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September 10, 1981 - Image 65

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The Michigan Daily, 1981-09-10

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The Michigan Daily-Thursday, September 10, 1981-Page 5-C

Daily Photo by DAVID HARRIS
TENANTS OF THE house at 736 S. State St. and their friends celebrate success in the city's first private rent control
agreement last spring.
Tenants Union assists
beleagured renters

By PAMELA KRAMER
"What'll you do?" sigh thousands of
tudents, year after year, about Ann
- or's "unique" housing situation.
. woes of high rents and poor living
conditions in the city are endlessly
voiced as students throw up their hands
n exasperation . . . and usually do
othing more.
That's a problem, according to mem-
ers of the Ann Arbor Tenants Union.
lousing rates and conditions do not
ave to be controlled absolutely by lan-
lords, they say, if only tenants would
ake an active role in trying to change
he situation.
THE AATU WAS founded when
ants-many of them students.
id -exactly that. In 1968, local
using conditions were generally wor-
e than they are now. One day that
ear, a sign was posted on the wall of an
partient building on East Hoover.
he sign read: "Join the Tenants Union
ent trike."
Within three months, 1,500 tenants
d pledged to withhold their rent in
t was hailed as the nation's largest
t strike.
Rent strikes-withholding rent in an
scrow account for maintenance-have
ecorne fairly common over the last
several years, according to AATU
member Dale Cohen. And, he said, they
are perfectly legal and.valid.
IN MICHIGAN, Cohen explained,
there is a legal understanding between
the tenant and landlord: If rent is paid,
the place has to be well-maintained.
But things don't always work out that
y. Tenants of one house cited by
hen went to move in, and found there
were no locks or latches, but there were
more than 100 bags of trash in the
backyard. The landlord, Dale Newman,
"just didn't do any maintenance,"
Cohen said.
This is not uncommon. In another
house Cohen described, support beams
in the basement had been cut for

heating installation; the chimney had
"fallen through the ceiling;" there
were no smoke detectors; and there
were half a dozen other problems.
"Typically, not so many things hap-
pen at once," Cohen said. But if the
place isn't well-maintained, and if the
landlord ignores requests for repairs,
withholding rent is the "most effective"
line of action a tenant can take, he said,
explaining that it's like saying to the
landlord, "Look, you're not going to get
any money from us without the repairs.
Why not spend a little on the repairs;
you'll still be ahead."
ONCE A RENT STRIKE has been
initiated, the landlord will probably try
to sue for the money. At that point,
tenants should talk to someone from the
Tenants Union or Legal Services, and
the next action is usually the filing of a
counterclaim that the landlord didn't
hold up his or her part of the rental
agreement.
"In some cases, people have gotten
back more (in compensation) than they
paid in rent," Cohen said.
Last spring, tenants of the house at
736 S. State St. and their landlord
reached the city's first private rent con-
trol agreement. Two years after the
tenants had decided to withold rent,
Ann Arbor District Court Judge George
Alexander signed an order that reduced
the rent charged for the last two years,
and controls the rent to be charged
through 1982-83-regardless of who the
future tenants are.
THE AATU IS considering a major
campaign to put a rent control proposal
on the ballot in this year's election, but
"we can't pass rent control without the
help of the students," Cohen said.
This is one example of why students
should register to vote in Ann Arbor, he
said. "You have to realize . . . you're
here for four years; your concerns are
here.
"A good chunk of your money, or
your parents money, or the money

you're borrowing (to go to school) is
going to housing," he continued. "To
get your money's worth, you should
puruse your rights (as tenants)."
Landlords in this town are making
"huge" profits, according to AATU
estimates. One person was estimated to
have earned a 60 percent return on his
investment, Cohen said.
Because there is so much money to be
made in the market, he said, there is a
lot of speculation in housing. As an
example of the kinds of profits that are
made, Cohen said, one house that was
bought for $31,000 in 1974 was assessed
last May to be worth more than $80,000.
But landlords receive tax breaks on
their properties for depreciation, in
spite of the appreciation of, in Cohen's
example, about $50,000 over a period of
seven years.
Criticisms that rent control lowers
the quality of housing are unfounded,
Cohen said, explaining that rent control
does not mean rent freeze.
"It provides for annual rent increases
to cover increases in taxes" and other
landlord costs, he said. "And it
provides incentives for capital im-
provements, (guaranteeing) a
reasonable return on the landlord's in-
vestment."
Generally, tenants have more rights
than they know about, but still less than
they need, AATU members say. And,
although today's Ann Arbor tenants are
better-educated about their rights and
resources, they need to be more active
in pursuing those rights.
The AATU provides information on
legal questions concerning housing
(many leases are illegal, members
say), and it also acts as a counseling
and referral service. Students in-
terested in volunteering may earn
credit through the Outreach Program,
or through independent study. There
are also Work-Study positions
available.

!" I-7

state, U.S. reps woo students

(Continued from Page 2)
areas. of abortion rights, laetrille use,
and health care maintenance laws.
When asked how Pierce-sponsored
legislation fared on the primarily con-
servative State Senate floor, one of his
aides responded, "They're (fellow
gressmen) killing us out there."
DESPITE HIS liberal stances in an
era of conservatism, Pierce has an-
nounced he may run for governor if
Milliken should soon leave for a higher
office, something he is rumored to be
considering.
Carl- Pursell and other U.S.
congressmen also vote on legislation
t ich may affect and change the
niversity structure. Financial aid
legislation is one of the main areas in
which Pursell has influence, par-
ticularly as a member of the powerful
and -prestigious House appropriations
committee. Other areas of influence
are in research spending and affir-
mative action.
Pursell, a former state senator, coun-
ty commissioner, businessman, and
high school teacher, is known as a
moderate Republican who has definite
erests in education-related

fice when his term expires in 1982.
Both senators occasionally visit the
University. Last January, Riegle spoke
at a University-sponsored Japanese
auto industry forum, urging the federal
government to "take a more aggressive
role" in the revitalization of the finan-
cially ailing auto industry.

Later that night, he addressed a
Democratic party meeting, criticizing
the large amounts of "special interest
money" he says is being collected by
his opponents to defeat him next year,
and praising "the deep, broad, strong
history of independent thought" in
Michigan.

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