By Joe Dahl (President of the Apaartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, Owner of Milwaukee Metro Management, and guest blogger)
Why Join the AASEW?
Since becoming President of the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin (AASEW) earlier this year and traveling around southeast Wisconsin promoting the group, I am continuously asked by prospective members “Why should I join the AASEW?”
I admit that my first reaction is often to turn the question around and ask the prospective member, “why wouldn’t you belong to the largest trade organization in our industry which has been tirelessly advocating for landlord rights and businesses in general?” I want to ask them if they are aware that the AASEW has saved landlords and the rental industry in general millions of dollars by fighting unfair laws and ordinances. The AASEW has been at the forefront of issues ranging from lead paint to property recording fees and were the only organization to fight against the city of Milwaukee’s Residential Rental Inspection (RRI) program, spending almost $100,000 dollars while lobbying and litigating against this unconstitutional program.
However more often than not, I politely explain to the prospective member at least 5 reasons that they should join the AASEW.
1. There Is Strength In Numbers
Have you seen the video of the 2.3 million toothpicks against the tiger? If not, you should as the story is a good analogy for our industry. We have over 40,000 landlords in Southeaster Wisconsin. Individually, none of us have a chance against the tiger (= state/local government).
The City of Milwaukee’s Residential Rental Inspection program is a great example of this. I have not met one landlord who agrees with this program. Even if your rental units are in great shape and have no significant deferred maintenance – by the way I own and manage rental units in both of the targeted areas and have received only minor violations — I am sure that you take issue with having to pay a government employee to come into your property to look for code violations. However the “tiger” is strong and hungry (i.e. broke) so he turns to his number one prey for sustenance — landlords.
As mentioned above, the AASEW fought this ordinance from the start. We talked and lobbied city officials and when that failed, we assisted affected owners by funding a lawsuit. Unfortunately in the end, we did not have enough strength to resist the attack, and we lost.
The proper approach to defeat this type of legislation is multifaceted and will require greater strength and more involvement by landlords in the future. Going forward however, we first need to support the aldermen who — just like us — were against the RRI program. Second, we need to educate the politicians about the economic impact that landlords have in SE Wisconsin. I’m fond of saying if we were in the business of manufacturing widgets, politicians would be tripping over one another to throw both money and praise on us. That certainly is not happening currently.
This year I will be asking the AASEW’s Board of Directors to authorize a comprehensive analysis of the economic contribution our industry makes in this region, and more importantly the pejorative impact that excessive fees and punitive ordinances have on our ability to hire employees, grow our small businesses, and contribute to the financial well-being of Wisconsin. The resulting report from this analysis will then be distributed to every politician in the area.
Third, we need to become more organized and efficient at getting out the vote. Which alderman/legislator is most unsympathetic to our cause? How many units do we control in his/her district? How do we get the message out to our customers (tenants) that a certain politician is not acting in their best interests? How do we mobilize tenants to express their dissatisfaction at the polls? We must hold the “tiger” accountable, and remember that he will not stop unless he is forced to stop.
In two years the RRI program will be reviewed for possible city-wide expansion. I promise you friends, that if you think the “tiger” is going to limit his hunting area to just the current pilot areas of Lindsay Heights and the UWM areas, you are soon going to be the “tiger’s” dinner. We must organize now for this imminent expansion and stop the “tiger” in his tracks!
2. Bad Laws Travel
Many of my colleagues with property outside of the Milwaukee area do not see the value of joining the AASEW as many of the most repressive ordinances and aggressive enforcement occur in Milwaukee. To this I frequently remind them that the Residential Rental Inspection program had its roots in an ordinance passed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our esteemed commissioner of the Department of Neighborhood Services at the time admired greatly the efforts of our northern counterparts in “holding landlord’s accountable.” Similar ordinances to Milwaukee’s are already popping up in other parts of Wisconsin.
Unfortunately Milwaukee is often the testing ground for such new laws, and if we are not organized enough to be in a position to stop them here, other areas will suffer as well. I assure you that what happens in Milwaukee does not just stay in Milwaukee – it can impact all of Southeast Wisconsin
We are fortunate to have the premier landlord-tenant law attorney in the state of Wisconsin on the AASEW’s Board of Directors. Attorney Tristan Pettit’s reputation for vigorously defending landlords is laudable and the respect that he garners from his peers and the court’s is undeniable. Tristan is a landlord himself and recognizes that the best way for us to protect ourselves is to educate ourselves. Every owner/operator should attend the AASEW’s Landlord Boot Camp and rental property management companies should send each of their managers to this all-day seminar. Tristan and other AASEW board members constantly evaluate our curriculum to ensure that our members have access to the most current information so that it can positively impact their businesses and bottom lines.
The AASEW is actively working on implementing ways to leverage rental property owners and managers’ group purchasing power in order to lower our individual costs. Possibilities include providing members a discount card that they can present to vendors in order to receive a discount and other innovative ways to implement group purchasing power. For an example look at some of the ideas of AASEW board member Tim Ballering.
Every successful landlord has had someone who gave them a guiding hand or some good advice along the way. I can say without a doubt that the reason that my business is as successful as it is is because I was fortunate enough to have a mentor named Dennis Miskowski who taught me the fundamentals of the trade.
Having the ability to turn to such a successful landlord for advice saved me a lot of wasted effort and energy. Mindful of what he has done for me, I have taken an interest in mentoring others and will not hesitate to field questions from young energetic (and at times naïve) landlords about the nature of our business. One of my favorite things about the AASEW is that it is a venue for those who have received to give back to others. Conversely, it provides those who are new to the business and hungry for information an opportunity to meet others who are already where the newer landlord wish to go.
There are countless other reasons to join the AASEW, but after I talk about the reasons above, most interested members are tired of hearing me talk (and probably of reading this post) and decide to join the AASEW in order to shut me up. I encourage you to get active in the AASEW and help make Wisconsin a better place for landlords to do business.
All the best.