Friday, February 17, 2012


MADISON, WI: A new anti-tenants’ rights bill, SB 466, was discussed at two hearings on Wednesday. The bill is moving very quickly through the legislative process. It was published on February 13 and went to committee two days later. Landlords and tenants alike raised questions about the bill’s unintended consequences. Some of the biggest sources of confusion in the bill were:
  • The bill may unintentionally remove tenants’ entitlement to double damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees for money illegally withheld from security deposits or for failure to return security deposits within 21 days. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Stroebel, asserted during the Assembly committee hearing in the morning that this was never the intention of the bill’s authors. Attorney David Sparer disagreed, asserting that a “plain reading” of the bill showed that this would be a consequence. By the afternoon hearing, Representative Stroebel had acknowledged an amendment may be necessary.

  • The bill prohibits tenants from contacting a building inspector or elected official to register a repair problem before they have first given their landlord written notification of the problem. A number of tenants and landlords raised concerns about this provision, particularly the provision that they could not contact an elected official, and that will be removed.

  • The bill would overturn a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in Baierl v. McTagger, which determined that one illegal non-standard rental provision in a lease will render the entire lease invalid. The bill would thus remove the only extant disincentive for landlords against including illegal non-standard rental provisions in a lease. Landlords could include a non-standard rental provision saying that they will evict tenants or increase their rent for calling the police or emergency services. Such provisions are designed to intimidate tenants. Bob Anderson from Legal Action of Wisconsin argued before both committees that this deterrent is preferable to other deterrents: “You could make this a Class H felony or you could create an agency to deal with it, but that would be extraordinarily expensive.”

  • The bill allows property left behind to be taken at the landlord’s discretion. Several attorney explained that if the landlord was wrong, there would be many lawsuits over their ability to take this property. Ross Kinsler from the manufactured housing association, Wisconsin Housing Alliance, warned that this could make lenders unwilling to make loans on mobile homes and also asked for changes.

  • Legislative Counsel staff have to review the process for mandatory double the daily rent and how that might impact due process for those who want to contest their eviction.

“I had a list of over 20 items that were unclear or had unintended or maybe intended consequences. As I read them, I was interrupted by the author and chair of the Senate Insurance and Housing Committee, Frank Lasee multiple times during my testimony indicating that they would work on those items,” said Brenda Konkel.

The abundance of unintended consequences of the bill that surfaced during the hearings suggest that the bill was composed hastily and without consulting housing advocates and lawyers who are knowledgeable about housing law. David Sparrer, an attorney who argued Baierl v. McTaggert, said, “I am probably the most experienced person about housing law in this room, and I wasn’t consulted. I found out about it the day before yesterday. I should have been consulted.”

It is unclear whether and how the problems with this bill will be addressed by its sponsors and the Senate and Assembly committee members. Senator Carpenter raised the possibility of sending the bill to the legislative council for further review. “We won’t stop fighting this bill until all of its intended or unintended consequences for tenants’ rights are taken out of the bill,” declared Colin Gillis, an organizer for the Wisconsin Alliance for Tenants’ Rights.

The bill is likely to be schedule for Executive Session next Wednesday, with hopes that amendments will be available a few days earlier. It is unclear whether they will consider further input.

There is an additional bill draft, LRB2098 that is circulating for sponsors at the capital that would allow tenants to be evicted with 5 days notice without a right to cure the problem if people are associated with them commit “crimes” on any of the landlord’s property - “criminal activity” includes anything you can get a fine for, which would include parking tickets, an unlicensed cat and many other offenses. It also allows for the landlords to evict victims of crimes.