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.

Jul 13
Below is the Apartment Association of Southeastern WI’s legislative alert regarding a proposed Milwaukee County Rent Abatement ordinance

Dear AASEW Members:
  .
The Milwaukee County Board is considering a proposal that would permit your tenants to abate rent for maintenance issues not addressed within 24 hours.
  .
For example, your tenant calls on Friday morning to say the bathroom faucet is not working correctly.  You go out and fix it on Sunday, 50 hours after the call came in.  This proposal would allow that tenant to deduct $200 from the rent – Yes! Under this proposal, the tenant can deduct TWO HUNDRED dollars even though you made a timely repair of a minor item that does not affect health or safety. 
  .
  .
There will be a hearing on this proposal at 9:00 AM Monday, July 17th, 2017 at the County Board Committee Hearing Room at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, 901 North 9th Street, RM 201B, Milwaukee, WI 53233 Phone: 414-278-4222.  Ironically this is two floors below the eviction courtroom where the legitimacy of each deduction will be decided.
  .
I encourage you to attend.  If you cannot attend you can still make an impact by reaching out to your County Supervisor and/or County Executive Chris Abele to let them know the potential negative impact of this proposal on both you as the property owner and on your tenants.  If you live in one of their districts please make an extra effort to contact your supervisor and attend.  Constituents of the supervisors make a bigger impact when in attendance.
  .
Who represents me?
           Here is the link to look up your County Supervisor:
           Here is the link for County Executive Chris Abele:
  .
Here are some talking points to help you get started when making your call.
  • How is maintenance even directly related to evictions?
  • Who will be responsible for verifying maintenance issues?  At what cost? In what time frame?
  • What is the plan if the issues are deemed inaccurate?
  • Cost of these abatements and the court costs to fight them will be passed on to good tenants
  • There is a risk of tenants seeing these types of abatements as a means to avoid paying legitimate rent.
  • This proposed system is just another layer of cost to the city
  • There are already programs in place to protect tenants through the Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS).  Why add this? If the current system is not working, why not improve what we have rather than create a new layer of bureaucracy and cost.
  • Evictions are not a result of non-repair, but a result of non-payment
  • This proposal will increase evictions, not decrease them.
Many of the tenants featured in the news surrounding the Eviction Defense Project (Milwaukee) are serial evictees.  This type of evictee increases the rents of good tenants; repeated court costs, employee time, and loss of rent will cause rents to rise.
 .
There are bigger issues to be addressed regarding evictions in Milwaukee.  We need to be looking at ways for landlords to be better landlords and tenants to be better tenants.  Many want to blame housing for all the problems in our communities.  A better approach for both housing and for the tenants that find themselves in eviction would be to look at the underlying cause of the tenant’s failure to pay rent and have both financial assistance and social intervention to make their future tenancies successful. Housing isn’t the problem, it’s part of the solution.  The money would be better spent on education, neighborhood programs, and increased police protection.
  .
The AASEW applauds efforts to reduce evictions as they are time-consuming and costly for the owners as well as negatively impacting the housing stock and the tenants.
Take action today; contact your supervisor or attend the meeting on Monday (7/17/17).
 .
Sincerely,
Ron Hegwood
AASEW President
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

I previously wrote about problems with Milwaukee’s DNS computer system.  They now have their new system online.

I spoke to a couple of people that have attended a recent DNS presentation on the new property information system.

At this presentation, the attendees were told that DNS was prevented from collecting contact information, such as phone numbers, through property recording due to ACT 176.  This is not accurate but is just more “Fake News”  that our industry has been subjected to so much lately.
 
ACT 176 explicitly permits the collection of the contact information for the authorized contact person for the property. This exclusion was supported by the Apartment Association as most owners find value in having people be able to contact them or the people they have managing their properties so that they may address small problems before they become big problems. We also find it useful to be able to contact other owners during screening.
 
