Sep 18

Over on the ApartmentAssoc Yahoo Group an owner asks who is responsible for the costs associated with “Reasonable Modifications”, in this case a ramp.

An owner must allow the ramp as a reasonable modification.  The tenant must pay the costs associated with the modification.


Who is responsible for the expense of making a reasonable modification?

The Fair Housing Act provides that while the housing provider must permit the modification, the tenant is responsible for paying the cost of the modification.

With this said, there are groups that provide assistance of grants in some cases to facilitate such modifications.  One place to start is:

You may find that the modification creates a long term tenancy as well as a marketable benefit for future tenants.

Note that for “Reasonable Accommodations” the owner must bear the costs if those costs are reasonable.

What is the difference between a Reasonable Modification and a Reasonable Accommodation?

A reasonable modification is a physical change to the interior or exterior of a unit or property, such as installing a ramp.    A reasonable accommodation is a change to your policies; such as allowing a service animal in a property with a no pet policy.

Sep 02

Over on the ApartmentAssoc Yahoo Group we had a discussion about the number of foreclosed properties Milwaukee has for sale and how the city limits sales to owner occupants.  Orv Seymor replied:

You are missing the point, the city does not want any investors buying or rehabbing any of these properties.

They want control over the entire rental market in Milwaukee or they want to be able to say that they made these bldgs. available on the private market before they tore them down and built new housing with taxpayer dollars, which again, would give them control over the entire  rental market in Milwaukee.

You see, they cannot stand to see anyone make a profit when they in the  housing business

I believe the City’s motivation is more perverse than even Orv’s opinion.

Rather than trying to control the entire rental market and therein the profits as Orv suggests, I would argue these sales restrictions by the city are just another part of the process in which the City’s attempts to exclude the poor and racial minorities from Milwaukee.

Other tools in the City’s toolbox include excessive property tax assessments of lower valued neighborhoods, disparate code enforcement practices that ignores worse conditions at owner occupied housing, while excessive enforcement of even petty violations on rental housing occupied by poorer or racial minority tenants, as well as differential rules for owner occupied and rental housing.

Evidence of this argument? Look at sales of Milwaukee Eastside, Southwest Side and Bayview homes, cash or conventional financing, compared to their assessments. Then do the same with sales, cash or conventional financing, of properties in the 12th or 15th Aldermanic Districts. Those in the higher valued neighborhoods are selling at or above the assessment, while those in the lower valued neighborhoods are selling for often less than 35% of assessment. The effect is lower income occupants have a higher tax burden than more expensive homes as a percentage of their home’s value.

The next time you get an exterior order take a look around the block. Look up the neighboring properties that are in similar or worse condition on the City’s property information site. Most often you will see the owner occupied properties, and even those were the tenants more closely match the race of the neighbors, are ignored. You may, with a bunch of effort, even find the Alderman was behind the complaint. If the City truly thought this was legal, why do they fight so hard to hide the fact that city employees or officials were the complainant .

Then make a complaint to DNS on those adjoining properties and demand that DNS holds these adjoining properties to the same standard as they hold yours. If you are extremely persistent they may even write orders on the worst of those neighboring properties. Go back and review the records and the properties six months later. Often you will find the orders on those adjoining properties show on the City’s computer as being complied with, even though many of the violations remain. The disparity is so ingrained that when asked, the inspectors often justify their actions with social economical arguments that have nothing to do with codes or housing conditions.

On our properties I document these things with written complaints, screenshots of city records and, in aggregate, thousands of photos of our properties and those adjoining. I urge you to do the same. If you wish to share your documentation with me that would be great.

In part Milwaukee stole a page from the St Paul MN playbook, as evidenced by writings between our former Commissioner of DNS and his St Paul counterpart that were obtained by St Paul, MN landlords’ during discover in one of many federal cases St Paul landlords have filed against their city’s (alleged) discriminatory and disparate inspection practices. One St Paul case was accepted by the US Supreme Court only to have the Obama Administration pressure St Paul into dropping their bid for review by the SCOTUS on the eve of oral arguments.

