May 04

Attorney Tristan Pettit recently posted on the most recent in a series of attempts to restrict access to Wisconsin online court records. Current proposals would hide from public view both dismissed criminal cases as well as stipulated dismissals of evictions.  These attempts to restrict access to or hide records is detrimental not only for screening tenants but to families that want to make sure people they hire to work in their homes or care for their children are safe to be around.

Current proposals would create rules to hide from public view certain dismissed criminal cases as well as stipulated dismissals of evictions.

The latter is the troublesome part as stipulated dismissals of evictions are often the most expedient and polite way of getting your property back while avoiding the costs of a Sheriff move.  Evictions are expensive and time-consuming. Owners do not evict on a whim.

These attempts to restrict access to or hide records is detrimental not only for screening tenants but to families that want to make sure people they hire to work in their homes or care for their children are safe to be around.

One member asked, “What can we do to stop this?”  The Apartment Association is working on state legislation to keep these records available. As that process moves forward it is important that we reach out to our elected officials and let them know how important it is to you to be able to access court records.

First, you should reach out to those who represent you – where you live.  Then you should reach out to those who represent the areas where your properties are located, letting them know that such attempts restrict your ability to avoid renting to those that will be disruptive or cause financial losses that will limit your ability to provide the best housing possible.

But, who are my elected officials you ask?  Two websites quickly provide the answer.

Fastest, for state legislators only is Find Your Legislator This site allows you to simply click a button to use your current location to find those reps.

If you want local officials as well as available social media contacts for all your elected officials, then I recommend Who Are My Representatives.  They do not list Milwaukee Aldermen, however, which is odd given the number of officials they do provide info for.


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.

* 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.

Dec 22

A reader sent this to me today. I thought it was worth sharing as his frustration has been echoed by many owners lately.

I read your blog and wanted to relate my experience yesterday, Wednesday, October 21st with the disaster of the Milwaukee Kangaroo Eviction Court.

  1. Case is called by clerk. Myself and the tenant come forward.
  2. It is automatically placed with a commissioner for the commissioner to conduct a hearing.
  3. When the commissioner calls the case for the hearing, I come forward, but the tenant is gone. Has he just taken off? Who knows, but get this, the commissioner suggests that I go out into the hallway outside the court room to see if I can find the tenant! What? Being the good person that I am, I do that, TWICE within about 5-10 minutes of the commissioner telling me that he will recall the case and to give it a “few” minutes. I let him know that I have parking that is about to expire (I had already extended it the maximum amount of time). The commissioner seems indifferent.
  4. After the MKE Park program notifies me my parking has expired, I tell myself I have had it, and I approach the clerks’ pen (where by the way they now have 3 clerks there, instead of what was traditionally two clerks, one calling and the other as “support”. But now they have a third person, in this case I lady I have seen in the past who used to be the “support” clerk, just standing where the files are placed for the commissioner to call the case for hearings, standing and talking, really doing nothing). Well, I am in the process of letting the third support lady know that my parking is expired and I would like the case called whether the tenant is there or not, when the tenant smoothly walks up and is by my side like nothing has happened. What? No reprimand from the commissioner or the clerk, but they turn on me with the approach that nothing has happened, where I had to explain that I had been sitting on the front row bench waiting for the case to be called, and all the third support clerk could do is point to the file and state “see, it is marked as P.P.” (I guess that means Party Present). I let her know that that was when the case was initially called and not when the commissioner called it.
  5. When the commissioner comes from his office, I direct myself to him and state “the tenant was not here when you called it, right?” Nothing. His manner was just let’s go back and look at the case.
  6. What floors me now is that I am entitled to the Writ of Restitution, because the tenant has not paid December’s rent. Done deal, right? Wrong! The commissioner states he will not issue a Writ immediately (despite the Statutes, what is supposed to be the Law, stating the Writ shall be issued immediately. Crystal clear language, right? I guess the courts in Milwaukee County don’t follow the law, and why the city is a mess!) and that he will stay the writ until the end of the month, another ten days! I point out that he is allowing someone to use my property. The commissioner seems to not care. What message does that send to the tenant? Exactly. What he is doing is OK.

I guess I should have asked for a judge’s hearing, but I was informed that the judge is just going to stand behind his minions doing a terrible bidding.

This is exactly why I won’t buy another piece of real estate in Milwaukee, ever.

Would it do any good to call my state legislature representatives? Is there a way to begin to have the courts apply the statutes? Are they allowed to disregard the Legislature with impunity? And that is why I wonder what good is it sometimes to have the statutes changed, i.e. the recent changes to the Wis. Stats. relating to landlord/tenant law, when the courts don’t apply what is the law?

