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.

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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.

 

Sep 16

My daughter was flying home from Atlanta and the following was a game provided by the airline to pass the time:

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Fight the landlord

I forgot to send this. A game that was available to play on my flight home from ATL. They had screens in each of the seats. -Jess

Apr 25

To be successful at landlording you must approach it as a business.  No better way to be innovative than to liberally steal ideas,  grabbing the best from other industries and repurposing them for ours.  I also have been thinking a lot about starting an incubator for physical businesses in Milwaukee that employee people that have a hard time finding good jobs.

Good artists copy, great artists steal. — Pablo Picasso

This past Saturday John Lee Dumas, who does the podcast “Entrepreneur on Fire” was speaking at the inaugural  Young Entrepreneur Convention in Des Moines.  If you have heard his podcast you know how great they are.  If you haven’t, go take a listen.  His format is doing an interview a day with a different entrepreneur, seven days a week.  He is an ex-tank commander in the Middle Eastern wars, turned successful podcaster and author.

I find such valuable insights in his stuff that I decided to go to Iowa to see him in person. I did not even look at who the other speakers were. After hearing him speak, if the Young Entrepreneur Convention been JLD alone, the trip would have been worth it.

I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of every one of the presenters.

 

Kevin Harrington and Carmen Ballering at the Young Entrepreneur Convention

Kevin Harrington and Carmen Ballering at the Young Entrepreneur Convention

Probably the best known was Kevin Harrington, one of the original Sharks from Shark Tank.

 

His interesting story:  He got his start after seeing a knife pitchman at a county fair and noticing that the Discovery Channel was dark six hours a day in the early days of cable. This was the beginning of “As Seen On TV” and the entire infomercial craze.

Carmen spoke to Kevin Harrington off stage about doing a promo for the Event Decorating Academy. I think what he offered is a valid idea to try.

 

The other surprising presenter was Jeff Hoffman,  founder of PriceLine.com, the company that brought low-cost easy travel to the masses as well as the creator of the airport ticketing kiosk. There was some irony in seeing him Saturday and then having a terrible experience with American Airlines on the way home the next day.  His interesting story: He got kicked out of Yale for not having the complete tuition.  He solved it by creating a B2B software company even though he could not program himself at the time.

Jeff Hoffman, founder of Priceline, with Carmen Ballering

Jeff Hoffman, founder of Priceline, with Carmen Ballering

Two big take aways from Jeff Hoffman:  Create BIG goals, envision that you have achieved them and then work backward each step until you are where you are today.  That is how he arrived at doing concerts with Elton John, Britney Spears, and NSYNC.  He also has produced a profitable indie movie.

The other, which is a to our businesses, is to look at what is occurring outside of your industry and see what opportunities presents themselves.  PriceLine.com was based on his reading articles on perishable goods, distressed inventory, and spot pricing.

 

As I wrote earlier, every presenter was great.

The guy that put the event together was Brandon T Adams.  He had created the (3rd?) largest Kickstarter campaigns and is a 2012 Iowa State University grad.

Two of the presenters are from Madison.  Megan Watt ,who just released her first book, is a leadership trainer at her company, Dream Catalyst Labs. I paged through the book after hearing her presentation and bought it. The other is Jenna Atkinson, who gave a great presentation on marketing and social media.

Ken Shamrock, "The most dangerous man in the world", Carmen Ballering Tim Ballering

Center, Ken Shamrock, “The most dangerous man in the world”, Carmen Ballering, who may just be the most dangerous woman in the world, and Tim Ballering

Cactus Jack Barringer is a very entertaining marketer. Guy holds a dozen patents.

There were a bunch other presenters during break out sessions that I did not get to see.  You can see the  YEC 2016 speaker list here.

One that we did see that I did not see a tie into our businesses but was cool to meet as our son-in-law and his brother are both MMA fighters, in fact, Monday of last week the brother, Kevin Vazquez, had his first major UFC fight was Ken Shamrock  “The World’s Most Dangerous Man”.  Shamrock and his partner were pitching a project to team retiring celebrities with young entrepreneurs.

The event was so great I can’t wait for next year’s conference.

#YECDM

Mar 18

On March 7th, 2016 Matt Desmond, author of EVICTED was interviewed on the Diane Rehm NPR show, guest hosted by Tom Gjelten.  I was privileged to be an invited guest on the show.  I do not feel I did as well as I wished but am sharing it as this show was a good overview of the issues presented in the book.

EVICTED will have a huge impact on our industry for many years.    Whether that impact is positive or negative to rental housing is up to us and how we react.

Listen to NPR’s Diane Rehm Show EVICTED Interview with Matt Desmond

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.
 


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