Tuesday night the Wisconsin Senate passed SB 179, the third piece of legislation in two years to drastically alter tenant landlord law. This law removes over 20 Madison ordinances and changes over 20 statewide laws, resulting in over 75 law changes since 2011 Wisconsin Act 108. 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
Courts will be required to speed up the eviction process by scheduling faster return dates and hearing dates, and issuing a writ of restitution “immediately” if the landlord wins the case. One unintended consequence will be removing the court’s flexibility to reschedule cases, including at the landlords’ request. Each county will have the choice to let landlords mail the notice summoning the tenant to eviction court, changing the existing statewide requirement that all landlords hire someone to personally serve the tenant, likely causing more tenants to get a default judgment against them because they didn’t know they had a court date. Landlords will no longer have to have the sheriff present during an eviction, and can dispose of the tenant’s property as they see fit.
TENANT PROPERTY: Towing Of Vehicles and Property Left Behind
Landlords will no longer have to obtain a citation on a vehicle before having it towed, as long as they post the property with 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. More legislation will be needed to sort out these details. 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.
BEDBUGS: Adding Confusion, Not Solutions
Landlords must STILL prove that a tenant was at fault if they want to charge them for the cost of bedbugs or other pests – a task which is notoriously difficult. However, the laws now mention pests specifically as something tenants can be charged for if caused by their waste, neglect, or misuse of the property. Tenants and landlords alike have been mislead to believe that these expensive repairs are now automatically the tenant’s responsibility. Tenants who cannot afford (or refuse) to pay bills of $1,000 - $2,000 may face threats of eviction, and may be too fearful for their housing securitye to report problems early on before an infestation spreads.
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:
· Give information about fire safety and smoke alarm ordinances
· Landlords will not be required to give tenants or the City of Madison a telephone number
· Distribute “Tenant’ Rights and Responsibilities” brochure or voter registration information
· Inform the tenant of off-street parking restrictions
· Landlords longer having to tell the tenant about physical conditions that present an unreasonable risk of injury (unless cited by the building inspector)
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, Changing Eviction Laws
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 rolled out a new website last week where you can find lots of information and resources on tenant landlord laws, and track our updates about these laws over the next two weeks. We will also be revising all of our educational materials to reflect these changes, and will include the changes in our statewide Housing Law Seminars in Spring 2014. Tenant Resource Center can also give community presentations about these law changes for tenants, landlords, and service providers in Dane County.