Additional Thoughts (Feb 27, 2021) – Fair Chance & Early Leasing Ordinances

Feb 27, 2021 | City Council

The following was originally published in my Feb 27, 2021 Newsletter in the “Additional Thoughts” section.

Fair Chance Ordinance

This week, I’m excited to see C-5 on our agenda, which I first learned about almost two years ago. It’s satisfying to see the results of advocacy in our community!

C-5 (21-0352) An Ordinance to Add Chapter 122 (Fair Chance Access to Housing) to Title IX of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor

Shortly after I was elected, a Ward 4 resident told me a personal story about discrimination in rental housing. He showed me applications that landlords ask prospective tenants to complete, including specific questions about past criminal convictions. He described how landlords in town use the answers to these questions to automatically reject prospective tenants, before learning anything more about the person behind the application. Other municipalities have recognized that this kind of discrimination is a significant barrier for people who need stable housing; these municipalities have addressed it via ordinance. The end of a prison sentence should be a new beginning for the person experiencing it. It is in the public interest for people to leave prison and move forward in a positive way, as a contributing member of our community. We make that transition much more difficult when we systematically exclude people with criminal convictions from all rental housing.

When I brought this issue to City staff, I was told that it was a topic for the Human Rights Commission to consider, so I helped connect my constituent to that commission. In 2019, when I was appointed as a Council liaison to the HRC, the Fair Chance Ordinance was then in the middle of review and discussion. City legal staff, local advocates, and HRC commissioners have done the hard work of crafting this ordinance and I am proud to cosponsor it this week with CM Travis Radina. I believe it is a wonderful example of how our residents can help elected officials identify problems in the community and craft policies that reflect our local values.

Early Leasing Ordinance

In the last month, I have begun work on another rental housing issue, prompted by advocacy from local residents. Recently, leadership from the Graduate Employees Organization contacted me, to talk about our leasing ordinance and changes they would like to see.

The Ann Arbor rental market is extremely challenging for people who need housing near downtown/campus; many tenants are competing for a limited number of units. Given market pressures, landlords are able to collect deposits and assign leases many months before the terms of a lease would begin (i.e. many months before the tenant would actually move into the housing unit).

The GEO and other local leaders would like to change this part of our City ordinance:

[A] landlord of residential premises shall not:

Enter the leased premises for the purpose of showing the premises to prospective tenants until 70 days of the current lease period has passed; orEnter into an agreement to rent the leased premises to another tenant for a subsequent lease period until 70 days of the current lease period has passed.

This provision is meant to address the pressures of our rental market, the vulnerability of tenants asked to make early lease commitments. However, graduate and undergraduate student leaders tell us that the “70 days” described in our current ordinance is grossly inadequate.

Tenants are often asked to renew a lease (or told that their apartment is subject to visits/tours from future tenants of the next leasing term) a little over two months into a twelve month lease. Current and potential tenants are pressured to sign rental agreements (assuming thousands of dollars in liability) far in advance of the actual leasing term, well before anyone might be certain about their future housing needs or preferences. If a tenant’s circumstances change, transferring a lease is subject to approval by the landlord; tenants risk more liability when they sublease an apartment to someone else who might cause damages or fail to pay.

This situation becomes an equity issue when access to housing depends on a person’s ability to make large financial commitments – in both deposits and future liability of the contract – so many months before a leasing term even begins. The risk of signing these early lease agreements is much higher for people with less means.

I’ve gotten good background on this issue directly from City staff who enforce our rental ordinances, City attorneys, local tenants and local landlords. It was suggested to me that this concern – like the Fair Chance Ordinance – might be an appropriate topic for the Human Rights Commission to consider, so I’ve asked that it be discussed there. I look forward to working with local advocates to craft better policy that helps our local renters and reflects our local values.

The link below is a good place to learn more about the impact of this issue and sign a petition to support efforts to reform city policies: