Tenant Protections Further Endangered by Senate Yesterday

Posted June 15th, 2011 @ 12:52 PM by

So . . . just when you thought we had avoided the worst but it was bad enough . . . they threw in something new to SB107.

So in addition to wiping out Madison’s (and in some cases Dane County’s) ordinances here’s the new and exciting things that landlords can do to you if this passes through the assembly:

1. They can require that you make three times the amount of your rent in income. Yup, that $700 apartment means you have to make $2100 per month or over $25,000 per year. If you are on W-2 and make only $673 per month, even with food stamps and other assistance, you’ll never be able to rent that apartment. Even if you’ve been surviving and doing it for years. That means that a single mom with 2 kids who lives in a fair market rate apartment of $899 has to make $15.56 per hour unless she has some other income or is actually getting child support. I’m not sure how landlords can hold to this standard and still get renters. And, I think it tempts them to have the rule for some people and not others, meaning . . . they risk discrimination complaints.

2. The landlord can refuse to to you because you don’t want to give them your social security number. Hey, who wouldn’t want to not give that info to a landlord that is unlicensed and you don’t know. Who knows what they might do with that information. Why should you have to give it to them? We get lots of calls from middle class people who don’t want to give the landlord their social security number or even bank account numbers. Those folks are no longer protected. I haven’t even gotten to the international students and folks who have ITIN numbers to work and maybe even green cards. Where are they supposed to live? Why should their choices be limited?

3. The landlord can now refuse to rent to a tenant because they got a disorderly conduct ticket at the capitol, or had a drunk driving charge 15 years ago, or is a victim of domestic violence and was arrested in a mandatory dual arrest situation. The arrest or conviction record doesn’t have to be directly related to housing. It can be 40 years old. You might only have been arrested and not charged or found guilty. Doesn’t matter, the landlord can deny you. And here’s the most absurd part of this. So, you have someone who is getting out of jail or prison and you don’t want them to re-offend. Do you want to integrate them into a community or do you want to segregate all these folks into certain neighborhoods or with certain landlords where the risk of recidivism is greater? Again, this is a backwards move, not just for tenants, but for our whole community.

4. Landlords only have to give you 12 hours notice to enter your apartment. It doesn’t have to be in writing and you don’t have to actually receive the notice.

5. Landlords can ask you at any time to renew your lease or start showing it for next year. It means they are free to put pressure on people to renew their leases or risk losing their apartment. On campus, this can begin a month after you move in. That’s right, before you know if you get along with your roommates, if you’re going to stay in school, if the heat works and how high the bills are, if the landlord shovels the snow and makes repairs, if you like your neighbors and so many other things. We regularly get calls at the Tenant Resource Center from people OUTRAGED that the landlord is asking them if they are going to stay when they still have 2 or 3 months left on their lease. Can you imagine the folks who live downtown who will be calling when the landlord is asking them to renew 10 months before their lease is over? Remember, its not just students that live downtown and are impacted by this. In fact, its probably a whole ton of capitol staffers! 🙂

So, in addition to all that, they also added the following language:
No city, village, town, or county may enact an ordinance that places requirements on a residential landlord with respect to security deposits or earnest money or pretenancy or posttenancy inspections that are additional to the requirements under administrative rules related to residential rental practices.”.

Which effectively removes these further tenant protections in Madison and to some extent Fitchburg:
1. Landlords being required to use a check-in and check-out sheet to document the condition of the apartment when you move in and out and effectively what gets taken out of your security deposit. Currently, if the landlord doesn’t do this in they forfeit the right to their security deposit.

2. They also eliminated the requirement for the landlord to document anything they deduct from a security deposit with a photo, if that is possible.

3. They eliminated the possibility of triple damages for egregious situations.

4. They eliminated the requirement that landlords pay interest on your security deposit.

5. They eliminated the restriction of only charging one months rent for security deposit, so landlords could ask you to pay “first months rent, last months rent and a security deposit”. Legally, its ends up being 2 months rent of security deposit, but that’s the way they way it. Actually, there’s no limit on what they can charge for a security deposit.

6. Landlords won’t be required to provide the tenant with receipts and the number of hours worked and wages paid for repairs and cleaning when they take it out of the security deposit.

7. A landlord could hold the original tenant’s security deposit and a deposit from a sublettor.

8. Landlords will be able to increase the security deposit when you renew or amend the lease.

9. Landlord won’t be required to ask you for your forwarding address on the check-out form.

10. If there is a change of owners during the tenancy it is no longer crystal clear that the last landlord who owns the property is the one to return the security deposit.

11. It opens up the possibility that landlords will find new charges to apply to tenant security deposits that they currently can’t charge.

There may be more smaller things as well, but these are the main ones. The language is a little vague and there may be some additional issues that come up. This is my first take on it.

What I really don’t get here is that many of these laws protect the landlord. It forces them into good business practices instead of having them be sloppy and ending up in court. In my estimation, this just means more tenants will have to take landlords to court to enforce their rights. And I guess the landlords are banking on tenants just giving up.

Also, this really destroys all of the good will the Apartment Association of South Central Wisconsin has built up over the years. And I’m really interested in the fact that I’m hearing complaints that their members have not been consulted or contacted about the association’s support of this bill. Maybe they think this is a way to get more tenants to mediate with them through the STEM (Student Tenant Education and Mediation) program. Students, yeah, that’s smart, let the landlords mediate your tenant/landlord issue. Who the hell came up with that boneheaded idea?

Now, we wait for the Housing Committee to schedule it. I’m guessing we will get little or no notice after yesterday’s court ruling, so stay on your toes if you’re interested! Let’s hope they don’t come up with even more restrictions.

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