Archive for category Fair Housing / Discrimination

Occupancy Standards . . . Not As Simple As “2 Persons Per Bedroom”

Simply stated, occupancy standards focus on how many individuals can live in a rental unit.  Landlords have the right to set reasonable, non-discriminatory, limits as to how many people can live in a rental unit.

Many landlords believe that as long as they follow a policy of  ”2 person per bedroom” that they will be fine.  Unfortunately that is not always the case.  There is no clear-cut occupancy guideline and as such there is confusion amongst landlords, management companies, and even the attorneys representing them : ).

In what is referred to as the Keating Memo, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) stated that it believes that “an occupancy policy of two persons per bedroom, as a general rule, is reasonable under the Fair Housing Act.”  However, the memo goes on to say that ”the reasonableness of any occupancy policy is rebuttable” and HUD clarifies that the memos it issued in the past on the subject of occupancy standards do not state or imply that HUD will determine compliance with the Fair Housing Act based solely on the number of people permitted in each bedroom.

In fact, HUD issued the following statement in the final rule implementing the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1998:

“Thus, the Department believes that in appropriate circumstances, owners and managers may develop and implement reasonable occupancy requirements based on factors such as the number and size of bedrooms and the overall size of the dwelling unit.”

In the Keating Memo, HUD sets forth what factors it will consider when reviewing fair housing complaints involving occupancy issues:

1.  Size of the bedroom and unit

2.  Age of the children

3.  Configuration of the unit

4.  Other physical limitations of housing (i.e. capacity of the septic, sewer, or other building systems)

5.  State and local law

6.  Other relevant factors, such as:

- if the landlord has made discriminatory statements

- if the landlord has taken steps to discourage families with children from living in its housing

- if the landlord has enforced its occupancy policies only against families with children

So what occupancy standard can a landlord set forth that will avoid discrimination complaints and keep the landlord out of trouble?  I wish that I could provide you with a simple answer but unfortunately there is no bright line rule.

What I can tell you is the key issue or focus in discrimination cases that involve occupancy limits is always whether or not the landlord is discriminating against a family with children.  So even if your occupancy policy is reasonable, if you make some discriminatory comment to the applicant, you can forget about hiding behind your occupancy standards.  As such, an occupancy policy based on the number of children per unit is much less liklely to be found to be reasonable than one which limits the number of persons per unit.  A Mississippi property management company learned that lesson the hard way earlier this year.

Margaret Bowitz of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council stated during a seminar that I attended, that “2 persons per bedroom” is just a starting point.  Next, a landlord should look at the size of the bedroom.   So if you have a large-sized bedroom than possibly more than 2 persons could sleep there.  If the bedroom is smaller than average, maybe only 1 person would be allowed.  Consider an occupancy code of 70 square feet per person for one person using the room for sleeping purposes and 50 square feet per person for rooms to be used for sleeping purposes by more than 1 person.  Ms. Bowitz added that if the room is less than 70 square feet you would not have to allow it to be used for sleeping purposes, although you could allow it.  She also mentioned that one can consider whether or not the area must be allowed to be considered a “sleeping quarter.”  So for instance, if you have to walk through the room in order to get to another room in the rental unit, you would not be required to allow it to be used for sleeping purposes.

The city of Milwaukee has an ordinance that was created to prevent overcrowding (not to serve as an occupancy standard) that focuses on size (square footage) and ignores the number of bedrooms in a rental unit entirely.

Some states such as California have laws that state that “2 persons plus one” is the occupancy standard that should be used..

So ”clear” guidance on this issue is hard to come by.

I am currently defending a landlord against a fair housing complaint for refusing to rent a two-bedroom unit to a family of 5 persons.  When speaking with the investigator I was told that HUD’s policy is 2 person per bedroom and if that was my client’s policy, the case would most likely be dismissed.  But later in that same conversation I was asked if the rooms were larger than average and then told that if they were then maybe more than 2 people could live there.  I was told that measurements of the room would need to be taken.  So obviously, it is not as simple as having an occupancy standard of “2 persons per bedroom.”  If it was, why would HUD have even investigated this claim against my client.

