Apr 19
Over on  the ApartmentAssoc at YahooGroups list Bill Lauer wrote:
Since we use conviction records as a screening criteria, it is important to consider this in the larger societal context. The disparate impact issue starts way before someone applying for an apartment. This is a simplified version of a much longer story. The sex offender issue is different so lets make that a different discussion.
 
For example, Landlords use felony drug records to screen.  We now know that drug laws were written to unfairly punish one group over another.  For example, the sentencing differences between powder cocaine and crack cocaine.  First offenders with powder cocaine, used largely by white people, often times got off with probation.  Offenders with the same weight of crack, used largely by Black offenders, went to jail or prison. This is where the disparate impact begins.
 
Another example is the criminal  differences between alcohol use, used largely by whites,  and marijuana, used largely by young liberals and Blacks.  http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/john-ehrlichman-richard-nixon-drug-war-blacks-hippie/
 
We know that cops overcharge so that “deals” can be made later in the process.  Deals usually come with reduced charges with higher fines in exchange for little or no jail time.  If you don’t have the money, you sit in jail. We know that if you had  the money for a lawyer  you could beat the charges and stay out of jail.  If you didn’t have the money, well, you went to jail, because there was nobody that could make the deal.  And of course, what groups don’t have the money for good lawyers?
 
So now enter the  Heroin epidemic. The current form has been going on for about 10 years, about 6 in Wisconsin.  It is largely affecting white middle class kids.  They go to treatment a few times, they go to prison for possession, maybe theft, prostitution, and burglary.  They come out as felons who can’t go home to their parents, they can’t get a decent job, nor decent housing. This is the push behind a lot of these changes, now, at this time. You can’t give the white kids a special deal for their medical condition of addiction without applying that equally across all protected classes.
 
 Also, the industry’s response to being made more responsible for tenants behavior, [starting 20 years ago] coupled with easy access to  records through the Internet have had a long term, unintended consequence that we as an industry, really need to look at.  As Tim says below, this is nothing that was not predictable.  But we weren’t proactive, so now we get to be reactive.
 
The wave of change in the criminal justice system that this HUD letter represents has got a lot of momentum. Its 25 years in the making.  Coupled with the pressure of governments to reduce the cost of prisons, we’ll see a lot more change in the upcoming 5 years as America empties its prisons.  And they all need a place to live.
 
Bill Lauer
 
I mean….If you follow Ron Johnson’s career, who in a million years would have guessed that he would be calling for more drug treatment, more action, spending more money on junkie, on national TV in WAUKESHA???????  Sitting  next to Tammy Baldwin!

Bill is right.  But this is wrong.

Yes, the HUD screening directive is in response to a criminal justice system that appears skewed against racial and social minorities.

The method chosen to correct the underlying problem completely ignores the cause.  Rather, the Federal Government and the Administration made screening more complex and litigious instead of addressing unequal enforcement of criminal and municipal laws. Sure in the most egregious situations like Ferguson you see the government step in.

In general, this is another issue forced upon owners who were not the cause. This is a lot like the lead paint situation where the government permitted the use of a known dangerous product for decades, even requiring its use for some federally funded housing, before leaving most of the cost and legal challenges in the lap of the property owners.

So now owners will have to walk even more of a tightrope – rejecting far less applicants for criminal records may keep HUD happy, but then you have to deal with nuisance property concerns and worries that someone you put in may harm other tenants, employees or neighbors.

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

Sep 04

There is a discussion over on theApartment Association email discussion group about income criteria for unmarried co occupants vs. married occupants.

A tenant is a tenant, regardless if they are married, cohabitation, straight, gay, white, black or green.

If you are using a reasonable income criteria for screening, that is good as long as you don’t factor in the other things such as marital status.  

Your protection if occupant A departs on month two of a year lease is to let occupant A know you are not releasing them from the obligation they have to you under the rental agreement. Simply moving out does not relieve the vacating tenant from their obligations under the rental agreement. 