So frustrating, so very frustrating…

A reader
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Oh, thanks for taking the time to read the story.

Mar 25

Published in the 3/25/16 Milwaukee Journal
By Heiner Giese

Matthew Desmond’s book “Evicted” with the subtitle “Poverty and Profit in the American City” has generated much discussion in the Milwaukee community and among us Milwaukee landlords. We generally agree with the Journal Sentinel’s March 13 editorial calling for more discussion on how to provide decent housing for the poor.

While Desmond does an excellent job of presenting and humanizing the struggles of the poor to pay their rent, he doesn’t adequately cover the “profit” aspect of his subtitle. Out of 30 landlords interviewed, he only presents case studies on two successful ones. The marginal operators and the failed shoestring capitalists (to say nothing of the many nonprofit housing groups who have failed) are not featured.

I have been involved in housing issues for over three decades — as a former hands-on landlord, as attorney for the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin and as an attorney representing landlords (and sometimes tenants) in eviction and foreclosure court.

My clients have properties in all areas of Milwaukee and nearby suburbs. But in the inner city, many landlords have failed. I have sued them or defended them when their rental property was foreclosed on because they couldn’t make the mortgage or land contract payment because the rent money wasn’t coming in. A good chunk of the abandoned houses you’ll see when driving through central city Milwaukee were once owned by landlords.

Desmond is right in pointing to two correlating equations: difficulty paying your rent because you’re poor = getting evicted; getting evicted = getting deeper into poverty. And there is a third equation: getting evicted once = getting evicted again.

The details are not in the book but one of Desmond’s featured tenants had seven evictions filed against her in the 12 year period from 2003 through January, 2015, three of them since she was in his survey in August 2008. So ask yourself, what responsible landlord who needs the rent to pay the mortgage, the taxes, the water and sewer bill and the repair costs for the windows broken by neighborhood vandals would rent to this struggling lady?

Housing vouchers for all, so no one pays more than, say, 40% of their income for rent is an answer. Except you wonder if it is politically doable. Will John and Mary Homeowner give up some of their mortgage interest tax deduction so their government subsidy can instead help their neighbor on the other side of the tracks pay her rent?

Converting part of cash welfare benefits to a voucher for those who have an eviction record would make them more acceptable in the private rental market.

Another remedy touted by Desmond is to provide lawyers for those facing eviction. But that will not prevent eviction for the vast majority of defendants in eviction court who are behind on the rent.A lawyer can only help them delay the eviction. So they get another free month out of their landlord and who winds up paying for that “free” month? It is their low-income neighbor in the unit upstairs whose monthly rent is $50 higher than it should be to make up for the landlord’s loss. No wonder, as Desmond shows, that rents in the inner city aren’t much less than in the suburbs.

Some solutions proposed by Desmond would work, but others won’t or can’t garner legislative support in today’s political climate.

Ron Hegwood, our association president, recently wrote: “A good tenant is worth their weight in gold. How can we create more good tenants and protect and help the ones we have?” We look forward to meeting with tenant advocates and public officials to seek answers to that question.

Heiner Giese is a Milwaukee attorney who represents the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, Inc.

Mar 19

Desmond and others have a nifty little saying “Rent eats first” that implies landlords get paid at the expense of people eating.  The truth is food stamps (SNAP/Food Shares) are given to most people and families under the poverty level while housing assistance is given to very few.  That’s why we read about evictions and homelessness and not about starvation.  In a country as wealthy and great as America, we should not be hearing of either.

One workable voucher program could be similar to food stamps where all people and families below the poverty level, in addition to food stamps, would receive a housing allotment that can only be spent on housing.

The recipients would have a choice of renting from anyone without the government saying, for example, ‘you have two small kids so you are only eligible to rent a two bedroom in the $630 price range and we will pay $500 of that’   Instead the recipient would receive a $500 housing allotment.  They then could rent a $500 place and pay nothing out of pocket or decide they want to rent a $750 three bedroom in a different neighborhood and must figure out how to pay the other $250 themselves.

Such a plan would help stabilize the private housing industry while at the same time would allow the recipients much more freedom of choice in their housing decisions.  It would also be less costly to manage than Section 8.  To achieve this the payments would have to be available to all rental owners except of course those banned due to fraud or similar.

Some of the money could come from adjusting the current W2.  As the vouchers would earmark monies for housing the volume of evictions should subside.

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