Today Governor Walker signs SB 179 (Now 2013 Wis Act 76) into law. This is the third piece of legislation in two years to drastically alter tenant landlord law, for the most part removing tenant protections and local controls over rental housing practices. This law makes over 20 Madison ordinances unenforceable and changes over 20 statewide laws, resulting in over 75 law changes since 2011 Wisconsin Act 108.
Most of the changes will go into effect on 3/1/2014 but the bill has complicated exceptions. For more details, please contact TRC.
HERE IS A SUMMARY OF SOME OF THE AREAS OF THE LAW THAT WILL BE IMPACTED:
EVICTION: Speeding Up the Process and Removing Public Safety Protections
Sheriff’s deputies will no longer be required at the scene of a court-ordered eviction, and landlords will be allowed to deal with tenant’s property however they see fit – throwing out all of someone’s personal belongings, or keeping them to sell for a profit. Before it gets to that point, courts will be required to speed up the eviction process by scheduling faster court dates, and issuing a writ of restitution “immediately” if the landlord wins the case. This means if someone contests the eviction but loses the trial, instead of getting a few days’ notice from the sheriff, all their things could be thrown out and their locks changed before they even get home from court. Each county will also have the choice to let landlords mail the court notice summoning the tenant to eviction court, changing the existing statewide requirement that all landlords hire someone to personally serve the tenant. This will likely cause more tenants to get a default judgment against them because they didn’t know they had a court date. A landlord who leaves court to evict that person may find their tenant is entirely unprepared to move out. Another unintended consequence will be removing the court’s flexibility to reschedule cases, including at the landlords’ request.
In a very possible worst-case scenario, a tenant could be late one month on rent and get an eviction notice, pay it in full one day after the notice expires, miss their court date because they didn’t receive the summons in the mail, and before the end of that month the landlord could show up at their home to kick them out and keep whatever property they can’t take with them, without the presence of law enforcement to keep the peace.
TENANT PROPERTY: Towing Of Vehicles and Property Left Behind
Landlords will no longer have to ticket a vehicle before having it towed as long as they post signs prohibiting unauthorized vehicles. This will mean there is no opportunity for police screen for thefts or other criminal activity, and no other warning for the owner to remove their vehicle. It’s possible a towing company would not even confirm it is the landlord or owner calling in the tow request. More legislation will be needed to sort out these details, but it appears likely that if a tenant’s guest parks in their spot for the afternoon, the landlord (or anyone who wants it gone) could phone in a towing company and have the vehicle removed without any notice, at their expense. Also, tenants may be informed as late as they day they are moving out that the landlord will not be moving and storing any of their personal property left behind. If they accidentally leave some clothes in a closet, or a box of photos in a drawer, or their bikes in the basement, the landlord can throw it away, sell it, give it to charity, etc. and never even tell the tenant what happened.
BED BUGS: Adding Confusion, Not Solutions
The only significant change to the laws about bedbugs as a result of SB 179 seems to be that everyone thinks landlords have more power. However, landlords must still prove that a tenant was at fault if they want to charge them for the cost of bed bugs or other pests – a task which is notoriously difficult to do. The laws now mention pests specifically as something tenants can be charged for if caused by their waste, neglect, or misuse of the property, but makes no provisions for automatic charges. Tenants and landlords alike have been misled to believe that these expensive repairs are now automatically the tenant’s responsibility, which is false. Such misinformation may actually make the bed bug problem worse, since tenants may be too fearful for their housing security to report problems early on before an infestation spreads. Tenants who cannot afford (or refuse) to pay bills of $1,000 - $2,000 may face threats of eviction.
STRIPPING LOCAL CONTROLS: Removing Landlord Communication And Disclosures
This bill removes any power that municipalities have to govern communication between the landlord and the tenant, and between the landlord and the local government. In Madison this includes:
• Landlords telling tenants about the fire safety and smoke alarm ordinances that tenants must follow
• Landlords will not be required to give tenants or the City of Madison a telephone number
• Landlords will not have to distribute the “Tenant’ Rights and Responsibilities” brochure, intended to prevent problems while they rent
• Landlords will not have to tell tenant about off-street parking restrictions
• This may also jeopardize local requirements to disclose information about sex offenders or impact local building inspection and nuisance ordinances.
SECURITY DEPOSITS: Correcting Mistakes In Rushed Legislation
Landlords will no longer be required to fill out the check-in sheet they give to tenants and commercial properties will no longer have to follow security deposit laws. This part of the bill corrects errors in the previous bills which were rushed through the legislative process. After an eviction, landlords will have more time before they must return a security deposit, and Madison landlords will no longer be required to provide estimates and receipts when informing tenants of security deposit deductions. However, the courts will likely still require them before they rule in a landlord’s favor.
Tenant Resource Center released a new website design in October where you can easily find lots of information and resources on tenant landlord laws. In anticipation of the 3/1/2014 effective date, we will be updated topics like eviction, repairs, landlord entry, and security deposits, to reflect the changes under the new laws. We will also be revising all of our educational materials to reflect these changes and will include this information in our statewide Housing Law Seminars in Spring 2014. Much of this work will be made possible by a grant from the City of Madison’s Emerging Opportunities Fund. Tenant Resource Center can also give community presentations for tenants, landlords, and service providers in Dane County.
Statewide: Click HERE for a summary of changes that will effect ALL residents in Wisconsin (including Madison, Dane County, and Fitchburg).
Madison, Dane County, and Fitchburg: Click HERE for an additional summary of how 2013 Wis Act 76 might affect your housing experience in Madison, Fitchburg, and/or Dane County. (Senate version does not change any of this, but will remove the new laws regarding lease renewals).
Stay tuned here for updates!