As a new landlord-tenant bill aimed at decreasing costs for landlords makes its way through the Wisconsin Legislature, advocates for domestic abuse victims are concerned with many of the bill’s provisions.
The bill’s author, Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, said in a statement the bill’s goal is to tackle issues of increasing costs that landlords face, so they don’t have to increase costs for their tenants.
“Everyone agrees that seeking ways to incentivize more opportunities for affordable housing is important,” Lasee said. “This package seeks to remove hurdles to the creation of more affordable housing options for everyone.”
But those in opposition of the bill argue that while many of its provisions make it easier and cheaper for landlords to do business, it will also limit the number of days the court can protect victims from eviction, among other provisions that value the rights of landlords over those of their tenants.
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Further, they argue provisions in the bill will limit the authority of cities, towns and counties to regulate rental and historical properties, and prevent local governments from requiring buildings to meet certain conditions when selling a property.
The bill will also allow landlords to evict tenants for criminal activity conducted on rental property, whether or not an arrest or conviction has been made.
Other provisions in the bill will prevent municipalities from conducting inspections on rental units without demonstrating just cause, and will prohibit municipalities from requiring landlords to be certified or registered.
Chase Tarrier, public policy coordinator for End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, said many of these provisions favor the rights of landlords over tenants, and are making it possible to further allow landlords to do whatever they want.
“There has been a trend in the Wisconsin State Legislature over the past few sessions that is slowly eroding tenant’s rights in favor of landlord rights — specifically the rights of tenants who are victims of domestic abuse,” Tarrier said.
Tarrier said a number of provisions in the bill are concerning to advocates and victims of domestic abuse. He said the main reason domestic abuse victims stay or return back to their batterer is due to the lack of access to available housing.
The provision Tarrier and other advocates are most worried about has to do with the Emergency Assistance program that disseminates federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families dollars to low income families in a time of crisis, including victims of domestic violence.
The new provision will limit the number of days victims and families have to complete the Emergency Assistance program filing to five days, which aligns with how long the process should ideally take. But Tarrier and other advocates that work closely with abuse victims know it takes much longer.
A sub-amendment created by Rep. Rob Brooks, R-Saukville, in response to pushback from domestic abuse advocates could be put into place to double the five day filing process, but Tarrier knows this will not make a significant difference.
“The reality is that the process to complete filing can take months, and this provision will only put domestic abuse victims back at risk of eviction for no fault of their own,” Tarrier said.
Curt Witynski, assistant director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said even after Brooks brought him and other representatives from around the state to meet and discuss a draft of the bill, the version he most recently saw was not what he expected.
Another provision advocates are concerned about — though it is subject to change — is one that will require records of eviction to remain on the Wisconsin Court System Circuit Court Access website for up to 10 years.
This provision could limit access to available housing for victims in the future.
“This is very concerning because oftentimes victims are facing eviction for actions that arose because of their abuser, not their own wrongdoing,” Tarrier said.
Other provisions of concern include allowing landlords to submit inaccurate information as part of eviction court filings, limiting the access to hearings in eviction cases by requiring tenants to prove that they have a valid legal claim and allowing landlords to choose how they will enforce their lease terms, Tarrier said.
Tarrier also brought up that the speed at which the bill made its way through the Legislature did not allow much time for other organizations to read it over and understand its language, and the effects it would have on them and other groups.
“It is a complex bill, and I could see how organizations and groups that were not included earlier in the process might feel overwhelmed by the most recent version,” Witynski said.