing,1(
(Continued from Page 2)
creased University low-cost hous-
ing, among other issues.
The strikers are receiving more
and more support each day. City
councilmen and other officials
have publicly supported t h e
strikers. Student Government
Council had asked that it be
named as a co-defendant in the
conspiracy suit.
The strike has also a wide base
of support on the campus, win-
ning endorsements by campus
organizations of a wide range
of political beliefs.
These organizations include:
SGC, Graduate: Assembly, So-
cial Work Student's Union, En-
gin Council, Young Lawyers
Guild, Black Law Student Alli-
ance, Law Student Civil Rights
Research Council, Northwood
Terrace Association, New Uni-
versity Conference, Citizens for
New Politics, Alice Lloyd House

ower rents
Council, Bursley Hall Council,
Fraternity Representatives As-
sociation, and Interfraternity
Council.
Although the University ad-
ministration says it is remaining
neutral, the union has been giv-
en space in the Student Ac-
tivities Building for its offices
and is recognized by SGC as a
student activity.
Not since the Brooklyn strike
of 1914 when 4,000 angry apart-
ment dwellers withheld rent has
there been such a large collec-
tive effort against a body of
landlords.
But the Brooklyn strike ended
in failure when the landlords
held out longer than the strik-
ers.
"This strike will not end,"
-says Katz, "until the union is
officially recognized. T h is is
non-negotiable as far as we're
concerned."

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