As soon as you start analyzing if applicant A has enough income without applicant B for unmarried tenants, but consider the income of both undividedly  for married tenants you are running afoul of Fair Housing, at least in Wisconsin.

While marital status is not a protected class under Federal Fair Housing, it is a protected class under Wisconsin’s Open Housing Law and in a number of other jurisdictions.

Plain English version:

https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/dwd/publications/erd/pdf/erd_9523_p.pdf

Statute:

https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/106/III/50/1

106.50 Open housing.

(1)  Intent. It is the intent of this section to render unlawful discrimination in housing. It is the declared policy of this state that all persons shall have an equal opportunity for housing regardless of sex, race, color, sexual orientation, disability, religion, national origin, marital status, family status, status as a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking, lawful source of income, age, or ancestry and it is the duty of the political subdivisions to assist in the orderly prevention or removal of all discrimination in housing through the powers granted under ss. 66.0125 and66.1011. The legislature hereby extends the state law governing equal housing opportunities to cover single-family residences that are owner-occupied. The legislature finds that the sale and rental of single-family residences constitute a significant portion of the housing business in this state and should be regulated. This section shall be considered an exercise of the police powers of the state for the protection of the welfare, health, peace, dignity, and human rights of the people of this state.

Apr 30

Over on the ApartmentAssoc Yahoo Group an owner asks:

I’m wondering if we would be discriminating to look for one person rather than two, whether a couple or whatever…because we are both over 55 and can’t take the noise we’ve taken through the years…even between couples yelling at each other. Do we have to declare the house 55 and older and find someone over 55 for the lower?  I thought I read a post that said if you are living in the other unit in the house you can…? 

Seems like Fair Housing question month.

Is this your personal residents?  There is an exemption to the Federal Fair Housing law for owner occupied 1-4 family properties. It is called the Mrs. Murphy exemption.   The exemption does NOT apply in Wisconsin however.  

Wisconsin 106.50 

106.50  Open housing.

(1)  Intent. It is the intent of this section to render unlawful discrimination in housing. It is the declared policy of this state that all persons shall have an equal opportunity for housing regardless of sex, race, color, sexual orientation, disability, religion, national origin, marital status, family status, status as a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking, lawful source of income, age, or ancestry and it is the duty of the political subdivisions to assist in the orderly prevention or removal of all discrimination in housing through the powers granted under ss.66.0125 and 66.1011. The legislature hereby extends the state law governing equal housing opportunities to cover single-family residences that are owner-occupied. The legislature finds that the sale and rental of single-family residences constitute a significant portion of the housing business in this state and should be regulated. This section shall be considered an exercise of the police powers of the state for the protection of the welfare, health, peace, dignity, and human rights of the people of this state.

If you do not live in WI here is a good reference to state laws on the “Mrs. Murphy” exemption:

Even under the Federal “Mrs.Murphy” exclusion you are not permitted to advertise an otherwise discriminatory preference, so if you do not qualify under the housing for older persons exemption you could not, lets say, advertise ‘adults only’ or ‘one person only’.  If you do qualify you can advertise 55 and older.

I could not advise you on the housing for older persons question as it is not a issue that I deal with.  

My assumption is if one unit is vacant you do not meet the standard, but I may be wrong.  I would ask the Division of Equal Rights directly:

https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/dwdsendmail/mailtodwd.aspx

Sub (5m)(g) may offer some relief:

(g) A person may not be held personally liable for monetary damages for a violation of sub. (2)(2m) or (2r) if the person reasonably relied, in good faith, on the application of the exemption under this subsection relating to housing for older persons. For purposes of this paragraph, a person may show reasonable reliance, in good faith, on the application of the exemption under this subsection relating to housing for older persons only if the person shows all of the following:

1. That he or she has no actual knowledge that the housing is not or will not be eligible for the exemption.

2. That the owner of the housing has stated formally, in writing, that the housing complies with the requirements for the exemption.


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