Another example that demonstrates that the “2 person per bedroom” occupancy standard is not the panacea that some landlords believe it to be, occurred in December of 2012 when 3 real estate groups in Connecticut agreed to pay a local woman $40,000 as a result of a complaint she filed against them for discrimination based on familial status (i.e. children).  The woman’s complaint alleged that a “2 person per bedroom” occupancy limit was more restrictive than state and local law and therefore unreasonably limits the ability of families with children to rent from the 3 real estate groups.  Again, if it was as simple as “2 persons per bedroom” why would the Connecticut case have been investigated and why would the landlords involved have agreed to pay out $40,000 to the complainant.

So it is pretty clear to me that the “2 person per bedroom” occupancy limit is not enough to protect an landlord.  However, to confuse the issue further, I have read conciliation agreements (i.e. settlement agreements resolving a claim of discrimination) between HUD and a landlord in which the settlement language requires that the landlord adopt an occupancy standard of “2 persons per bedroom” going forward.  What gives?

All I can tell you is there is no “hard and fast” rule for occupancy limits in residential rental housing.  Whether or not the occupancy standard that you have in place will be found to be reasonable will depend on the specific facts of your rental property and the specific facts of your interactions with the prospective tenant that says you discriminated against her.

So don’t be foolish and assume that you are “safe” as long as you follow the “2 person per bedroom” rule, otherwise you might find yourself on the wrong side of a discrimination claim.

 UPDATE 8-26-13:  Here is yet another example of the 2 person per bedroom rule no longer being acceptable for HUD. 

 

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So Let’s Talk About . . . Companion/Comfort Animals In Rental Properties

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I have been promising that I would blog about this topic for months (could it possibly be over a year even) and the time has finally come.  So let’s talk about companion/comfort animals in rental properties.

Background:

I will use the terms comfort animals and companion animals interchangeably throughout this post.

So we are all on the “same page” a companion animal is an animal that is NOT specifically trained or certified but rather provides a tenant with a disability with emotional support.  Specifically trained and certified animals that assist people with disabilities is beyond the scope of this post.

Wisconsin does not have a specific statute related to comfort animals.  Many people improperly think that sec. 106.50(2r)(4)(bm), Wis. Stats.  entitled “Animals Assisting People with Disabilities” applies to companion animals.  It does not.  That section deals only with specially trained and certified animals that help people with mobility, vision or hearing impairments.  Comfort animals are not specially trained and/or certified and they do assist people with disabilities afecting more than just mobility, hearing and vision.

So what is the applicable Wisconsin law dealing with companion animals or comfort animals if they do not fall under this provision?  Comfort animals are dealt with under a much more broad section of fair housing law dealing with “reasonable accommodations” which can be found at sec. 106.50(2r)(4), Wis. Stats.

A “reasonable accommodation” is a request made by a tenant for a change in a landlord’s rules, policies, practices or services that are associated with housing when such accommodation is necessary to afford an individual equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing.

For example, a request by a tenant to keep a companion animal is a request for a reasonable accommodation to a landlord’s “no pet” policy.

The Law:

It is considered to be discriminatory to refuse to allow a tenant’s request to keep a comfort animal if they meet the following requirements:

1.   The tenant meets the definition of having a disability under Wisconsin or federal law (“an individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person regarded as having such an impairment, or a person with a record of such an impairment”).

2.   The accommodation must be necessary to afford the disabled tenant an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the rental property.

3.   There must be an identifiable relationship (or nexus) between the tenant’s disability and the request.

So in the case of a request for a companion animal, the tenant must demonstrate a nexus between their disability and the function or service that the companion animal provides.

A landlord may request reliable disability-related information from a tenant that is necessary to: (1) verify that the tenant meets the definition of having a disability, (2) describes the needed accommodation, and (3) shows the relationship between the two.   If the disability is open and obvious then the landlord should not request verification of the disability from the tenant.

The tenant’s specific disability need not even be disclosed – just the fact that the tenant has a disability is sufficient.

