Born in 1968-69 as the coordinating committee for a city-wide rent strike, the Ann Arbor Tenants Union coordinated tenant actions and provided legal advice via a tenant counseling hotline for 35 years, before a loss of funding forced it to close in 2004. The initial strike protested poor physical conditions of rental properties - at the time, 90% of rental properties Ann Arbor failed to meet the city's code requirements. The strike involved over 1,500 tenants around the city and lasted for two years.

The Ann Arbor Tenants Union was rebooted in 2023.

Writing in a article for the National Housing Institute's Shelterforce magazine in 1995, an AATU staff member detailed a number of actions over the Union's history involving tenants and other community members. These include:

  • A series of rent strikes between 1975 and 1977 to build support for the 1978 Truth in Renting and Fair Rental Information legislation,
  • A 1983 effort with environmental groups to add weatherization guidelines into the city building code,
  • A 1985 rent strike over building code violations leading to code revisions and improved enforcement,
  • A 1988 effort with women's groups to fight housing-related privacy violations and sexual harassment,
  • The 1990 passage of a City privacy ordinance,
  • The 1995 founding of the anti-racist Coalition for Community Unity, and
  • A 1995 action by senior and disabled public housing residents against the Ann Arbor Housing Commission over code violations.

From 1986 until at least 1993, AATU operated as a workers collective, affiliated with the IWW, which got involved with the Union believing that it had strayed from its original purpose to become a "bureaucratic lobbying group".

The union received the bulk of its funding from the Michigan Student Assembly, as many of Ann Arbor's tenants subject to predatory landlord behavior are, often inexperienced and uninformed, students. In 2003, the MSA failed to pay a balance owed of $20,000; while the 2003 MSA elections saw 58% of students vote in favor of a $1 per student fee increase to fund AATU, MSA never followed through with the increase. In combination with MSA action to expel the AATU from its offices in the Michigan Union, which caused the Union both one-time expenses of moving and reprinting informational materials and ongoing rent expenses for new space, this termination of funding directly caused the Union's 2004 demise.

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