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

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