Matt Scherling, City Editor
Despite a city ordinance designed to relieve students of the pressure to seek off-campus housing, Steve Brown apartments has told current residents to re-lease their apartments or face the risk of having to find another place to live.
Flyers posted inside 244 W. Gilman St., a Steve Brown “Gold-key” apartment and one of a number of high-end buildings Steve Brown markets, cautioned residents against hesitating in renewing their current leases for the following fall.
“On Tuesday, October 29, the doors will open, and dozens of non-[Steve Brown Apartment] residents will start turning in their Gold Key rental applications,” the notices warn.
“We don’t want to rent out your apartment from under you, but we can’t wait any longer,” the poster said.
A city ordinance passed by the City Council two years ago was drafted to counteract a trend of an increasingly competitive housing market, which saw students signing leases on apartments as early as September for the following fall.
The ordinance prohibits landlords from asking tenants if they wish to renew their leases until at least one-third of the duration of the lease has passed.
In the case of a twelve-month lease beginning on August 15, the date on which landlords can legally ask residents to renew their leases in Madison is Dec. 15.
The ordinance also forbids property managers from showing apartments to prospective tenant prior to this date.
However, Tom McCann, customer service manager for Steve Brown Apartments, maintains the management company is within its legal rights and is merely responding to demand.
“Prospective new residents start asking about our highest demand buildings in early September for the following year,” he said. “Since the ordinance allows apartments to be leased at any time, we are responding to the high demand for our Gold Key Apartments and to our many competitors who are already offering leases for next year.”
McCann suggested Steve Brown Apartments could rent properties without consulting with the occupants first.
“According to the current ordinance, people who are already in the apartments can literally have their apartment rented out from under them without ever realizing that other individuals were applying for their apartment.”
Steve Brist, assistant Madison City Attorney, while unable to determine if Steve Brown’s actions violate city ordinance, believes they hinder the ability of potential renters to effectively evaluate an apartment.
“It’s risky on the part of the tenant,” he said. “It’s a contract, and you can run into difficulties renting an apartment without having seen it.”
Brist also pointed out landlords risk violating a section of the ordinance forbidding misrepresentation of dwelling units.
“Because the ordinance itself only regulates showing of premises, and means a prospective tenant won’t get to see what they are applying for,” said Brist, who noted the ordinance was created in the hope showing and renting apartments would “normally happen in December. The landlord is jumping the gun in that sense.”
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, while acknowledging Steve Brown might not be violating the legislation Verveer helped to pass through the council two years ago, is confident the flyers do violate the spirit of nor backtrack on progress the ordinance has made in curbing the behavior Brown is attempting to incite.
“It’s undercutting the purpose of the ordinance,” Verveer said.
“Early in the year, residents don’t always know if they like their roommate yet, if the heating in the winter is OK,” he said. “Coming from a company that has a monopoly on student housing in the Langdon and Mansion Hill neighborhoods, I’m disappointed.”