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Dozens of landlords sue Ann Arbor over new renter rights law

ANN ARBOR, MI — A group of local landlords is suing the city of Ann Arbor over a new renter rights law.

The Washtenaw Area Apartment Association and over two dozen landlords filed their federal case against the city in U.S. District Court late last week, claiming the city’s new restrictions on showing occupied apartments to other prospective tenants is a violation of landlords’ constitutional rights.

The case is now pending before Judge Judith Levy.

The group is represented by attorney Todd Holleman of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone PLC in Detroit.

City Council approved the new law in August amid threats from landlords that it would result in a lawsuit. Renters applauded the move, intended to relieve pressure renters have long faced to renew leases soon after moving into apartments.

‘They don’t give a damn about us.’ Debate over Ann Arbor renter rights heats up

The new law gives renters several extra months before landlords can force them to renew or lose their apartments for the next year. Previously, landlords only had to wait 70 days after the start of a lease before they could force tenants to renew for the following year or accept that their apartments could be shown and leased to other tenants.

Now, for leases exceeding eight months, landlords can’t enter a leased apartment to show it to other prospective tenants until 150 days before the end of the lease. That means renters who sign 12-month leases now will have roughly seven months to live in their apartments before deciding on renewing.

Council Member Elizabeth Nelson, D-4th Ward, lead sponsor of the new ordinance, said last week she’s heard of at least one landlord now offering eight-month leases to tenants, which she noted is a way around the new law.

City Attorney Stephen Postema declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying he doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The 25-page complaint filed in federal court names all the landlords who are co-plaintiffs in the case. Together, they own thousands of apartments in Ann Arbor.

Wickfield Properties is the biggest of them with over 600 apartments in Ann Arbor, followed by Cabrio Properties with over 500, Michigan Rental LLC with 345, Campus Management Inc. with 325, Varsity Management Inc. with 288, Deinco Properties with 261, Issa Properties with 200, Investor’s Property Management with 125, and J. Keller Properties with 125.

Several smaller landlords with one or more properties, such as Ewing Investment Corp. and Arborstone Properties, also are listed as co-plaintiffs in the case.

The Washtenaw Area Apartment Association represents 310 members, including 122 with a combined 16,528 rental properties in Ann Arbor, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs argue the new law restricting their ability to show properties is “an unconstitutional burden” on their free-speech rights under the First and Fourteenth amendments.

Missing from the ordinance is a description of any compelling governmental interest served, let alone the problem it seeks to solve, they argue, describing it as “unconstitutional content-based restrictions on commercial speech.”

“Under the entry and leasing provisions, certain speakers (landlords) are prohibited from speaking based on content (speech related to showing their property and leasing agreements) for a particular purpose (entering into leasing agreements),” the lawsuit states, arguing it’s unconstitutional because it prohibits landlords “from speaking on a particular topic in pursuit of a particular purpose.”

The new law has wide-ranging consequences and encourages off-books or black-market leasing activity, the lawsuit further states, also arguing the 150-day window before most new leases begin in August will be “frenzied.”

And before the 150-day leasing period,…

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