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.
Feb 27

Governor Walker is scheduled to sign AB568 into law on Monday 2/29/16.  Link to the text of the new 2016 Wisconsin Landlord Tenant  law, ACT 176   This is the third major revision to WI Landlord Tenant Law in three years.

It will take a while to digest all the implications of the new bill, even for those of us who watched it go through the legislative process over the last six months or so.

Some of the highlights:

  • The new law allows the termination of a tenancy for criminal activity. Drug dealing is one of the crimes you can evict for, but simple possession or use of drugs is not. Politically, allowing possession was necessary. But it is still disappointing that owners that wish to, still cannot expect drug free housing.  With this new tool to address problems  year leases are practical in more situations than they are today. An advantage of leases is less turn over and that should make neighborhoods more stable. Keep in mind that the Wisconsin protections for domestic abuse victims remain in place.
  • Another change affects month to month tenancies – The ability to use 5 Day notices for breaches.  Now when the tenant shows up with a pit bull you can respond with a 5 Day instead of a 14 Day.  An advantage to the tenant is they can correct their mistake and not lose their home.  This may also permit the including of late fees and other charges that the tenant owes on a 5 Day notice.  I will get clarification on this.

There are a bunch of changes that should help keep local governments a bit more in check.  This legislation:

  • Prohibits  rental property inspections except upon a complaint or as part of a program of regularly scheduled inspections conducted in compliance with state or federal law.  Think fire inspections.
  • Dramatically changes “Reinspection Fee” by limiting the the escalating fee scheme as well as allowing fees only when there was an actual, physical inspection of  the property.  Currently these fees double every 30 Days until they are six times the original fee, plus often there is no actual inspection associated with the fee. This is important as many of the abandoned and foreclosed homes in my neighborhoods appear to have ended up in that state in part due to fees imposed by Milwaukee.  The fees imposed these properties also make it harder for someone to come in, buy the property and put it back in service.
  • Prohibits rental property certification or licensing  schemes unless the requirement applies uniformly to all residential rental property owners, including owners of owner-occupied rental property.
  • The law still allows for programs such as Milwaukee’s Property Recording Ordinance, but most likely they will no longer be able to charge a fee.
  • Prohibits an occupancy or transfer of tenancy fee on a rental unit.

Time of Sale protections

  •  The bill prohibist local regulations with respect to taking title to or occupancy of property.

The new law also changes things with regards to sprinklers, historical buildings, trespass and towing.

Stay tuned as we get more information on what these changes mean to us and what lease language will be updated.

Jan 25

It appears the Metropolitan Omaha Property Owners Association’s lawsuit against their code enforcement will settle favorably for the owners.

1,000 Omaha rental property owners  filed a federal lawsuit in July 2013 alleging arbitrary and capricious enforcement of the city’s housing code.  Speaking to a couple of the owners their complaints are similar to ours, including the city ignoring owner occupied properties in disrepair while enforcing stringently on rental homes.

From the Federal complaint:

The City of Omaha has not adopted any specific rules, regulations, or interpretations of its very broad and general housing code. Instead, the City of Omaha has unlawfully designated the ability to make, interpret, and enforce Omaha housing law (including through unconstitutional means) on a case-by-case basis solely upon the unfettered discretion of each of its code inspectors. The system has no uniformity, consistency, or standard operating procedure and has fostered gross abuses, hardship, and violations of Federal and State Constitutional rights upon Omaha property owners. There are no adequate safeguards or protections in place and Omaha property owners are left without an adequate remedy or meaningful judicial review under State law.

Read the full complaint here.  Link to other case files

The Omaha World-Herald is reporting:

A proposed lawsuit settlement agreement between the City of Omaha and a landlord group faces questions and amendments when it goes before the Omaha City Council on Tuesday.

The agreement would settle a federal lawsuit filed against the city by the Metropolitan Omaha Property Owners Association.

The agreement includes an overhaul of the city’s ordinances and procedures on housing code enforcement.

It also includes a consent decree under which the landlords could haul the city back into U.S. District Court if the city changed those codes or procedures in the future.

 


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