Apr 12

Last week HUD issued a directive on the use of criminal records in tenant screening.  On the surface, this ruling would prohibit blanket rejections for criminal records, ostensibly including a blanket prohibition against sex offenders.

Renting to registered sex offenders cause anxiety for your neighbors. And I do not disagree with their sentiments.  I would not have wanted someone on the registry living next to me when my children were small and I certainly would not want one living next to my grandchildren today.

I expressed my concern that owners would have to begin accepting  sex offenders to AASEW General Counsel, Heiner Giese.  Heiner brought to my attention that in Milwaukee only 55 properties meet the Milwaukee Sex Offender Residency rule.  The rule penalizes the offender, not the property owners.

If your properties are outside of Milwaukee you may be required to accept sex offenders under the HUD directive.  However, this HUD rule was implemented to address disparate impact of such screening processes as they impact existing protected classes.  It does create a new protected class per se.  Most sex offenders are White males which should make this less of an issue under the April 4th, 2016 HUD Fair Housing letter.

Some people are very passionate on these issues as the recent FaceBook discussion regarding screening for criminals shows. There is, of course, many larger issues with the sex offender registry.  The two kids experimenting in the back of the Chevy probably should not be branded for life on an offender registry.  Remember that 48% of kids have had sex by the time they are 17.  The first sex offender in WI was a case similar to this in Palmyra.

Not that I am an advocate for sex offenders, Affordable had a prohibition against sex offenders renting from us for as nearly as long as the registry existed, but the abundance of residency restrictions will ultimately cause politicians or judges will make them a protected class.  Then all owners, including government housing, will have to rent to them unrestricted throughout the community.

Miami adopted a similar 2,500-foot restriction in 2006.  This resulted in the sex offenders forming a cardboard box camp under the bridges of the Julia Tuttle Causeway, I-195.  In 2010, the city of Miami bulldozed the camp.  It then cost the city $1000 per month per offender that was relocated to house them in hotels.  256 offenders stopped reporting their addresses in the process.

People smarter than me need to find the answer but trust that it will become a problem for everyone if left unaddressed.


Apr 05

On April 4th, 2016 HUD guidelines on the use of criminal records in tenant screening were released. This is a game changer that negates much of what was achieved with the crime-free portion of Wisconsin 2015 ACT 176. It also impacts all screening.

No longer can arrests be considered in screening. Convictions may be considered, but only those convictions that directly relate to the safety of the property or its residents.

“A housing provider with a more tailored policy or practice that excludes individuals with only certain types of convictions must still prove that its policy is necessary to serve a “substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.” To do this, a housing provider must show that its policy accurately distinguishes between criminal conduct that indicates a demonstrable risk to resident safety and/or property and criminal conduct that does not”

Amazingly the directive does not appear to allow consideration of neighbors safety, only residents. So does this mean an axe murdering rapist drug dealing member of the local street gang must be allowed to rent any single family as long as they meet your income guides?

The real losers in this will be the law-abiding tenants and their neighbors

Mar 01

Governor Walker signs AB 568

AB 568 was signed into law on 2/29/2016 as WI ACT 176
Present at the signing were Attorney Tristan Pettit, to your left, WI Governor Walker’s right. Tristan presents the AASEW Landlord Tenant Law Boot Camp.
To your right, Governor’s left, is Joe Murray, the AASEW lobbyist.
Tristan and Joe, along with AASEW Attorney Heiner Giese and folks from the WAA, led by Gary Goyke, did a lot of work on this bill.
Feb 28

Yesterday I wrote about 2016 revision to the Wisconsin Landlord Tenant Law.  Over on FaceBook Brian Peters, whom I respect, responded.  I thought the discussion warranted bringing it over here for those who do not follow me on FaceBook.

Brian Peters Unfortunately, those changes, along with other changes in past, allow for abuses by bad landlords. Which is why I’ve been calling them the Slumlord Protection Acts.

For example, you mentioned drugs. I doubt people who do “white collar” crimes will find themselves tossed out. This will impact some people more than others.

This provision is also dangerous as it makes it easier for a landlord’s prejudices to come into play.  

Finally, do you really want landlords to be in that position? You once told me about how community prejudices would cause calls to building inspectors. Do you really want calls from neighbors claiming they saw suspicious activities and demanding you evict the person?