A St Paul official expressed the view at a public hearing that if you ‘Get rid of the nest, you get rid of the vermin’ (Not at the office to grab the actual quote, but this is close) It seems like this too was a sentiment adopted by Milwaukee’s leadership and those sentiment have spread to surrounding communities. Make it impossible to provide housing for certain classes of people to live in your city and they all go away.

Disparate housing code enforcement, rules affecting only certain classes of properties, property tax assessment schemes that put greater burdens on poorer neighborhoods and restrictions on purchasing, all aimed at making it difficult or unreasonable for members of protected classes to live in a city is not proper use of police powers. Preventing these type of discriminatory policies is really the foundation of all Fair Housing laws.

If a city is to employee housing code enforcement and property tax assessment in a manner to drive out certain social economic groups, then those efforts should be funded by the kkk, not taxpayers.

Aug 30 

It is dangerous business we are in.   The story we hear is this landlord accepted a tenant, took the unit off the market and quite a while later the suspect told him he wasn’t moving in and wanted all his money back.  Allegedly the victim offered the deposit back but was retaining the August rent, as he was permitted to do under the law.  What should have been a small claims matter with the owner winning, turned into a felony murder with everyone losing.

I do not know if this had any impact here, but collecting rent in cash add to the danger dramatically.  I own a half dozen properties that the former owner was murdered a couple of decades ago in a robbery gone bad,  One of his tenant’s boyfriends waited outside the property for him as he finished collecting rent, hit him over the head with a banjo or guitar and he died.

Our policy is money orders only.  We  display notices to this effect and will even send the tenant with a thousand dollars in cash to stop an eviction to get a money order.   The check cashing store two doors down from us has been robbed at least twice that I know of.   Robbing us would only get you the staff’s lunch money.

I also would urge owners not to work alone on their properties. Criminals are somewhat deterred when there are potential witnesses.  A handyman working alone is a much less likely target for thieves and those with a grudge than an owner, who is perceived by most to have a lot of money on them.

Aug 28

Carl Bayerl passed away after a long battle with diabetes.  He was an Apartment Association member since 1986.

You could count on Carl to be the first one in the door at every legislative hearing, every Association event and meeting.  When it took getting up at 4 AM, Carl would be there ahead of guys half his age.

Carl was never a man of many words publicly, but he loved the legislative trips to Madison.   One of my fondest memories of Carl was at one of these hearings.  When it was his turn to speak, he walked up to the committee with a telephone book, put it on the table and said something like ‘Landlords already have a stack of rules bigger than this!  And you want to add more?’ That was it and he sat back down.  It probably had more impact than all the twenty minute arguments made by me and others.

Memorial will be on Wednesday from 11pm to 1pm at

Prosser funeral home  3235 s. Howell ave.

Burial is at the VA in union Grove. This is where John Chitko is also buried.

Aug 21

In the past week I have had three owners ask about pools.  First, let me say this is much better than the questions about ice dams that we get most of the year.  ;-)

If your lease is silent on pools, you may use the Wisconsin state law that requires your tenant to comply with local housing codes.

§707.07(3) (c)  A tenant in a residential tenancy shall comply with a local housing code applicable to the premises.

Milwaukee Ordinance define the requirement for pools, starting at 75-20-5

“PERMIT REQUIRED. In addition to the requirements of ch. SPS 390, Wis. Adm. Code, no person shall construct, install, enlarge, establish, maintain or make any alteration to any public swimming place or any outdoor private swimming place without a pool construction permit issued by the commissioner.”

If your tenant is a month to month you must give them a 14 day termination.  I suggest if they were otherwise good tenant that you include language such as “We will vacate this notice only if you remove the pool within 48 hours conditioned on not reinstalling a pool in the future without first obtaining all permits and complying with all City regulations”.   Attached a copy of the Milwaukee pool regulations.

If you use a year lease you must give them a 5 day breach notice, allowing them 5 days to remove the pool or be evicted.

Why are owners against pools, don’t they want the tenants to enjoy summer?  Pools are dangerous even when installed with proper fencing etc.

  • An average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States
  • About  one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger.
  • For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

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