As October rolls around, it is apartment-hunting season once again for University of Wisconsin students looking to rent in Madison. Just as students begin to shop around for housing, the state is edging closer to a new state law that would change tenant-landlord relations.
The Wisconsin Senate passed a bill last week altering the powers of landlords and rights of tenants in the state, and the measure is now headed to the governor’s desk for final approval. The bill, which would remove more than 20 city ordinances, would impact areas such as dealing with parking, the eviction process and the removal of tenant property.
How would the eviction process change?
Under current legislation, it is very difficult to bring a case of eviction to court within the 30-day ideal time period because of other considerations like money still owed, Kinzler said.
“Under the new bill, the damages and the rate of possession issues are separated. So the court has to have a hearing within 25 days on the issue of possession of property,” Kinzler said. “They can hold off on the other issues, but they have to act pretty swiftly on the question of whether the person is there legally or not.”
However, several other changes in the process are troubling to housing experts like Anders Zanichkowsky, program director of the Tenant Resource Center.
He said the ability to notify tenants being evicted by mail instead of in person is a main concern with the new eviction process.
“Right now, it is state law that the landlord has to hire somebody to try three times to try and personally serve the tenant,” Zanichkowsky said. “If people miss an eviction hearing, they could be homeless. Now, county by county, they can say that mailing a notice is good enough.”
What changes would occur with parking?
Ross Kinzler, Wisconsin Housing Alliance executive director, said the bill would make the process of towing illegally parked cars more efficient.
“Under current Wisconsin law, the landlord has to call the police, the police have to issue a ticket and then the police decide whether they can tow the car or not,” Kinzler said. “Now the landlord can call the police and have the car towed.”
He also said it could help prevent what he calls the “cascade event,” where one person in an apartment complex parks in the wrong spot, forcing another to do the same thing and so on. A more straightforward towing process can prevent many instances of illegal parking.
What would happen to a tenant’s property left behind after an eviction?
Under current Wisconsin state law, a sheriff has to be present during an eviction. But under this bill, landlords can now carry out an eviction themselves, Zanichkowsky said.
“Under this law, the sheriff will still serve the writ, but doesn’t have to hang around while the stuff is being stored and boxed up,” Kinzler said. “It’s a great drain on police resources to have them standing around the apartment.”
What are the next steps?
The last step in the process is for Gov. Scott Walker to sign the bill into state law. If the governor signs it before the end of the month, most of the changes will go into effect on Jan. 1.
As for the effects on tenants, Kinzler said most tenants should not be worried or expect drastic changes in proceedings with their landlords.
“The bill really, in a lot of ways, has to do with responsible parties and irresponsible parties,” Kinzler said. “Good tenants are going to like this law. Bad tenants are going to hate it.”