Archive for category Legislation

Landlords Lose Lawsuit Against City of LaCrosse

On August 27, 2014, a LaCrosse County judge ruled against several LaCrosse landlords that had sued the city over its local rental registry and inspection ordinance.

The plaintiffs included 34 landlords with rental property in the city of LaCrosse and attacked the cities ordinance on both constitutional grounds as well as arguing that the ordinance violated state law, specifically Act 76, which became law on March 1, 2014.  To learn a more about the specifics of Act 76 with regard to local municipalities see my prior blog post.

Prior to the court’s ruling, the city unilaterally eliminated a section of the ordinance that said that a landlords could be denied a rental certificate (i.e. the ability to rent out their rental units) if they did not grant access to the rental unit by city inspectors even if the tenant refuses.  The judge had earlier advised the city that he would rule against it on that aspect of the ordinance as being a violation of a person’s constitutional right against unreasonable searches.  As such the city eliminate that part of the ordinance prior to the judge making a ruling.

According to the judge, the remainder of the ordinance does not violate Act 76.

To learn more about the ruling read this article from the LaCrosse Tribune.

 

 

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Second Lawsuit Filed Alleging Local Ordinance Violates Wisconsin’s New Landlord Tenant Law (Act 76)

I just read in the Wausau Daily Herald today that a second legal challenge has been filed based on Wisconsin’s new landlord-tenant law (Act 76).  The city of Wausau is getting sued by several local landlords over its Residential Rental Licensing Ordinance which requires that rentals be inspected every three years for compliance with the city’s local building codes.

One of the arguments in the lawsuit is that the ordinance is contrary to sec 66.0104, Wis. Stats (which was created by Act 76) and prohibits municipalities from enacting or enforcing certain ordinances that affect landlords and tenants.  I have covered this aspect in great detail in a prior blog post.

The first lawsuit was filed in La Crosse by the same attorney that is representing the Wausau landlords.

The Wausau landlords are seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the city from enforcing their Residential Rental Licensing Ordinance.

 

Act 76 – Wisconsin’s New Landlord Tenant Law – Part 6: Alternative Disposition of Property During Eviction

Act 76, has amended sec. 799.45 Wis. Stats., and created new options for a landlord to dispose of a tenant’s abandoned personal property after the writ has been executed by the Sheriff and the rental unit has been returned to the landlord’s possession.

Under the old law, if the rental property was located in a county with a population greater than 500,000 people, a landlord was required to hire a moving company to remove any of the tenant’s property that was determined to be of value.  Under the old law, if the rental property was located in a county of less than 500,00 people, a landlord could remove the tenant’s abandoned property of value himself but was required to post a bond before doing so, which could be very expensive.

With the passage of Wisconsin’s new Landlord-Tenant law, Act 76, a landlord can now remove any of the tenant’s abandoned property himself, regardless of the size of the county in which the rental property is located, once the Sheriff has executed the writ and the rental property has been returned to the possession of the landlord, and assuming the landlord has complied with the other requirements of sec. 705.05(5), Wis. Stats.

Many landlords — as well as the press reporting on the new law – misunderstood the new law and believed that a landlord was no longer required to involve the Sheriff in the eviction.  That is not the case.  Act 76 did not remove the requirement of involving the Sheriff.  The Sheriff must still be hired to remove a tenant that has not voluntarily surrendered the rental unit and the Sheriff is still necessary to return the rental property to the possession of the landlord. 

What Act 76 did was remove the requirement that a moving company be used in larger counties and remove the requirement that a landlord post a bond in smaller counties with regard to the removal and disposal of any belonging left by the tenant.

Under the new law a landlord now has three options to choose from when hiring the Sheriff to forcibly remove a tenant and return the rental unit to the possession of the landlord.

1.  The landlord can choose to operate under the old law  — and most of my clients are electing to do this — and still involve and pay for a moving company.  The Sheriff will then remove any tenant still on the premises and return the rental property to the landlord.  The moving company will then remove any tenant property of value left behind and take it to a storage facility.  The Sheriff will remain at the rental property until the moving company has completed its work.

