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January 12, 2006 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2006-01-12

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Alan Levy and Dale Winling weigh in on off-campus
housing. So much for MONOPOLY, this is real

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in the real world.

. Levy Director, Public Affairs and Information, University Housing
wo successive years of very large freshman classes with the
attendant pressure on being able to house both returning on-
campus residents with contracts for the new academic year
along with all those freshmen has generated some media
attention and campus commentary that U-M and Ann Arbor
have a student housing "shortage." The reality is that while
U-M residence halls have indeed been fully occupied, there
is availability in on-campus apartments and the off-campus student
housing market is experiencing a historically high vacancy level -
approaching 10 percent for at least the last two years.

- University community members can ride Ann
Arbor buses for free - it became economically
and practically more convenient for students to
consider off-campus housing located at a great-
er distance away from Central Campus. A 24
percent increase in ridership since the start of
the program suggests that some students have
actively pursued this opportunity.
There are several long-term critical issues
related to off-campus housing that require more
sustained attention from all stakeholders - the
City of Ann Arbor, the University, landlords,
safety and security agencies and the students
themselves - in order to bring about higher-
quality student neighborhoods and improved
town-gown relations related to off-campus
students. An incomplete list of these issues
includes:
Quality of student housing
tudent rental properties in Ann
Arbor and environs run the gamut
from poorly maintained units with
unrepaired code violations -
and, in worst cases, without a cur-
rent certificate of occupancy - to
very well maintained units with
highly responsive and responsible landlords
and everything in between. Students should
utilize the excellent online and print resources
of the Off-Campus Housing Program to iden-
tify the most important questions to ask before
signing any lease. They should also have their
own checklist with regard to their expectations
regarding appearance, upkeep, sanitary and

safety conditions and
aesthetics before they start
their off-campus housing search and
selection. The City Building Department is
required to inspect every rental unit every two
and a half years but is severely taxed to keep
up with the volume of units across the City and
two and a half years in any event is a long time
between mandatory inspections. Students can
file a complaint with the Building Department
if they believe that their landlord is not satis-
factorily completing repairs or is not resolving
code violations (See www.off campus.housing.
umich.edu/lt/inspection.cfm for specifics of
filing a complaint), but the best thing to do is to
carefully review the track record of a prospec-
tive landlord before signing on the dotted line.
Safety and security
he recently concluded fall term was
marked by some disturbing events
in off-campus housing, including
three significant fires in predomi-
nantly student housing units, as
well as crimes against both person
and property involving students.
The safety and security of University students
living in off-campus properties must be every-
one's collective paramount concern and a matter
for constant vigilance. Landlords must be held
to the highest possible standard with respect to
ensuring their properties meet or exceed all fire
and life safety code requirements and should
actively monitor that all fire safety equipment
is properly maintained throughout the tenancy
of student residents. For their part, students
should carefully inspect their rental at move-in
to be sure there are properly functioning smoke
detectors and adequate egress in the event of a
fire, and not take any action on their own that
disables fire safety equipment.

ver the last
decade, it has, discour-
agingly, become much too
much the norm that many
students become convinced
that they must sign a bind-
ing lease for the following
academic year as early as September and Octo-
ber. Students new to the University are making
a commitment to live off-campus, often with
other students they know for less than a couple
of months, in neighborhoods they have little
experience with, and without taking adequate
time to review the terms and conditions of the
legal agreement they are signing. They are not
always able to knowledgeably assess the posi-
tive and negatives of their prospective house or
apartment mates. Students make these commit-
ments from the often misguided and inaccurate
vantage point that "all the good housing will
be gone" if they have not signed a lease by a
certain point in the fall term. The fact that it
is not easy to define the "villain" in this prac-
tice unquestionably leads some students into
bad decisions with significant negative conse-
quences. While there are some landlords who
press prematurely for students to make deci-
sions about next year's leases, there are students
(and sometimes parents) who want first crack at
the "best" housing and prod landlords to final-
ize lease signing before they would otherwise
choose to do. Mayor John Hieftje has proposed
an ordinance, modeled after a similar ordinance
enforced in Madison, Wisc., that would prohibit
the signing of leases for the next academic year

While there may be selective
shortfalls in specific types of hous-
ing that students are interested
in (e.g. unique, multi-occupant
houses), students arriving last
August without previously mak-
ing housing arrangements had no
difficulty in locating good, qual-
ity housing near both Central and
h Campuses.
University houses about 30 percent of
ent body (undergraduate and graduate)
ampus residence halls and apartments;

this percentage has stayed consistent since the
early 1970s. The availability of on-campus hous-
ing will not change substantially in the foresee-
able future, even with the arrival of North Quad
Residence Hall in September 2009, because some
older residence halls will successively be closed
for up to two years for major renewal and reno-
vation. There is, however, an important new on-
campus housing option available for the last two
years for sophomore to senior undergraduates;
University Housing now offers more than 400
one- and two-bedroom apartments in Northwood
III as an alternative to residence halls. Addition-

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