Jul 24

[Edit: The WI case permitted a $50 late fee. A $75 late fee was not found excessive in one owner’s Milwaukee County Cases. ]

Late fees and security deposits are two points of friction in housing.

A question was asked, ‘How much should I charge for late fees?’

The WI Court of Appeals that allowed a $50 late fee in 1993.

It is a Fair Housing violation to charge late fees to tenants that seek a reasonable accommodation based on a disability. A prime example is an SSI recipient who receives their check on the 3rd of the month. There are a number of federal cases that owners have lost because they were inflexible on this point.

We stopped charging late fees on April 1st, 2020, prior to the moratorium. We did not charge any late fees for July, despite it again being legal to do so for most tenancies. (It is illegal to charge late fees for CARES Act covered properties until August rent and illegal to charge late fees if you are receiving mortgage forbearance on a federally insured mortgage)

Normally we have a due on the first, late on the 5th policy. At the close of business on the 5th, we charge a $15 late fee. If the rent is still not paid by the 12th, there is an additional $35 late fee, for a maximum of $50 late fees in a month. Our staff can forgive one late fee per tenant per year without asking for permission. We also do not charge late fees for tenants who are on a payment schedule, for example, they pay twice a month to coincide with their payroll.

Per diem (daily) late fees are problematic and can violate usury laws. For example, a $25 a day late fee after the fifth is $625 if the tenant misses a month.

Jun 18

We should not need the courts to tell us not to reject applicants for things that do not impact the tenants’ ability to pay or indicate they will be disruptive to other tenants or neighbors. It is simply good business practices to ignore things that don’t matter and keep your units full.

However, if you are confused about this, the recent US Supreme Court ruling on sexual orientation and employment, while not directly related to housing, should be a stern warning for landlords who exclude rental applicants based on sexual preferences.

But if you feel you must reject people despite having a history of paying their rent and not creating a ruckus, send them over to us. We’ll take all the good tenants we can get.

May 12

The AASEW has done a lot of great things for the industry and sustainable rental housing.

One that benefited many owners was the change to Sheriff moves to eliminate the mover, which is a large portion of the costs.  

Our attorneys, working against their own personal interest, changed the law to allow LLCs to be represented by a member or agent, rather than requiring an attorney. This saves a lot of money as well as making the case less confrontational.

Here are the laws passed through the work of the AASEW in:

2018  https://bit.ly/3bryZ0Y
2016  https://bit.ly/2Lj7NXM
2014  https://bit.ly/3dCRRM1
2012  https://bit.ly/2zx3NQZ

It is important that we work together as an industry for the betterment of all.

Feb 29

AB30, which creates a procedure for granting certificates of qualification for employment for persons convicted of a crime, has passed both Houses with unanimous support. Something hard to believe in this era of polarized politics.

The concept has my support. It is the right thing to do.  People who make an effort to fix their lives should be given a fair chance to do so. 

I anticipate we will see something similar for housing in the next legislative session.

One problem that our industry faces, and the reason for my interest and forwarding this bill, is the growing sentiment against using criminal records for screening.  

The first regulation generally impacting WI landlords was the 2016 HUD prohibition from using arrest records and restrictions on using conviction records in screening. If you get this wrong you can be subject to an expensive Fair Housing complaint.

Owners screen for criminal convictions for the benefit of their tenants, the neighbors of their properties and the safety of themselves and their employees.  To a lesser degree the do so to avoid nuisance ordinance violations.

The restrictions on criminal screening places the owner in a “Catch 22” situation when combined with local nuisance ordinances. one government body telling you that you must screen out potential criminals or lose your properties and another level of government potentially subjecting you to significant penalties that could cause you to lose your properties for screening out potential criminals.

I fully support government enacted bright-line rules for the use of criminal records for screening, i.e. an owner cannot be charged with a Fair Housing violation or subjected to nuisance ordinance violations if they exclude rapist for x years, murderers y years, …  The current fuzzy guidelines are a lawyer’s dream and a landlord’s nightmare.

For bright-line rules to work fairly, there also needs to be “a certificate of qualification for housing” with similar immunity provisions as the employment bill.

Deciding who is and who is not a threat to their neighbors or coworkers is beyond the scope of what should reasonable be expected of employers and landlords who do not have the case details nor the training to make the proper decision. Instead let a court that has full access to the record and can hear testimony make those important decisions.

Feb 23

True service animals are specially trained dogs and miniature horses. Sorry that Peacock is not a service animal despite the cute vest he is wearing.

People often question the miniature horses. Here is an article that explains the rational and usefulness of miniature horses as service animals

Of course I’m sure some tenant or perhaps even an airline passenger will show up with a Clydesdale wearing a cute service animal vest…

Feb 23

It seems many of the same people who want to implement rent control are the same folks who support exclusionary zoning for their neighborhoods and communities. NIMBY Not In My Back Yard

The answer to housing costs, like most things, is to increase supply. When there is an abundance, sellers, or in this case landlords, must reduce prices to compete. When supply is restricted and demand is increased, you can get more.

Here is an interesting New York Times article on one such NIMBY fight. The wealthy residents weren’t to happy with allowing multi units in there community:

In letters to elected officials, and at the open microphone that Mr. Falk observed at the City Council meetings, residents said things like “too aggressive,” “not respectful,” “embarrassment,” “outraged,” “audacity,” “very urban,” “deeply upset,” “unsightly,” “monstrosity,” “inconceivable,” “simply outrageous,” “vehemently opposed,” “sheer scope,” “very wrong,” “blocking views,” “does not conform,” “property values will be destroyed,” and “will allow more crime to be committed.”

Feb 15

Two bills being proposed by the WI legislature. One allows for eviction moratoriums, the other restricts using eviction records for screening. This emphases the dangers that face our industry if we are not actively involved legislatively.

Bills like this, if passed, increase the cost of housing for tenants who pay their rent as the rent losses will be spread across the entire tenant population.

Back in the early nineties there was a Christmas eviction moratorium that basically allowed tenants who did not pay December rent to stay until mid to late January. We fought it and defeated it. It made to the New York Times.
https://www.nytimes.com/1991/12/29/us/scrooge-visits-tenants-in-milwaukee.html

WI Proposed Law Allowing for Eviction Moratoriums

http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/raw/proposal/2019/-0131

Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau
Under current law, no city, village, town, or county may enact or enforce an ordinance that imposes a moratorium on a landlord from pursuing an eviction action against a tenant of the landlord’s residential or commercial property.

This bill repeals that provision.


WI Proposed Law Restricting Use of Eviction Records for Screening

http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/raw/proposal/2019/-0201

Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau

This bill provides that it is discrimination under the state open housing law to do any of the following:

1. Inquire, whether orally or in writing, of a prospective tenant or any other individual about any eviction of a prospective tenant that occurred more than five years prior. The bill prohibits a prospective tenant from being asked about prior evictions unless the prospective tenant is informed that evictions more than five years old need not be disclosed.

2. Refuse to rent housing to an individual, or otherwise treat an individual unequally in the terms, conditions, or privileges of rental of housing, because of an eviction of the individual that occurred more than five years prior to the date of a rental application.

The open housing law is administered by the Department of Workforce Development, which receives, investigates, and evaluates complaints of violations and may order relief in appropriate cases. Persons who allege a violation of the open housing law may also bring a civil action.

Feb 10

Here is the first “final” draft of the one page form and flowchart for animal accommodation request. This is only a draft, put out for feed back and comments. This form is based on HUD’s recently released Guidance on Documenting a Person’s Need for Assistance Animals in Housing.

I previously posted a draft flowchart for reasonable accommodation requests for assistance animals to use while making the determination.

Initially I did not feel the new HUD guidelines offered much relief from the problem with people who skirted no pet policies with fake “service animals”

After working through this I feel that this will prevent many of the problem we are currently experiencing, while protecting the tenant that has a true need for a service or support animal. While fake service animals concern me, I have no sympathy for the owner that would deny or charge extra for a seeing eye dog, a service dog for a person in a wheelchair, a person suffering from PTSD, etc.

Clarifying that the accommodation only applies if the requester has a disability that imposes a substantial limitation on major life activities is important.

Clarifying that property owners can request documentation of both a disability and the need for a disability-related need for the animal from a licensed professional rather than having to accept some $29 vest from Amazon as proof is important.

Feb 09

Yesterday I wrote a brief post on HUD’s newly released guideline on “Assessing a Person’s Request to Have an Animal”

No owner should object to true service dogs, think seeing eye dog, etc. However the proliferation of tenants trying to skirt no pet policies by calling fluffy a service animal has gotten out of control. There is also the rights of other tenants who have allergies to furry critters to consider.

Since the guideline has been released we’ve been working on creating tools for our staff and others to use in making determinations on tenants’ reasonable accommodation requests for having a support animal. We don’t want to deny a person something they need for major life activities, but we also are not happy with properties turning into a zoo full of uncontrolled animals.

Here is our draft version of a flowchart based on the HUD document. I am posting it for comments and corrections. Please do not base any decisions on this at this time. When this is updated, I will post the new version on this site.

Feb 08

Just over a week ago HUD issued a new guidance document on service animals and emotional support animal accommodations for housing providers It is 19 pages. There is a lot to digest.

The HUD press release on assistance animals is worth reading as well.

At first read I did not feel the new document was that helpful in addressing abuses by some pet owners and the internet “service animal document mills” that aim to exploit both pet owner and housing providers.

Once I got into it a bit more, I believe that this will help greatly reduce the amount of “service dog’ fraud, while protecting those who need assistance animals.

We are working on a flowchart and other tools for owners to use in making proper determinations.

Stay tuned for more.

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