Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Devastating Anti-Tenant Bill Being Fast-tracked

Public Hearing on Thursday, May 2

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

MADISON, WI - Housing advocates have learned of new legislation that would erode tenants’ rights in the middle of a national housing crisis. AB 183 was still without a formal number when, on Tuesday April 30, it was added to the agenda for a public hearing to be held on Thursday, May 2. If passed, it will make sweeping changes to landlord-tenant law at the state and municipal levels.

“The bill’s sponsors are fast-tracking this legislation because they don’t want it subjected to public scrutiny,” said Colin Gillis, an organizer for the Wisconsin Alliance for Tenants’ Rights. “The last time Republicans rushed a bill altering tenant-landlord law through the legislature like this, it had several unintended consequences, which this new bill, among other things, seeks to correct. This style of governance is bad for Wisconsin landlords and renters alike.”

The bill corrects several unanticipated effects of 2011 Wis. Act 143. For example, one provision of AB 183 restricts the right of a tenant to sue a landlord for double damages to violations related to security deposits and illegal lease clauses. This closes a loophole created by Act 143. The earlier bill made it possible for tenants to sue landlords for double damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney fees for almost any violation of tenant-landlord law. “Act 143 was not intended to expand consumer protections for tenants,” Gillis explains, “but this was its effect. Its actual outcome was the opposite of its intended outcome.”

AB 183 would make significant changes to Wisconsin state laws:

-It eliminates or alters laws that protect tenants’ property, making it easier for landlords to tow a renter’s vehicle, dispose of property left behind in an eviction, and take extra fees and fines out of security deposits.

-It limits a landlord’s legal obligation to disclose uncorrected building code violations, by requiring that landlords disclose such violations to tenants only when they have received written notice about them from a building inspection agency. As a result, landlords who own property in areas where there is no local housing code enforcement agency will have no legal obligation to disclose uncorrected building code violations, even if they know about them.

-It attempts to speed up the eviction process, by changing the return date for eviction actions from 5 - 30 days to 5 - 14 days, permitting summons by mail in eviction actions, requiring the court to issue a writ of restitution within five days of the determination of eviction, and allowing a landlord to continue pursuing an eviction even after receiving rent (or any other kind of payment) from a tenant.

-It makes it easier for landlords to use bad references to retaliate against former tenants, by limiting their legal liability for references. The new law stipulates that the courts should assume a landlord is acting in good faith when giving references unless the tenant can furnish proof to the contrary.

-It forces tenants to pay for pest control, even in situations when it is unclear who caused the infestation.

AB 183 is the second law sponsored by Republicans since they won majorities in the Senante and Assembly in 2010 that restricts municipal governments’ local control over tenant-landlord issues. 2011 Wis. Act 108 wiped out decades worth of protections for tenants in Madison and Dane County. AB 183 would have a similar effect, nullifying at least twenty regulations developed by local legislators, law enforcement, landlords, and renters to meet the needs of Madison’s unique rental market.

It would severely limit a landlord’s obligation to inform new tenants about their rights and to disclose information about a rental property. For example, landlords will no longer be required to notify tenants about occupancy limits, disclose conditions that create an unreasonable risk to personal injury, and inform tenants about their right to abate rent. It also removes limits on late fees, and it removes a landlord’s legal obligation to provide prospective tenants with an explanation when their rental application has been denied.

“Lawmakers in Madison and Dane County developed these regulations in consultation with landlords and tenants,” explains former alder and longtime housing advocate Brenda Konkel, “and they codify good business practices that are in everyone’s best interests.”

Housing advocates are urging Wisconsinites who oppose the bill to contact their legislators immediately.

For more information on the bill, read this article by Brenda Konkel.