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Elizabeth Nelson's City Council Blog

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.

Right To Renew Initiative

This week marked the beginning of an important movement on behalf of renters. Ann Arbor Rising for Tenants (AART) is a coalition of housing justice activists and organizations based in and around Ann Arbor, founded by the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) housing caucus. The AART has launched a new campaign in support of more protections for tenants: a “right to renew” or “just cause” for eviction. This policy - preventing arbitrary and potentially discriminatory evictions - is something that I have advocated for since last summer, when City Council debated and negotiated terms for the Early Leasing Ordinance.


BACKGROUND

Council discussion of the Early Leasing Ordinance began in April 2021 but final approval did not happen until August 2021. For anyone unfamiliar with the Early Leasing Ordinance, I wrote about it at the time:

There is near unanimous agreement that a problem exists: it is not good for anyone to be entering into contracts for housing so far in advance. An important point of agreement between landlords and tenants: any solution to the problem must be enforceable, so that all landlords and tenants are subject to (and protected by) the same set of rules.

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/additional-thoughts-june-5-2021-early-leasing-ordinance


Last summer, I advocated for the inclusion of right to renew (RTR) or just cause (JC) provisions in our amendments to the Early Leasing Ordinance (ELO). Such a policy would have been the most effective strategy for addressing the disparity of power between landlords and tenants. I wrote about it at the time:

The “right to renew” creates the exact mechanism needed to enforce a timeline and protect tenants from too-early leasing. The pressure to lease comes from the threat of competing offers, the idea that others are eager to sign leases and others are willing (and can afford) to pay deposits early. The right to renew removes that pressure.

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/early-leasing-ordinance-update-right-to-renew


ELO ordinance amendments appeared on five Council agendas in 2021 before it passed:

  • April 5 2021 - ELO amendments on Council agenda, postponed to June

  • June 7 2021 - ELO amendments on Council agenda, postponed to July

  • July 6 2021 - ELO amendments - including RTR/JC provisions - approved at “first reading”

  • July 20 2021 - ELO amendments return to “first reading” due to substantive changes, removing RTR/JC provisions.

  • Aug 2 2021 - ELO amendments - without RTR/JC provisions - approved by Council (unanimous)

In discussion of the Early Leasing Ordinance last summer, Council relied on City attorneys for advice. A few hours before the July 20th Council meeting, City attorneys advised Council to remove the RTR/JC provisions and we complied. Even as I agreed to the removal of those provisions, I made clear that I still believed that such a policy was the best path forward. As MLive reported:

Nelson and Council Member Travis Radina, D-3rd Ward, said they’re going to continue to work on the “right to renew” issue. It’s been a meaningful housing policy in other communities and an important protection for tenants, Nelson said.

https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2021/07/they-dont-give-a-damn-about-us-debate-over-ann-arbor-renter-rights-heats-up.html


Council eventually approved an Early Leasing Ordinance that prescribed a timeline for communication between landlords and tenants, but utterly failed to address the problem of pre-committed rental units, waiting lists, and early deposits. The pressure on tenants and the predatory practice of early leasing continues, despite last year’s efforts. The last six months have highlighted and underlined the need for more meaningful regulation of the rental housing market.


BEST PRACTICE

Just two months ago, the American Bar Association published Ten Guidelines for Residential Eviction Laws; RTR/JC policy appears as one of their ten recommendations:

  1. Tenants should receive reasonable notice and an opportunity to cure before facing eviction for a lease violation.

  2. An eviction court should have emergency procedures for tenants who are locked out or otherwise extrajudicially evicted from their homes.

  3. No tenant should be evicted without a meaningful opportunity to present proofs and arguments in a hearing and before a trained judicial officer that has the authority to consider any legal or equitable defense.

  4. A tenant should have an adequate opportunity to prepare for an eviction hearing, including by conducting civil discovery

  5. Courts should require landlords and tenants to participate in prelitigation diversion programs focused on maintaining housing stability.

  6. No tenant should face eviction without access to full, quality representation by an attorney.

  7. A tenant facing eviction for nonpayment of rent should have the right to redeem the tenancy by paying off a judgment at any time before an eviction judgment.

  8. A tenant should have the right to appeal an eviction judgment and without unreasonable bond requirements.

  9. Lease termination, including non-renewal, should be limited to circumstances where good cause exists.

  10. A court that hears eviction cases should automatically seal the names of defendants before a final judgment and in dismissed cases, and courts should have practical procedures for sealing or otherwise protecting the privacy of defendants where other good cause exists.

These ABA guidelines and the accompanying report can be found here:

https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/directories/policy/midyear-2022/612-midyear-2022.pdf


NEXT STEPS

In the last month, I have made several inquiries about how we might adopt right to renew or just cause for eviction policies. I forwarded language to City attorneys, a draft of ordinance changes that had been written by a local attorney with expertise in landlord/tenant law. I have raised the issue with our City Administrator more than once. One month after my initial inquiry - asking for feedback on specific language - I am still waiting for acknowledgement/response from City attorneys. Internally, work on this issue has been stymied, so I am grateful for the efforts of local advocates raising it for broader community conversation.


If you are interested in learning more about incorporating important tenant protections in our local laws, I encourage you to visit the Ann Arbor Rising for Tenants campaign at the link below (Right to Renew is listed under the tab “Campaigns”):

https://www.aart.vote