A Decade of Dissent: Student Protests at the University of Michigan in the 1960s
Another local issue provoking university students was housing. Student housing choices were extremely limited and often undesirable. Rents were high, apartments were cockroach-infested, and landlords routinely failed to return security deposits. On January 25, 1968, The Michigan Daily reported that Apartments Ltd received the most number of student complaints, mainly regarding deposits not being returned, maintenance issues, and repairs.
In an attempt to help students with these difficulties, the Student Government Assembly and the Student Housing Association decided to institute an eight-month lease, thereby making it easier for students who left Ann Arbor in the summer. Apartments Ltd refused to use the lease, which only infuriated students more. In retaliation, the Student Housing Association named Apartments Ltd. as a boycott target.
Members of the tenant union atop their
rent-controlled house. From the Michigan Daily
As the year went on, students frequently picketed the offices of Apartment Ltd. Students complained about high rents and unsafe living conditions, but to no avail. Apartments Ltd. may have been the catalyst for this student action, but they were by no means the only rental agency causing problems. Students saw this issue as a rampant, citywide problem. In 1969, over 1,000 students organized a renters union, one of the first of its kind. They received financial support from the United Auto Workers and were able to withhold $100,000 in rent from their landlords. Some of their demands included reductions in rent, elimination of damage deposits, and immediate handling of complaints.
Most landlords did not recognize the union and treated the strike with indifference. After several months, however, they started turning off heat, threatening students with eviction, towing away cars, and even calling students" parents. Ann Arbor Management took the strikers to court, but the strikers won a significant victory. They were forced to pay back-rent to their landlords, but the amount they owed was drastically reduced. Most importantly, the court did not forbid the union from striking, so they continued to withhold rent.
Seven other landlords filed suit against what they deemed the "so-called tenants union" alleging that the strike involved conspiracy to violate existing and future leases and that the ultimate goal of the strike was not to improve living conditions but to attack the notion of private property. The strikers filed a countersuit, claiming that the landlords had violated the terms of their leases.
As the strike went on, the students received more and more support. The Ann Arbor City Council supported them and in October of 1969, McKinley Associates became the first agency to enter into talks with the tenant union. The strike did result in rent reductions and in repairs by some landlords, but it was not fully resolved until 1971. Unfortunately, several of these issues would arise again in the late seventies and 1980s.