Archive for category City of Milwaukee

ACT 76 – Wisconsin’s New Landlord-Tenant Law – Part 3: Speeding Up the Eviction Process

Several of the provisions of Wisconsin’s New Landlord-Tenant law, Act 76 (SB 179), were created or amended to speed up the eviction process.  Evictions are supposed to be summary proceedings and per the Wisconsin Supreme Court (Scalzo v. Anderson, 87 Wis. 2d 834 (1979)) there are very limited number of issues permissible in an evictions action.  Nonetheless, tenants were finding ways to delay the process.  Hopefully Act 76 will resolve much of that delay.

First, Act 76, amends sec. 799.12, Wis. Stats. to allow circuit courts in the various counties to decide via local rule whether or not to allow service of an eviction summons via certified mail. Current law does not allow service of an eviciton by mail and requires that an eviction summons be served personally, or after reasonable diligence has been made, via substituted service or posting and mailing.

If a county allows service via mail, then the clerk shall mail a copy of the eviction summons to each defendant at their last known address.  Service of the summons will be considered completed when mailed, unless the envelope enclosing the summons has been returned unopened to the clerk prior to the court date.

I personally think that service of an eviction summons via mail will cause logistical problems.  I can tell you right now that Milwaukee and Dane counties certainly will not agree to service by mail in eviction actions but possibly it will work in smaller counties.

Second, Act 76 amends sec. 799.05(3)(b), Wis. Stats. and states that the return date (initial appearance) in court can be no less than 5 days and no more than 25 days after service is issued (i.e. the tenant is served with the eviction summons).  Current law requires the return date be held no less than 5 days and no more than 30 days after service.

It will be important that landlords make sure that their process servers are aware of this law change starting March 1, 2014 otherwise it could result in their evictions being dismissed if the return date/initial appearance is scheduled more than 25 days after service is effectuated.

Third, sec. 799.206 and sec. 799.20(4), Wis. Stats,  have been amended to require that all contested hearings in small claims actions (evictions, garnishments, replevins etc.) must be scheduled within 30 days of the return date/initial appearance.

Even more important to landlords is that all residential evictions trials on the first cause of action (i.e. return of the premises) must be held and completed within 30 days of the return date/initial appearance.  This law new law applies to both trials to the court and jury trials.

I personally feel that this change is the most important part of Act 76 in terms of speeding up the eviciton process.  While many evictions are not contested and the landlord obtains a default judgment, those that are contested can take a long time to get to trial.  Many tenants and their advocates have been requesting jury trials on eviction matters.  By doing so – at least in Milwaukee county – these cases are rotated to a large claims judge handling civil matters (as the small claims judge does not handle jury trials) and result in a lengthy delay.  In some of my contested eviction cases, it was taking 2 months to even get before the judge for a Scheduling Conference and the jury trial itself was not being scheduleded until 6 months after the return date.

While tenants are entitled to their day in court — which includes a jury trial if they wish — they should not be given a 6 month reprieve just by requesting a jury trial.  During those 6 months the landlord often is not receiving any rent payments and/or the “good” tenants in the building are stuck putting up with the actions of the breaching tenant.  In my opinion, requesting a jury trial in an eviction action is nothing more than a delay tactic.  Tenants and their advocates have been successful in buying more time and in making the eviction process more expensive for the landlord by driving up his/her costs and fees.  Of all the jury trials requested by tenants in eviction cases that I have been involved in (which number over 20 – most of which occurred this past year) not one of them actually went to trial.  So I am very happy to this new law hopefully put a stop to this abuse of the system.  Tenants will still get their trials but they can no longer stretch it out for months and months.  How the courts will assimilatate these jury trials within the 30 day time limit will be the key issue moving forward.


If you missed my prior posts on Wisconsin’s new landlord-tenant law you can click on the links below

Part 1 – Background and Overview

Part 2 – Restrictions on Local Ordinances


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ACT 76 – Wisconsin’s New Landlord-Tenant Law – Part 2: Restrictions on Local Ordinances

As I mentioned in Part 1, the soon to be new law contains new provisions as well as some corrective provisions (which will correct unintended consequences from last year’s new law Act 143).  In this blog post I will talk about one of the new provisions of the law which will restrict a local municipality from creating and/or enforcing certain local ordinances.

