Aug 19

A reader on the ApartmentAssoc at YahooGroups list asks

What thoughts are there on a Request for a comfort animal with a month to month lease.

Can the lease be terminated under the month to month provision.

Terminating the tenancy due to a legitimate, i.e. they met the requirements of a comfort animal, not that you feel it is legitimate, comfort animal probably is worse than simply rejecting a request as you are now breaking additional rules and statutes.  For example in Wisconsin’s Chapter 704 (Landlord Tenant Statutes)

704.45  Retaliatory conduct in residential tenancies prohibited.

(1) Except as provided in sub. (2), a landlord in a residential tenancy may not increase rent, decrease services, bring an action for possession of the premises, refuse to renew a lease or threaten any of the foregoing, if there is a preponderance of evidence that the action or inaction would not occur but for the landlord’s retaliation against the tenant for doing any of the following:

(a) Making a good faith complaint about a defect in the premises to an elected public official or a local housing code enforcement agency.

(b) Complaining to the landlord about a violation of s. 704.07 or a local housing code applicable to the premises.

(c) Exercising a legal right relating to residential tenancies.

(2) Notwithstanding sub. (1), a landlord may bring an action for possession of the premises if the tenant has not paid rent other than a rent increase prohibited by sub. (1).

(3) This section does not apply to complaints made about defects in the premises caused by the negligence or improper use of the tenant who is affected by the action or inaction.

The real answer is to ask the feds to step in and repair this rule before housing goes to the dogs, including Federally Subsidized Housing.

A person should need something more than a Skype conversation with a doctor in Cali before it is declared that the tenant should have the right to a dog, cat or 20′ python.  Breed should matter, an 80# pit bull “comfort animal” in a complex doesn’t sound like it would be very comforting to the rest of the tenants.  In a single family home I doubt it would be comforting to the neighbors.

Also, what about the rights of others.  My wife has severe allergies to dogs and cats.  A companion animal on a flight we were on that gave her such a bad reaction that they almost landed the plane in Cincinnati.  A flight a month later ended with her leaving the plane on a stretcher after being given an Epipen and oxygen.  While there was no dogs on that flight, the airline confirmed  there was a dog on the flight just prior to ours.  We have not flown since.  I was at the Wall-Mart a couple of months ago a a scraggly animal wearing a “service animal” vest was basically running loose on a 10′ leash.  It walked up and sniffed my leg, which was annoying.  A short time later it licked a baby across the face.  The mom was so angry that I thought the animal owner was going to leave the store in a condition that would require a real service animal. There are valid reasons that owners exclude pets.

Let me be clear that I am talking about people who are using this as a loophole to get around no pet policies and not legitimate trained service animals.  A true service animal is better behaved than most tenants.  The true service animals need to be accepted.

Jul 23

Talk about a timely meeting topic. This past Monday’s Apartment Association General Membership meeting addressed the issue of whether an owner must accept sex offenders i.e. are they a protected class.

If you missed the meeting, sex offenders and criminals in general are not a protected class in WI* today as long as you apply those criteria without regard to the applicant being a member of another protected class. For example if your criteria is to reject applicants who are registered offenders, but then give in to the white kid who was arrested for having sex with his 16 year old girlfriend. If you do not do the same for the Martian with a similar conviction you are probably going to run into fair housing issues. To be legal rejection criteria must be yes or no, with exceptions only made under a written exception policy that is applied evenly.

*Note that Madison and Dane treated some criminal offenders as protected classes, I am uncertain if Act 143 and Act 76 have changed this.

Yesterday the Milwaukee Common Council passed an ordinance restricting where sex offenders may live (Copy). The pendency of this legislation explains Council President Michael Murphy being unavailable to attend and speak at Monday’s meeting.

In passing this legislation Milwaukee did the only thing they reasonably could do at this point, which is to put ordinances in place that are comparable to those in surrounding communities, lest we remain the sex offender dumping grounds for the state.

The upside of such legislation is it should eliminate any fears of running afoul of Fair Housing property owners may have about rejecting sex offenders. The downside is at some point sex offenders ultimately get released from prison and ultimately need to live somewhere. Perhaps turn Washington Island into a leaper colony for sex offenders? (joking of course)

At some point I’m certain the proliferation of these ordinances will result in state or even federal legislative efforts to make sex offenders and possibly criminal in general a protected class. This will be worse than the current situation so we must be on the watch for such legislation. It is unlikely that the legislation will be forthright in its title or purpose, rather it will be attempts to restrict access to information as we’ve seen with the attacks on CCAP over the past few years.