A tenant’s request for a reasonable accommodation may be oral or in writing and the actual term “reasonable accommodation” need not be used.  The request can even be made by someone on the tenant’s behalf.

Practical Effects:

In case you are wondering, the threshold that a tenant must meet in order to be able to keep a comfort animal is very low.

It is not even required that the tenant’s doctor confirm that the tenant has a disability.  HUD and DOJ’s Joint Statement on Reasonable Accommodations Under The Fair Housing Act (May 17, 2004) states that a doctor or “other medical professional, a peer support group, a non-medical service agency, or a reliable third party who is in a position to know about the tenant’s disability” may provide the verification of the tenant’s disability.

As mentioned previously, a tenant’s comfort animal need not be specially trained or certified.  A comfort/companion animal can be any type of animal that the tenant wants.  It could be the dog or cat (or mouse, rat, lizard, fish, . . .  ) that the tenant owned prior to becoming disabled.  It could be the stray dog that the tenant found walking down the alley last week.  It could be a cat that the tenant’s mother no longer wants in her house.  It could be the rat that the tenant bought at the local pet shop.

I have read articles, case law, and been involved in cases in which all kinds of animals have been requested to serve as a tenant’s companion animals . . .  a miniature horses (because it would live longer than a dog and the tenant’s mental health disability would be exacerbated by the death of another dog that wouldn’t not outlive her), 5 cats (each one allegedly assisted the person with a different aspect of their disability), snakes (tenant was allergic to dander), and pit bulls (why . . . . just because).  There is no limit on the type/breed, size, or age of a companion animal.

So if the tenant wants a Bull Mastiff as their companion animal even though they live in an efficiency apartment and a much smaller dog could serve the same purpose, they can do that.

A landlord can deny a tenant’s request for a companion animal if it:

1.  Poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others unless the threat can be eliminated or greatly reduced.

2.  Results in substantial physical damage to the property of others unless the threat can be eliminated or greatly reduced.

3.  Poses an undue financial burden and administrative burden.

4.  Fundamentally alters the nature of the housing provider’s operations.

For example, a landlord could exclude a tenant’s comfort animal if that animal’s behavior poses a direct threat because it attacked another tenant.

In order to make a decision to deny a tenant’s reasonable accommodation request to keep an animal that poses a direct threat to others safety, you will be required to go through a very fact intensive analysis.  You cannot just refuse the tenant’s pit bull comfort animal just because you might believe that all pit bulls are inherently dangerous.  There must be a direct threat not just a speculative risk.   Even if the animal was once dangerous, if the tenant takes the animal to obedience training, administers medication, or purchases the animal equipment (like a muzzle) which causes the animal to no longer be dangerous, then it may no longer be reasonable to exclude the animal.

I have worked with many landlords and management companies in analyzing whether a tenant’s request for a reasonable accommodation to keep a companion animal should be granted.  Without a doubt the single most difficult concept for my clients to accept is that a comfort animal IS NOT A PET.

I find it easier for landlords to understand this concept if they think of the comfort animal as an assistive device such as a wheelchair, crutches,  or pain medication.  By thinking this way, many landlords will be better able to keep themselves out of trouble.  Let me explain provide an example.

One of my clients generally understood that he had to allow his tenant to keep a comfort animal but he was wondering if he could at the very least require the tenant (and the companion animal) to live in the one building in his apartment complex that allowed pets.  It was a very innocent question and one that I sure many landlords might have themselves.

The answer is a resounding “NO.”  Why is that?

Remember, a companion animal is not a pet.  Again, think of the companion animal as an assistive device such as a wheelchair.  Would it be acceptable to require all tenants that use wheelchairs to live in one building together?   Would it be OK to require all tenants that are prescribed antidepressant medication to live on the same floor?  Of course not.  Well the same goes with the tenant with the companion animal.

Since comfort animals are not pets a landlord is also not allowed to make the tenant that has one enter into a Pet Agreement or pay a monthly pet fee or even a pet deposit.

