Mar 04

The Journal has more details on the murder of the 70 year old landlord at his Cudahy rental that Peter Kazaks brought to our attention Friday.

Journal Article on murdered Greenfield Landlord

As Peter points out you must be increasingly careful out there.

Last year I attended the breakout session on personal safety at the AASEW trade show and the officer presenting was clear that situational awareness is very important to lower the likelihood that you become a victim.  Always be aware of your surroundings, regardless of where you are.

–Peter Kazaks

This is at least the third landlord murdered in our area while working on their properties in the past three years.

Many more have been assaulted.  A number of Association members have robbed at gunpoint while working on their properties, with at least one severely beaten.  A couple of years ago a former board member was carjacked at gunpoint at a fast food joint just south of the stadium.   Two and a half years ago another former board member’s employees was hit in the face with a pipe and seriously injured on 24th and Maple during an armed robbery that netted $10.

Also remember that it was less than a year ago Milwaukee building inspector Greg Z (Known to many as “ Ziggy”)  was murdered during an attempted carjacking during work.

 

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.

Feb 09

For the past couple of years, we have sold out both the spring and fall sessions of Attorney Tristan Pettit’s AASEW Landlord Tenant Law Boot Camp.

It looks like we are on track to do the same for the upcoming February 18th, 2017 Boot Camp.

Last fall I waited too long to sign up my new staff members and could not get them in. I signed up three staff people very early for this one. 😉

You may ask ‘Why would Tim pay $537 plus wages to send three people to Boot Camp when he knows the laws so well?’

The answer is easy: One small mistake or missed opportunity will cost us far more than this. It is important that my folks know the law as WI landlord Tenant Law is not always what a reasonable person would assume it to be. And this is ever evolving, with both new laws, new interpretations by courts and new tricks by tenant advocates*. This is not the first time we’ve sent staff either.

This course is presented by Attorney Tristan Pettit. Tristan’s law practice focuses on landlord-tenant law, he is a current board member of the Apartment Association as well as former president, and drumroll please, he writes all the standard landlord tenant forms for Wisconsin Legal Blank.

If you want to go, now that my seats are secure ;-), you can sign up online or call Joy at the Association 414-276-7378 and reserve a spot.

http://www.landlordbootcamp2017.com

* Most “tenant advocates” only advocate for tenants that break the rules. This ultimately costs the rest of the good tenants more in increased rents and decreased service or more noise and disruption… but this is another story for another day.

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.

 

May 02

A reader suggests  (copy below) that much of the conversation regarding the new HUD directive on the use of criminal records in tenant screening is an attempt to  “beat the law.”  It is not.  Rather it is seeking to answer the question of how do rental owners reduce the disruption and danger of crime at their properties while also addressing the concerns of local governments and neighbors by avoiding renting to those prone to criminal activity.

Back in 2001 our company set a screening criteria that we used with only minor adjustments since.  (Copy Below) This was based on researching our failed tenants.  At that time, we found that misdemeanor convictions and evictions appeared impactful if they occurred within the past three years and felonies for drugs and violence in the past seven years.  I was surprised while reading HUD’s directive on the use of criminal records for screening that it references a report* that states the recidivism rate of criminals drops to the incidents of criminal activity in the general population at 6-7 years.  I guess we got that one right from our own data, without the fancy formulas used by the researchers. 😉

Note that HUD permits and perhaps even encourage the lifetime rejection of persons with drug distribution and manufacture convictions.  So it seems in HUD’s view, a kid with a misdemeanor possession with intent to distribute conviction can be excluded for is life, while the violent person only for a “reasonable” period of time and the habitual thief never. I question whether permitting the exclusion for drug crimes was done out of recidivism data or if it was a case of political will. I know people who have had drug issues and have overcome those problems to lead productive and successful lives.  Many of those charged with possession with intent to deliver often are simply users or addicts selling small amounts to support their habits.

Back when researching our current criteria we recognized that some applicants with criminal histories did not cause future problems. How do you identify those who were not a risk, from those who are?  We chose to accept those with a letter of recommendation from their PO despite having convictions. In the fifteen or so years since that policy has been in place, we found applicants with the PO recommendation have a failure rate below that of general applicants.  It is unlikely that a PO would put their name to paper if they did not believe in the client.

Our company’s existing screening criteria seemed to be close to the requirements under the HUD April 4th directive. We had to modify it to exclude simple possession drug convictions and theft convictions as  disqualifiers.  While I believe that both are indicators of tenancies that may fail, neither are permitted today.  We also reduced the lookback period on felonies from seven years to six.  The report  HUD based their finding on said 6-7 years.   I do not want to be arguing over being at the top end. And finally, we added more options than PO letters, although PO letters will remain an automatic qualifier if our other criteria are met.  Our revised criminal screening is attached below.  Use it at your own risk if you wish and remember that I am just a landlord, not an attorney.