If you want to know more about the issue from a criminal rights advocates prospective see:

http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2007/09/11/no-easy-answers

http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/us0907webwcover.pdf

Tim Ballering
Tim@ApartmentsMilwaukee.com

Jul 12

A reader on the ApartmentAssoc at YahooGroups list asks in regards to denying applications:

 What if there isn’t an alternative applicant and it’s not credit related? (ie criminal record or just don’t like them…Lool). I never really cared and don’t give a reason other than “your application has been denied”. Today was the first time an applicant repeatedly called wanting a reason.

In WI, excluding Dane County/Madison as they are a separate state, ;-), you are not required to give a reason.  In most cases a simple “Sorry your app was not accepted” is the best answer.

However, with that being said, you should consider having a mechanism in place where the applicant can request the reason if they are insistent. We ask that they request the reason in writing and we respond in writing.  This gets away from any allegations that someone said something they did not.

Think back to your own experiences – when someone is elusive or outright refuses to answer a question your first thought is they have something to hide. The more the other party pushed back the more you knew you were on to some kind of wrong doing.

 Rejection for criminal record is easy if you have a written criteria.  If they fail the criteria you can point it out.  So if one of your criteria is ‘We will reject applicants who have had drug related felonies in the past x years’ and they were convicted of having a ton of cocaine  in their possession  x years – 1 then the answer is a ‘sorry – your 12/14/20xx conviction prevents us from renting to you at this time.  You can apply again in a year.’

“Just don’t like them” is dangerous grounds, especially if they are a member of a protected class under federal state or local fair housing rules.

You don’t have to like your tenants, you just need to be sure they will pay rent, not damage the place, not conduct illegal activities out of your property and not anger the neighbors.  If they meet all those requirements I can “like” just about any prospective tenant.

May 26

The Mayor and head of DNS discuss the “zombie” housing problem in  this Milwaukee Journal article.  The article is interesting, the comments even more so.

“City officials define [zombie housing] a bit more precisely: when title to a property remains with someone who believes he or she has lost the property as a result of foreclosure. “

“Both Dahlberg and Barrett say they don’t understand why banks allow the problem to proliferate. “

While zombie housing seems to be a new phenomena to the city officials, we discussed it since at least July 12, 2009.

https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ApartmentAssoc/conversations/messages/11702

https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ApartmentAssoc/conversations/messages/11828

http://justalandlord.com/?s=zombie

At that time I predicted the ordinances that had just been passed to make lenders more accountable would actually result in many more properties abandoned by both the owner and the lender.

The city also makes matters worse through reinspection fees.  I’m sure they think this is a cash cow, but it is a further cause of the abandonment problem.  On the front end these fees force marginal owners into failure and on the back end they make it less likely the lender or owner can sell the property.  Banks that control foreclosures in Milwaukee have adopted a policy of not paying taxes until the property sells.  When they receive offers they run title prior to accepting offers. Too many fees and they let the property revert to the city.

This was the case with two singles on one lot that I made an offer on a couple of years ago.  Bank ran title and rejected the offer due to reinspection fees (the front house was owner occupied, there was a sewer back up that they could not afford to fix and suddenly they were being billed $375 a month)   The city then foreclosed on taxes, the property was stripped of metal, druggies used it as a dry place to get high and finally they started the one house on fire, that in turned burned down a neighboring house, taking it off the tax roll too.  All along the city has had to mow the yard, shovel the walks, reboard it as it kept getting broken in.

Here is a post on how the city’s ordinances, no matter how well intended or logical on the surface, are actually contributing to the problem.

May 21

Perhaps I wasn’t clear in the original post.

This law only affects separately metered municipal utilities in tenant occupied units. Nothing has changed in how you handle utility cost for joint metered utilities. What you are doing now is permitted as long as disclosed in advance of signing the lease.

With the enactment of this legislation separately metered municipal services can now be directly billed to the tenants by the local governments, similar to how separate gas or electric accounts are billed to tenants by WE Energies*. This makes it more practical to have tenants pay their own sewer and water with less potential that you will find their unpaid bills on your property taxes*.

This change will initially affect many single family rentals where owners already have tenants responsible for their own sewer and water bills. With minimal costs owners of duplexes can take advantage of the new law by having a plumber separate the water supply and install a second meter. Then those duplex tenants could be billed directly by the municipality.

I would be surprised if many multi unit owners will incur the costs of this work, at least initially. But just like separating gas and electric, duplexes were the first to be retrofitted followed by more and more multi unit buildings

The net result should be more conservation, that ultimately results in more rate increases. ;-(

“The additional revenue is needed to offset declining water sales in the face of rising costs, officials said.”

*This is now similar, but not exactly the same as how a WE Energies account is handled. The new law does NOT completely eliminate the ability of the municipality to place the charges on the property.

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