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

Dear AASEW Members:
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The Milwaukee County Board is considering a proposal that would permit your tenants to abate rent for maintenance issues not addressed within 24 hours.
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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.
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Who represents me?
           Here is the link to look up your County Supervisor:
           Here is the link for County Executive Chris Abele:
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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.
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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).
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Sincerely,
Ron Hegwood
AASEW President
Feb 09

I previously wrote about problems with Milwaukee’s DNS computer system.  They now have their new system online.

I spoke to a couple of people that have attended a recent DNS presentation on the new property information system.

At this presentation, the attendees were told that DNS was prevented from collecting contact information, such as phone numbers, through property recording due to ACT 176.  This is not accurate but is just more “Fake News”  that our industry has been subjected to so much lately.
 
ACT 176 explicitly permits the collection of the contact information for the authorized contact person for the property. This exclusion was supported by the Apartment Association as most owners find value in having people be able to contact them or the people they have managing their properties so that they may address small problems before they become big problems. We also find it useful to be able to contact other owners during screening.
 
Here is the law as enacted by ACT 176:
 
66.0104 (2) (e) No city, village, town, or county may enact an ordinance that does any of the following:

1. Requires that a rental property or rental unit be inspected except upon a complaint by any person, as part of a program of regularly scheduled inspections conducted in compliance with s. 66.0119, as applicable, or as required under state or federal law
.
2. Charges a fee for conducting an inspection of a residential rental property unless all of the following are satisfied:
a. The amount of the fee is uniform for residential rental inspections.
b. The fee is charged at the time that the inspection is actually performed.

3. Charges a fee for a subsequent reinspection of a residential rental property that is more than twice the fee charged for an initial reinspection.

4. Except as provided in this subdivision, requires that a rental property or rental unit be certified, registered, or licensed. A city, village, town, or county may require that a rental unit be registered if the registration consists only of providing the name of the owner and an authorized contact person and an address and telephone number at which the contact person may be contacted.
Jan 07

Recently the Milwaukee Journal ran a series “Landlord Games” that inaccurately portrayed LLCs as being used simply to avoiding paying property taxes and fines.  The result is the Milwaukee Common Council is creating a committee to study LLCs and rental housing. Text of proposal. The rental industry is again, noticeably absent from those invited to the table.

View as formatted pdf with footnotes

Let’s agree that all property owners pay a cost when someone fails to pay their taxes or their property is foreclosed and abandoned.

The Apartment Association does not support bad actors. None of those owners featured in the Journal article are members of the Association.

Rather we see the importance of the city, and private investors working together to make rental housing, and therefore neighborhoods, succeed for the mutual good of both.

Rental housing is an important and integral element of Milwaukee. About 58% of the residents of Milwaukee are tenants. In some neighborhoods, such as 53233 the number of renters exceeds 97%. The success or failure of neighborhoods and rental housing are closely tied.

Rental Housing is the largest small business in Milwaukee with over $7 billion invested in Milwaukee. (MPROP assessor records October 2015) Rental properties account for well over a half billion dollars a year of economic impact, starting with $190 million in property taxes, sewer and water charges, maintenance, insurance and everything else that goes into running rental housing. The Census Bureau found the yearly median operating costs per unit for multifamily rental properties vary between $3,600 per unit for small properties and $5,170 per unit for large properties, adjusted to 2016 dollars. These numbers exclude interest and mortgage servicing.

Providing rental housing in older, poorer neighborhoods is difficult, challenging and unappreciated work. Many have failed, some are opportunists or worse, but the majority were simply overwhelmed financially and mentally by the task at hand.

Owners are impacted by the financial and social problems of their tenants, the high costs of maintenance and lack of capital to address those problems. It is not the owner’s lifestyle that contributes to insect infestations or broken windows, yet it is the owner and not the occupant that is accountable both financially and recently in the media.

Not only do private owners suffer these burdens. One only needs to look at the long history of failure among Milwaukee’s nonprofit housing providers. (see excerpt below) These groups had every advantage over the small private investor. They had significant financial resources, typically through Block Grant and other government funding and grants; they had well-paid and well-educated staff; they often obtaining properties without costs, and they had access to the best tenants on Rent Assistance. Nearly all of Milwaukee’s nonprofit housing providers failed financially.

