Mar 18

On March 7th, 2016 Matt Desmond, author of EVICTED was interviewed on the Diane Rehm NPR show, guest hosted by Tom Gjelten.  I was privileged to be an invited guest on the show.  I do not feel I did as well as I wished but am sharing it as this show was a good overview of the issues presented in the book.

EVICTED will have a huge impact on our industry for many years.    Whether that impact is positive or negative to rental housing is up to us and how we react.

Listen to NPR’s Diane Rehm Show EVICTED Interview with Matt Desmond

Mar 18

Slate magazine has a large interview with Matt Desmond, author of Evicted. You should read the article, heck you should read the book, but I’ve taken a snip from the article that I think accurately portrays Desmond’s view of owners. It is a view that I’m sure will be lost upon many as the community reacts to his writings.

It is our job, for the sake of our industry as well as for tenants, to ensure this does not happen. Much anti-landlord sentiment out there is really an anti-tenant sentiment. But we are a more politically appetizing target.

Slate:

You don’t demonize the landlords. You really emphasize how difficult the business is and how close to disaster many of these operators frequently are when they get an unexpected bill. What do you think is the most useful way for reform-minded readers, who might be tempted to villainize these people, to understand these actors?

Desmond:

I think we are letting ourselves off easy if we just say, “Oh those landlords they’re so greedy,” or “Oh these tenants are so irresponsible.” If we as a nation are going to house the vast majority of our low-income families in the private market, landlords have to be at the table. We have to understand their perspective; we have to understand their incentives. The book does not shy away from moments where landlords have massive discretion over families’ lives or where landlords drive their properties into the ground. But it also documents when landlords work with families and let them slide sometimes.

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Mar 13

The Milwaukee Journal Editorial based on Matt Desmond’s new book Evicted builds upon some misperceptions about the rental industry.

A NYT reader’s comment on Desmond’s Evicted more closely follows what typical owners see when trying to run lower income housing.

The Journal editorial echoes Desmond’s advocating for legal representation for tenants in most evictions.  If you frequent eviction court you seldom see a day without Legal Action representing tenants.  ATCP 134 provides enticement for attorneys to represent tenants  tenants tin cases where the owner is doing wrong.

Implying tenants need legal representation simply perpetuates a myth that wrongful evictions are common and owners somehow benefits from an eviction. In fact by the time it is over the owner has lost two to three months rent and often more.  Legal representation for tenants in evictions seldom does more than simply let the tenant get another month of nonpayment before leaving.
 
In an average month eviction judgments in Milwaukee County exceed $847,000 – every month.  But this is but a fraction of the losses suffered by property owners.  Of those evictions, only a third of the cases had money judgments other than the court applied fees.  Was this because the tenant did not owe rent?  No, more likely because the owner did not want to waste more time chasing a judgment they will never collect.  Those in our industry as well as those outside of the rental business will tell you that less than a quarter of uncollected rent ends up in eviction court.
 
This is money removed from housing and increases costs for the rest of the tenant population. While some tenants may use the money for real needs like shoes for kids, some use it for other things that further harm the community.
 
Then there is the comments about constructive (illegal) evictions.  While statements like this flame the fires of hatred against landlords, such acts seldom occur and when they do there is adequate remedies for the tenant.  I own two duplexes that a guy walked away from his 1/3 down and eight years of payments after he spent a weekend in jail because he threw the tenants’ belongings out on the front yard and changed the locks.  Seems the tenant did not pay rent and when he went to find out why, he also found they broke the front picture window.  His first stop after getting out of jail was my office to see if I would buy them for the remaining mortgage.  Small owners take these things too personally…
 
Desmond’s book has brought the issue to the forefront. And this is good.  Its is our industry’s job to make sure this does not turn from what it is, the bringing a real problem to light, into yet another excuse to bash the rental housing industry.
 
The part of the discussion that would be helpful to the overall community is increased housing vouchers.  Universal food stamps for people in need was a good first step many years ago. Housing and utilities vouchers for those who need them the most would be a good next step.
 

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.

Tim:

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.

Brian:

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

Tim

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.

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