Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A call to action! Open meeting on January 4

The anti-tenants' rights bill SB 107 was signed by Governor Walker last week. That means it will become law in a few days. It does not mean that our response to SB 107--and the austerity agenda it's part of--is over. On the contrary, it's just beginning. SB 107 is a call to action, not simply a defeat. It is time to make Madison's progressive tenant protections, the ones that were targeted by SB 107, the standard for the whole state!

The first step toward repealing SB 107 and expanding tenants' rights at the city, county, and state levels is to coordinate the efforts of organizers and activists who are already working hard on housing issues in Madison with people who are outraged by this bill and want to join the fight against it.

To this end, the Wisconsin Alliance for Tenants' Rights has called an open meeting to plan the response to SB 107. The meeting will be held on Wednesday, January 4th, at 6:00 pm at Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative (426 W. Gilman). At this meeting, we'll hear updates about responses that are already taking place and share ideas about how to go forward. We'll also try to set up a day and time for monthly WATR meetings.

Forward this message to others who may be interested. The Apartment Association and the Wisconsin Realtors Association have lobbyists at the capitol working as hard as they can to destroy what we've gained through years of struggle. An attack on tenants' rights of this magnitude merits a *sustained* response on multiple fronts. To win this fight, we have to work together!

WHAT: An open meeting to plan our response to SB 107.
WHEN: 6 pm, Wednesday, January 4, 2012
WHERE: Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative (426 W. Gilman)

Save the date and spread the word!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Activists circulate "Responsible Landlords Pledge" after Walker signs anti-tenants' rights bill

Madison, WI: Now that SB 107, an anti-tenants' rights bill, has been signed, local activists are looking for new ways to protect tenants’ rights in Madison. The Wisconsin Alliance for Tenants’ Rights is circulating a pledge that asks landlords to continue to adhere to the Madison ordinances nullified by SB 107. Last week, the Madison Common Council passed a resolution recognizing housing as a human right. There is also talk of organizing a new tenant union in the Madison area.

Although they are disheartened by the passage of SB 107, local activists and housing advocates plan to continue the fight for tenants’ rights at the state and local level. “The Apartment Association went to the state government to reverse laws passed at the municipal level,” says Colin Gillis, an organizer for the Wisconsin Alliance for Tenants’ Rights, “and that means that we need to go to the state level, too. We’re going to work hard to make the Madison ordinances the standard for the whole state, not just Dane County.”

Governor Walker signed SB 107 on December 7, 2011. The bill abrogates decades of progressive tenant protections in the City of Madison and Dane County by preventing municipalities from making regulations designed to protect tenants. The Apartment Association of South-Central Wisconsin, a group representing the interests of landlords in the Madison area, lobbied for the bill, shepherding it through the state senate in June, before the recall elections. The bill was passed by the the Wisconsin State Assembly on November 1, 2011. The vote split along party lines. Only one Democrat, Peggy Krusick, voted for the bill.

The bill is a reprehensible assault on tenants’ rights and an affront to local democracy. It nullifies Madison ordinances that limit how much information landlords can request from prospective tenants, stipulate when landlords can ask tenants to renew their leases, and restrict how much money landlords can request as a security deposit. The bill would also allow landlords to require that prospective tenants earn three times the amount of their rent in income.

The law will adversely affect Madison area students. Many students rent apartments off campus, and SB 107 will prevent local student organizations from working with the city and county governments to protect students’ rights as tenants. Leland Pan of ASM (the Associated Students of Madison) explains: “By tying the hands of the local government, this bill restricts students' ability to push for protections and policies that represent their own interests. Students can no longer work with landlords and city officials to pass positive ordinances with broad support.”

The bill will also make it more difficult for people with low income and arrest or conviction records to find housing in the private rental market. “Striking down local ordinances that help people with arrest and conviction records interferes with our right, as a community, to welcome and support people returning home from prison,” observes Heidi Wegleitner, a local housing advocate. She also points out that the bill will disproportionately affect communities of color. Wegleitner continues: “In 2009, the Dane County Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System reported that nearly 50% of Dane County's young African-American males are in prison, incarcerated or on probation. Dane County has one of the highest rates of racial disparity in incarceration in the nation. It is clear that this bill will further segregate our communities.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Madison Responsible Landlord Pledge

Pending further clarification of the legal ramifications of the effects of SB107, we, the undersigned landlords, property owners, and managers pledge to continue to honor the City of Madison, City of Fitchburg, and Dane County ordinances that have been declared unenforceable with the passage of SB107. We recognize that these ordinances address problems unique to Madison and that continuing to adhere to them will prevent future disputes between tenants and landlords. For this reason, we have signed the following pledge.

1. We will not refuse a prospective tenant solely because he or she does not meet a predetermined minimum income, such as three times the amount of their income in rent. We will allow a tenant to demonstrate their ability to pay rent by showing that they have made a similar amount of income in the past and have paid a similar amount of rent with their current income [MGO 32.12(7)]. We will disclose any such requirements at the time of application or when earnest money is paid and make sure tenants are informed of the information that can prove their amount of income.

2. We will not deny people housing based on arrest or conviction records older than two years, unless the prospective tenant is a sex offender or his or her offense is substantially related to housing [MGO 39.03(4)(d)].

3. We will not require a social security number for application, unless doing so is mandated by state or federal law. We will also notify tenants that providing such information is voluntary [MGO 32.12(7)(b)].

