Mar 11

Follow up to the Milwaukee County Proposal on making Rent Assist a protected housing class.  with a hearing is Monday March 12th, 9:00 AM at the Milwaukee County Courthouse building, Room 201B,  901 North 9th Street,  Milwaukee, WI 53233

My company accepts,  and likes the Rent Assist program.  We also have not found the inspections particularly cumbersome.  In our market we see Rent Assist as a benefit to both owner and tenant.

Yet, I oppose the bill.

  1. Mainly because it attempts to hide the fact that the true reason that people do not get Rent Assist is that Milwaukee County does not provide as many vouchers as there are folks eligible to receive vouchers.If Ms Dimitrijevic wanted to help tenants in need of Rent Assist she would look at her own branch of government and say ’We need to increase the available vouchers.’  If that was her proposal the Association and I would fully support her, as would most tenant advocates.Instead she tries scapegoating owners, making it look like discrimination against voucher holders is the problem.
    Ask Ms Dimitrijevic if there are more applicants than vouchers and how many months or years the Rent Assist waiting list is.

    The other reasons I oppose this are:

  2. Rent Assist does not allow for month to month occupancies.  Owners are more likely to take a chance on a questionable applicant if they can use a month to month and terminate tenancies that are not working as expected.  If you are a tenant, I’m sure you do not want to live in an apartment next door to a disruptive neighbor and when you complain the owner tells you that this person that is making your apartment less enjoyable has to stay for 11 more months due to a year lease.
  3. Another issue is that per the RA contract an owner must serve both the tenant and the RA agency with notices of default, such as non payment.  This creates an additional opportunity for an eviction for good cause to have problems.
  4. Finally, an owner may have to wait for the first payment.  While not a concern to our company, this is a big problem for mom and pop owners who are often under capitalized.

What the bill actually does.

Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, the bill’s author,  states on FaceBook:  “This change to the ordinance does not mandate acceptance of certain sources of income rather it makes it illegal to discriminate against tenants based on source of income.”  The bill is worded consistent with her statement.

Currently.

Prospective tenant:  ‘Hi, I have a Rent Assist voucher.  Will you accept my app?

Landlord:  ’Sorry.  We do not do Rent Assist.’

Prospective tenant:  ‘Okay,  There are thousands of other owners that love the program and I am one of a few tenants who are eligible.’ and under her breath says ‘What a donkey’

Result: The tenant does not waste time and possibly money apply for a unit they will not receive.  Everyone understands upfront.  ANd the owner who does not accept the Rent Assist voucher holder loses a  great tenant, and the accompanying revenue,  that we end up with. 😉

Image what a terrible experience this will be for the tenant under the new law if they apply with an owner that will not accept Rent Assist vouchers.

Prospective tenant:  ‘Hi, I have a Rent Assist voucher.  Will you accept my app?

Landlord:  ‘Of course you can apply. I follow all laws.’

Prospective tenant: ‘Was my app approved?

Landlord:  ‘Why yes.  You met all my requirements and seem like a wonderful tenant!’

Prospective tenant: ‘Great!  Here is the Rent Assist app you must sign.’

Landlord:  ‘Sorry.  I do not accept Rent Assist, but I did accept you.’  and legally the owner could say ‘By the way, because you are accepted I expect you to take the place or forfeit the earnest money’

Prospective tenant: ‘WTF! This is an outrage.

Landlord:  ‘Sorry. This is the unintended consequences of  Ms, Dimitrijevic’s law.’

Result:   Confusion, a terrible experience  and possible negative financial consequences.

Instead of this bill, a true tenant advocate would require that owners disclose in advance of taking an app if they will accept Rent Assist or other programs.  That is what is fair and equitable, not some non discrimination code that will harm and confuse tenants.

Sep 27

Attorney Tristan Pettit, you know, the guy that writes the standard legal forms for Wisconsin Legal Blank, is doing his landlord-tenant Boot Camp again on Saturday, October 7th. There are still a few seats left.

You get a full day of landlord-tenant law training for the price you’ll spend for 30 minutes of attorney time after you make a mistake in this complex area of law,

All the details are at:
http://www.landlordbootcamp2017.com

But the proof of value is I send my staff to Tristan’s Boot Camps.  Even though I know the laws, it is of great value to have staff learn what they need to be concerned about in a different setting than the office.

Aug 27

Seattle recently banned rental property owners from screening prospective tenants for criminal records.

Seattle tries to make this a landlord issue, ‘How dare landlords prohibit criminals from renting. These good people paid the price for their crime and should be free to live anywhere they want after being released from prison!‘ And Seattle’s landlords fell into this political trap, opposing the ordinance from a concerned landlords’ perspective, rather than what it really is – an assault on the rights of the vast majority of Seattleans that are not criminals.

