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 26

 

This past week, taking advantage of the moderate weather, we began our annual exterior survey of our properties a bit earlier than normal. We walk around the exteriors of all the properties to set a prioritized project list for spring/summer 2015.

The neighborhoods we operate in are the near Southside, from just north of National to Cleveland, 1st to 36th.

While the primary focus is reviewing our properties, we also get a good sense of what is happening generally in the neighborhoods.

If this was a rock band I would have called this the “Fresh Mud and New Green Board Tour” It was absolutely surprising how many properties have been bulldozed and how many more properties are boarded and abandoned since doing the fall review in Sept/Oct of last year.

Anyone who tells you the real estate market on the near Southside has or is rebounding from the 2008 housing bubble hasn’t been out much. 😉 I wrote about what I was seeing in the past  and again here.  It is much worse now.

Many of the new board ups are nice looking properties. However as they accumulate city “reinspection fees” and fines they get to the point they cannot be sold and languish until they are stripped of all value, foreclosed upon by the city for taxes and ultimately razed.

But at least the city was able to tack some fees on it. Fees that they never collected because when the City becomes the owner the only thing left to do was bulldoze  them. (The one pictured in the link is now a mud lot).  Many of these are Zombie Houses

We are seeing sale prices in Milwaukee that make Detroit almost look like a healthy market.

The sales below are listed in the Journal’s Recent Deals sales listing

$11,000: 2356 W Becher St – MILWAUKEE (01/06/15)
$4,000: 2328 S 4th St – MILWAUKEE (01/15/15)
$1,000: 1962 S 16th St – MILWAUKEE (01/02/15)
$3,375: 4624 N 29th St – MILWAUKEE (01/13/15)
$2,850: 323 E Chambers St – MILWAUKEE (12/05/14)
$2,625: 2904 N 16th St – MILWAUKEE (11/24/14)
$37,000: 3410 S 1st PL – MILWAUKEE (01/16/15) — a pretty nice neighborhood.

Dec 02

Let’s assume the “broken windows” theory is correct.  It makes sense – order begets order, chaos and disarray breeds more chaos.  It makes sense logically, whether or not you can quantify the results I’ll leave to those much smarter than I.

However,  Milwaukee attempts to repurpose the theory as an argument for greater rental housing code enforcement and nuisance enforcement aimed primarily at rental housing.  In doing so our city has undermined the true message, which is: For the broken windows theory to produce results an entire neighborhood must be held to a standard.  The researchers use “neighborhood order” to describe the goal.

The article is primarily about police and neighbor intervention into petty crime creates order that reduces other petty crime and larger problems.  The words landlord, rent, code enforcement, building inspection do not appear anywhere in the article. Yet, to hear Milwaukee officials speak of the broken window theory, they frame it as a landlord’s responsibly.

A walk down 5th Place, the original target for the expansion of the RIP (rental inspection program), will show a far greater number of owner occupied housing in serious disrepair* than rental houses.  Milwaukee senior assessor Mary Hennen stated under oath a couple of years ago similarly that owner occupied housing in these neighborhoods are often in worse condition than rentals.

As an apparent precursor to the RIP proposal , on September 3rd and 4th,2014 DNS sent a squadron of five inspectors down Fifth Place for a block sweep.  Although the inspectors were able to see and write up some fairly minor problems on rental homes, amazingly when it came to the owner occupied houses on this street these five inspectors missed a dozen failed roofs, half a dozen failed porches, a couple of chimneys that looked about to fall and one house that is failing structurally.  Sixteen owner occupied properties in total that were as bad or worse than the seventeen rentals on the street that received orders. They also missed the two abandoned structures that should have been sent to raze, properties with actual broken windows.  My first two trips down the block had city lots strewn with trash.  I’ll guess that they were afraid someone would point that out in a RIP hearing.  They were clean on my third and forth trip.

Of the two properties that I saw blatant drug dealing coming from on three of my trips down the block this fall, one was owner occupied and the other owned by a guy who lives in the district on 15th and Cleveland. Far from the stereotypical absentee landlord.

If the RIP as well as other code initiatives are truly about stabilizing the neighborhoods, then plans must be in place to address the owner occupied and city owned properties that also drag down the neighborhood.

Tim Ballering

Tim@ApartmentsMilwaukee.com

*I consider serious disrepair as failed roofs, dangerous porches, crumbling chimneys and structural failure.

On Nov 30, 2014, on the ApartmentAssoc Yahoo Group  Bill Lauer wrote:

The previous article entitled “Broken Windows” really isn’t about broken windows.  It is about a theory that first showed up in the early 1980s [Link] and influences many of today’s social policies that impact our businesses every day.  Researchers in New York parked a car with no license plates on it, on a busy street. In a very short period of time, everything of value was stripped from it. Likewise, if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. They concluded that somehow the disrepair brought more disrepair.  Likewise, if crimes like jaywalking and panhandling are allowed, then more felonious crimes will follow.

