The Michigan Daily - New Student Edition - Fall 2005 - 9F
* Tenants struggle with fine print
By Kim Tomlin
APRIL 20, 2005
Many students have expressed frustration with
one of the most important parts of living in off-
campus housing - the contract. There are numer-
ous areas where students can be confused or taken
advantage of by Ann Arbor landlords if they do not
understand the fine print on a contract or if they
simply do not know their rights as a tenant.
Under law, a lease is only required to specify
the cost of rent and the duration of the lease, said
Doug Lewis, the director of Student Legal Services
at the University.
But beyond the price and the dates, Lewis said
landlords have the power to design contracts to
meet their needs, regardless of the concerns of
potential renters. This can often result in conflicts
between landlords and tenants.
LSA senior Franklin Branch knows firsthand
what can happen when a landlord adds clauses to a
contract. His landlord raised the rent $25 per person,
per month after the lease was signed. Branch said
he was unaware that according to the contract, his
landlord can increase the rent if maintenance costs
rise. He said he and his roommates were confused
by the increase, resulting in a delayed response to
paying the additional rent. The landlord then called
each of their parents before contacting the tenants,
threatening eviction from the house.
"I feel like there are a lot of people in this exact
situation," said Branch about students who may not
be aware of details in their leases.
While lease clauses such as the one in Branch's
contract are uncommon, Lewis said there are many
other clauses landlords have been known to add to
their contracts that can easily confuse students.
Lewis said one of the most notorious examples
of this is the joint and several liability clause. This
clause means that if several lessees have agreed to
share the expenses of renting one housing unit, each
of them is actually responsible for the total.
"It's not that person A owes $100 a month, it's
that person A potentially owes $400 a month and
so does B and so does C and so does D. As long as
everyone is paying it's fine, but if any one of those
people drop out, the remaining persons are liable,"
Another term he said can be tricky for students is
"cleaning fee," because students are often unaware
of what it entails. A landlord cannot charge a ten-
ant a cleaning fee that would be used to clean
A tenant can withhold rent if his
landlord fails to fix problems after
receiving a complaint in writing with
adequate time to act.
. Tenants can do the minor repairs
themselves and send the receipts to
the landlord to receive deductions
Tenants must get approval from
their landlord to sublet, and their
landlord can deny chosen subtenant
if he has reasonable judgement.
the house before his move-in date because Ann
Arbor's city code requires landlords to clean hous-
ing units before tenants move in. On the other hand,
it is legal for a landlord to charge a cleaning fee in
advance for cleaning that will done after a tenant's
lease expires. This cleaning fee, however, cannot be
deducted from the security deposit.
Even if a tenant and landlord make it through
the year without too many troubles, the security
deposit can pose its own set of issues. Many stu-
dents agree that this can be a grueling process in
which landlords make unreasonable or unwarrant-
Lewis suggests the way to avoid these deduc-
tions is to thoroughly fill out the security deposit
checklist given to tenants during move-in.
"Tenants need to go room by room and be as
picky as they can be. Don't ignore little things," said
Lewis, who recommended tenants take incoming
and outgoing photos as additional evidence.
These checklists can be compared to those made
by the landlord during move-out, distinguishing
any prior damage from damage caused by the cur-
rent lessee. By law, a landlord cannot charge for
damage due to natural wear and tear, Lewis said.
Beyond the concern of unwarranted deductions,
some students are worried their landlords may
never refund their security deposits at all.
LSA junior Wajeeha Shuttari has been unsuc-
cessful at getting her security deposit back. Shuttari
and her former roommates, whose lease ended last
August, have yet to get their $1,200 security deposit
from their former landlord.
One of the factors she said played a part in the
debacle is that she never received a copy of the
lease, preventing her from knowing what the lease
said about security deposit return policies.
To better ensure the security deposit return runs
smoothly, Lewis said students must provide an
address where the deposit can be sent to the tenant
upon moving out. This must be completed within
four days of moving out of the housing unit. Once
this phase is complete, the landlord has 30 days to
either return the security deposit or send a written
statement explaining why he is deducting money
from the deposit. If a tenant receives a list of deduc-
tions, he then has seven days to respond with objec-
tions. If there are objections, the landlord then has
a total of 45 days from the date of moving out to
either sue the tenant in small claims court or reach
an agreement with the tenant, Lewis said.
Students Gina DePolo and Tina Veselinovski wait to sign a lease with an Ann Arbor realtor.
to push back
By Anne Joling
Daily Staff Writer
The rush to find off-campus housing will be dramatically different
this fall if Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje succeeds in passing a city
ordinance that would restrict landlords from leasing apartments and
houses until after the fall semester is over.
"My plan is to start work on developing this ordinance internally
with our legal people, and with the council members, and move this
so that we have it in place by the end of summer," Hieftje said.
Hieftje said he was unsure of what the specifics of the ordinance
will be. For example, he said he would like to write the ordinance in
such a way that, while landlords would be barred from leasing apart-
ments and houses early, exceptions could be made for students who
want to lease apartments before the start of winter semester. How-
ever, he said he does not know how this would be done.
It is also unclear whether Hieftje plans to design the ordinance so
that it would prevent landlords from showing apartments before a
specified date, or whether it would only apply to leasing.
University Housing spokesman Alan Levy said an ordinance
like the one Hieftje is proposing has been talked about for quite
"There have been concerns on the part of students feeling pres-
sured to sign off-campus leases ever earlier," Levy said. "Some of
that is real; some of it is perceived."
Levy said such an ordinance would not have an impact on Univer-
sity housing contracts.
