Elizabeth Nelson's City Council Blog

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I write a City Council newsletter with my summary of agenda items coming before City Council. Sign up to receive it first via email, or read it here later on this blog.

Additional Thoughts (July 18, 2021) - Early Leasing Ordinance

The following was originally published in my July 18, 2021 Newsletter in the "Additional Thoughts" section.

In the last month, I have gotten a lot of emails about agenda item B-1, the Early Leasing Ordinance. Hundreds of residents have emailed Council, expressing support for amendments that lengthen a timeline and grant tenants a ‘right to renew.’ Local landlords have written to Council and suggested that the timeline in B-1 - the timeline approved and recommended by UM Central Student Government (CSG) and UM Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) - is not actually in the best interests of renters attending the University of Michigan. Landlords have also raised concerns and complaints around the “right to renew” provisions. After considerable collaboration with GEO, local attorneys, a city attorney, and colleagues on Council, I plan to support amendment of B-1. At this week's meeting, I expect the ‘right to renew’ provisions to be removed, while preserving the timeline endorsed by CSG and GEO.


BACKGROUND

I first wrote about our early leasing ordinance in my newsletter on February 27th. On April 5th, Council Member Radina and I sponsored an ordinance amendment that would have simply swapped numbers (replacing “70 days” with “240 days”). In light of concerns that this change, alone, did not adequately address enforcement issues, Council agreed to a postponement until June 7th.


For the remainder of April, members of GEO and I collaborated with legal and housing staff from the UM, landlords, City staff and others to discuss an enforcement mechanism that exists in other jurisdictions: the tenant’s 'right to renew’ a lease. On May 8th, I submitted a draft ordinance to City attorneys for review. This draft included ‘right to renew’ provisions borrowed from a Seattle ordinance; I asked City attorneys for assistance in drafting an appropriate local ordinance for Ann Arbor that would comply with Michigan law. On June 7th, the early leasing ordinance returned to Council. Since we had not yet received a drafted ordinance from the City’s legal department, it was postponed again (until July 20th). That postponement appears this week as agenda item C-1.


In late June, Council Member Radina and I insisted that ordinance language was needed for the purpose of outreach and discussion with stakeholders. To reduce the risk of further delay, we asked City attorneys to prepare an early leasing ordinance (with "right to renew") for “first reading” at the July 6th Council meeting. The draft language for B-1 was made available on July 2nd. After two months of waiting, we finally had language.


REVIEW and CONSIDERATION

On July 6th, the early leasing ordinance passed unanimously at first reading, with the expectation that it might be amended. Before that Council meeting, I had solicited feedback from four different local attorneys, all of whom had constructive suggestions about how to strengthen this ordinance, in compliance with Michigan law. Last week, leaders from GEO and I met with a City attorney and discussed potential changes to B-1. City attorneys sent formal legal advice to Council on Friday, July 16th, recommending that we remove the “right to renew.”


This weekend, after meeting with Council Member Radina and Council Member Briggs, I circulated an alternate draft of B-1 to Council colleagues, in response to the concerns raised by City attorneys. My alternate draft removes the “right to renew” portion of the ordinance. The revised draft preserves the timeline endorsed by CSG and GEO.


This ordinance has been, from the beginning, a serious collaboration among a variety of stakeholders. The goals of this ordinance have always been centered on tenants: the burden of renting early rests squarely on the shoulders of tenants and it is an equity issue for tenants of less means. Tenants in Ann Arbor and UM students in particular (both undergrad and graduate) are most impacted by early leasing and they have asked for these protections: both an extended timeline and a right to renew.


Over the course of many months, members of GEO and CSG participated in endless forums and meetings, discussing and advocating for this ordinance. Internally, the organizations discussed more than one timeline and arrived at the current compromise. Externally, leaders from both organizations met with multiple Council members, leadership from the Washtenaw Area Apartment Association, as well as staff from UM legal and housing departments, and City legal staff.


NEXT STEPS

I strongly urge my colleagues to approve B-1, especially the timeline. Even without the ‘right to renew’ provision, agenda item B-1 is an important step in acknowledging the needs and rights of tenants. Council has gotten hundreds of emails supporting this specific timeline: a landlord cannot show an apartment or enter an agreement for a subsequent term until 150 days before the end of a current lease term. I am optimistic that a majority of my Council colleagues will support this change.


At our last Council meeting, I described the right to renew as an elegant solution for enforcement of our local early leasing ordinance. I still believe this is true. A number of jurisdictions around the country have implemented (or are implementing) similar tenant protections. In the weeks since we first received the draft of B-1, several local attorneys have offered to work on improving it. I welcome their help and expertise. I believe that Ann Arbor can be a leader in this area of progressive housing policy and I am eager for more conversations that move us forward.