Let’s step back and look at this situation truthfully.

Landlords screen for criminal backgrounds not for their benefit, but rather do so mostly out of concern for the safety and tranquility of their other tenants and neighbors. The selfish motivation of the owners, if you want to call it that, is crime devalues neighborhoods.  But that motivation is beneficial to all in the neighborhood as well as the city itself.

This ordinance may benefit the owners as it will:

  1. Raise rents. Seattle has a housing problem. There simply are not enough units for the population. By forcing owners to accept the ten or fifteen percent of residents that have criminal histories that exceed the HUD guidelines for criminal screening, the city fathers have worsened the housing crisis for the rest of the population seeking decent housing.
  2. Reduce owners civil liability for the bad acts of their tenants. Jimmie ‘the Hacksaw’ Smythe from 201 rapes and murders Ms. Jones in Apt 310.  ‘Don’t blame me. I could not screen for his previous twenty years of criminal activities. In fact feel sorry for me,  I now have two vacancies.”
  3. Likewise, owners will no longer be accountable to the municipality for disruptive tenants. ‘Hey, I just rented to the people you told me I had to take.’

In a sad, ironic way, the crime free leasing movement that started in the Pacific Northwest is about to die where it was born. Milwaukee’s Landlord Training Program had its roots in a 1997 Portland program. In fact Washington State passed a Crime-free rental housing program in 2010, a half decade before Wisconsin did.

The motivation behind screening out criminals was to make neighborhoods more stable and more desirable, thereby benefiting the municipality, the residents, and ultimately the property owners.

This screening prohibition is just another case of failed liberal governments harming the very people they purport to help and support.

Sadly, when this ordinance fails, and it will fail, rental owners will face criticism for the increase in crime happening to Seattle’s more affordable neighborhoods.  This time the landlords will be blamed for allowing the very criminals into their units that they were required to under this new ordinance.

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.

http://www.landlordbootcamp2017.com

* 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.

Jan 19

The follow-up question:

Thanks Tim,
Can we charge a “general ” application fee to the prospective tenant to cover our office costs to process an application and keep the fee? Other people are doing it. How?
No, the law is clear on this.  If you do not accept the tenant, then all the money collected except for the actual amount you paid for a national bureau credit report, must be refunded.
 
If people are charging a non-refundable application fee in excess of what they paid for a credit report or more than $20, they are in violation of ATCP 134.05 (2)  Some owners try to be clever by calling the earnest money by some other name.  That fails.(See the legal definition of Earnest Money below)
 

However, if the prospective tenant fails to pay the balance and move in, you may retain the earnest money to cover and costs and lost rents you incurred due to their failure to take possession. In fact the prospective tenant could owe a lot more than the earnest deposit. See ATCP 134.05(3)(b) below.

 
Earnest Money is legally defined as:
 
ATCP 134.02 (3) ”Earnest money deposit” means the total of any payments or deposits, however denominated or described, given by a prospective tenant to a landlord in return for the option of entering into a rental agreement in the future, or for having a rental agreement considered by a landlord. “Earnest money deposit” does not include a fee which a landlord charges for a credit check in compliance with s. ATCP 134.05 (3).
The requirements to refund the earnest deposit if the tenant withdraws the app or the landlord rejects the app either explicitly or by nonaction:
 
ATCP 134.05 (2) Refunding or crediting an earnest money deposit.
(a) A landlord who receives an earnest money deposit from a rental applicant shall send the full deposit to the applicant by first-class mail, or shall deliver the full deposit to the applicant, by the end of the next business day after any of the following occurs:
1. The landlord rejects the rental application or refuses to enter into a rental agreement with the applicant.
2. The applicant withdraws the rental application before the landlord accepts that application.
3. The landlord fails to approve the rental application by the end of the third business day after the landlord accepts the applicant’s earnest money deposit, or by a later date to which the tenant agrees in writing. The later date may not be more than 21 calendar days after the landlord accepts the earnest money deposit.
 

Law permitting witholding of Earnet Money for failure to take possession:

 

ATCP 134.05 (3) Withholding an earnest money deposit.

(a) A landlord may withhold from a properly accepted earnest money deposit if the prospective tenant fails to enter into a rental agreement after being approved for tenancy, unless the landlord has significantly altered the rental terms previously disclosed to the tenant.

(b) A landlord may withhold from an earnest money deposit, under par. (a), an amount sufficient to compensate the landlord for actual costs and damages incurred because of the prospective tenant’s failure to enter into a rental agreement. The landlord may not withhold for lost rents unless the landlord has made a reasonable effort to mitigate those losses, as provided under s. 704.29, Stats.

 

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