My response to Brian was as follows:

While you and I often agree on many issues, I think you have this one wrong.   

The notion that landlords enjoy or profit from evictions is a myth perpetrated by those with a bias against landlords or rental housing.  The typical eviction costs the owner at least two months rent, court fees and damage to the property. I have yet to meet an owner who enjoys the process or comes out ahead. Landlord’s prejudices, although rare today, most likely appear in the application selection process.   This law will not add to nor prevent this.
Owners already face demands by neighbors and city officials to evict for activity where there has been no arrest or even credible evidence that the tenant is engaged in wrong doing.  This provision will not add to nor prevent this as it is the result of the neighbors’ prejudices that elected officials willingly participate in hopes of getting reelected.  This is a nationwide issue. Google Minority Threat Theory to read many scholarly articles on this, or read the work of Matt Desmond that was based on his work in Milwaukee. Matt will be in Milwaukee for a book signing on Tuesday.  I will email you a copy of our HUD complaint.

The new law does not allow for eviction for use or simple possession, which actually makes it harder to evict by invalidating the Cobbs case, which permitted eviction for simple possession or use in Section 8 Housing 

The change in the law however allows owners to act when there is a major problem.  I would expect that you would want an owner to address rampant drug dealing or the violent person next door to your home.  This change allows that to happen easier, but contains protections for the tenant.

One change included that I wanted is the one that permits the use of 5 Day notices to address lease violation in month to month tenancies.  The law, as it was, only permitted the use of a 14 Day termination without the tenant having the right to cure when a month to month tenant violated the rental agreement.  Now we can give the tenant a 5 Day to address things like the pit bull they brought home.  If the tenant removes the dog, then they cannot be evicted and everyone wins.
Brian replies:

How does it benefit the tenant to not have the opportunity to cure the violation?

I was imprecise with my language earlier, BTW-good that you clarified it for anyone reading this.


You have this backwards. The new law ADDS a right to cure notice for month to month breaches where none existed before.

We championed the addition of the right to cure notice because our industry wants to avoid evictions when possible, but we also want disruptive removed as soon as possible if they will not make the correction. Remember all evictions are costly to both landlord and tenant.


I realize that. I guess you see the bad tenants while I see the bad landlords so we both have our perspectives.


Actually I see very few bad tenants. While some fail due to economic fragility, I would not call them bad. Out of approx a thousand tenants last year, it looks like we evicted 7 during the year that would be considered bad.

Tenants and landlords need each other just as Clownfish and anemones need each other. A quick view of this is at the post: The enemy of my customer is…. Of course it is more complex than that.

Both sides need to be careful not to be played by people who try to create strife between us only due to their dislike of tenants for reasons unrelated to housing.
Feb 25

A reader writes:

I was in one of my units the other day working on a plumbing problem. I noticed a strong smell of Pot, as I was walking from the kitchen to the bathroom I could smell the pot even stronger. I noticed There was an extension cord going into the living room closet. I looked inside the closet and there was a heat lamp a grow light and aluminum foil around the walls with a nice big plant of pot.

I called the police, when they came they advised me that there was nothing they could do since I found it with an illegal search. I explained to them that I have the right to inspect my units for damage or illegal activity. They said there was nothing they could do except watch the place and tell inspectors about the activity.

The police were wise not to make an arrest based on your discovery. The search would be invalid for the police to make an arrest, but that does not mean you did anything illegal as long as you properly noticed the tenant that you would be entering the property. Although seeing that you were there for plumbing you may wish to say you thought you smelled a strong sewerage odor and instead pot. 😉


The reason is a published Wisconsin Supreme Court case on landlords allowing police to search their tenants unit without a warrant, State, v. KIEFFER

¶ 45 For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that Garlock [the landlord] lacked actual authority to consent to a search of the defendant’s living area.   In addition, we conclude that the police made insufficient inquiry and thus could not reasonably rely upon Garlock’s apparent authority to consent to a search of the loft area.   Our conclusions on the Fourth Amendment questions render the initial entry and search constitutionally invalid, and thus avoid a need to address the other issues raised by the defendant.

You, assuming of course that you gave proper notice prior to entering the property, can evict based on this accidental finding.

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