Advocates for People Facing Eviction Concerned About Proposed Changes to Wisconsin Law

Monday, March 12, 2018
LaToya Dennis

Every year in Milwaukee, thousands of eviction notices are filed. The state Senate is expected to take up legislation later this month that critics say unfairly favors landlords -- and would increase the number of evictions. Republican proponents maintain it’s about ensuring quality housing for tenants in the most affordable way to landlords.

Since 2011, Wisconsin has made a number of changes to its landlord tenant laws. Lawmakers passed legislation that says collection of past due rent doesn’t stop an eviction. Other measures prohibit local governments from stopping evictions during the winter months, and remove limitations on the amount of money landlords can request for a security deposit.

The bill that's currently before the Senate would limit the ability of municipalities to perform regular inspections of rental properties. It also would allow property owners to charge tenants for the time spent shopping for materials for repairs. And it would limit the amount of time a court can delay an eviction.

But Raphael Ramos says one of the provisions he’s most concerned about would free landlords from sharing accurate information with tenants, regarding how much they owe, before evicting them. Ramos runs the Eviction Defense Project for Legal Action of Wisconsin.

He says it's not uncommon for landlords to give tenants the wrong numbers. “If you’re a tenant and you get a notice where you think and believe that you owe say $50 in past due rent and you get a notice saying that you owe $1,000 think that you owe $50. Who is actually going to pay that $50 thinking that that will have an impact on whether a landlord can proceed? They’re going to hold onto that $50 and say, 'Okay well, let’s see how things proceed,'" Ramos says.

He adds, "The people who it’s affecting are really tenants who are generally unrepresented who are generally struggling financially. And the legislation essentially makes it easier for landlords who have sloppy practices to continue employing those sloppy practices and in fact rewarding them for those practices by making it easier for them to evict."

Ron Hegwood is president of the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin. It represents around 400-500 landlords.

Hegwood says, “There are honest mistakes and there are some mistakes that are not honest on both sides."

In most situations, he explains, if a person is able to pay, they do and if not, the amount is agreed upon in court. “Doesn’t matter whether you owe me $1,000 or $1,100, you owe me money. So if I’ve added improperly…that amount of money gets settled after."

Hegwood says the landlord tenant bills approved in recent years have helped property owners provide quality housing in a way that's affordable to them.

GOP Representative Robert Brooks coauthored the most recent legislation and says it’s fair to all.

“I don’t think there’s a lot in this bill compared to prior sessions bills that really infringe on tenants’ rights. And we may have a difference of opinion on that, but I don’t think there’s a lot in this bill compared to prior session’s bills that deal with that,” Brooks says.

The legislation has already passed the Assembly and will be taken up by the state Senate later this month. Last year in Milwaukee, there were more than 14,000 eviction notices filed.

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