Currently, many students say they are pressured to sign leases in
September and October, long before they have had a chance to look
at all available housing options and to find roommates. Additionally,
some students said they are asked to re-sign leases after only living in
their apartment or house for a month or two.
LSA sophomore Mark Kuykendall said later lease dates would be
good for students.
"It'll allow students more time to find a good roommate and the
best possible apartment, especially if you're a new student and don't
know anybody," Kuykendall said.
Students do not know whether the housing rush stems from com-
petition with other students or from the landlords themselves.
"When I was a sophomore, I really felt pressure to lease an apart-
ment early," said LSA sesnior Miguel Guzman. "I don't really think
the pressure comes from landlords, because they're going to be able
to rent their apartments no matter what. If you don't lease their apart-
ment, another student will."
deSome landlords in Ann Arbor said they believe the pressure stu-
dents feel to sign leases early is unnecessary.
"I like to think that the market - the market being the residents
- sets the pace for the rental season," said Tom Clark, a landlord
who owns several apartment buildings in Ann Arbor.
Clark said he didn't think the ordinance would hurt his business,
but would make certain times of the year extremely busy because all
students would be leasing apartments in a short period of time.
Colin Khan, owner of CMB Management in Ann Arbor said he
was very surprised that the mayor was proposing such an ordinance,
and said he feels such a law could actually harm students.
"I'm opposed to anything that would hinder the ability of the resi-
dents to secure housing in any fashion," Khan said. "What if some-
one is going away to study abroad second semester? They would lose
the opportunity to secure an apartment for the following year."
Hieftje said he plans to consult ordinances in other cities while
formulating the one for Ann Arbor.
"We'll have to explore our options," Hieftje said. "We'll need to go
back and to look at the actual legislation in other places (that) have
ordinances like this."
One university town that has passed such an ordinance is Madi-
son, Wisc. Madison originally passed the ordinance in 2000 and
made changes to it in 2004.
In Madison, a landlord cannot show an apartment or ask the cur-
rent renter to re-sign their lease in the first quarter of the lease period,
worry some tenants
By Kim Tomlin
APRIL 1 , 2005
Daily Staff Writer
LSA senior Ross Bookman is afraid to
stand on his front porch. One night, a large
pillar holding the roof over the porch col-
lapsed, landing on his car parked in the
adjacent driveway. The car suffered large
dents and had to be taken to the shop for
Kinesiology senior Robert Herrera,
who also lives in the house, said he was
disappointed with the upkeep of the
house, which includes falling ceiling pan-
els, holes in the stairs and broken bed-
room door locks.
Similar to Bookman and Herrera, LSA
junior Paul Fraumann's house is in viola-
tion of the city's housing code. Visitors
have to step over doors that have rotted
off their hinges, and they have to avoid
insects that enter the house through holes
in the ceiling where broken ceiling panels
have not been replaced. Duct tape holds
the doors closed and prevents air from
drafting through the poorly insulated
Most students don't often realize' that
landlords are required to keep houses in
compliance with the city's housing code -
which makes ceiling holes, poorly insulated
windows and leaky roofs illegal.
City housing inspectors are required
to probe the off-campus houses every
two and a half years and check to make
sure foundations, floors, ceilings, walls
and roofs are be in good repair and kept
insulated from weather and rodents. In
addition, stairs and porches must be main-
tained and "facilities must be capable of
heating all habitable rooms, including
bathrooms to 68 degrees when the tem-
perature outside is as low as 10 degrees
below zero," according to the city's code.
Areas commonly neglected by land-
lords include plumbing, electrical
maintenance, the state of the furnace,
making sure tenants occupy only the
legal spaces - meaning they are not
living in rooms not authorized for
habitation - smoke detectors and fire
extinguishers, said City Councilwoman
Jean Carlberg (D-3rd Ward).
"The main concern is health and safety
being protected for the residents," Carl-
Even though landlords in violation
of the city codes can be denied the cer-
tificate of occupancy needed to lease a
house, landlords have been known to
lease to student tenants without meeting
the certificate requirements, putting the
tenant at risk, Carlberg said.
In order for students to protect them-
selves from leasing a house that does not
meet city codes, students can check the
City Housing Bureau and request mainte-
nance files kept on the particular houses
- which are available to the public, said
Orlando Sim6n, a lawyer for Student
"If I was going to rent an apartment,
before I signed on the dotted line, I'd
go down with the address ... and ask to
see what the landlords have done and
if they've ever had any issues, and if
they did, how they took care of them,"
Carlberg said this step is often over-
looked by students who are more excited
with moving into an off-campus house
than making sure it meets city inspection
In instances where the certificate
is denied, landlords can appeal if the
house was built in accordance with
city guidelines at the time of its con-
struction. Examples of this include low
ceilings or steep stairs that previously
were allowed and are very difficult to
change without further disruption of the
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY EUGENE ROBERTSON/Daily
Students are often unaware that they can access a unit's maintenance files at the City
Housing Bureau to verify that a prospective school home meets city codes.
house. If this is the case, the landlord
must prove he can make the house safe
and solve the problem even though it
may not meet current standards. If the
Housing Board of Appeals approves,
the landlord may be awarded the cer-
tificate, said Carlberg, who is on the
LSA senior Colleen Russell said having
a landlord who keeps the house up to code
and secures both the inside and outside of
the house gives her peace of mind.
"We were really lucky. We were prob-
ably one of the few people on this campus
with a landlord who takes care of prob-
lems right away," Russell said.
Student tenants lament over
landlords' lack of response
By Kim Tomlin
Daily Staff Writer
While moving out of the house he had leased for a year, Univer-
sity 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 found 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,"
When 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. Ulti-
mately, Masuda found that the only way to force the company into
-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 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 animos-
ity 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
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