Holding Off on New Law, Stephens to Convene Task Force on Student Housing

Thursday, December 6, 2018, 9:33 am
By: 
Jessy Gregg

Above: Rental houses in the Bailey neighborhood and Aaron Stephens.

A proposed ordinance that would have stopped landlords from requiring rent payments for more than one month was tabled by Council this week at the request of Aaron Stevens, the Council Member who proposed the East Lansing law in October. Landlords have strongly objected to the proposal, and Stephens has announced he will convene a special task force on student housing to examine this and other issues.

Before Council voted unanimously to table the matter this Tuesday night, several people came to the podium during public comment to speak to proposed Ordinance 1444.

Owen Irvine, a former economics professor from MSU whose wife owns a property rental business in East Lansing, gave some insight into some of the complexities that underlie the practice of collecting rent for periods longer than a month.

Irvine said that his wife’s company used to charge rent in monthly increments. But, he said, they found that with many rental arrangements where three or more people were sharing a rental unit (like a whole house), semester-long rental periods led to fewer late payments, which meant fewer late fees and overall lower expenses and lower risk for student renters.

Below, left: 120 Spartan Avenue, advertised by CRMC as available to large groups, fraternities, etc., with 19 bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms, at $15,675 per month.

Representing a student perspective, Darryl Ervin Jr., an MSU freshman who serves as the Community Liaison for ASMSU, told Council, “I think it’s really important for everyone here to know that . . . about 60% of the students at Michigan State live off-campus. I also want people to know that all of those students aren’t getting support from their parents.”

Supporting draft Ordinance 1444, Ervin explained that paying rent in large lump sums was difficult for students with limited resources. He added, “this is about helping [all] the students in our community gain access to the same housing as their wealthier counterparts.” Ervin offered his assistance to help Stevens figure out “the whole puzzle” in regards to the problems students face in the East Lansing rental market.

Stevens explained in his remarks at Council that changing this one aspect of the student experience in East Lansing would not fix what he sees as the underlying problems.

He said that, in the past month, he has had conversations “with landlords, students, permanent residents, and a number of groups with an interest in what was proposed in [Ordinance] 1444. Throughout these conversations, whether they were positive…or negative towards this specific policy, there always seemed to be a little bit more [of concern], whether that was in regard to fees for ordinance violations, property improvement restrictions, noise complaints, other aspects of lease agreements, information provided to students and a lot more.”

Stephens concluded, “Student housing is a huge issue in this community.”

In an effort to develop more comprehensive recommendations, Stevens says he plans to convene a “Student Housing Task Force” to look at all aspects of student living. According to Stevens, the group will be comprised of students, landlords, members of neighborhood associations, representatives from ASMSU, and City staff.

“If we all work together and every interest is heard, we can definitely get something really positive done,” he said. He invited people to contact him through his City Council email at astevens@cityofeastlansing.com to give their input or to volunteer to be part of the discussion.

Earlier this week, landlord Brian Hagan posted a message to the local discussion forum Public Response explaining why many landlords see Ordinance 1444 as representative of over-regulation and legally problematic.

To Hagan’s message, Mayor Mark Meadows replied, “Nice try[,] Brian,” and said that the proposed local ordinance would reiterate, not contradict with, State law, specifically with the Landlord and Tenant Relationships Act. Meadows said the local proposed law intends “that a landlord be prohibited from requiring more than one month rent be paid in advance,” a practice he said is “already prohibited by the LTRA.”

Lawyers representing landlords have disagreed with Meadows’ reading of the law – suggesting lawsuits might ensue if the ordinance is enacted – but Meadows said at Council this week that he was ready to vote in favor of 1444.

Meadows also clarified the authority of the task force Stephens envisions, saying, “This is Council Member Stephens' task force that he’s going to be running and making recommendations to Council at some point. This is not a Council activity. This is a Council Member activity.”