The new law will creates sec. 66.0104(2)(c) and (d), Wis. Stats., which says that a municipality may not enact or enforce an ordinance that:

a.   Limits a residential tenant’s responsibility, or a residential landlord’s right to recover for damage, waste or neglect of the premises, or for any other costs, expenses, fees payments or damages for which tenant is responsible under law or under the rental agreement.

b.  Requires a landlord to communicate to a tenant any information that is not required to be communicated under federal or state law.

i.e. City of Madison’s ordinance that requires landlords to distribute voter registration information to new tenants will not be enforceable under this new law.

c.  That requires a landlord to communicate to a municipality any information regarding the landlord or tenant unless:

(1) Information is required under federal or state law.

(2) Information is required of all residential real estate owners (not just landlords!)

(3) Information will enable a person to contact the owner, or agent of the owner.

Note: This subsection does not apply to an ordinance that has a reasonable and clearly defined objective of regulating the manufacture of illegal narcotics.

So what will the net effect of this new provision of the law curtailing local municipalities from enacting and enforcing certain ordinances?  According to one tenant advocate SB 179 will eliminate over 20 Madison ordinances.  SB 179 should also eliminate Milwaukee’s Residential Rental Inspection (RRI) pilot project in the UW-M and Lindsay Heights neighborhoods.

It should be noted however that the new law will not eliminate “rental recording” in various municipalities as earlier versions of SB 179 had.  Under the final version of the law, landlords will still have to provide their ownership and contact information to the municiaplity since doing so would fall under the above exception since the information will enable a person to contact the owner or agent of the owner.

To learn more on the background and overview of Wisconsin’s new Landlord-Tenant Law read my prior post.


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GUEST POST: Is the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin Against the City of Milwaukee?

Is the Apartment Association against the City of Milwaukee?

After a recent meeting I received an email from an irate member who was offended by some of my commentary regarding the city of Milwaukee, it seemed the association had an anti-Milwaukee tone to its messages. Having committed much of my career to making Milwaukee, especially its central core, a better place to live I was initially surprised by the feedback, nonetheless it is a legitimate question and one deserving of a response.

First let me remind everyone that the association is an all-volunteer organization and we welcome the participation of all landlords (in fact we will be holding officer elections soon so please email me if you are interested). I would encourage anyone unhappy with something we are doing or saying to speak up and be heard. Write an article in the Owner, email me, or better yet join a committee or board of directors. We are an organization of almost 1000 members and the diversity of our perspectives and experiences is a strength we should draw from. That being said I will address this issue head on after first making the obligatory disclaimer that the thoughts expressed below are solely mine and in no way constitute an official position of the AASEW.

I am not against the City of Milwaukee, however I have significant concerns with its view towards residential property owners/investors. Having lived in the city my entire life I have witnessed first-hand the deterioration of many of our communities and the City’s inept response to address this crisis. A common refrain cited for this decline is absentee landlords who allow their properties to fall into disrepair and if only we could force them to be accountable our problems would be solved. While there is some truth to this it would be tantamount to saying our City’s larger decline is due solely to shifting macro-economic trends that decimated American manufacturing. While it is certainly part of the issue, a narrow focus on either cause over simplifies the problem at hand and leaves one ill equipped to develop effective solutions to address the problem.

Are absentee landlords who neglect their properties an issue in many communities? Absolutely but maintaining your property and being responsible to your neighbors should be a standard imposed on every property owner including owner occupied buildings. Focusing exclusively on landlords obfuscates the true nature of the problem and does nothing to solve it. This is a fundamental flaw in the thinking at city hall and has done as much to harm property values in the city as the financial crisis.

In my early 20’s I bought a house in Lindsay Heights that I did a first rate renovation on and was proud to call home. After years of battling with neighbors from hell, who were owner occupants, and receiving no succor from DNS, my alderman, or anyone else at city hall I rented out the property and moved to the suburbs. Ironically had this very property been subjected to the same standards of compliance as non-owner occupied properties in Lindsay Heights, I would probably still be living in the city of Milwaukee.

Further evidence of the City’s “tolerance” for landlords is their response to their growing portfolio of tax foreclosed properties. City hall has proposed a variety of creative solutions to deal with this problem including allowing tenants to use their Section 8 check to pay the mortgage the city would carry. Ironically very few of their solutions involve investors and established landlords within the city. Ponder this, our association alone as the wherewithal to buy every last city owned property and turn them back into productive assets, yet the city has not reached out to us once to have a serious conversation about how to make that happen.

