Tenants’ Rights Rollercoaster

Posted February 22nd, 2012 @ 3:53 PM by

I’m sitting in the capital, waiting for them to NOT do something, and to hear what they say about their inaction. Absurd, I know. The clerk just announced that AB466 won’t be exec’d today. But I have weeks of vacation to burn and I don’t quite trust them, and I want to hear if there is any discussion anyways. Technically because they haven’t taken any action on it and it is on the agenda they still could, or they could talk about it. I know, kinda silly, but I’d love to hear an official explanation. I don’t think they will pull anything shady, but you never know these days.

So, here’s the story for those of you trying to figure out what I’m talking about. There are three anti-tenant bills that have been in play this year.

SB 107 or 2911 Wisconsin Act 108
Is now law. 2011 Wisconsin Act 108 went into effect on December 21st last year. It is the law that took away Madison, Fitchburg and Dane County consumer protection laws. Landlords can now deny people for not having a social security number or for any arrest or conviction record no matter how old or if it is related to housing. They can also deny you because they don’t like your occupation. Well, maybe, there are other fair housing laws that may come into play in several of these. They also now can require you to make two times or three times or four times the amount of the rent in income, so if you have a $700 apartment they could require you to make $2100 a month. All these issues make it harder to find housing for people.

They also messed with our very good security deposit laws. Landlords are no longer required to use a check-in and check-out sheets or take photos. They also no longer have to pay interest on the security deposit. The security deposit is no longer limited to one month’s rent and some landlords are now asking for up to 4 months rent down for security deposit. And, tenants can no longer get triple damages, they can only get double.

Finally, perhaps the silliest part of all this, the landlords can ask you the day after you sign your lease if you want to renew and start showing your apartment. They also no longer have to give 12 hours notice to show the apartment and can, in fact, give you a notice that says they will be in the unit to show the apartment M – Fri noon – 5 every day until the unit is rented.

All of these items were very clear laws that Madison, Dane County and Fitchburg had passed. The good news is that many of these items can still be challenged, but it will just mean more lawsuits and arguments between tenants and landlords. And it means more education of tenants in sometimes complicated legal issues. And if tenants don’t stand up for their rights, landlords can just ignore them.