Having said that, a tenant that has a companion animal is still responsible for the animal’s behavior and any damage that it may cause.  For example, the tenant must still pick up after the companion animal.  The tenant must still keep the comfort animal on a leash and prevent it from jumping on or harming others.  The tenant must still prevent the comfort animal from making excessive noise or damaging the rental property.

If a tenant does not take responsibility for the actions of their companion animal a landlord has every right to serve that tenant with the appropriate notice to correct breach or vacate and evict if them if needed.  Since comfort animals are not specially trained or certified poor behavior is often an issue.  I have had to evict several tenants with companion animals as a result of their poor behavior.   In one case the companion animal which happened to be a dog repeatedly escapeed from the rental unit and ran free in the common areas of the building.  Another case the animal (a dog again) bit another tenant.  Another, involved a dog that crapped all over the lawn and the tenant refised to pick up after it.

Conclusion:

The popularity of comfort/companion animals is not waning.  I expect that landlords and management companies will be getting more and more requests as more people are being diagnosed and treated for mental health issues for which a companion animal may prove helpful.  Not to mention that many war veterans are returning with PTSD, depression, and/or anxiety, for which comfort animals are being prescribed.  And there will always be those tenants that just want to have a pet without having to pay a pet fee or move to a rental unit that allows pets, so they buy a pet, play the system, and “disguise” their pet as a comfort animal.

If you have not already dealt with a request by a tenant for a reasonable accommodation to your “no pet” or “limited pet” policy, I am certain that you soon will.  As such, it is very important that you educate yourself on the applicable laws so that you can properly handle such a request from a tenant and not run afoul of federal or state laws.

If you would like to learn more about comfort animals, reasonable accomodations, and fair housing (discrimination) law considering attending the AASEW’s upcoming LANDLORD BOOT CAMP on February 23rd, 2013.

 04-30-13 UPDATE:  HUD has issued a Notice on Assistance Animals and Reasonable Accomodations For Persons with Disabilities.  See my post on this.

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5 Things This Landlords’ Attorney Wants For Christmas

With the coming of the holidays, comes list of gifts that people want for Christmas.  So I thought I would put together one of my own.  So here is a list of the top 5 things that this landlords’ lawyer would like for Christmas.

 

5.   That Tenants’ Requests For Reasonable Accommodations To Allow for the Keeping of  Companion/Comfort Animals Would Actually Be “Reasonable”

The past few years — and especially this past year — have seen a large rise in requests by tenants for a reasonable accommodation to landlords’ “no pet” or “limited pet” policies specifically to allow for the keeping of a companion/comfort animal.  A companion/comfort animal does not need to be specially trained and therefore can be any type of animal including the family dog, cat, gunea pig, or even a miniature horse.  A tenant can ask for a reasonable accommodation — and it should be provided — as long as the tenant has a disability (i.e. an individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities) and the accommodation request has a “nexus” to the tenant’s disability and will allow them to more fully enjoy a major life activity.

However, somewhere along the line tenants seem to have forgotten about the word “reasonable” in “reasonable accommodations.”

It is not reasonable in my opinion to need 5 kittens as companion animals (which were recently born to a landlord-approved pet cat) just because the tenant thinks the kittens are cute and does not want to get rid of the litter.

It is not reasonable in my opinion for a tenant to request a pit bull dog as a reasonable accommodation just because the tenant’s relative recently lost their home to foreclosure and can’t find a place for their pet “pitty” to live.

It is not reasonable to have to allow a miniature horse as a companion animal because the tenant does not want to have a dog instead because dogs do not live as long as horses do,  and if the dog should die it would exacerbate the tenant’s mental health issues.  Whereas the miniature horse will outlive the tenant so her mental health will be unaffected.  Who cares what happens to the miniature horse after the tenant passes.

