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Ann Arbor's Worst 10 Landlords

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Inquiring minds want to know: Who are the worst landlords n town? For years, renters have asked the Ann ArborTenants Union to publish a "top ten" list of bad landlords. This year, the AATU is granting that request. Is your landlord on the list? To find out, take out your lease and read on. Compiling a list of "worst" landlords is easier said than done. Deciding on an "objective" standard with which to judge who should be on the list tumed out to be a diff icult task. Which is worse: a landlord who sexually harasses one tenant or a landlord who f ails to make repairs for 1 0 tenants? How much weight should be gi ven to factors such as a long history of tenant protests? These and other questions led us to realize that no rating system could cover all of the relevant factors and take into account different points of view conceming the severity of different kinds of typical landlord abuses. Just as we were about to despai r, the obvious anwer presented itself: LET THE TENANTS DECIDE. So, we held a poll. Tenant votes were collected at Art Fair and through the distribution of newsletters and flyers as well as over the air on the Tenants Union's WCBN radio show Tenant Talk." Each tenant was allowed up to three votes, which could be distributed among different landlords or assigned to the same landlord. When the votes were tallied, we had close to 200 votes for 45 different landlords. Any landlord receiving three or more votes was notified in writng and given an opportunity to respond. We decided to name only those landlords who had received five or more votes in the poll and 1 0 or more tenant complaints to the AATU since 1 990. We assigned each of those landlords two points for every vote received and one point for every tenant complaint to the AATU since 1990; five tionus" points were given to any landlord who had been the focus of a rent strike or other tenant protest. Only nine landlords met the "five votes plus 10 complaints" criterion, so we awarded the tenth position on and find out. But, before we recap the poll results, it's important to note that this list is not definitivo; our poll sample was far from "scientific" and our record of tenant allegationsisjustthat - a record of allegations. While several of the more notorious landlords in town are listed, the vagaries of the polling process led others to be omitted. Just because a landlord didn't make the list doesn't mean that he orshe i s a "good" landlord. And remember, with very few exceptions, all landlords make money (or buy property) for themselves by capitalizing on the basic human need for shelter. This hands-down winner controls scores of rental units in Ann Arborand Ypsilanti, including the Glencoe Hills, Golfside, Medical Center, Park Place, Roundtree, Scenic Lake, Schconer Cove, and Spruce Knob complexes. The AATU receives many times more calis from McKinley tenants than from the tenants of any other landlord. This might be simply because McKinley controls so much property. Tenant complaints span the entire range of possible grievances, including complaints of discrimination, harassment, Ilegal lease clauses, and repair problems so bad that all or part of the rental unit is uninhabitable. Furthermore, there is a long history of tenant protest against McKinley. McKinley lost a past suit conceming a lease clause which requires the tenant to provide, 30 days in advance, written notice of intent to vacate at the end of the lease term. If the tenant does not do so, McKinley may charge a tenant the next month's rent. According to current tenants, that clause is still in McKinley leases. (If you are a McKinley tenant with such a lease, contact the AATU to find out how the Truth in Renting Act may apply to you.) The AATU has records dating back to 1 984 of complaints by female tenants of nappropriate behavior by Jeffrey Gallatin, and Gallatin tenants continue to complain about threatening and aggressive behavior on the part of their landlord. In the past six months, more than one female tenant has told the AATU that such behavior has made her afraid to assert her rights. Other common tenant concerns include unfair security deposit deductions and unsubstantiated utility charges. Although he has never been convicted, Gallatin has twice been arrested for alleged assaults on women. In 1 984, he was acquitted of domestic assault charges but was ordered to pay $4,000 in damages in a related civil suit. In 1 987, Gallatin was arrested during the first two weeks of Ann Arbor's "mandatory arrest" ordinance (which requires officers to make an arrest if they believe an assault has occured, whether or not the alleged victim wishes to press charges). The alleged victim dropped the charges shortly before the case was to go to trial. According to Domestic Violence Project Executive Director Susan McGee, these incidents are relevant informa tion for prospect! ve Gallatin tenants. "I certainly wouldn't suggest to any woman that she rent from him," McGee said. Campus Rentáis was the focus of a past AATU campaign conceming privacy violations and repair problems. The AATU continúes to receive a higher-than-average number of invasión of privacy complaints from Campus Rentáis' tenants. If you've experienced this problem, you should know that both Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti have privacy ordinances which regúlate landlords' entry into rental units. The Ann Arbor privacy ordinance has two tiers or levéis, the first of which applies automatically and the second of which must be initiated by the tenant. Tier one requires only that landlords make a "good faith efforf to notify the tenant of a proposed entry, while tier two requires the landlord to give written notice within a specified time frame. In eithercase, the tenant always has the right to refuse the request and negotiate an alternative time. The Ypsilanti code always requires written notice or the permission of a tenant. In any case, remember that (except in the event of an emergency) landlords who enter without giving the appropriate notice andor receiving permission are trespassing. If your landlord is in your home illegally and refuses to leave, do not hesitate to cali the