Here is the law as enacted by ACT 176:
 
66.0104 (2) (e) No city, village, town, or county may enact an ordinance that does any of the following:

1. Requires that a rental property or rental unit be inspected except upon a complaint by any person, as part of a program of regularly scheduled inspections conducted in compliance with s. 66.0119, as applicable, or as required under state or federal law
.
2. Charges a fee for conducting an inspection of a residential rental property unless all of the following are satisfied:
a. The amount of the fee is uniform for residential rental inspections.
b. The fee is charged at the time that the inspection is actually performed.

3. Charges a fee for a subsequent reinspection of a residential rental property that is more than twice the fee charged for an initial reinspection.

4. Except as provided in this subdivision, requires that a rental property or rental unit be certified, registered, or licensed. A city, village, town, or county may require that a rental unit be registered if the registration consists only of providing the name of the owner and an authorized contact person and an address and telephone number at which the contact person may be contacted.
Jan 07

Recently the Milwaukee Journal ran a series “Landlord Games” that inaccurately portrayed LLCs as being used simply to avoiding paying property taxes and fines.  The result is the Milwaukee Common Council is creating a committee to study LLCs and rental housing. Text of proposal. The rental industry is again, noticeably absent from those invited to the table.

View as formatted pdf with footnotes

Let’s agree that all property owners pay a cost when someone fails to pay their taxes or their property is foreclosed and abandoned.

The Apartment Association does not support bad actors. None of those owners featured in the Journal article are members of the Association.

Rather we see the importance of the city, and private investors working together to make rental housing, and therefore neighborhoods, succeed for the mutual good of both.

Rental housing is an important and integral element of Milwaukee. About 58% of the residents of Milwaukee are tenants. In some neighborhoods, such as 53233 the number of renters exceeds 97%. The success or failure of neighborhoods and rental housing are closely tied.

Rental Housing is the largest small business in Milwaukee with over $7 billion invested in Milwaukee. (MPROP assessor records October 2015) Rental properties account for well over a half billion dollars a year of economic impact, starting with $190 million in property taxes, sewer and water charges, maintenance, insurance and everything else that goes into running rental housing. The Census Bureau found the yearly median operating costs per unit for multifamily rental properties vary between $3,600 per unit for small properties and $5,170 per unit for large properties, adjusted to 2016 dollars. These numbers exclude interest and mortgage servicing.

Providing rental housing in older, poorer neighborhoods is difficult, challenging and unappreciated work. Many have failed, some are opportunists or worse, but the majority were simply overwhelmed financially and mentally by the task at hand.

Owners are impacted by the financial and social problems of their tenants, the high costs of maintenance and lack of capital to address those problems. It is not the owner’s lifestyle that contributes to insect infestations or broken windows, yet it is the owner and not the occupant that is accountable both financially and recently in the media.

Not only do private owners suffer these burdens. One only needs to look at the long history of failure among Milwaukee’s nonprofit housing providers. (see excerpt below) These groups had every advantage over the small private investor. They had significant financial resources, typically through Block Grant and other government funding and grants; they had well-paid and well-educated staff; they often obtaining properties without costs, and they had access to the best tenants on Rent Assistance. Nearly all of Milwaukee’s nonprofit housing providers failed financially.

These groups had every advantage over the small private investor. They had significant financial resources, typically through Block Grant and other government funding and grants; they had well-paid and well-educated staff; they often obtaining properties without costs, and they had access to the best tenants on Rent Assistance. Nearly all of Milwaukee’s nonprofit housing providers failed financially.

Or one could look at the Milwaukee’s Housing Authority budget to see the costs they incur housing low-income Milwaukeeans. Here too is an organization that gets Rent Assistance tenants, tenants who risk losing their housing subsidy if they fail to comply with the rules or pay their rent. HACM does not rent to the populations with bad histories, leaving the segment most in need of housing to the private sector.

Milwaukee should strive to encourage a successful private rental housing market in this once great city, but since the mid-1980s’ the city adopted a culture of hatred towards private rental owners. That has not produced positive results, but instead, discourages the right people from participating.