These groups had every advantage over the small private investor. They had significant financial resources, typically through Block Grant and other government funding and grants; they had well-paid and well-educated staff; they often obtaining properties without costs, and they had access to the best tenants on Rent Assistance. Nearly all of Milwaukee’s nonprofit housing providers failed financially.

Or one could look at the Milwaukee’s Housing Authority budget to see the costs they incur housing low-income Milwaukeeans. Here too is an organization that gets Rent Assistance tenants, tenants who risk losing their housing subsidy if they fail to comply with the rules or pay their rent. HACM does not rent to the populations with bad histories, leaving the segment most in need of housing to the private sector.

Milwaukee should strive to encourage a successful private rental housing market in this once great city, but since the mid-1980s’ the city adopted a culture of hatred towards private rental owners. That has not produced positive results, but instead, discourages the right people from participating.

If Milwaukee rental housing became more sustainable, where people willing to invest their time and money were to make reasonable profits, it would be harder for the few charlatans to exist because of increased competition for available properties. An added benefit is more interest in investing in Milwaukee’s rental housing will result in an increase in values and therefore an increase in the tax base.

Alderman Witkowski, who is the co-author of this proposal, created a Local Business Action Team to help small business succeed. Rental housing is the largest segment of small business within the city and one that may have the greatest impact on the well-being of the city. With our half billion dollars a year of economic impact, a similar effort should be undertaken towards making private rental housing more successful.

Let’s look at the recent Journal Sentinel series on landlords.

This investigative reporting – using easily available public records – showed that the individual owners behind LLCs could be revealed and that other properties owned by these individuals or different LLCs could also be exposed. Changes in the LLC laws are not necessary, contrary to the assertions of Aldermen Murphy and Witkowski that bad landlords are operating in secret. The City Attorney’s office has recently been successful in having a receiver appointed for the various ownership entities used by inner city landlord

Within existing laws, the city could have caused most of the featured landlords out of business, through docketing and enforcing code enforcement fines, and foreclosing f tax delinquencies. For whatever reason the city allowed these owners to continue unabated.

Perhaps most troubling is the relentless attack on James H. Herrick, who works for Baird, that went as far as the Mayor calling for the guy to be fired. He is not a member of the Association nor known to us.

The Journal reports that inspectors show up and find basement doors illegally padlocked. In the article, the owner’s manager states he did this in an attempt to keep drug dealers from entering the property.

There is no argument that inoperable fire doors are an unreasonable risk to occupants. Clearly, this was a novice mistake made by someone who did not understand fire codes.

The correct response by DNS would be for the inspector to explain the problem and demand the owner’s rep immediately remove the padlocks. If the owner did not comply, the Department of Neighborhood Services has an essential services program where the city can contract a repair and then bill the owner.

Instead, the inspection supervisor chose to placard the building and force 50 families out onto the street. Closing a 50 unit building would not have been the DNS response had the property been located on the Eastside, Bayview or the Southwest side. In these more affluent neighborhood they would have compelled a solution that kept the tenants safely in their homes.

But this building is in a poor, minority neighborhood.  The city’s response was harsh as it typically is in these neighborhoods. The DNS employees who acted out of spite towards the owners and a disregard of the tenant population, instead of attempting to protect the homes of 50 low income, primarily minority tenants, should lose their jobs.

The 50 unit building remained closed for a couple of months. It is no surprise that the building ended in foreclosure and sold at a distressed price due to this.

The owner’ use of single property LLCs, in this case, were an advantage to the city. Because the owner had his properties in separate LLCs, this allowed only this one to be foreclosed upon, instead of all 13.

It is a lending industry practice in larger real estate deals to require single asset entities to separate liability from one project and others with a similar ownership interest.

It would actually be in Milwaukee’s best interest if every investment property was in a properly segregated LLC. That way a failure at one property would not have a domino effect and bring down perhaps dozens or more other properties that are under similar ownership.

Then the Journal and Mayor put pressure on Baird, Herrick’s employer, placing his job in jeopardy. What advantage does the city receive in this? If he loses his job, his remaining properties will likely fall into financial problems as well, resulting in more boarded buildings, displaced tenants, and distressed sales.

