Burnham Tenants Turn on the Heat
The housing inspector had told the landlord, Burnham Associates, that they needed to repair the central boiler in the building in order to comply with the city housing code. The City granted Burnham extensions and they finally made some temporary repairs. However, when a chilly October rolled around, the boiler failed and many tenants had no heat. After several phone calls from tenants, Burnham responded by supplying each unit with one space heater. These, however, proved to be inefficient for the two- and three-bedroom apartments.
Burnham agreed to pay just over $3.00 per day to reimburse the tenants for the cost of running the electric space heaters. However, the tenants felt that after suffering as they had, they deserved far greater compensation and organized to demand a fair settlement. With the assistance of the old Ann Arbor Tenants Union and Student Legal Services, almost all of the fifty units in the building made a deduction from their November rent, or withheld all of their rent and placed it in escrow. After a building-wide tenant meeting, they wrote and signed a group letter to Burnham demanding adequate compensation before they would pay their full rent. Many tenants also wrote letters demanding other repairs (most of which had already been requested) before they would pay their rent. The building as a whole also made specific requests, such as installation of a working security system and a cleaner lobby and laundry room. Tenants met many more times to organize their demands and develop a cohesive strategy.
The rent strike brought Burnham to the bargaining table. The results were, as the group's attorney said, "a pleasant surprise." Tenants won a significant sum to compensate for inconvenience and each unit received additional money to cover the cost of running the electric heaters. Depending on the unit size, this settlement was three to four hundred dollars greater than Burnham's original offer. Furthermore, Burnham made most of the repairs requested by individual units, installed a new security system, and hired a cleaning crew for the common areas. Since then, Burnham Associates has been taken over by Prime Student Housing.