4. We will continue to notify tenants at least twenty-four hours before entering a rental property [MGO 32.05(1)(d) and FO 28.05(1)(d)] and will not modify that rule in a non-standard rental provision [MGO 32.05(1)(e)].

5. When showing an apartment to prospective tenants, we will not show the apartment more than three hours per day or for more than three consecutive days [MGO 32.05(1)(e)].

6. We will not show the apartment until one quarter of the leasing period is over.

7. We will not ask tenants to renew their leases until one quarter of the leasing period is over [MGO 32.12(8)].

8. We will continue to use check-in and check-out forms [MGO 32.07(5)(d), FO 28.06(5)(d)], and we will use a non-standard rental provision to acknowledge receipt of these forms [MGO 32.07(5)(e)].

9. We will continue to continue to ask tenants for their forwarding addresses on the check-out form [MGO 32.07(5)(d), FO 28.06(7)].

10. We will continue to limit the security deposit to one month’s rent [MGO 32.07(2)(b), FO 28.06(2)(a)].

11. We will continue not to increase a security deposit during the same, amended, renewed, or new rental agreement [MGO 32.07(2)(b)].

12. We will continue to pay interest on security deposits [MGO 32.07(3), FO 28.06(3)].

13. We will continue to provide photographic evidence to justify any deductions from a security deposit [MGO32.07(7)(b)].

14. We will not collect a security deposit from both a tenant and a subleasing tenant [MGO 32.07(2)(d)].

15. When we return security deposits, we will continue to provide an itemized list of deductions that includes receipts, estimates and hours and wage rates charged for damages and cleaning [MGO 32.07(7)(b), FO 28.06(9)(b)].

16. In the event that we fail to comply with pledges 8-15, we will return the security deposit in full to the affected tenant.

17. We will not charge the tenant for credit check fees [MGO 32.10(3), FO 28.09(2)(a)].

18. In the event that deductions are made from earnest money, we will return an itemized written list of deductions [MGO 32.10(3)©, FO 28.09(2)(b)].

Monday, October 3, 2011

WATR on the radio!

WATR was on the radio today.

Want to find out more about WATR?

Email colin AT rainbowbookstore DOT org

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rally today: 5:00 pm, State Street Steps of the Capitol

Speakers will include:

Nate Abrams, Operation Welcome Home

M. Adams, Take Back the Land

Alex Gillis, Union de Trabajadores Immigrantes

Brenda Konkel, Tenant Resource Center / Housing Advocate

Charity Schmidt, TAA / UW Graduate Student

Damon Terrell, United Council / UW Student

Heidi Wegleitner, Housing Advocate

Sponsoring organizations include:

National Lawyers Guild - Madison Chapter

International Socialist Organization

Affordable Housing Action Alliance

Union de Trabajadores Inmigrantes

Take Back the Land – Madison Branch

Solidarity: a Socialist, Feminist, Anti-Racist Organization

The Teaching Assistants’ Association

Operation Welcome Home

Freedom Inc.


Progressive Dane

Madison Socialists

People’s Rights Campaign

Madison Area Tenants’ Union Project

Wisconsin Resists

Also stick around for the Wisconsin Wave Rally that will immediately follow ours.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rally against SB 107 on September 13!

SB 107, an anti-tenants' rights bill sponsored by the Apartment Association of South Central Wisconsin, would prohibit municipal governments from making regulations designed to protect tenants. This rolls back decades of progressive legislation won in Madison, a city recognized as having some of the best tenant protections both in the state and the country; and it prevents similar legislation from being drawn up here and across the state.

In a period when working people are suffering more than ever before, with rampant homelessness and foreclosure, we need to protect and strengthen tenants' rights!

SB 107 has passed the Senate but not the Assembly. On September 13, the state legislature resumes session. We're gathering at the capitol on that day to let our legislators know that we're going to fight to protect and expand our rights as tenants.

Housing is a human right, and the Madison ordinances threatened by this bill exist to protect that right. Together we will demand that these ordinances be preserved, expanded, and made the standard for tenant protections at the state level. Everyone in Wisconsin deserves the protections tenants have in Madison!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

What is WATR?

The Wisconsin Alliance for Tenants' Rights is a coalition of tenants, landlords, housing advocates, and other concerned citizens who have united to defend and improve tenants' rights in Wisconsin.

We have come together to fight SB 107, a bill that prohibits municipal governments from making regulations designed to protect tenants. This rolls back decades' worth of progressive legislation won in Madison, a city recognized as having some of the best tenant protections both in the state and in the country; and it prevents similar legislation from being drawn up here and across the state.

The bill includes measures that would:
  • Allow landlords to require that prospective renters earn more than three times their rent in monthly income.
  • Reduce housing options for low-income Madison residents, further concentrating poverty and segregating communities.
  • Eliminate privacy protections for tenants.
  • Abolish regulations that safeguard housing rights for persons with arrest and conviction records, disproportionate affecting communities of color.
  • Repeal ordinances that prevent security deposit disputes.
  • Remove limits on security deposits.
In a period when working people are suffering more than ever before, with rampant homelessness and foreclosure, we need to protect and strengthen tenants' rights.

SB 107 is only a spur to action. This bill is just one symptom of a much deeper assault on our rights as tenants and as workers in Wisconsin. For this reason, it is imperative that tenants throughout the state unite!