If Milwaukee rental housing became more sustainable, where people willing to invest their time and money were to make reasonable profits, it would be harder for the few charlatans to exist because of increased competition for available properties. An added benefit is more interest in investing in Milwaukee’s rental housing will result in an increase in values and therefore an increase in the tax base.

Alderman Witkowski, who is the co-author of this proposal, created a Local Business Action Team to help small business succeed. Rental housing is the largest segment of small business within the city and one that may have the greatest impact on the well-being of the city. With our half billion dollars a year of economic impact, a similar effort should be undertaken towards making private rental housing more successful.

Let’s look at the recent Journal Sentinel series on landlords.

This investigative reporting – using easily available public records – showed that the individual owners behind LLCs could be revealed and that other properties owned by these individuals or different LLCs could also be exposed. Changes in the LLC laws are not necessary, contrary to the assertions of Aldermen Murphy and Witkowski that bad landlords are operating in secret. The City Attorney’s office has recently been successful in having a receiver appointed for the various ownership entities used by inner city landlord

Within existing laws, the city could have caused most of the featured landlords out of business, through docketing and enforcing code enforcement fines, and foreclosing f tax delinquencies. For whatever reason the city allowed these owners to continue unabated.

Perhaps most troubling is the relentless attack on James H. Herrick, who works for Baird, that went as far as the Mayor calling for the guy to be fired. He is not a member of the Association nor known to us.

The Journal reports that inspectors show up and find basement doors illegally padlocked. In the article, the owner’s manager states he did this in an attempt to keep drug dealers from entering the property.

There is no argument that inoperable fire doors are an unreasonable risk to occupants. Clearly, this was a novice mistake made by someone who did not understand fire codes.

The correct response by DNS would be for the inspector to explain the problem and demand the owner’s rep immediately remove the padlocks. If the owner did not comply, the Department of Neighborhood Services has an essential services program where the city can contract a repair and then bill the owner.

Instead, the inspection supervisor chose to placard the building and force 50 families out onto the street. Closing a 50 unit building would not have been the DNS response had the property been located on the Eastside, Bayview or the Southwest side. In these more affluent neighborhood they would have compelled a solution that kept the tenants safely in their homes.

But this building is in a poor, minority neighborhood.  The city’s response was harsh as it typically is in these neighborhoods. The DNS employees who acted out of spite towards the owners and a disregard of the tenant population, instead of attempting to protect the homes of 50 low income, primarily minority tenants, should lose their jobs.

The 50 unit building remained closed for a couple of months. It is no surprise that the building ended in foreclosure and sold at a distressed price due to this.

The owner’ use of single property LLCs, in this case, were an advantage to the city. Because the owner had his properties in separate LLCs, this allowed only this one to be foreclosed upon, instead of all 13.

It is a lending industry practice in larger real estate deals to require single asset entities to separate liability from one project and others with a similar ownership interest.

It would actually be in Milwaukee’s best interest if every investment property was in a properly segregated LLC. That way a failure at one property would not have a domino effect and bring down perhaps dozens or more other properties that are under similar ownership.

Then the Journal and Mayor put pressure on Baird, Herrick’s employer, placing his job in jeopardy. What advantage does the city receive in this? If he loses his job, his remaining properties will likely fall into financial problems as well, resulting in more boarded buildings, displaced tenants, and distressed sales.

Similarly, what did the city gain by the public attack on NBA basketball star Devin Harris? While it may have been expedient in causing the payment of some fines and taxes, overall it sent a clear warning to others with capital “Do not invest in Milwaukee. If you fail, you will be ridiculed and perhaps lose your career.” Similar results could have been obtained with a private conversation with Harris, thereby not discouraging outside investment.

Journal article on non-profit failures

West End joins a list of other nonprofit housing organizations that have failed in the last 10 years, including Walker’s Point Development Corp., East Side Housing Action Coalition and Community Development, and the Westside Conservation Corp.

 


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