Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Mayor Hieftje considering ordinance to push back lease-signing

22. March 2005 • Murph
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The Michigan Daily reports that Mayor Hieftje has begun thinking about how to create a city ordinance that would prevent lease-signing too early in the school year, reducing pressure on students to find housing and sign (or renew) leases before properly considering their next year’s needs.

The rush to find off-campus housing will be dramatically different next fall if Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje succeeds in passing a city ordinance that would restrict landlords from leasing apartments and houses until after the fall semester is over.

“My plan is to start work on developing this ordinance internally with our legal people, and with the council members, and move this so that we have it in place by the end of summer,� Hieftje confirmed in an interview with The Michigan Daily.

Hieftje said he was unsure of what the specifics of the ordinance will be. For example, he said he would like to write the ordinance in such a way that, while landlords would be barred from leasing apartments and houses early, exceptions could be made for students who want to lease apartments before the start of winter semester. However, he said he does not know how this would be done.

The article mentions experience with a similar ordinance in Madison, WI, which had the unintended consequence of causing all students to try to find housing during the Fall semester exam period and had to be revised. It’s also unclear how an ordinance like Madison’s, which blocked out showing of apartments and lease-signing during the first 1/3 of the current lease, would affect leases with terms other than one year, such as the four or eight month contracts offered by Ann Arbor’s student co-ops, or leases that don’t start at the beginning of the school year, which, despite the significant influence of the University on Ann Arbor’s rental housing market, do exist.



  1. Sometimes I feel like the market really just ought to be allowed to do its thing. Consider the ~20% rental vacancy rate, the 900-person development near north campus, the Frieze-defacing North Quad, certain 6BR apartments that Julie could point to, and free AATA bus service for anybody with an MCard, and it seems like students shouldn’t worry too much about not finding housing.
       —Murph    Mar. 22 '05 - 12:34PM    #
  2. Agreed—this seems like an unnecessary intrusion into the private market. In my experience, (4 annual cycles) the pressure to sign early is coming from students, not from landlords. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a “what about next year” notice before January 1.

    I also think this will actually increase pressure on students to act without taking sufficient time to look at many options, as it will essentially be everyone busting out of the gate at once in a mad rush. This may all be colored by my suspicion that Hieftje is not really acting in the interests of students (in this and other cases).
       —Dale    Mar. 22 '05 - 12:43PM    #
  3. In February, housing starts hit a 21-year high, defying all expectations. CNBC anchors believe it’s due to speculative investment buying. They’re talking about a housing bubble every day.

    People are also getting mortgages for houses they can’t afford because they want to get the very best interest rate before the Fed raises rates (as it is expected to do today). If you hold out for a couple years, Murph, you might be able to buy one of their houses for cheap.
       —Hillary    Mar. 22 '05 - 01:07PM    #
  4. My landlord started showing my apartment again less than a month after I moved in this year. I wanted to look at a new place, but my roommates got nervous and decided we had to re-sign right away before someone else took it.

    I understand both sides of the lease dates argument here, but it seems to me that a re-sign date ordinance would be perfectly reasonable.
       —KTL    Mar. 22 '05 - 01:15PM    #
  5. Speaking from personal experience, it’s absolutely the students that are driving the renewal dates earlier and earlier. We get people coming into our office looking for housing for the following year by the second week of September. We’ve actually probably put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage by setting a mid-October limit before we’ll start showing, both to give ourselves a chance to recover from the cycle and to allow our residents time to relax in their new place before people start tramping through it and renting it from under them.

    I can’t think of a student property manager that would object to this. However, I also can’t think of a way to reasonably enforce it or install it without creating more problems on top of the ones we have already.
       —Marc R.    Mar. 22 '05 - 01:16PM    #
  6. In my experience, undergrads are really dumb about finding housing and believe some myth about needing to get a place by November. That was the word on the street when I was an undergrad, but it’s interesting how most grad students don’t bother to worry about it ‘til well-into Winter semester and always find housing? Even the incoming grad students who don’t even know they’re coming here until April 15? And most of us actually typically end up in more desirable neighborhoods, it seems. The rush is really for the South student ghetto, for whatever reason.
       —Brandon    Mar. 22 '05 - 01:46PM    #
  7. Hillary, are you talking Washtenaw? SEMi? Nationally? (I’d believe any of those, and I believe talk of a bubble; I’m just curious.)