2.  The landlord can choose to hire the Sheriff only.  Under this scenario, the Sheriff will remove any tenant still on the premises and return the rental property to the landlord.  The Sheriff will then leave.  The landlord can then dispose of any tenant property left behind as set forth in sec. 705.05 (5), Wis. Stats. (assuming the landlord has the required language in his rental agreement allowing him to dispose of the abandoned property  — see sec. 704.05(5)(bf)  – and abides by the exceptions to the disposal rules — see sec. 704.05(5)(am) and (b)).

3.  The landlord can opt to hire the Sheriff only but also elect to have the Sheriff stick around while the landlord disposes of the tenant’s property (assuming the landlord has the required language in his rental agreement allowing him to dispose of the abandoned property  — see sec. 704.05(5)(bf)  — and abides by the exceptions to the disposal rules — see sec. 704.05(5)(am) and (b)).  This option allows the landlord a greater sense of security as the Sheriff will still be present should the tenant decide to visit.  Please be aware however that under this option the Sheriff may have certain requirements that must be followed by the landlord, such as requiring the landlord to have a certain number of people assisting him with the removal of the tenant’s property, so that the Sheriff is not sitting around for hours waiting for a single landlord to remove and dispose of a tenant’s belongings.

Essentially those are the 3 options that a landlord now has to choose from if it becomes necessary to execute a writ of restitution with the Sheriff.  While many counties are still working out the details, the feedback that I have received from the various counties in which I practice, has been that things have been going much more smoothly then the press and tenant advocates had prophesized.

 

 

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First Legal Challenge As A Result of Act 76 (Wisconsin’s New Landlord Tenant Law)

I just read an article on WXOW.com today about what I believe to be the first legal challenge as a result of the passage of Act 76 – Wisconsin’s new landlord tenant law.

Two local landlords in La Crosse, Wisconsin are suing the city of La Crosse over its new registration and inspection ordinance which only applies to rental units.  Per the article written by Dave Solie of WXOW.com, local attorney Bernardo Cueto filed the suit recently and says the ordinance violates Act 76 because it requires landlords to follow rules not required of other landowners.  Mr. Cueto is quoted as saying “Act 76 was designed to promote equality between homeowners and renters and protect renters from unreasonable rules created by local governments and intrusions on their homes and privacy.”

Act 76 amended sec. 66.0104, Wis Stats. and prohibits municipalities from enacting or enforcing certain ordinances that affect landlords and tenants, which I have discussed fully in a prior blog post.

The La Crosse Tribune also covered the lawsuit filing.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out as there was a similar ordinance enacted in Wausau recently and of course good ol’ Milwaukee has the Residential Rental Inspection (RRI) pilot program which is very similar in nature.

 

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Act 76 – Wisconsin’s New Landlord Tenant Law – Part 5: Domestic Violence Notice Langauge & More Prohibited Rental Agreement Provisions

Act 76 has made many changes to Landlord-Tenant law in Wisconsin, some of which I have explained in prior blog posts.  One of the biggest changes, which I have not yet blogged about, is the requirement that a landlord include language notifying tenants of certain domestic abuse protections in all rental agreements or addenda as of March 1, 2014.

The required language is set forth in sec. 704.14, Wis. Stats. and must be included verbatim in the rental agreement - it cannot be modified or summarized.

The language that must be included is:

 

NOTICE OF DOMESTIC ABUSE PROTECTIONS

(1) As provided in section 106.50 (5m) (dm) of the Wisconsin statutes, a tenant has a defense to an eviction action if the tenant can prove that the landlord knew, or should have known, the tenant is a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking and that the eviction action is based on conduct related to domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking committed by either of the following:

(a) A person who was not the tenant’s invited guest.

(b) A person who was the tenant’s invited guest, but the tenant has done either of the following:

1. Sought an injunction barring the person from the premises.

2. Provided a written statement to the landlord stating that the person will no longer be an invited guest of the tenant and the tenant has not subsequently invited the person to be the tenant’s guest.

(2) A tenant who is a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking may have the right to terminate the rental agreement in certain limited situations, as provided in section 704.16 of the Wisconsin statutes. If the tenant has safety concerns, the tenant should contact a local victim service provider or law enforcement agency.

(3) A tenant is advised that this notice is only a summary of the tenant’s rights and the specific language of the statutes governs in all instances.