 

4.   That Tenants Who File Bankruptcy Be Required To Disclose To The Bankruptcy Court That They Are Renters and that the Bankruptcy Court Create A More Efficient Process For The Tenant To “Pay and Stay” or Vacate

If a tenant files for bankruptcy something called the “automatic stay” kicks in that prevents any creditors (yes, that includes landlords) from attempting to collect a debt or in the case of landlords – evict a tenant.  Now, tenant/debtors are supposed to disclose in their bankruptcy schedules that they file with the court whether or not they have any “executory contracts or unexpired leases.”  Without fail, tenants and there bankruptcy attorneys always check the box saying that they have no executory contracts or unexpired leases.  I have handled at least 30 of these situations for my landlord clients and not once has the tenant advised the court that they were under an unexpired lease.

A landlord is then required to pay a filing fee, file a motion to lift the automatic stay, wait 14 days for the tenant to object, and if so participate in a hearing before the court, to present evidence that the tenant isn’t paying their rent and the landlord should be allowed to proceed to evict the tenant.  This process can be expensive and time consuming for a landlord whose hands are legally bound from doing anything until the bankruptcy court says he can.

It would be nice if the court or the bankruptcy trustee would confirm whether or not the debtor is a tenant and whether or not they are up to date with rent and if not, determine if the tenant can get caught up so s/he can stay, or advise the tenant/debtor that they must vacate the landlord’s property.

To require a landlord jump through all of these hoops in order to remove a non-paying tenant from his rental property is just another financial drain on landlords.  A landlord will spend at least one month (if not more) trying to lift the stay in bankruptcy court.  Once that is completed, he then needs to serve the tenant with the appropriate notice, and after that time has elapsed, pay more money to file the eviction, and then wait another 2 weeks or so until the initial appearance in eviction court.  As you can see, this process can  delay things at least 2 months.  So I would like to expedite this somehow.  Wishful thinking I know . . .  but hey, this is my wish list : )

 

3.   That Tenants Stop Using Jury Trial Demands To “Buy” More Time In Evictions

In my 17+ years of law practice I have probably encountered somewhere between 10-15 requests for a jury trial by a tenant that I am evicting.  Not one of those cases have ever resulted in an actual jury being selected.  Instead the demand is often made just because it will prolong the case.  In Milwaukee County when a jury trial demand is made, the case is tabbed to a large claims judge who often has a very busy caseload and is unable to even get the case into court for a Scheduling Conference for 2 months.  Oftentimes, a trial isn’t scheduled for months after the Scheduling Conference.  On the other hand if a jury trial is not made, the small claims judge in Milwaukee County can hear the eviction within a week in most cases.

I have had jury trial demands filed in failure to pay rent cases where the tenant has no legal defense.  Tenant didn’t pay rent, notice was properly served, tenant didn’t pay past due rent within cure period, and an eviction lawsuit was field.  Tenant doesn’t deny any of it but wants a jury trial.  Now my client gets to sit for months with a non-paying tenant before obtaining a judgement of eviction.  And no, landlords rarely ever see those rent amounts from the tenant even if they obtain a money judgment against them later because many tenants are not collectible.

I have had jury trial demands filed in cases where the tenant is being evicted for engaging in criminal activity that is scaring (and at times injuring) fellow tenants and neighbors.  Yet, with the jury demand having been made, the landlord, along with the law-abiding tenants and neighbors, have to deal with the scofflaw tenant for months, unless they by chance would get arrested.

The law needs to be changed in this regard.  While jury trials are an important part of the judicial system this practice that I am seeing more and more of is clearly an abuse of the system.  Perhaps requiring that all jury trials must be held within so many days of the initial appearance or in failure to pay rent cases requiring that all past due rent must be paid up and future rent continue to be paid or the tenant loses his/her right to the jury trial.  Something needs to happen to stop this frivolous practice.

 

2.   That All Courts Follow the Law with Regard To Granting “Stays” in Eviction Actions

Sec. 799.44(3), Wis. Stats., is very clear that before a court is allowed to “stay” a writ that the tenant must pay all rent and other charges due as well as any rent that will become due during the period of the “stay.”  This law is often ignored by the courts to landlords’ detriment.

I understand that it is difficult to tell a tenant that you are ordering them to immediately vacate the rental property even when the cause of their non-payment of rent is due to no fault of their own – such as losing a job due to downsizing or health issues — but that is what the law says.  If it is a bad law (and I am not saying that it is) then it can and should be changed through the legislative process.