The part of the challenge is municipalities attempt to shift responsibility for criminal acts from the criminal to the owner of the house they live in through nuisance ordinances.  These laws encouraged owners to have strict no criminal screening policies.

If you go to neighborhood meetings, you will find that most people who live in neighborhoods where your properties are located will be angry if you rent to anyone with a criminal history regardless of the charge or how long ago it was.

This attempt by HUD to solve a problem that was not created by the housing industry (discriminatory law enforcement) creates a solution that makes screening and complying with nuisance laws far more difficult and far more prone to litigation.

All this leads to a tough balancing act for the property owners – far more difficult and involved than simply trying to “beat the law.”

* Megan C. Kurlychek et al., Scarlet Letters and Recidivism: Does an Old Criminal Record Predict Future Offending?, 5 Criminology and Pub. Pol’y 483 (2006) (reporting that after six or seven years without reoffending, the risk of new offenses by persons with a prior criminal history begins to approximate the risk of new offenses among persons with no criminal record).

http://www.albany.edu/bushway_research/publications/Kurlychek_et_al_2006.pdf

Affordable Rental Associates’ Revised Screening Criteria (To open the conversation, not for your use without your attorney’s review):
  • Municipal Convictions* related to manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance, crimes that indicate a demonstrable risk to the safety or peaceful enjoyment of residents or neighbors, and/or property damage: No convictions in 2 years.
  • Misdemeanor Convictions* related to manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance, crimes that indicate a demonstrable risk to the safety or peaceful enjoyment of residents or neighbors, and/or property damage: No convictions in 3 years.
  • Felony Convictions* related to manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance, crimes that indicate a demonstrable risk to the safety or peaceful enjoyment of residents or neighbors, and/or property damage: The latter of 6 years after conviction or 4 years after release from custody
  • Unresolved Cases* related to manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance, crimes that indicate a demonstrable risk to the safety or peaceful enjoyment of residents or neighbors, and/or property damage or charges that may result in imprisonment for more than 15 days: Application will be considered after resolution of the case.
    * Criminal record exception will be made for applicants with otherwise acceptable rental history and income upon positive written reference from their Parole Agent or other official on government letterhead. Other factors may be considered on a case by case basis. It is the responsibility of the applicant to supply any supporting information and documentation
Bill Writes

Much of the conversation I hear about this new directive is about figuring out ways to beat the law. I’m sure we landlords will come up with something and our lawyers will try to protect us.  But lets be realistic.  Most rental policies look back 3-5 years. Each town is different,  but most people returning from incarceration can only afford to live in low income neighborhoods. Much of this won’t apply to the higher end of the market.

Here is a little recognized fact.  About 50% of the people leaving Wisconsin prisons are Caucasians! With the increase of drug felonies and prison time courtesy of the Heroin epidemic, more are released to places like Waukesha, Appleton, Wausau, Green Bay, Janesville, La Crosse, Stevens Point than ever before.  Its true Milwaukee has a larger racial component that other parts of the state, but the fact remains, people returning from incarceration will likely live in rentals in the low income neighborhoods of your city. They make up a significant portion of the tenant pool.  Figuring out a good way to bring these people back into the market is good business.

So why not  define the best practices way of working with our tenants?   HUD issued a letter [ Notice PIH 2015-19] in 2015 to the Public Housing Authorities doing just that for PHA’s http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=PIH2015-19.pdf

Not all of this applies to us private landlords, but we can come up with our own list, run it by the attorneys, and Fair Housing.  Please email me your thoughts at billtoday43@aol.com.
In some neighborhoods the percentage of people without criminal history is much smaller than those that do.  

Second interesting fact. Most people do not re offend.  Recidivism is steadily going down in Wisconsin.  Most of the people sent back to prison are for crimeless revocations, meaning that a P.O. sent them back because of a rule violation, not a new crime. While caution in rental practices is warranted, fear is not.

Lastly, Felons are among us!!!  Its estimated that about 700,000 felons live in Wisconsin and they don’t all live in Milwaukee!  But most will live in low income neighborhoods. People on supervision make better tenants than those who are not because the fear of going back is a greater influence on current behavior.  They usually double up with family, friends, spouses, or partners. Anybody who owns property in these neighborhoods know the signs.  So lets be the leaders we are and get in front of this!


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