It is clear to me as an investor that the city does not view our industry as a strategic partner in which to work hand and hand  to deliver low cost, high quality housing to its residents. It is a position that has led to disastrous results in many of our neighborhoods; one can only hope they understand the definition of insanity: doing the same thing repeatedly yet expecting a different result.

In conclusion Joe Dahl loves the city of Milwaukee and will stand next to any person and compare my investment and efforts to make it a better place. However I am very troubled by our leadership and its “tolerance” of landlords. It is my desire to see Milwaukee thrive, yet I am not naïve enough to ignore what happened to our counterpart in Michigan. It is my sincere hope the city recognizes it needs all hands on deck to achieve the former and avoid the latter……and yes city hall that includes landlords!

Joe Dahl

President AASEW


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GUEST POST: The Importance of Rentals In Milwaukee

Below is a very thought provoking guest post from fellow blogger (and friend and fellow AASEW Board Member) Tim Ballering:


The Journal is reporting:

Over the next three years, Barrett said raze orders in the city are expected to grow to 1,600 homes, with a cost of $24 million.  ”We have a very severe problem right now,” Barrett said.

No kidding we have a “severe problem ”  This a problem that continues to grow rather than moderating.  The number of abandoned and foreclosed houses was bad nine months ago and with fresh snow on the ground you can see even a greater number of unoccupied properties than ever before. At least here on the Southside of Milwaukee these numbers are far worse than what is being reported by the city.

How much of the $24 million of anticipated razing costs could be avoided by making it more favorable to rehab properties and restore them to the tax rolls?

Perhaps the city would do better by working with, instead of against people willing to invest their own money, time and effort into putting foreclosures back in service.  I’m not even suggesting a hand up, just not the current beat down attitude. Not only would there be less spent on bulldozing, but more of the tax base would remain plus the positive economic impact for the community due to spending by owners to maintain and operate this housing.

Between taxes and the sewer and water bills the city gets  at least $5-6 million per year from 1600 functional properties. In the three year period Barrett defines this is a potential of $18 million in city revenue if the buildings were returned to occupancy. Add this to the $24 million to bulldoze and you are north of 40 million dollars.

Can every property that is deemed to be worthy of razing able to be salvaged, of course not.  But many that are in the pipeline today can be.  Every day that a property sits unattended is a day closer to the wrecking ball being the only option for that property.  There are many properties sitting vacant today that are worthy of repair, but will not be so six months or a year from now.

Additionally every time someone like you or I take on the challenge of putting properties back in service the local economy sees a benefit through the wages and materials we pay to get the job done.  All but one of my employees live in the city.  While the money you spend at the Home Depot doesn’t stay in Milwaukee,  the person who is employed by the Home Depot lives in the area and spend their wages here.

A downside for us, but an upside for the community is a greater amount of housing stock available holds rents down.  A more competative market also forces owners to do more to properties to get and keep them rented.

Once the property is back in service ongoing maintenance similarly impacts the local economy in a positive manner. It is estimated that repairs and improvements to rental properties represent $90 -120 million a year in the city of Milwaukee alone.   (These numbers are derived from our company’s experiences, the experiences of other long term owners that I’ve discussed this with and data from the Census Bureau’s Property Owners and Managers Survey.  Our data and that of many other owners indicate a slightly higher number than the Census)

Our company has the capacity and had the will to do 10-12 such projects a year without any government monies.  Heck if the environment was more favorable I could see us doing two properties a month.  We have not made an offer in MIlwaukee since November due the unfavorable policies adopted by the city. See my prior post on buying foreclosures in Milwaukee.  I talk to a lot of other owners with similar capacities that say the same thing.

Milwaukee acts like they are the only girl at the dance – as though real estate investors need to accept their petty obstructions and poor treatment because they are the only game in town.  But there are many other places to invest that treat owners much better.  One of our members is doing a big rehab in Beloit.  When I asked his project manager how it was going with the city he said they were unbelievably nice and truly seem they want to see the project succeed.  We are actively looking at the South Florida market today.

A few notes:

These 1,600 properties must be city owned or near to being city owned.  If they were bank owned the city could and would force the banks to demo the properties on the bank’s dime.  A growing trend is banks that  simply walked away from the mortgage rather than be subjected to the bad side of city regulations and fees. In another instance I spoke to an owner who the bank sued- he thought he lost the properties to foreclosure only to find out later that it was a money judgment only suit.  This adds to the zombie housing effect.  And you though only borrowers walked away.  ;-)

Our police chief is in the news speaking about the link between foreclosed and abandoned housing and crime.  I am certain he is correct on this.  But the Milwaukee Police do not do what they should in cases of property vandalism. See my prior post on property vandalism and the lack of police response.  This vandalism accelerate the rate of properties that are no longer viable for rehab.