Let me put this in another context.  A tenant that has lost their job or that has encountered a serious medical issue may also not have money to buy food for their family, but that doesn’t mean that they are allowed to shoplift food from the grocery store.  If they did that they would be arrested.

So why is a landlord required to provide housing for a tenant who’s tenancy has been properly terminated and after all proper legal channels have been followed?  What makes a landlord so special that s/he gets this special treatment that places them in a different category than any other creditor.  Why is a landlord required to house the non-paying tenant to the landlord’s financial detriment and risk their ability to continue to provide housing for their paying tenants.  Again, for those non-landlords that may be reading this post, most tenants are not collectible, so saying that the landlord will be made whole when they obtain a money judgment against the tenant is not realistic.

 

1.   That All Landlords Join a Landlord Association (such as the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin – AASEW) 

There are more private landlords in Wisconsin than there are teachers but landlords’ voices are not anywhere near as powerful as are teachers.  The reason for this is that landlords are not organized.  Landlords tend to be an independent type that enjoy being their own bosses.  That is well and good but landlords need to set that independent spirit aside on occasion for the betterment of themselves and all landlords.  Only when landlords unit can positive change occur for them as there is strength in numbers.  It is very difficult to survive financially as a landlord these days.  But by joining a landlord association,  a landlord’s life can become a little easier.  First, through landlord associations, landlords can create a united voice to challenge bad legislation or champion new legislation.  Secondly, landlord associations provide educational opportunities for their members on changes in the law so landlords can stay out of legal trouble.  Third, there is camaraderie in joining a landlord association which allows members to rub elbows with other landlords may be facing, or have previously faced, the same struggles that you are having.

If all landlords joined a landlord association and became active in them, we have the money and the numbers to create change that would assist our industry.

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Oh by the way Santa – if you cant give me any of my wishes on this list, I will settle for a new toy bike with red and white streamers dangling from the handlebars : )

Happy Holidays everyone!

 

 

 

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HUD Issues New Rule On “Discriminatory Effect” a.k.a Disparate Impact

HUD has issued a new Fair Housing “disparate impact” rule that may cause problems for landlords during the screening process.  The new rule creates a new provision entitled “Prohibiting Discriminatory Effects” which defines “discriminatory effect” as situations in which a facially neutral (i.e. not discriminatory) housing practice can become discriminatory if it actually or predictably has an effect on a group of persons that are members of a protected class.

The concern is whether or not this new rule will restrict landlord’s use of criminal background checks on prospective tenants.  Recently Pepsi Co. agreed to pay $3.13 Million to resolve allegations of hiring discrimination against African-Americans based on Pepsi’s use of the African-American’s arrest records.

This recent settlement when read in conjunction with HUD’s new rule causes concern regarding whether it will be considered discriminatory to use a person’s criminal arrest or conviction as a basis for rejecting a rental applicant when such use would result in members of a protected class being rejected as tenants.  For more on this issue and
please read Tim Ballering’s blog post entitled ‘Will Criminal Background Checks For Screening Be Restricted By Proposed Federal Rule?”

In light of this concern, the AASEW’s Executive Committee submitted the following comments to HUD:

The Apartment Association of Southeastern WI, Inc. is a trade association representing approximately 575 owners and managers of rental housing in the Metro Milwaukee area.

Our organization supports Fair Housing as well as community efforts to reduce the effects of crime within the neighborhoods that our members own and manage rental housing.

We are concerned that this proposed rule will restrict the  legitimate and necessary use of criminal arrest and conviction records in screening tenants to exclude those who will cause disruption and harm to other occupants, the neighborhoods those properties are located in, and to our properties.

Many communities in southeastern Wisconsin have “Nuisance Property Ordinances” that hold owners accountable for the misdeeds of their tenants.  For example Milwaukee’s Nuisance Ordinance does not require the conviction, nor the arrest of the tenant or their invitees, rather simply repeat law enforcement activity will trigger the enforcement provisions of that ordinance.

