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September 19, 2007 - Image 13

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The Michigan Daily, 2007-09-19

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Locking out your landlord:
An adventure in tenants rights

our days before the lease on my house I didn't want coated in dust and debris)
expired this summer, I lay awake in and move approximately 150 books from
the middle of the night, afraid that beneath the windowsill. At the time, I was
the maintenance man would overpower the teaching a creative writing workshop at the
chain lock on my front door, force his way in university, transcribing medical interviews
and try to repair my window. from home and doing PR and distribution
This may sound absurd to a freshman for a magazine. However I looked at it, I'd
reader, but to some of the upperclassmen be screwed if I wasted all that time clearing
who have lived in off-campus housing
before, I expect that scenarios like mine,
involving dramatic and sometimes desper-
ate friction in a landlord-tenant relation- Knowing your rights
ship, sound more plausible. h
It all started with a handwritten note my when dealing with
landlord taped to my door. It told me that I
was to move my belongings away from the your landlord isn't as
windowsill and clear a walkway for work-
men to enter and exit. The workmen, he good as knowing how
informed me, could tear out my windowsill goo
in my bedroom and rebuild it and that por- to bolt the door
tion of the wall.
I panicked. I was in the middle of moving
clothing, textbooks and art supplies were
heaped in piles or strewn about the room. out my apartment and then made nice with
Basically, if I wanted to continue living a repairmen as they trekked in and out of my
semi-normal life I was going to have to fig- bedroom replacing a windowsill that looked
ure out some way around complying with fine to me. Not to mention that I'd already
the instructions I had found taped to my paid my $650 rent for the month.
door. ButI didn't want to make a scene. I'm non-
I weighed my options. If I did comply with confrontational by nature. I once consented
his wishes, Iwould have to stop packing at to dog-sitting for two months without ask-
once (or pack everything up in a few nights, ing whether I would be paid. Last month I
but then where to put it all?), find sheets went to a book signing where two women
to drape over my desk and bed (anything cut in front of me in line, one of whom asked

to borrow my pen. I never got up the nerve
to ask for it back, she didn't volunteer, and
I was out a pen. So it took me three days to
psych myself up enough to call the 6'2", 300-
pound maintenance man. In this article, I'll
call him Mitch.
I told Mitch I had to respectfully
decline his offer to rip out my window-
sill, as he was already planning to re-side
the right side of my house that week. He
cited a paragraph in our lease that stipu-
lates landlords can enter a property to
make repairs if they give the tenant 24-
hour notice. But here's where I think my
story might be useful to other tenants: In
a last-ditch effort, I called my dad, a prac-
ticing attorney in Adrian, Mich., who told
me that because I was effectively being
evicted from my bedroom, the repair
was illegal. I don't know how many other
people out there have encountered similar
situations where overzealous landlords
embark on invasive repairs, but I'm guess-
ing I might not be alone.
I called Mitch back, this time with my dad
feeding me lines about "constructive evic-
tion" and "stop work" orders. I thought my
scholarly speeches would surely pacify him,
maybe even elicit heart-felt and eloquent
apologies that I would then reluctantly but
graciously accept. Instead of backing down,
though, Mitch got angry.
He told me he wasn't a lawyer and he'd
enter the property no matter what. I told

him I'd lock the door. Based on my father's
knowledge of the laws surrounding leases,
the books were on my side, but that wasn't
much comfort when he told me he had the
keys.
At the time, I was living alone in a three-
bedroom house. So I was terrified when,
after my father threatened to call the
police, Mitch said he'd welcome the com-
pany. Mitch had never been cordial on the
phone, and it struck me that if he was hos-
tile enough to force his way in through a
locked door, he had the potential to become
violent. He'd already showed his disdain for
legal contracts and I wasn't dying to find out
if he showed a similar abandon for criminal
law.
So I chain locked the door and waited. I
spent a sleepless night thrilling at the sound
of a squirrel's footfall or a leaf scraping
against the driveway.
The next morning, I got a call from my
management company saying they were
halting construction. Just like that, it was
over. I was able to peacefully move out of my
house, and they didn't even do the residing
work.
The lesson learned? If you pay your rent
it's your property, so don't hesitate to chal-
lenge your landlord. Just don't count on get-
ting your full deposit back.
-Sarah Salo is a staff reporter
for The Michgan Daily.

SAFETY
From page 7B
the Campus Safety Handbook exist-
ed or that he likely sat through a DPS
presentation and received a copy of
the handbook at orientation.
"Ican'tremember anythingabout
a security presentation. Not at all,"
Tootla said.
LSA sophomore Mike Enochs
told The Michigan Daily recently
that he doesn't usually open e-mails
from the University administration,
and so was oblivious the sirens that
blared on Sept. 11 were only a test.
"I don't really look at stuff that
isn't important, that's not related to
my classes or department," Enoch
said.
Brown said comments like that
have her concerned about how the
student population would react in
a crisis.
"I don't know if he's one voice of a
minority or one voice of an awful lot
of people," Brown said.
E-mails from DPS that
would warn the University commu-
nity in the case of a campus emer-
gency are futile if students don't

read them. And a text messaging
alert program, Brown said, would
face many of the same obstacles of
the University's e-mail system. As
with emergency e-mails, it could
take hours for the program to send
text messages out to thousands of
people. Also, the message might be
interpreted as.a joke or restrained
from clearly explaining the situ-
ation by a character limit. in any
case, it would only reach the people
who bothered to get their cell phone
numbers into the system.
Finkenauer recommends that
university security departments
try to engage students about secu-
rity issues throughout their college
careers. He said reiterating infor-
mation about precautions individu-
als can take to protect themselves is
more effective than any particular
security measure, because things
like blue-light phones and card-
swipe doors are generally designed
just as much to make people feel
safe as they are toactually make
them safe.
For example, in a society
where the cell phone is ubiquitous,
Finckenauer said, measures like
blue-light phones are redundant.

that campus lighting, escortservices
or even a text message alert system
could do to prevent it. Is it going to
happen here? Probably not.
Without implementing invasive
security measures, the University
will probably remain fairly easy
picking for criminals, especially if
students don't take advantage of
precautions already in place. That
doesn't mean we should necessar-
ily get aggressive about stepping
up security; we do, after all, have
our own police force. No one wants
metal detectors inside University
buildings, even though they might
have prevented Seung-Hui Cho from
injuring dozens of people. There's a
balance universities have to strike
when they weigh campus security
procedures.
Maybe DPS has it right by gen-
erally ignoring the report recently
issued by a panel in Virginia rec-
ommended campus security mea-
sures. The University and most
campuses like it are very safe or at
least as safe as unobtrusive mea-
sures are going to make it. And for
nervous parents, there's always the
blue-light phones to make them a
little more comfortable.

School of Music senior Dan Rector leans.t
But Brown said the phones likely
work in another way that can't be
measured quantitatively. With the
illuminated blue columns offering
extra light and an emergency escape
plan every 20 steps, the lone student
may feel more comfortable and the
creep lurking behind him might not -
feel comfortable attacking.
That comfort, Finkenauer said, is
a huge part of public security.
"Probably the feeling of safety is a

gainst a van owned by S.A.F.E. Walk
more important issue than the facts
of crime," Finckenauer said.
Brown said staying visible in all
kinds of situations is a goal of DPS.
"There are times that officers are
there to keep something from hap-
pening," she said. "There are other
times that they're there because it's
a nice thing."
Could an incident the magnitude
of the Virginia Tech massacre hap-
pen here? Sure. There's not much

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