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You Will Not Want To Miss AASEW’s Fourth Annual Landlord Boot Camp on Saturday Feb. 25th

Landlording can be pretty complex, with a seemingly never ending myriad of paperwork, rules, landlord-tenant laws and simple mistakes that can cost you thousands of dollars.

The Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin’s Fourth Annual Landlord Boot Camp can help you navigate these treacherous waters and teach you how to run your properties with greater profit and less hassles.

I have given similar landlord-tenant law seminars to fellow attorneys, landlords, and property manager organizations throughout the state for other state-wide semianr companies that charge attendees $300-$400.  This is your opportunity to learn all of the same information at a huge discount through the Apartment Association.


Who:   Taught by Attorney Tristan R. Pettit (who drafts the landlord tenant forms for Wisconsin Legal Blank)

When:    Saturday, February 25th, 2012. 8:30 am – 5 pm

Where:   Clarion Hotel 5311 S. Howell Avenue, Milwaukee [Map]

Included:  100 plus page manual/outline to help you put what you learn into practice plus helpful forms.

Cost:  $159 for AASEW members and $249 for non-members.  If you are not a member of AASEW but are a member of another landlord/apartment association the cost to attend will be $199.

Specials: Not a member?  Pay just a dollar more and enjoy a 2012 AASEW membership.

Wisconsin landlord-tenant laws are constantly changing.  To help keep you up to date we offer prior attendees a $50 discount.

Sign up by going to the AASEW’s Landlord Boot Camp landing page where you can sign up online and pay via PayPal.


What you will learn at the Apartment Association’s 2012 Landlord Boot Camp

Landlord Boot Camp covers everything that you need to know about residential Landlord Tenant law in Wisconsin, including:

  1. How to properly screen prospective tenants.
  2. How to draft written screening criteria to assist you in the selection process and protect you from discrimination complaints.
  3. How to comply with both federal and state Fair Housing laws including how to handle with “reasonable modifications”  and “reasonable accommodations” requests.
  4. How to legally reject an applicant.
  5. What rental documents you should be using and why.
  6. When you should be using a 5-day notice versus a 14-day notice, 28-day notice, or 30-day notice and how to properly serve the notice on your tenant.
  7. Everything you wanted to know (and probably even more than you wanted to know) about the Residential Rental Practices (ATCP 134) and how to avoid having to pay double damages to your tenant for breaching ATCP 134.
  8. When you are legally allowed to enter your tenant’s apartment.
  9. How to properly draft an eviction summons and complaint.
  10. What to do to keep the commissioner from dismissing your eviction suit.
  11. What you can legally deduct from a security deposit.
  12. How to properly draft a security deposit transmittal / 21 day letter.
  13. How to handle pet damage.
  14. What to do with a tenant’s abandoned property and how this may affect whether or not you file an eviction suit.
  15. How to pursue your ex-tenant for damages to your rental property and past due rent (and whether it is even worth it to do so).

. . .  and much more.  There will also be time for questions and answers.

You get all this for less than you would pay for an hour of an attorney’s time.

Last year’s AASEW Landlord Boot Camp was filled to capacity and we even had to turn a few people away.  So call early to reserve your spot.

Call the Association at (414) 276-7378, email or go to our Landlord Boot Camp landing page to sign up online and reserve your spot.

Remember that “landlording” is a business — so take the time to educate yourself on how to better manage your business and avoid costly errors!

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For Those of You Who Thought The Installation of A Smoke Detector Was Simple . . . READ THIS.

AASEW Board member Tim Ballering wrote the City of Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) back in June to ask for clarification about the proper placement of smoke detectors in his residential rental units in the city of Milwaukee.

Ballering was prompted to write to DNS becasue he felt there was some confusion among DNS inspectors as to where smoke detectors should be installed.

Below is the entire text of Ballering’s email to DNS:


> Subject: Smoke Detectors

> There is some confusion among DNS inspectors as to where smoke detectors belong.

> Most code enforcement inspectors are of the opinion the detectors should be outside the bedroom, within 6′ of the door. Some are of the opinion that having the detector only on the inside of the bedroom does not meet code.

