I have had the opportunity to review the newly proposed legislation, authored by State. Representative Marlin Schneider (Wisconsin Rapids), that will affect landlords’ use of CCAP when screening rental applicants. This legislation has not yet been officially introduced so there is no link to it available on the web. Currently Rep. Schneider is sending it around attempting to find others who are willing to co-sponsor it with him.
First, the bill would require that no information can be added to CCAP until after there is a finding of guilt in a criminal matter, finding of liability in a civil matter, an order for eviction in an eviction action, or the issuance of a restraining order or injunction.
If this legislation becomes law, landlords will be put at a huge disadvantage during the screening process. If the applicant is currently being evicted by his/her landlord that information would not be displayed on CCAP. I personally feel that th most important piece of information that I want to know about somebody that is applying to rent from me is if they are currently being evicted. The time that it takes to obtain a judgment of eviction often takes up to 1 month or more – as you need to wait for the 5 or 14 day notice to expire, then it takes approximately 2 weeks before you can get into court for the initial appearance, and then if the tenant contests the eviction the trial could be scheduled out as far as 1 week from the date of the initial appearance – and that does not even account for the court time (or backlog) to enter the information into CCAP.
The same would apply to collection lawsuits. If the tenant is currently being sued by his/her landlord for damage to the rental property (not part of an eviction action) or any other person or business that is owed money by the tenant, this information would not show up on CCAP until after a judgment was rendered. Collection lawsuits (even in the small claims division) can easily take 6 months or more to come to a conclusion.
Most of us review an application, complete a background search, and make a decision to rent to an applicant in a few days to 1 week. In fact, the regulations regarding earnest money (ATCP 134.05) require a landlord to make that decision by the end of the 3rd business day or else they must return the earnest money to the applicant. So if this law is passed landlords will not be privy to important information that is needed in order to make an intelligent decision as to whether an applicant should become a tenant. Seeing no current eviction or lawsuits pending against the applicant, a landlord may accept the applicant and enter into a rental agreement with them only to find out a few weeks or months later that their new tenant was evicted or sued by their prior landlord.
Second, the new bill also will require landlords to pay an annual fee of $10 to use CCAP. This fee would not be charged to judges, attorneys, court personnel, law enforcement personnel, and journalists. Even more troublesome however is that the Director of State Courts would also be required to register all users of CCAP and also record any and all searches that they perform using CCAP. So there would be a record of what searches you performed on CCAP that could possibly be used against you if it was determined that you discriminated against an applicant (see the paragraph below for such a scenario).
Third, this bill would also require that any landlord that uses CCAP as part of their background search on an applicant, must tell the applicant, if their application is denied, that CCAP was used in part in making the decision to deny them. Failure to inform the applicant of this may cause the landlord to be fined $1,000. Remember the requirement that the searches of all CCAP users be recorded that I mentioned in the prior paragraph? Maybe that same search record could be used against you if you did not advise the applicant that you used CCAP as part of your background search prior to denying them. If this is a possibility then landlords will need to document in writing that they did advise the applicant that they used CCAP to vet them or else risk the $1,000 fine.
Finally, under the bill, any person that currently has information isted on CCAP that didn’t result in a finding of guilt in a criminal matter, liability in a civil matter, an order for eviction, or the issuance of a restraining order of injunction, can request that the information be removed from CCAP. So under this law, past information that was available on CCAP can now disappear.
Essentially, this will allow any tenant that was sued for eviction in the past but who had his/her eviction dismissed pursuant to a stipulation (which are often forced upon landlords in Milwaukee County) can be removed from CCAP. Oftentimes, a landlord will agree to dismiss an eviction against a tenant in exchange for the tenant agreeing to vacate the property by a date certain. Landlords do this because it will avoid the need for an eviction trial as well as the need to take additional time off of work or pay additional fees to a lawyer for a trial. It is understandable why a landlord may agree to a stipulated dismissal but if this new legislation is passed documentation showing that an eviction was even filed may be removed from CCAP. Landlords will need to seriously need to reconsider entering into stipulated dismissals because by doing so they will be hurting other landlords who may inadvertently rent individuals that were sued for eviction but for which no record exists on CCAP.