As part of your proposed rule property owners need “bright line” guidance, establishing what background screening criteria and methods will remain acceptable under this proposed rule as well as protections from potentially conflicting local requirements.

It would be inequitable, causing unnecessary costs and harm to property owners if such guidance is not provided in advance of the implementation and enforcement of this proposed rule.

Hopefully additional guidance will be provided.  If and when it is I will be sure to provide everyone an update.

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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 membership@apartmentassoc.org 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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New Federal Bill Would Add Two New Protected Classes To Federal Fair Housing Act

On September 26, 2011 both chambers of the U.S. Congress introduced legislation that would extend housing discrimination laws to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The HOME (Housing Opportunities Made Equal) Act was introduced by Sen. John Kerry and others.  The bill would amend the Fair Housing Act to prohibit housing discrimination and intimidation on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Wisconsin is one of 13 states and the District of Columbia that already outlaws housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, currently only 8 states afford fair housing protection based on gender identity and Wisconsin is not one of those states.

 

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Three Wisconsin Landlords Charged with Violating Fair Housing Laws

Three Wisconsin landlords have recently been charged with violating Fair Housing laws by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

First, in late July, HUD announced that it charged a husband and wife who own a rental property in Brown County with violating the Fair Housing Act for allegedly creating
different rental requirements for a single mother and her son.  The charge also alleges that the landlords’ lease agreement includes policies and rules restricting families with children.

Specifically, HUD’s complaint alleges that shortly after accepting a single mother’s rental application, the landlords added a new requirement that the single mother
promise to be present at home whenever her 17 year old son had visitors.  The mother was unwilling to agree to this requirement and as a result the landlords refused to rent to her and her son.  The landlord’s ended up renting the property to a family with no children.  Additionally, it is alleged that the landlords’ lease agreement included clauses that are unduly burdensome on families with children, including a provision that says “no children are allowed to play in common areas of the building” and imposes
a $100 fine and eviction for violating said policy.

Second, on September 9, 2011, HUD charged a West Salem female landlord for violating Fair Housing laws by refusing to rent to a single mother because she did not have a man “to shovel the snow” for her.  The landlord eventually rented the property to two men.

The rental property at issue is a home on a cattle farm and is located in a hollow.  The landlord told the investigators that the winters there are “brutal” and a single mother could not handle the seclusion and the snow removal.  The landlord went on to comment that it was “just common sense” to deny the applicant and then asked the investigator if he would allow his daughter to live alone with a child, a mile and a half from neighbors.  Further inserting her foot into her mouth, the
landlord told the investigator, “[i]f she thinks I discriminated against her, I absolutely did.”  The landlord continued to make matters worse by telling housing authorities that
she “never rents to single mothers, especially in the country,” and had no plans to change.  She added that “single mothers are part of the country’s financial problems” today.

This case should be a “slam dunk” for HUD.  The landlord would’ve greatly benefited from the assistance of counsel – although based on her comments she probably would not have listened to an attorney’s advice.  Anyone care to wager on the outcome of this?  I am expecting a rather large fine to be imposed.

UPDATE 10-31-11 — This ended up being a $15,000 mistake for the West Salem Landlord – who ended up settling the claim.

Third, on September 26, 2011, HUD announced that it charged a La Crosse landlord and property manager with violating anti-discrimination laws for refusing to rent to an
African-American couple because of their race.  It is alleged that the owner and property manager refused to show available apartments to the black couple.  Additionally, they told the couple and other black applicants, that no rental units were available, while just minutes later they told white applicants of the available rental units and encouraged them to apply.  This behavior allegedly occurred over a period of 2 months.  Both black and white “testers” were sent to the property and confirmed that the black
testers were told no rental units were available while the white testers were told of open units and encouraged to apply.

Every day I hear of more and more landlords and property managers being charged with violating both federal and state Fair Housing laws.  I wish that more landlords would take the time to educate themselves on these laws.  Read some of my earlier posts on Fair Housing issues here, here and here.

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