> Your code seems to be worded in a way that supports installing detectors outside the door at 214-27: “For floor levels containing a sleeping area, the required detector or alarm shall be installed within 6 feet of the sleeping area.”

> However construction inspectors believe the smoke detectors are required to be inside the bedrooms and units installed outside the bedroom door do not meet the code.

> The DNS Smoke Alarm brochure seems to say either is okay:
> “Either in each sleeping area of each unit or elsewhere in the unit within 6 feet of each sleeping area. If the unit contains 2 or more separate sleeping areas, each sleeping area shall be provided with a smoke alarm.”

> It obviously doesn’t matter to the property owner where the detectors are put as long as a second inspector doesn’t come along afterwards demanding they be relocated.

> So which does the code require, inside the bedroom or outside?

> And if the code doesn’t care, then which is most effective in saving lives?

> I will have the Association publish the response so more owners are knowledgable as to what you require.

> Thanks

> Tim Ballering


The City of Milwaukee emailed its 8 PAGE response to Ballering on October 21, 2011.   Here is the letter response from DNS.

While I know your time is valuable — I beg you to read the entire 8 page answer.  I want to see if you can finish reading it all the way through.  Afterwards, I would like to know if you are able to tell me where you should place the smoke detectors in your City of Milwaukee rentals.  I like to think that I am moderately intelligent person —- and I read and review statutes, case law, and ordinances several times a week as a lawyer —- but after reading this 8 page response my eyes glazed over and my brain went to mush.

The drafter’s of these codes, ordinances, statutes, regulations etc. need to realize that if they want landlords  — or anyone, for that matter — to understand them and be in compliance, they need to make it a bit more simple to understand and follow.  One should not be required to be a brain surgeon to know where to install a smoke detector and you shouldn’t have to synthesize 4 different laws in order to arrive at an answer — thank you Todd Weiler for doing that for us.  It is a relatively simple question:  where should I install a smoke detector in my rental property to best protect my tenants.  It shouldn’t take 8 pages and many hours — which I am sure Weiler had to spend compiling the answer — to answer.

But don’t fret, you probably will never have to re-read that 8 page answer again.  Instead just turn to the city’s recently revised brochure on smoke detectors.  Sometime during my reading of the brochure, my eyes regained focus, my grey matter firmed up a bit, and I felt as if I actually knew where to install smoke detectors in my rentals again.  Thank God for brochures : ).

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Don’t Miss the 2nd Annual East Side Landlord Think Small Conference on Wednesday November 9, 2011

I will be the featured speaker at the upcoming East Side Landlord Think Small Conference on Wednesday, November 9, 2011 from 3 pm – 6:30 pm at UW-Milwaukee, Chapman Hall located at 2310 E. Hartford Avenue, in the Regent’s Room on the 2nd floor.

This conference is FREE to any and all interested landlords, with a special focus on Milwaukee’s East Side landlords.

This conference is composed of 3 componants:

1.   Featured Speaker – I will be speaking on the issues of “Causes for Eviction and Termination of Tenancy” and “Notices Terminating Tenancy.” You will learn about the 4 basic notices that can be served on a residential tenant in Wisconsin (5 day, 14 day, 28 day and 30 day notices) and when you should be using each notice and why.  While no one wants to have to evict a tenant . . . sometimes it is necessary.  At the very least, landlords need to become comfortable with the various notice that can be served on a tenant when a tenant breaches his/her rental agreement or the landlord wants to terminate the tenant’s tenancy.  I will also discuss the proper way to serve a tenant with one of these notices.  I will be handing out a detailed 11 page outline on this topic that attendees can take home to refer to when needed in the future.  Examples of properly drafted 5 day, 14 day, 28 day, and 30 day notices will also be distributed.

2.   Round Table Discussion – This discussion will include a panel of UW-Milwaukee staff, City of Milwaukee staff, myself, and others and will focus on local topics and common problems that East Side landlords encounter.

3.    Panel of Experts – The panel will be comprised of members of the Milwaukee Police Department, Campus Police Department, Department of Public Works, Department of Neighborhood Services, and UW-Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Housing and who will field any questions that you may have.

There will also be time to network with other landlords.

If you are interested in attending please RSVP to Heather Harbach, UW-Milwaukee Neighborhood Relations Liason at (414) 229-4451 or  You can also register for the event by clicking here.

I hope to see everyone there!!

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