For Immediate Release
Colin Gillis, Wisconsin Alliance for Tenants’ Rights
Controversial Anti-renter Bill Moves to Senate
June 4, 2013
MADISON, WI - Controversial anti-renter bill AB 183 / SB 179 will be discussed at a public hearing to be held by the Senate Committee on Insurance and Housing on Wednesday, June 5. It was passed by the Republican-controlled Assembly in a party-line vote on May 14. The Assembly Bill was rushed through the legislative process, reaching the Assembly floor just over two weeks after it was introduced on April 29. Assembly Democrats refused a third reading of the bill. It has been scheduled for a third reading in the Assembly today, June 4, 2013.
Tenants’ rights advocates have expressed concern over the bill, saying it would expand landlords’ power at the expense of renters and severely restrict municipalities’ local control over tenant-landlord issues. “This bill is only the latest in a series of anti-renter bills pushed by Wisconsin Republicans,” said Colin Gillis, an organizer for the Wisconsin Alliance for Tenants’ Rights. “Large property management companies and organizations that represent their interests are taking advantage of a Republican-controlled state legislature to rewrite tenant-landlord law in Wisconsin, and they are hoping nobody will notice.”
If it is signed into law, AB 183 / SB 179 will be the third anti-tenants’ rights law passed since Republicans took over the state government in 2010. 2011 WI Act 108 limited municipal control over tenant-landlord law and nullified numerous protections for tenant laws in Madison, Dane County, and Fitchburg laws. In 2012, another anti-tenants’ rights bill, 2011 WI Act 143, was fast-tracked through the legislature. One of the last bills to be passed during the marathon 33-hour Assembly session in March, 2012, it was signed into law just over one month after being introduced.
If AB 183 / SB 179 becomes law, it will make several significant changes to tenant-landlord law at the state and municipal levels:
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 legalizes so-called “crime-free” lease provisions prohibited by current law. Such clauses may discourage tenants from calling the police in emergencies and may be used by landlords to punish tenants for crimes committed against them or crimes that have nothing to do with them. An amendment to the bill stipulates that such provisions should not violate Wisconsin laws protecting victims of stalking and domestic abuse, but the language introduced by the amendment does not make exceptions for other kinds of crime. Advocates for victims of domestic violence continue to express concerns that the amendment is inadequate to protect victims and would have unintended consequences if it becomes law in its current form.
It attempts to speed up the eviction process, by requiring courts to rule on the issue of possession of the property (i.e. whether the tenant must vacate the property) within 30 days of the return date of the summons, permitting county circuit courts to allow summons by mail in eviction actions, and requiring the court to render judgment and issue a writ of restitution immediately upon a determination in favor of the Plaintiff (landlord). It also creates a bait and switch rule that would allow 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 charge tenants for pest control, even in situations when it is unclear who caused the infestation.
AB 183 / SB 179 would also nullify 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.
Former alder and longtime housing justice advocate Brenda Konkel said, “If this law passes, it will create confusion and unnecessary court cases. The three anti-renter laws pushed by Wisconsin Republicans since 2010 have made 33 changes to state law on over 70 changes to Madison and Dane County laws.”