pólice. If your landlord repeatedly violates your privacy rights, you may wish to sue for damages. Wilson White has the dubious distinction of being the only landlord company on this list that was also targeted during the AATU rent strike of 1969. Current calis to the AATU about this company include high numbers of complaints about repair problems and unfair security deposit deductions as well as a greater-thanaverage number of allegations of racial discrimination. If you believe that you have been discriminated against by this or any other landlord, there is somewhere you can go for help. The Fair Housing Center of Washtenaw County (994-3426) will investígate your complaint and, if they find evidence of discrimination, assist you in pursuing legal action. [TTTttTTTTTtTtTtTtTTTTTTTTTTTTTi What do these seemingly separate entities have in common? They all trace back to the Farmington Hills address of (Mitchell and Richard) Blesnack Associates. They also use the same leases, with the same probl erna tic clauses, so the AATU treats them as a single entity. The Blesnack companies control the Woodbury and Traver Ridge complexes. Current and former tenants of those complexes are joining together to press a lawsuit conceming excessive late fees ($50!), flooding, wrongful retention of security deposits, privacy violations, and other problems. If you are a current or former WoodburyTraver Ridge tenant, you may have information that would be useful to these tenants; you may also wish to join the suit as a co-plaintiff . The AATU can put you in touch with the attorney who is handling the case. 'YtYYYttYt yTYTyYYyYYtTYTyYY TYTY' Sang Yong Nam owns the Arbordale Parkhurst and Mapleridge complexes. When notified that he might be named in this article, Nam expressed great surprise - despite the fact that his tenants have in the past organized protests concerning rent increases and repair problems. Nam's response to his tenants' complaints about rent increases was to state that he needed the money to pay his sons' tuitjon at UM. Reeen tly , Nam tenants have called the AATU regarding rent increases and repair problems (some of which have remained unresolved for months and years). One tenant complained of roach infestation so extensive that even her baby's crib was not safe. In written comments concerning this poll, Nam claimed that he treats his student tenants fairly; this may be true, as most AATU complaints about this landlord come from his lowincome tenants. In a conversation with AATU staff, Nam stressed his contributions to U-M's Korean Studies Program and his plans to endow a chair in that program. While that would certainly be a selfless and important achievement, Nam seemed not to appreciate that the pockets of the poor might not be the best place to get the money for such an endeavor. The Housing Commission administers public housing. Since most tenant complaints about conditions are handled through an ntemal grievance procedure, our record of complaints does not accurately reflect the scope and scale of tenant concerns. The Commission is an appointed body, with only minimal tenant representation. Over the past few years, UNITY (the public housing tenant organization) has staged numerous protests conceming various problems. Regardless of the specifics of each problem, there is a common theme to all of the protests - tenants are not treated with respect by the Commission and not allowed sufficient control over the conditions of their lives. To date, UNITY's efforts to gain significant tenant representation on the Commission have not been successful. PMSI stands forTroperty Management Specialists, Inc.," but the conditions and practices described by Douglas Milkey's tenants do not suggest that management specialists are at work. Recent complaints have ncluded privacy violations, Ilegal lease clauses, and dangerous delays in repair work. Housing thousands of students each year, U-M is one of the largest landlords in town. However, the university's parental attitude towards undergraduate students tends to prevent dorm dwellers from recognizing or asserting their rights as consumere and as tenants. Complaints about family housing are handled through an intemal procedure. Thus, our record of complaints does not reflect the scope and scale of tenant concerns. Policy decisions about U-M housing are made by the U-M Board of Regents. The Regents are elected on a wide basis and thus are not representative of the students over whom they rule or the Ann Arbor community which their decisions affect. Despite an Ann Arbor ordinance prohibiting housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientatjon, U-M Family Housing openly discriminates against prospective gay and lesbian tenants. A couple must present a marriage license to even receivean application for Family Housing. (Same-sex couples registered under Ann Arbor's Domestic Partnership Ordinance have been denied applications.) U-M faces no legal repercussions for this because the state constitution exempts the university from local laws. This exemption can also be hurtful to those tenants who are allowed to live in Family Housing. While the university does not hesitate to sue for eviction in local landlord-tenant court, should a tenant attempt to press a counter-claim, the university is quick to claim that the local court cannot judge it. ImmTmfffffTfffffTïffmTT! Who's the worst landlord in town? When a landlord cheats or deceives you, or when a landlord fails to make the repairs you need, or when a landlord harasses you or invades your privacy, then that landlord is, at that moment, the worst landlord in town. So, if you're disappointed at not finding your lavorite" landlord on this list, just write his or her name in the blank. Hang it up on the ref rigerator if it'll make you f eel better. But, if you really want to feel better, cali the AATU today to find out how you can fix the problem for yourself and help keep that landlord from hurting other tenants! The AATU is a non-profit organization providing education and advocacy services to tenants. Any tenant can cali the AATU at 763-6876 for help. For a chart detailing the calculations used to arrive at the list above, write the AATU at 4001 Michigan Union, Ann Arbor, Ml 48109.


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