The recent public hearings on the expansion of the Rental Inspection Program indicate several inner-city alders believe that because certain neighborhoods are run down, that crime is attracted to those neighborhoods.  But if memory serves me correctly, these same neighborhoods had huge crime problems before the neighborhoods were runned down.  Could it be that something else attracted the criminal element? Could it be true that because criminals do not maintain property very well that over time, neighborhoods end up in disrepair? They see the disrepair as the fault of greedy landlords, instead of seeing the landlords as the victims of the criminals.

One Alder literally said that the RIP was a tool to break up these “hot spots” of criminal activity. This strategy scatters criminal activity into surrounding neighborhoods rather than deal with the problem where it is. The mayor’s budget hires more building inspectors and reduces the number of armed police, which is contrary to the original research which says that police presence was needed to make positive change.

For the last 20 years, as “hot spots” break up and houses get bulldozed, and criminals need housing, they move into unsuspecting neighborhoods. That is why we are seeing crime increase (again) in Bay View, West Allis, Sherman Park, St, Joe’s area, just to name a few. The strategy employed in the RIP has not worked. But a new generation of politicians refuse to learn the lessons of the past and want to try this stuff again with a new name. They continue to make the buildings the problem rather than the people who live there.

The article is a long read but makes very interesting points that are useful in our discussions with our politicians.  It gives some insight into the crazy policies that are coming from city hall. But most importantly it points to the need for landlords to organize and become vocal about our experience working in Milwaukee.

 Bill Lauer

May 21

Perhaps I wasn’t clear in the original post.

This law only affects separately metered municipal utilities in tenant occupied units. Nothing has changed in how you handle utility cost for joint metered utilities. What you are doing now is permitted as long as disclosed in advance of signing the lease.

With the enactment of this legislation separately metered municipal services can now be directly billed to the tenants by the local governments, similar to how separate gas or electric accounts are billed to tenants by WE Energies*. This makes it more practical to have tenants pay their own sewer and water with less potential that you will find their unpaid bills on your property taxes*.

This change will initially affect many single family rentals where owners already have tenants responsible for their own sewer and water bills. With minimal costs owners of duplexes can take advantage of the new law by having a plumber separate the water supply and install a second meter. Then those duplex tenants could be billed directly by the municipality.

I would be surprised if many multi unit owners will incur the costs of this work, at least initially. But just like separating gas and electric, duplexes were the first to be retrofitted followed by more and more multi unit buildings

The net result should be more conservation, that ultimately results in more rate increases. ;-(

“The additional revenue is needed to offset declining water sales in the face of rising costs, officials said.”

*This is now similar, but not exactly the same as how a WE Energies account is handled. The new law does NOT completely eliminate the ability of the municipality to place the charges on the property.

Mar 28

Our properties are in Milwaukee and I am scared.

The proposal to eliminate residency requirements for municipal employees will pass and will further weaken the demand for housing in Milwaukee.  The result will be more abandonment of homes in older, lower value neighborhoods as owners in the outer band of Milwaukee make concession to sell or rent homes vacated by the exodus of city employees.  You read the city can’t afford to bulldoze the stuff that needs to be torn down today.  Where will this leave us? Will we be the one city in the nation New Orleans and Detroit can look down at as a failure?

Another aspect is much of your income do you spend within a few miles of your home.  I buy most of my groceries a mile from home.  I shop at the Walmart that is a mile and half from home and the Target that is a mile in the other direction.  As people move out there will be less sales in those stores and they will require less employees resulting in more of my tenants going from barely making it to failing.  City workers in general make an above mean wages so this will be a dramatic impact.

You live in the suburbs or your properties are there so you think this will be a good thing.  But in reality you should be as concerned as me.  Suburban school districts will have to expand their schools to accommodate the influx of former Milwaukee residents.  That will adversely impact your taxes.  The only alternative will be to  diminish the quality of the suburban  schools as they become more crowded and understaffed.  All the while they will be shuttering MPS schools

School teachers that wish to remain teaching in Milwaukee should be the largest group opposing this as the first group to leave will be city employees with children who are not satisfied with MPS. This will reduce job opportunities at MPS.  Carmen and I lived in Milwaukee for a while, but ruled Milwaukee out when we bought a new house due to problems her daughter and son had at MPS.  We moved to Greenfield.  Schools are good and safe. But I am so close I can walk to Milwaukee in ten minutes.  We have a very responsive police department.  Our water and sewer rates are much lower than the city  that provides the service ironically.

City workers in general will see layoffs, reduced opportunities  and lower employment as people leave.  They will now have to fight for jobs with those who already live outside of the city, but would not take employment in the city as they did not want to or cannot for economic reasons move to Milwaukee. So although they are the ones pushing for this they too will be paying a price.

You are saying:  “Sure Tim, I agree and would love to contact my Senator and Representative but I’m too busy unplugging toilets and fixing broken windows to keep up with politics”  Well. fear not.  You can find who your state legislators are at:  http://legis.wisconsin.gov/Pages/waml.aspx


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