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Tenancy In The '90s

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Helio, good day, and welcome to a new monthly column. First, we have an admission to make: We're lawyers. Next we'll reveal our unhidden agenda: Locally, to aid working people n securing their rights, globally, to cali attention to the alarming trend toward centralization of power in the hands of a few, an international movement to totalitarianism, fascism, or whateveryou choose to cali it. Our column will jump from such mundane, but at times crucial issues as getting your security deposit back, to ranting about the latest attack on our civil rights. Thanks to AGENDA forfighting back against the centralization of the control of information by providing the Ann Arbor area with an independent altemative to mainstream media. Please, readers, write to agree or disagree with us, to request information, or just to share your best lawyer joke. (What's black and brown and looks good on a lawyer? A Doberman pinscher.) Tenants' Rights to Privacy Fact: In 1971 23 of Americans could expect to own thejr own home in their lifetime, by 1 986' only 13 of Americans could expect to. The American Dream, your own house, cabin, hut, or lean-to, on your land, protected by the sanctity of private property, is available to fewer Americans each year. There are, of course, many inroads into the sanctity of one's home, but that subject is for another day. What about your rights living undersomeone else's roof, someone who takes your rent so that they can buy the building that you cali home and can pad their own pad at your expense? We'li begin with a tenant's right to privacy. If you want your apartment kept up, but don't want your land lord to barge in and see your cat, your plants, your magazines, your rubber duck, or your f riends, drop by the Ann Arbor Tenants Union (AATU) on the 4th floor of the Michigan Union and piek up their leaflet on "Concealing Your Rubber Duck: Privacy in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti," which serves as a short addendum to the seminal AATU publication: "How to Evict Your Landlord." The bare bones of the leaflet is that in Ann Arbor all the tenants in one unit can write the landlord a letter requiring "entry restrictions": three days written notice from the landlord prior to entry, except in emergency. A tenant can delay entry 72 hours by calling by noon the day before the proposed entry. If you rent in Ann Arbor, send your landlord a letter and increase your right to privacy today. Ypsilanti's privacy rights are a little different and don't require you to write a letter. Seventytwo hours notice (24 in the last three months' tenancy or if the building is for sale) and the landlord is expressly prohibited in the ordinance from looking through the tenant's personal possessions (rubber duck collection), using multiple entries to harass the tenant or sexually harassing the tenant. Landlord privacy violations in Ypsilanti yield an express right to sue for a month 's rent or $500, whichever is more, and actual attorney's fees. The tenant can also termínate the lease. Whether you're in Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti or not, you have a common law right of "quiet enjoyment." Insist on it. Inventory Checklists & Security Deposits It being September again (where did our lovely summer go?) many people are starting a new lease agreement. Landlords are supposed to give you an inventory checklist when you move in. Get one and fill it out carefully and extenslvely. List every single defect in the premises, every hole in the wall, check the appliances (do smoke detectors work? does every stove burner bum?), note missing tiles on the bathroom floor, cross out any disclaimer saying, "This is not a request for repairs," (It is too!) then giyea cppy tbe, lapdlord .a.nd, .fcapp. jjf&Jor , yourself. This process can help in two ways: (1) get you some repairs and (2) prepare for at the end of the lease when some landlords will try to blame you for defects that were already there or aren 't your fault and deduct repair charges from your security deposit. If you are having to f ight to get back last y ear's security deposit, it's often a good idea to expand the fight to claim damages for the repair problems you were going to let slide. Land lord suits to keep the security deposit sometimes result in successful tenant counterclaims for inconvenience, discrimination, or sex harassment, depending on the facts. The Fine Print The "Truth-in-Renting" laws, fought for successfully by the AATU in the 1 970s, give you a right to claim damages if there are deceptive clauses in the lease. You need to write to the landlord identif y ing the deceptive clause - giving the landlord 20 days to correct the clause in all the landlord's leases, before you sue for $200, injunction, or getting out of the lease. Most deceptive clauses viólate the Consumer Protection Act, which forbids clauses containing a "probability of confusión or misunderstanding" as to the legal rights of the tenant, and also entitles you to damages and attorney fees. Power in Numbers This is just a taste of what tenants should do to preserve theirrights. Butthe best thingyoucan do is: SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL TENANTS UNION! The Ann Arbor Tenants Union (AATU) started in 1968 and does much more than hand out leaflets. It counsels, helps organize tenants and rent strikes, and supports pro-tenant legislation (including privacy). A Tenants Union case (Rome v. Walker) established your right to withhold rent because of poor conditions in your apartment. The Tenants Union sponsored cases successfully limiting court escrow during rent strikes, establishing a right of reasonable sound privacy as an urban altemative to open spaces, and the right to freedom from retaliatory eviction for attempting to secure new rights. Presently, the Tenants Union is sponsoring cases against landlord discrimination based on race, genderorage. Obviously, landlords hate the Tenants Union's "multiplier effect": its presence in one case enables othertenants to teil the landlord 'Til cali the Tenants Union." The landlord, fearing a rent strike, performs. The University administraron doesn't like the Tenants Union either, partly because of the U administrators' ties to anything or anyone that smells of wealth, and more important, because the Tenants Union is a little dot of people power outside President Duderstadt's organization. The universities' greater and greater bonding with the military industrial complex is making intemal University fascism trendy. This is why we have the secret kangaroo court CODE, the private nondemocratically controlled U-M pólice, the Michigan Daily Board now appointed by President Duderstadt, and the faculty to be ap. pointed by an administrator. If you f ind the Tenants Union staff not always available, it is because its f unding has been cut to one paid position. Consider volunteering a few hours a week. Cali today, 763-6876. Send your questions, comments (and jokes) to AGENDA, Rose & Weber Object!, 220 S. Main St., Ann Arbor, Ml 48104. And be advised: General articles on legal rights such as this one do not substituto for an analysis of your particular situation. , , rft


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