The new bill that wipes out all kinds of tenant consumer protections covers a long list of items. One might think they took care of all of this with SB107, but that only preempted local governments from passing laws. This bill is statewide. It changes the laws about tenant landlord law in Wisconsin. The short list of items that it impacts (even if it wasn’t intended) and some of the issues are as follows:
The bill
– Requires the use of of check-in sheet, but there are no double damages for not using one and it isn’t clear if the landlord or tenant is supposed to fill it out. If its the landlord, what if you disagree with what they wrote down? If its the tenant, could the landlord only allow them 5 minutes to fill it out?
– Requires the landlord provide the check-in sheet or have it filled in at the time of the lease signing, that would be impossible if the agreement is entered into months before the person moves in.
– Eliminates the right of a tenant to request a list of the previous tenant’s security deposit deductions, allowing the landlord to charge more than one tenant for the same repairs.
– Potentially eliminates double damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees in the event that a landlord withholds money from their security deposit illegally. Making it so tenants will not pay $96 to get back $100 or $200 of a security deposit – so unscrupulous landlords have no incentive to return it.
– Potentially gives landlords an argument that they can withhold from a security deposit for routine carpet cleaning and painting – tenants would have to argue it is not beyond normal wear and tear. Again, leading to more disputes.
– Potentially there is no requirement for when the security deposit has to be returned where the lease ends on its expected termination date.
– Potentially eliminates requirement that the landlord must provide the tenants with a written and itemized list of deductions when he or she withholds from a security deposit.
– Potentially Eliminates guidelines for returning security deposits if there are multiple tenants who do you return it to? If there is no forwarding address where do you send it?
– Potentially eliminates protections for tenants who cash checks for partial payments for security deposits, requiring tenants to not cash a check til months later when they can get a hearing or waive their rights to a trial because they need the money.
– Potentially eliminates protections for tenants whose landlords illegally withhold by misrepresenting or falsifying damages. Current law allows double damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees for egregious cases.
– Potentially eliminates the requirement that landlords provide tenants actual orders from a building inspector who has identified problems in the property, requiring a tenant to visit the building inspector’s office during the work day.
– Potentially eliminates the requirement to disclose structural damages to the unit and the absence of hot or cold running water, electricity, plumbing, sewage disposal facilities and adequate heating (the temp cannot reach 67 degrees) if there is no building inspection report.
– Potentially eliminates double damages, court costs and attorney fees for failure to disclose repair issues.
– Prevents a tenant from contacting a building inspector or elected officials before they notify the landlord in writing of the issues.
– The law does not define the penalty for failure to comply with this prohibition. What would happen to a tenant if they fail to notify the landlord? What kind of proof might be required by the building inspector for them to come out to the unit?
– The law assumes that all calls to the building inspector are made by tenants living in the property in need of repair. Quite often it is a neighbor who calls the building inspector. Will tenants be penalized if a neighbor files a complaint with the building inspector about the rental property in which they live?
– The law says that the tenant must allow the landlord “adequate time” to repair or correct the problem. However, it does not specify what amount of time is “adequate.”
– Eliminates voiding a lease for landlords who include illegal provisions (such as saying that a tenant has to pay the landlord’s attorney fees if they contest the landlords actions in rental agreements making it easier for landlords to take advantage of uninformed tenants.
– Prohibits municipalities from passing eviction moratoriums further eroding local control and prevents them from addressing local foreclosure issues and improper illegal eviction actions.
– Effectively eliminates tenants’ right to due process in the event that they receive an illegal or unjustified eviction notice or non-renewal due to the threat of having to pay double the daily rent.
– Prevents families from getting assistance, double the daily rent will not be allowed under many state and federal programs so agencies will not be able to assist low-income tenants with these expenses.
– Eliminates the 5 day notice with a right to cure if the landlord can evict even after the tenant pays the rent.
– Allows landlords, at their sole discretion, to determine if the property has been left behind and are essentially allowed to do whatever they want with the property.
– Eliminates the requirement to send proceeds of the sale to the Department of Administration for homeless programs.
– Eliminates the right to retrieve medical equipment and rights of other lienholders and interested parties extinguished.
– Provide no enforcement mechanism. There are many cases where landlord’s seize people’s final items as they are continuing to move – with this provision they can simply claim it was “left behind,” and what is a person supposed to do? What is the means of protecting against violations of these provisions as proposed?

The longer explanations are here.

Mostly, this bill is pretty messed up. The sponsors have no clue what their own bill would do. That became very clear in the hearings. “Unintended consequences” was muttered over and over. I think that is why it is not ready to be voted on today, since they have to understand what they did wrong and try to fix it.

There is an amendment floating around. I expect more changes and it hasn’t become official yet. So I’m not sure where it is at for the moment. They promised to make many changes, but they didn’t appear in the draft. This was scheduled yesterday for an executive session with about 25 hours notice, but then in the afternoon we heard it was cancelled but it wasn’t taken off the agenda officially.

About a half hours ago Lasee announced that he isn’t going to exec anything today. He said the needed to do more work on 466. They will be meeting again next Wednesday, the 29th at 10 am. He said there may be another hearing as well, but he didn’t sound too definite (perhaps LRB2098?)

This has become an official bill yet, I don’t think. Co-sponsors were due last Friday. I hear it wasn’t too popular. This is the crazy bill that says that if you have “criminal activity” in your apartment or if it is done by you, a member of your household, a guest or an “associate” you can be evicted with 5 days notice with no right to cure. And if you challenge it, the landlord only has to prove something was alleged to have happened. Also, “criminal activity” is anything you could get a ticket or fine for – so your unlicensed cat, or bike, or a parking ticket. And, of course, there is no provision protecting victims of crimes. And we have no idea what an “associate” is. And, if the landlord owns property in Superior and an associate of yours gets an underage drinking ticket there, that seems to qualify under this bill. Its overly broad and hopefully going nowhere, but who knows these days.

March 15th can’t come soon enough! And somehow, that whole thing only took 90 minutes of my life.

Categories: | Dane | Madison | Media | Wisconsin

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