Monday, February 13, 2012

Devastating Anti-Tenant Bill Being Fast-tracked

2 Hearings and 1 Vote in Committee on Wednesday 2/15
Last week, the Wisconsin Alliance for Tenants' Rights learned of legislation that would radically alter tenants’ rights law in Wisconsin. The bill was still without co-sponsors and no public hearings had been scheduled. This evening, only a few days later, news broke that this legislation, now renamed AB561 and SB466, had been scheduled for two hearings with less than 48 hours notice. The Assembly Committee on Housing will have a hearing on Wednesday, February 15, at 11:00 AM, and the Senate Committee on Insurance and Housing will have a hearing and hold an executive session the same day at 2:05 PM.

Local housing advocates are shocked and outraged that this bill, which will substantially alter the state law governing tenant-landlord relations, is being pushed through the legislative process so quickly. “We have had almost no time to analyze this bill ourselves,” said Colin Gillis, one of the lead organizers for the Wisconsin Alliance for Tenants’ Rights, “let alone discuss it with the communities we work with. This bill will have a major impact on renters in Wisconsin. For example, it would eliminate essential remedies for tenants, including double damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney's fees. This will make it harder for tenants to enforce their rights and hold landlords accountable. It will also facilitate abusive landlord practices. How many renters can afford to lose all or part of their security deposits when they move? The bill's sponsors may be fast-tracking this bill because they don’t want their constituents to look at it very closely.”

The scope of the changes that would be enacted by the bill is staggering, making it difficult to enumerate all of its potential effects. Some of the most troubling attacks on tenant protections include:
• Eliminating double damages, court costs and reasonable attorney fees for failure to return security deposit or disclose repair issues—a tenant can only get single damages.
• Preventing tenants from reporting concerns to a building inspector or elected official until they notify the landlord in writing and give the landlord time to make repairs.
• Allowing landlords to use illegal contract provisions without consequences.
• Allowing the landlord take property left behind.
• Eliminating the right of local cities and counties to prohibit landlords from evicting under certain circumstances (i.e. over Christmas)
• Mandating double daily rent if a tenant stays past the end date of a 5 or 14 day notice or the end of the lease and allowing landlords to collect a tenant’s rent after they have fallen behind and still seek an eviction, even if the tenant is paid in full.

"This bill does not modernize the landlord-tenant code in Wisconsin. This is a full on assault on tenants' rights in Wisconsin", said Brenda Konkel. "To push these changes through with less than 48 hours notice before the hearings is unconscionable. Tenants (32% of Wisconsin residents) deserve a chance to a fair and public hearing on the issues."

AB561 / SB466 is the second major anti-tenants’ rights bill to be considered by the state legislature in the past few months. In December, Governor Walker signed SB 107, a bill prohibiting municipal governments from passing and enforcing laws protecting tenants’ from discrimination, preserving tenants’ right to privacy, and regulating security deposits.

The Wisconsin Alliance for Tenants’ Rights urges those who wish to learn more about these bills to find us on Facebook, sign our online petitions, and contact their legislators immediately. For more information, visit