 

Unfortunately many landlords are not even aware of this new requirement.  Others complain that this will make their rental agreements 1/2 page longer.  Depending on formatting – this very well may be true.  Nonetheless, any rental agreements that are entered into or renewed as of March 1, 2014, must include this language.  If your rental agreement does not contain this language you your rental agreement will be declared void and unenforceable.

Why is that you ask?  Keep reading.

Act 76 also modified and created additional provisions that cannot be included in a Landlord’s rental agreement.  If a landlord includes any prohibited provision in his/her rental agreement the lease will be void and unenforceable.  I affectionately refer to these illegal provisions as the “10 Deadly Sins.”

Act 76 created the 10th Deadly Sin which is directly related to the DV protection language discussed above.

A rental agreement will be void and unenforceable if it allows the landlord to terminate the tenancy of a tenant for a crime committed in relation to the rental property if it does not also include the new domestic abuse protection language set forth in sec. 704, 14, Wis. Stats.

This is huge.  So hopefully any rental agreements that you have entered into since March 1st of this year contain this required language.  If they do not, you should immediately create an Addendum to your rental agreement that includes the DV notice language and send it to your tenants immediately so that you are in compliance.  If you are using pre-printed rental agreement forms you must insure that they have been updated to include this language.  I can assure you that the rental agreement form that I draft for Wisconsin Legal Blank Co. has had this language added.  Going forward you only should be using the WLB rental agreement form that has a publication date of 2/17/14 or later.

Act 76 also modified the 9th Deadly Sin which was created by Act 143 (which became law in March 31, 2012).  The “old” 9th Deadly Sin stated that a rental agreement was void if it allowed a landlord to evict a tenant as a result of a crime committed in or on the rental property if the tenant could not have reasonably prevented the crime.  This language was problematic for many landlords.  As such the 9th Deadly Sin was modified in Act 76 to read:

A rental agreement will be void and unenforceable if it contains a provision that allows the landlord to terminate the tenancy of a tenant based solely on a crime being committed if the tenant, or someone lawfully living with them, is a victim of that crime.

Hopefully there will not be any new Deadly Sins created in the near future.  If there are, we will end up having more clauses that cannot be included in a residential rental agreement than can be included ; ).

 

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New CCAP Bill Introduced

A new CCAP bill (Senate Bill 526) was introduced on January 30, 2014 by Senators Grothman, Taylor, Schultz, Harris, and Risser.  A public hearing has already been held.

Current law allows for any criminal charge to remain on CCAP even if the charge was dismissed.

This new bill, if passed, would require the Director of CCAP to remove a case involving a misdemeanor or felony from CCAP within 120 days after being notified that the case or charge has been dismissed (and not read into the record for the purposes of sentencing the defendant), the defendant was found not guilty, or the case was overturned on appeal and dismissed.

I am a fan of open records and not removing information about open records that are on CCAP.  While I personally do not have a problem with a criminal charge being removed if the defendant was found not guilty or the case was overturned on appeal and dismissed, I still believe that doing so still interferes with open records, but I can bite my tongue nonethless.

On the other hand, I have a huge problem (and concern) with a criminal case being removed from CCAP solely because it was dismissed.

Many people unfamiliar with the criminal justice system assume that if a case was dismissed that that means that it was filed in error.  While that certainly does occur, that is not the typical situation in which a case is dismissed.  The majority of criminal cases are dismissed, not becasue they were impropely filed, but rather because the victim witness did not appear at trial to testify against the defendant and therefore the State could not prove their case.  This happens quite often especially in crimes involving domestic violence.

When I was younger (and stupider) I used to do some criminal defense work.  I finally quit being a criminal defense attorney after I represented a young man that was charged for the 8th time with Domestic Violence – Battery.  It was alleged that he beat up his girlfriend.  All 8 times it was alleged that he beat up his girlfriend.  I attempted to meet with my client to prepare for trial.  He refused, just smiled, and told me that it was not necessary.  I told him that I could not represent him properly if we didnt prepare.  He told me again not to worry and that there would not be a trial.  I reminded him that there was a “no contact” order in place and that he was not allowed to contact the alleged victim so how would he know if she was or was not going to appear in court to testify against him.  He smiled and said he would never do anything against the law.

