Aug 27

Seattle recently banned rental property owners from screening prospective tenants for criminal records.

Seattle tries to make this a landlord issue, ‘How dare landlords prohibit criminals from renting. These good people paid the price for their crime and should be free to live anywhere they want after being released from prison!‘ And Seattle’s landlords fell into this political trap, opposing the ordinance from a concerned landlords’ perspective, rather than what it really is – an assault on the rights of the vast majority of Seattleans that are not criminals.

Let’s step back and look at this situation truthfully.

Landlords screen for criminal backgrounds not for their benefit, but rather do so mostly out of concern for the safety and tranquility of their other tenants and neighbors. The selfish motivation of the owners, if you want to call it that, is crime devalues neighborhoods.  But that motivation is beneficial to all in the neighborhood as well as the city itself.

This ordinance may benefit the owners as it will:

  1. Raise rents. Seattle has a housing problem. There simply are not enough units for the population. By forcing owners to accept the ten or fifteen percent of residents that have criminal histories that exceed the HUD guidelines for criminal screening, the city fathers have worsened the housing crisis for the rest of the population seeking decent housing.
  2. Reduce owners civil liability for the bad acts of their tenants. Jimmie ‘the Hacksaw’ Smythe from 201 rapes and murders Ms. Jones in Apt 310.  ‘Don’t blame me. I could not screen for his previous twenty years of criminal activities. In fact feel sorry for me,  I now have two vacancies.”
  3. Likewise, owners will no longer be accountable to the municipality for disruptive tenants. ‘Hey, I just rented to the people you told me I had to take.’

In a sad, ironic way, the crime free leasing movement that started in the Pacific Northwest is about to die where it was born. Milwaukee’s Landlord Training Program had its roots in a 1997 Portland program. In fact Washington State passed a Crime-free rental housing program in 2010, a half decade before Wisconsin did.

The motivation behind screening out criminals was to make neighborhoods more stable and more desirable, thereby benefiting the municipality, the residents, and ultimately the property owners.

This screening prohibition is just another case of failed liberal governments harming the very people they purport to help and support.

Sadly, when this ordinance fails, and it will fail, rental owners will face criticism for the increase in crime happening to Seattle’s more affordable neighborhoods.  This time the landlords will be blamed for allowing the very criminals into their units that they were required to under this new ordinance.

Jul 19

Perhaps excluding the likes of Amazon, Google, and Tesla, most well run, and effective businesses can achieve 10, 15, 20% or more sustainable improvement every couple of years by applying “Fresh Eyes” to their procedures and processes.

Your business is doing well, at least you think so. But you know it would do better if only you could just … [put your challenges and opportunities here] You say ‘I’ll jump on doing that next week, or after the vacation, or after Labor Day or by the end of the year.’ Sorry, buddy. Ain’t happenin’. You said the same last year and the year before and…

Let’s be honest you can’t see the opportunities and obstacles, and if you do, you cannot act on them. The excuses your staff and you have created to avoid doing what must be done have been internalized and are no longer even noticed. Processes that were in place and working have fallen by the wayside. You step over great opportunities sitting on your front step every morning, without even noticing them anymore or worse, curse them for being in your way.

We are blind to missed opportunities and obstacles because we are too close. In the past twenty-five years, I went from 175 to 200 pounds. I did not see even one of those pounds sneak up on me, but they are here today. Your business is the same, slowly getting fat, but not noticed.

‘Well, I’ll just have my staff take a look and make changes.’ Sorry, they have worse baggage than you.

What we’ve done at my company for many years now is to hire a temporary set of “Fresh Eyes.” This person must be a potential superstar, who is available to work for a couple of, or a few months. They are never hired to fill a current role.

Rather the “Fresh Eyes” position is to question everything we do. You know how it is easier to tell someone how they should run their business or their life than to do the same yourself. That is what we are looking for in a “Fresh Eyes” person.

Typically we hire people outside of the rental industry, so they have a different perspective than us. We’ve had a former Health Department inspector, a former Alderman, a couple of former community leaders, a former manager of a temp service. I lean towards people different than us, but who have proven themselves as leaders and producers.

The goal is to hit a sustainable 15% improvement with a two to four-month commitment to work with the “Fresh Eyes” employee.

