Moving Forward With Right To Renew

Sep 4, 2022 | City Council

Agenda item C-1 on the September 6, 2022 Council meeting is the draft ordinance for Right to Renew (“Just Cause” for eviction).

C-1 (22-1468) An Ordinance to Add Section 8:531 to Chapter 105 (Housing Code) of Title VIII of the Ann Arbor City Code – (Right to Renew and Relocation Assistance)

This policy was first introduced on a Council agenda in July 2021 and a draft ordinance was sent to City attorneys again in March 2022. In April, I wrote a summary of local efforts to approve this ordinance:

Earlier this summer, the City’s Renters Commission began meeting. The Commission identified Right to Renew/Just Cause policy as a top priority and scheduled special meetings to discuss it. Since July, the Commission has met publicly four times, plus sub-quorum meetings in between. A draft ordinance – as approved by the Renters Commission – was included on our last Council agenda (August 15). Action was delayed then, while we waited for review and response from the City attorney’s office. I wrote about it in my last newsletter:

In response to advice from City attorneys (sent Aug 26) and feedback from local landlords, the Renters Commission plans to revisit this draft in order to make changes. At the August 15th Council meeting, some Council members also raised questions about how this policy might be implemented for the benefit of tenants in affordable housing and its potential impact on housing subsidies and vouchers. Since that meeting, Council Member Song asked that this ordinance be reviewed by the Housing and Human Services Advisory Board (HHSAB). The chair of the Renters Commission has offered to present to an HHSAB meeting later this week to satisfy that request. For these reasons, C-1 will be postponed to the Council meeting on September 19.

I have been discussing a Right to Renew/Just Cause for Eviction policy with community stakeholders since the spring of 2021. In May 2021, I spoke with Jennifer Hall about how our Affordable Housing Commission managed leases, whether a right to renew would be problematic for her department’s management of subsidized housing in the City. Ms. Hall emphasized that tenants in affordable housing are already protected from arbitrary evictions or non-renewal of leases, that the goal of affordable housing is to keep people housed rather than evict them.

I tried to clarify this issue in questions to the Agenda this week

Question: Are tenants in subsidized affordable housing units in Ann Arbor ever subject to an arbitrary non-renewal of a lease? Are tenants in subsidized affordable housing units in Ann Arbor ever subject to non-renewal of a lease under terms that aren’t already described in this ordinance as “just cause”? (Councilmember Nelson)

Response: The AAHC has 10+ different state and federal (and local) regulatory restrictions on our programs and they are all different. Our initial response is that the AAHC does not engage in either practice. To the extent there are other subsidized affordable housing units not administered by the AAHC, it is possible that this occurs. To answer whether other subsidized affordable housing may engage in these practices, more research is required regarding program restrictions. (Although we can provide information on program restrictions, we do not have information on actual renewal practices by other landlords.) Staff is looking into this issue further and will supplement this response.

In 2021, Jennifer Hall explained to me that tenants in affordable housing subsidized by HUD are already protected from eviction by a “just cause” policy. She shared that affordable housing subsidized by Low Income Housing Tax Credit Lease (LIHTC) also includes “just cause” protection for tenants. Below, you can read the LIHTC leasing protections that were sent to me in May 2021.

I have seen and heard a lot of frustration from tenants rights advocates who see how long it has taken Council to act on this issue. I share their frustration. For over a year now, in small meetings and phone calls I have heard my Council colleagues suggest that reasonable tenant protections were a question of compromise with landlords, or insist that this issue was not worth supporting if it required any legal defense. I believe that ABA-recommended tenant rights should not be a negotiation with profit interests. I also believe that this policy is worth fighting for (and defending).

I am cautiously optimistic that a postponement to September 19 will be the last and final delay before approval of a Just Cause for Eviction ordinance. Later this week, the ordinance will be discussed at meetings of the HHSAB and the Renters Commission, to review final adjustments to the current draft in response to concerns raised by the legal department, landlords, and Council members. If we see further delay, I encourage renters to pay close attention to the explanations and excuses offered by your elected leaders.