The trial date came and the victim did not show.  As a result the District Attorney was forced to dismiss the charge against my client as without the victim the DA could not meet their burden.  My client smiled at me and said “See, I told you you didnt need to worry – no trial.”  He then walked out of the court room.

Even though I was young and stupid, I was not naive.  I knew very well that this individual most likley had talked to the victim and either threatened to harm her if she came to court to testify against him or he actually did harm her to make sure she understood.  The same thing probably happened the prior 7 occassions as well.

I would not want to rent to this person.

Under this new CCAP bill, those 8 criminal charges for DV-Battery against my client would be removed from CCAP and a future landlord would not even know they had been filed or that s/he would be renting to a person that felt it was acceptable to beat up his girlfriend whenever he couldn’t control his anger management issues.

If you have similar examples from propspective rental applicants that you have screened recently, please forward the details to me directly at tpettit@petriestocking.com.  Let’s make sure the politicians are aware that this type of behavior does actually occur and how it may hurt our industry, if such a law is passed.

Thanks

T

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Revised Wisconsin Legal Blank Forms Will Be Available on Monday, February 17th

As I hope most of you are aware, Wisconsin passed a new law that will great affect landlord-tenant law – Act 76.  Whenever the law is changed, there is usually a need to revise and/or update your rental documents to comply with the law.  That is definitely the case with the changes from Act 76.

As such, I have had to update many of the rental documents that are sold at Wisconsin Legal Blank.

The new law becomes effective March 1, 2014.  So for those of you that use the WLB forms you will want to use these revised forms for any new tenancies that commence on or after March 1, 2014.

The following Wisconsin Legal Blank forms have been revised:

 

1.   Residential Rental Agreement (#19)

The changes made to this form are very important.  As of March 1, 2014, it will be required that all residential rental agreements include certain language that provides notice of domestic abuse protections.  Act 76 states that a rental agreement will be void and unenforceable if it allows a landlord to terminate a tenancy for a crime and the rental agreement fails to include the domestic violence notice language.  As a result of having to add this additional language verbatim the Residential Rental Agreement form will be much longer.

Several other changes and modifications were made to this form as well including:

a.   Revision of the “Extermination Costs” section

b.  Addition of a “Non-Waiver” section

c.  Addition of a “Criminal Activity Prohibited” section

d.  The “Notice to Vacate” section was modified to clarify the law better regarding terminating a lease for term.  The 30 day notice required to terminate a month to month tenancy was changed to 28 days to coincide with Wisconsin statutes.

e.  The “Abandoned Property” section was modified to comply with the law changes in Act 76

f.  Additional language was added to clarify that operating a business or providing child care services are not allowed in the rental unit.

g.  Additional language was added in the section entitled “Security Deposit” to state that if the repair costs for tenant damages are not known in time for the sending of the security deposit transmittal letter that a “good faith” estimate may be used.

f.  Clarifying language was added to the “Breach and Termination” section.

 

2.   Residential Lease Renewal or Notice To Vacate (#970) — Was updated to comply with Act 76′s changes regarding abandoned property.

 

3.  Notice of Rent Increase (for Month to Month Tenant) (#332) – Was updated to comply with Act 76′s changes regarding abandoned property.

 

4.  Check-In / Check-Out Sheet (#997 and #993) — Was updated to to comply with Act 76 with regards to the title and the “When To Use” explanation as well as some stylistic changes.

 

5.  Rental Application (#996) – Eliminated some sections that were not needed and could possibly cause problems for landlords, added some additional instructions for applicant, restructured the layout of the form, and reworded much of the language at the bottom of the signature page.

 

6.  Nonstandard Rental Provisions (#984) — Rewrote the “When To Use” section to better explain the purpose of a NSRP document, removed the “Miscellaneous Matters” section of the form, revised the statutory references, and fixed some grammatical issue.

 

I can’t stress enough how important it is to use updated/revised forms when they become available.  I still see landlords using the Residential Rental Agreement that was drafted over 10 years ago.  There are important reasons that rental documents are updated: (1)  To comply with law changes, (2) To eliminate problem language that has caused landlords problems.  Each new version of these forms are supposed to make your life easier.  Using old forms is just an invitation for problems.  Effective, March 1, 2014, failing to use the revised Residential Rental Agreement may result in your Agreement being declared void and unenforceable.

T

 

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