To get value full value from this experience, you must remember that “Ego is the Enemy”* and do not allow yourself to feel insulted or defensive of your soon to be former bad ways.
——
*Ego is the Enemy is the title of a book on Stoicism by Ryan Holiday – It is worth the read. Find it on Amazon.

“MY OPPONENT IS MY TEACHER. MY EGO IS MY ENEMY.”
— RENZO GRACIE

Jul 13
Below is the Apartment Association of Southeastern WI’s legislative alert regarding a proposed Milwaukee County Rent Abatement ordinance

Dear AASEW Members:
  .
The Milwaukee County Board is considering a proposal that would permit your tenants to abate rent for maintenance issues not addressed within 24 hours.
  .
For example, your tenant calls on Friday morning to say the bathroom faucet is not working correctly.  You go out and fix it on Sunday, 50 hours after the call came in.  This proposal would allow that tenant to deduct $200 from the rent – Yes! Under this proposal, the tenant can deduct TWO HUNDRED dollars even though you made a timely repair of a minor item that does not affect health or safety. 
  .
  .
There will be a hearing on this proposal at 9:00 AM Monday, July 17th, 2017 at the County Board Committee Hearing Room at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, 901 North 9th Street, RM 201B, Milwaukee, WI 53233 Phone: 414-278-4222.  Ironically this is two floors below the eviction courtroom where the legitimacy of each deduction will be decided.
  .
I encourage you to attend.  If you cannot attend you can still make an impact by reaching out to your County Supervisor and/or County Executive Chris Abele to let them know the potential negative impact of this proposal on both you as the property owner and on your tenants.  If you live in one of their districts please make an extra effort to contact your supervisor and attend.  Constituents of the supervisors make a bigger impact when in attendance.
  .
Who represents me?
           Here is the link to look up your County Supervisor:
           Here is the link for County Executive Chris Abele:
  .
Here are some talking points to help you get started when making your call.
  • How is maintenance even directly related to evictions?
  • Who will be responsible for verifying maintenance issues?  At what cost? In what time frame?
  • What is the plan if the issues are deemed inaccurate?
  • Cost of these abatements and the court costs to fight them will be passed on to good tenants
  • There is a risk of tenants seeing these types of abatements as a means to avoid paying legitimate rent.
  • This proposed system is just another layer of cost to the city
  • There are already programs in place to protect tenants through the Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS).  Why add this? If the current system is not working, why not improve what we have rather than create a new layer of bureaucracy and cost.
  • Evictions are not a result of non-repair, but a result of non-payment
  • This proposal will increase evictions, not decrease them.
Many of the tenants featured in the news surrounding the Eviction Defense Project (Milwaukee) are serial evictees.  This type of evictee increases the rents of good tenants; repeated court costs, employee time, and loss of rent will cause rents to rise.
 .
There are bigger issues to be addressed regarding evictions in Milwaukee.  We need to be looking at ways for landlords to be better landlords and tenants to be better tenants.  Many want to blame housing for all the problems in our communities.  A better approach for both housing and for the tenants that find themselves in eviction would be to look at the underlying cause of the tenant’s failure to pay rent and have both financial assistance and social intervention to make their future tenancies successful. Housing isn’t the problem, it’s part of the solution.  The money would be better spent on education, neighborhood programs, and increased police protection.
  .
The AASEW applauds efforts to reduce evictions as they are time-consuming and costly for the owners as well as negatively impacting the housing stock and the tenants.
Take action today; contact your supervisor or attend the meeting on Monday (7/17/17).
 .
Sincerely,
Ron Hegwood
AASEW President
May 04

Attorney Tristan Pettit recently posted on the most recent in a series of attempts to restrict access to Wisconsin online court records. Current proposals would hide from public view both dismissed criminal cases as well as stipulated dismissals of evictions.  These attempts to restrict access to or hide records is detrimental not only for screening tenants but to families that want to make sure people they hire to work in their homes or care for their children are safe to be around.

Current proposals would create rules to hide from public view certain dismissed criminal cases as well as stipulated dismissals of evictions.

The latter is the troublesome part as stipulated dismissals of evictions are often the most expedient and polite way of getting your property back while avoiding the costs of a Sheriff move.  Evictions are expensive and time-consuming. Owners do not evict on a whim.

