Apr 12

Last week HUD issued a directive on the use of criminal records in tenant screening.  On the surface, this ruling would prohibit blanket rejections for criminal records, ostensibly including a blanket prohibition against sex offenders.

Renting to registered sex offenders cause anxiety for your neighbors. And I do not disagree with their sentiments.  I would not have wanted someone on the registry living next to me when my children were small and I certainly would not want one living next to my grandchildren today.

I expressed my concern that owners would have to begin accepting  sex offenders to AASEW General Counsel, Heiner Giese.  Heiner brought to my attention that in Milwaukee only 55 properties meet the Milwaukee Sex Offender Residency rule.  The rule penalizes the offender, not the property owners.

If your properties are outside of Milwaukee you may be required to accept sex offenders under the HUD directive.  However, this HUD rule was implemented to address disparate impact of such screening processes as they impact existing protected classes.  It does create a new protected class per se.  Most sex offenders are White males which should make this less of an issue under the April 4th, 2016 HUD Fair Housing letter.

Some people are very passionate on these issues as the recent FaceBook discussion regarding screening for criminals shows. There is, of course, many larger issues with the sex offender registry.  The two kids experimenting in the back of the Chevy probably should not be branded for life on an offender registry.  Remember that 48% of kids have had sex by the time they are 17.  The first sex offender in WI was a case similar to this in Palmyra.

Not that I am an advocate for sex offenders, Affordable had a prohibition against sex offenders renting from us for as nearly as long as the registry existed, but the abundance of residency restrictions will ultimately cause politicians or judges will make them a protected class.  Then all owners, including government housing, will have to rent to them unrestricted throughout the community.

Miami adopted a similar 2,500-foot restriction in 2006.  This resulted in the sex offenders forming a cardboard box camp under the bridges of the Julia Tuttle Causeway, I-195.  In 2010, the city of Miami bulldozed the camp.  It then cost the city $1000 per month per offender that was relocated to house them in hotels.  256 offenders stopped reporting their addresses in the process.

People smarter than me need to find the answer but trust that it will become a problem for everyone if left unaddressed.

 

Apr 05

On April 4th, 2016 HUD guidelines on the use of criminal records in tenant screening were released. This is a game changer that negates much of what was achieved with the crime-free portion of Wisconsin 2015 ACT 176. It also impacts all screening.

No longer can arrests be considered in screening. Convictions may be considered, but only those convictions that directly relate to the safety of the property or its residents.

“A housing provider with a more tailored policy or practice that excludes individuals with only certain types of convictions must still prove that its policy is necessary to serve a “substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest.” To do this, a housing provider must show that its policy accurately distinguishes between criminal conduct that indicates a demonstrable risk to resident safety and/or property and criminal conduct that does not”

Amazingly the directive does not appear to allow consideration of neighbors safety, only residents. So does this mean an axe murdering rapist drug dealing member of the local street gang must be allowed to rent any single family as long as they meet your income guides?

The real losers in this will be the law-abiding tenants and their neighbors

Mar 25

Published in the 3/25/16 Milwaukee Journal
By Heiner Giese

Matthew Desmond’s book “Evicted” with the subtitle “Poverty and Profit in the American City” has generated much discussion in the Milwaukee community and among us Milwaukee landlords. We generally agree with the Journal Sentinel’s March 13 editorial calling for more discussion on how to provide decent housing for the poor.

While Desmond does an excellent job of presenting and humanizing the struggles of the poor to pay their rent, he doesn’t adequately cover the “profit” aspect of his subtitle. Out of 30 landlords interviewed, he only presents case studies on two successful ones. The marginal operators and the failed shoestring capitalists (to say nothing of the many nonprofit housing groups who have failed) are not featured.

I have been involved in housing issues for over three decades — as a former hands-on landlord, as attorney for the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin and as an attorney representing landlords (and sometimes tenants) in eviction and foreclosure court.

My clients have properties in all areas of Milwaukee and nearby suburbs. But in the inner city, many landlords have failed. I have sued them or defended them when their rental property was foreclosed on because they couldn’t make the mortgage or land contract payment because the rent money wasn’t coming in. A good chunk of the abandoned houses you’ll see when driving through central city Milwaukee were once owned by landlords.

Desmond is right in pointing to two correlating equations: difficulty paying your rent because you’re poor = getting evicted; getting evicted = getting deeper into poverty. And there is a third equation: getting evicted once = getting evicted again.

The details are not in the book but one of Desmond’s featured tenants had seven evictions filed against her in the 12 year period from 2003 through January, 2015, three of them since she was in his survey in August 2008. So ask yourself, what responsible landlord who needs the rent to pay the mortgage, the taxes, the water and sewer bill and the repair costs for the windows broken by neighborhood vandals would rent to this struggling lady?

Housing vouchers for all, so no one pays more than, say, 40% of their income for rent is an answer. Except you wonder if it is politically doable. Will John and Mary Homeowner give up some of their mortgage interest tax deduction so their government subsidy can instead help their neighbor on the other side of the tracks pay her rent?

Converting part of cash welfare benefits to a voucher for those who have an eviction record would make them more acceptable in the private rental market.

Another remedy touted by Desmond is to provide lawyers for those facing eviction. But that will not prevent eviction for the vast majority of defendants in eviction court who are behind on the rent.A lawyer can only help them delay the eviction. So they get another free month out of their landlord and who winds up paying for that “free” month? It is their low-income neighbor in the unit upstairs whose monthly rent is $50 higher than it should be to make up for the landlord’s loss. No wonder, as Desmond shows, that rents in the inner city aren’t much less than in the suburbs.

Some solutions proposed by Desmond would work, but others won’t or can’t garner legislative support in today’s political climate.

Ron Hegwood, our association president, recently wrote: “A good tenant is worth their weight in gold. How can we create more good tenants and protect and help the ones we have?” We look forward to meeting with tenant advocates and public officials to seek answers to that question.

Heiner Giese is a Milwaukee attorney who represents the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, Inc.

Mar 19

Desmond and others have a nifty little saying “Rent eats first” that implies landlords get paid at the expense of people eating.  The truth is food stamps (SNAP/Food Shares) are given to most people and families under the poverty level while housing assistance is given to very few.  That’s why we read about evictions and homelessness and not about starvation.  In a country as wealthy and great as America, we should not be hearing of either.

One workable voucher program could be similar to food stamps where all people and families below the poverty level, in addition to food stamps, would receive a housing allotment that can only be spent on housing.

The recipients would have a choice of renting from anyone without the government saying, for example, ‘you have two small kids so you are only eligible to rent a two bedroom in the $630 price range and we will pay $500 of that’   Instead the recipient would receive a $500 housing allotment.  They then could rent a $500 place and pay nothing out of pocket or decide they want to rent a $750 three bedroom in a different neighborhood and must figure out how to pay the other $250 themselves.

Such a plan would help stabilize the private housing industry while at the same time would allow the recipients much more freedom of choice in their housing decisions.  It would also be less costly to manage than Section 8.  To achieve this the payments would have to be available to all rental owners except of course those banned due to fraud or similar.

Some of the money could come from adjusting the current W2.  As the vouchers would earmark monies for housing the volume of evictions should subside.

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


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