Similarly, what did the city gain by the public attack on NBA basketball star Devin Harris? While it may have been expedient in causing the payment of some fines and taxes, overall it sent a clear warning to others with capital “Do not invest in Milwaukee. If you fail, you will be ridiculed and perhaps lose your career.” Similar results could have been obtained with a private conversation with Harris, thereby not discouraging outside investment.

Journal article on non-profit failures

West End joins a list of other nonprofit housing organizations that have failed in the last 10 years, including Walker’s Point Development Corp., East Side Housing Action Coalition and Community Development, and the Westside Conservation Corp.

 

Oct 27

An update:

The bookmarked link we used yesterday, the one we used for years to look up DNS records no longer works today.  The link from the Assessor page to DNS no longer works in a meaningful manner.  Using the city site to find owner information for screening purposes does not return the phone number, just the information found on the Assessor’s site.  Plus it takes a lot of clicks to get to.

Yesterday we called an inspector who met with us two weeks ago to sign off an order because the order showed as open in the city computer system.  First thought – the inspector failed to sign off the order.  It has happened before with this inspector.

 
The inspector’s response was enlightening, if not scary.  It seems DNS recently replaced their computer system with a new one that works so poorly that they must do everything by hand, as in paper and pencil by hand.
 
I asked ‘What was wrong with the old system?’  His answer, ‘Nothing, it worked fine.’
 
So then I asked the obvious why.  His answer – The Mayor demanded the change. I thought it odd that a mayor would be dictating database software, sounds more like the job for IT. The inspector speculated that the purchase of the new, nonfunctional system was the Mayor returning a political favor.
 
Glad to see the original HeathlCare.gov* programers landed on their feet. 😉
 
Seriously though if you have completed orders from the City of Milwaukee you should check to make sure the status in the city system is correct.  If not, call 414-286-2268 and ask that a supervisor fixes the problem. You do not want to have an open order for say a smoke detector,complete the order and then have a fire with that order remaining open, or you fixed a broken step but it remained open and now someone tripped there.
 

* The GAO report on the failure of the original HealthCare.gov

http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/668834.pdf

Jul 03

A reader writes of the frustration he was having after being charged by the city for mattresses dumped at his property that were not from his tenants.  With the ever exploding bedbug problems in urban areas, there are a lot more mattresses hitting the garbage.

We had a similar problem with properties in Milwaukee.  At one property mattresses would appear behind it once a month or so even though there were no move outs.  We would the get gigged for the $100 repeat litter fine even though we had our clean out crew drive past the property every couple of days and remove any trash well before getting notified by the city.   Somehow it seemed the city inspector was there the day the mattress was dropped off each month.

I wanted to catch who ever was dropping the mattresses in the act so I bought a trail camera and mounted it to view the garbage area.  Mattresses quit appearing immediately after that.  We have since installed trial cameras or wifi cameras at a number of locations.  The problems generally stopped upon installation (deterrent effect)  In one case we caught a neighbor who is a small contractor dumping.  He quit after being given a picture of him unloading his truck in the garbage cart area of our property.  I’m sure he is now dumping at someone else’s property to avoid paying the construction debris fees at the self help dump.  Most bad happens after dark so Infrared (IR) technology is important for night vision.

An example of a trail camera that uses an SD memory card to record images.  We have a number of the Moultrie cameras.  In fact they were being sold in the sporting goods section of Wal Mart at a similar price to Amazon.

A 64GB card holds a lot of images.  Set it to overwrite when full and then retrieve the card when there is a problem.  These can be mounted anywhere as they are battery powered. A set of batteries lasts three months or so.

If you have a cooperative tenant with internet or provide internet to your building, the other choice is wifi enabled security cameras.  The under $100 ones need to be building mounted for the power, but you can upload to cloud storage and keep a month’s worth of images or movies.

Netgear makes a battery powered wifi camera system that intrigues me, but haven’t bought any yet.

Why do my Amazon links start with smile instead of www?  AmazonSmile donates a portion of the sale to any charity you select.  I chose Children’s Hospital of WI, but there are a million 501 (c) (3) organizations that you can choose from.

 


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