These attempts to restrict access to or hide records is detrimental not only for screening tenants but to families that want to make sure people they hire to work in their homes or care for their children are safe to be around.

One member asked, “What can we do to stop this?”  The Apartment Association is working on state legislation to keep these records available. As that process moves forward it is important that we reach out to our elected officials and let them know how important it is to you to be able to access court records.

First, you should reach out to those who represent you – where you live.  Then you should reach out to those who represent the areas where your properties are located, letting them know that such attempts restrict your ability to avoid renting to those that will be disruptive or cause financial losses that will limit your ability to provide the best housing possible.

But, who are my elected officials you ask?  Two websites quickly provide the answer.

Fastest, for state legislators only is Find Your Legislator This site allows you to simply click a button to use your current location to find those reps.

If you want local officials as well as available social media contacts for all your elected officials, then I recommend Who Are My Representatives.  They do not list Milwaukee Aldermen, however, which is odd given the number of officials they do provide info for.

 

May 03
Fox 6 did an expose on Alderman Stampler’s side gig as a landlord.
While Stampler may or may not be a good or bad landlord[1], the problem with this type of reporting is it stigmatizes everyone who is in this very tough business.  And it is a hard business. Many a well-funded nonprofit has failed trying to provide housing in lower income markets
So the Baird investment banker takes a public shaming that may be career-ending. An NBA star receives a public shaming that could potentially have forced him out of the league. An alderman takes a public shaming.
This relentless negative press on the industry creates a fear within those of slightly lesser means that if things go even a bit wrong, they will be publicly attacked. What a disincentive for those with adequate resources to invest in the poorer neighborhoods of the city, creating an environment that allows and perhaps even encourages predatory owners into the market due to the vacuum created by the of others unwillingness of others to take the chance.

[1] Stampler responded to the reporter “Put it this way, when she moved into that property it wasn’t like that, okay,
If the house had rodent problems, broken windows, defective detectors and damaged light fixtures when the tenant moved in shame on Stampler.  If the tenant did the damage and lived in a way that contributed to infestations and then blamed  Stampler in an attempt to ruin his career, then shame on her.
The home on N 22nd is a single family.  If the infestation was not present when she moved in, then the responsibility was that of the tenant under both state statutes, §704.07(3)(a), and Milwaukee ordinances  275-82-3-b.  The woman was a landlord herself prior to a handful of foreclosures in 2010.
DNS orders are not always what they appear to be. A defective detector often is one that the tenant simply took the batteries out of. A handrail violation? Many times DNS orders retrofitting of rails to newer standards, contrary to the codes. In DNS terms a defective roof could be an entire failed roof or a single missing tab.
Prior to 1986 Milwaukee’s code and building inspection held tenants responsible for things like removing batteries from detectors, housekeeping and the damage they did.  In 1986, File Number 85-1396-a,  the Council decided that tenant responsibility was a bad thing. The only recourse owners have now is an eviction or small claims judgments.  Judgments on uncollectible defendants are worthless.
Evictions are expensive, and the results are not satisfying despite what the author of Evicted may purport.  Not holding tenants accountable for their actions contributes to the decline in housing and neighborhood disorder.
We must return to a system where all parties are responsible for their acts and omissions, not just the landlord.

M.C.O. 275-82-3

b. Occupant’s Responsibility. Every occupant of a structure containing a single occupancy shall be responsible for the extermination of any insects, rodents or other pests on the premises. Every occupant of a structure containing more than one occupancy shall be responsible for extermination within the occupancy whenever the occupancy is the only one infested. Whenever infestation is caused by failure of the owner to maintain a structure in a reasonably rodent-proof or reasonably insect-proof condition, extermination shall be the responsibility of the owner.

Wis. Stats. §704.07

(3) Duty of tenant.
(a) If the premises are damaged, including by an infestation of insects or other pests, due to the acts or inaction of the tenant, the landlord may elect to allow the tenant to remediate or repair the damage and restore the appearance of the premises by redecorating. However, the landlord may elect to undertake the remediation, repair, or redecoration, and in such case the tenant must reimburse the landlord for the reasonable cost thereof; the cost to the landlord is presumed reasonable unless proved otherwise by the tenant.

preload preload preload