    Dale, I think we should try to start an Oklahoma Land Rush style housing hunt tradition. Get all the students together on the Diag, and, at the stroke of noon, all of the rental properties in Ann Arbor throw open their doors, with leases and pens sitting on the kitchen tables.
       —Murph    Mar. 22 '05 - 01:56PM    #
  8. Brandon- That’s because landlords like to rent to grad students. And generally see undergrads as easy marks.
    But I agree- I’ve always ended up with the best deals by waiting as long as possible, and swooping in on places that would otherwise go unrented.
    Luckily, in my current spot, there’s no worries about that.
    Oh, and why, exactly, should the government have this power to set lease dates? I mean, I hate to sound all Libertarian, but c’mon. We don’t have to have every facet of our lives regulated…
       —js    Mar. 22 '05 - 02:20PM    #
  9. Oh this is ridiculous!

    First, not everyone who rents is a student. Not all of the Ann Arbor rental market revolves around the school year.

    Second, if you truly believe that you can not find an apartment close to campus at any time of the year, you deserve what you get. If a landlord treats you like crap by showing your apartment the month after you move in—find someplace else, don’t re-sign.

    Once you get out of the gullible student market, most apartment complexes and rental houses in Ann Arbor ask you what you are thinking about doing a couple of months before the end of the lease and most people searching for an apartment only do so about six weeks before needing to move.
       —Julie    Mar. 22 '05 - 03:07PM    #
  10. (Off-topic, but since I just noticed: March has just become AU’s highest traffic month ever! And it’s only the 22nd. Any bets on what wildly interesting issue will arise next month to keep the traffic up?)
       —Murph    Mar. 22 '05 - 03:19PM    #
  11. It sounds a little fishy to me, too. I’m not a student, but I’ve never had a problem either, despite the horrified gasps I heard from people when I told them I hadn’t found a place by April or May. In the summer of 2003, I and my roommates waited until two weeks before we had to move before finding a wonderful place in the OWS for $940 a month (there were three of us). I’ve heard the stories, but they’ve certainly never affected me.
       —Lazaro    Mar. 22 '05 - 04:43PM    #
  12. It seems like it used to be a little worse than it is now, but I’ve always been able to find a place. I haven’t been 100% happy with either of them, but that’s mostly due to the fact that it’s very hard to find dog-friendly accomodations…
       —Scott    Mar. 22 '05 - 05:40PM    #
  13. Make that most two most recent residences. Before that I lived in a the strangest, coolest place in town and I’m moving back this summer…
       —Scott    Mar. 22 '05 - 05:41PM    #
  14. Murph: I think there’s going to be a general decline nationwide with some areas being much harder hit than others. Washtenaw County is a highly speculative market. Things aren’t looking good for Oakland or Grand Traverse either. Depressed markets like Detroit, Saginaw, Flint and Jackson may not see much change.

    The price of oil is another factor that may influence future home sales. Oil is a component of so many consumer products, rising oil prices are begining to cause inflation in other sectors, like building supplies and cement. The Fed battles inflation by raising interest rates.

    But, who knows? The price of fuel may make condos and downtown living without a car more appealing to the newly bankrupt.
       —Hillary    Mar. 22 '05 - 06:46PM    #
  15. Totally on-topic, if anyone is still looking for somewhere to live this Fall, check this out
       —Brandon    Mar. 22 '05 - 06:50PM    #
  16. Brandon, don’t make me smack you.

    Maybe we need an AU classifieds section?
       —Murph    Mar. 22 '05 - 07:38PM    #
  17. How about a personals section?

    “Raving anti-auto idealouge seeks attractive parking structure in floodplain.”

    “Homeowner seeks density . . . that’s just not the right place for it.”

    “Are you the LoFT I’ve been looking for all my life?”
       —Brandon    Mar. 22 '05 - 08:58PM    #
  18. I actually do know how to spell “ideologue”
       —Brandon    Mar. 22 '05 - 09:03PM    #
  19. You also know how to spell kitsch.
       —js    Mar. 22 '05 - 09:53PM    #