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.”