Archive for category Miscellaneous

Next AASEW Meeting: Dr. Rent’s Top Ten Landlording Pitfalls To Avoid – April 15th

The AASEW’s next meeting will feature Dr. Rent’s TOP TEN Landlording Pitfalls to Avoid

When: Monday April 15th, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.

Where: The Best Western, 1005 S. Moorland Road, Brookfield 53005

Who: John “Dr. Rent” Fisher

Cost: This meeting is free for current AASEW members, $25 for guests or expired members

Bad things happen to good people.  When a good landlord falls victim to a bad tenant, we all know the results. Dealing with bad tenants is already hard enough, but too often good landlords fall victim to their own mistakes as well.  Dr. Rent will discuss the 10 most common mistakes that he has seen in over two decades as a landlord in Wisconsin. One of the best things that we can all do is learn from our mistakes, but Dr. Rent has found it wiser to learn from others.

About our speaker: John H. Fischer is a Wausau, Wisconsin area landlord.  He started working part-time with Emmerich & Associates, Inc. in 1993 and since then has worked in nearly every aspect of the real estate investment field.  He has been involved with residential, commercial and industrial rental properties as well as vacant land sales and condominium development.

Observing a number of old and new landlords going to court and having a hard time because of their not understanding Wisconsin’s complicated laws and procedures, Mr. Fischer has been making an effort to educate Landlords on the proper way to do things for over a decade, and has taught classes on everything from accounting, to proper management procedures to Landlord-Tenant law. He has provided training sessions through Lorman and Sterling educational services.  He has also presented seminars to a number of local apartment associations as well as the Wisconsin Apartment Association.  He offers a series of courses in real estate investing through the University of Wisconsin Continuing Education program.

Mr. Fischer holds a real estate Broker license and is past president of the Wausau Area Apartment Association and Wisconsin Apartment Association.  He is a member of Wausau’s Housing Code Task Force.  He has degrees in International Business Management (with Honors) as well as Human Resources Management (with Honors) from the University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Business. He is also a graduate of the Bryce Harlow Institute for Business and Government Affairs, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

 

You will not want to miss this meeting!!

Hope to see everyone there.

T

 

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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.

____

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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Article on Landlord-Tenant Law Topped the List of WisBar InsideTrack’s Most Read Articles of 2012

Milwaukee lawyer Tristan Pettit’s article on landlord-tenant law topped the list of most-read articles from WisBar InsideTrack in 2012.

In the past year, WisBar InsideTrack received a number of timely and relevant article submissions from lawyers discussing legislative actions and judicial decisions, substantive legal issues, practice management, ethics, human interest and other developments.

On April 4, 2012, Attorney Tristan Pettit of Petrie & Stocking S.C. wrote an article entitled “Landlord-Tenant Law: Rights, Remedies, and Changes Under New Act 143″ which discussed many of the changes in the new landlord-tenant law that took effect on March 31, 2012, including the disposal of abandoned property, severability of rental agreement provisions, acceptance of past due rent and much more.

Here is a link to the Dec. 19th issue of WisBar InsideTrack announcing its top 10 articles.

Here is a link to Tristan’s article.

 

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Judge Mary Kuhnmuench Will Be New Small Claims/Eviction Judge in Milwaukee County

In Milwaukee County we get a new small claims/eviction judge each year around August 1st or so.  Most judicial rotations are three years long  but for some reason — possibly the high volume, tediousness, pro se litigants, stress level — the small claims judge rotates every year.

Milwaukee County’s new small claims/eviction judge effective July 27, 2012, will be Mary M. Kuhnmuench.  Judge Kuhnmuench is currently completing her rotation in criminal misdemeanor court.

Judge Kuenhmuench was elected in 1998, and re-elected in both 2004 and 2010.  Prior to being a judge she was an Assistant City Attorney in Milwaukee, an in-house corporate attorney at A.O. Smith and and adjunct professor of business law at Alverno College.

Happy Belated 2nd Birthday to Tristan’s Landlord-Tenant Law Blog

I apologize for the recent scarcity of blog posts.  I plan on changing that in the near future.  Things have been a bit hectic lately – so hectic in fact that I failed to notice that this blog that you are reading has now turned two years old.  I have a toddler on my hands — look out terrible twos.

I made a big to-do with my post last year celebrating the blog’s 1st birthday.  No time this year for such a ”wordy” post, but I still wanted to let everyone know of the progress over the last year and most importantly to thank you all for your continued support of this blog.

Last year at this time I had 80 subscribers to this blog.  This year the subscriber count is up to 187.  That means 187 of you get each new blog post delivered directly to your email inbox rather than having to check back periodically to see if a new post is up.  If you are interested in subscribing but have not yet done so, just click on the blue tab entitled “subscribe” located under the header/skyline photo, enter your email and click “subscribe.”

Last year at this time there were 111 posts.  This year there are over 187.  Last year there were 233 comments by readers (and my responses); this year we are up to 611 comments.

During the 1st year there were over 17,000 visits to my blog and 42,375 page views.  As of today’s date we have had over 61,000 visits with over 128,598 pageviews.

Over the last year we had one month with over 4,775 visits.  Last year the most visits in a month that we saw wasaround 2,221,

Over the last year I have also made the jump to include video in my blog posts.  As much as I hate seeing pictures of myself – yet alone video – my IT vendor says that you must be on uTube these days.  Well, I am now officially on uTube . . . but does my voice really sound that nasal?  It doesn’t sound that way when I hear myself talk : ).  If my voice really sounds that bad then a sincere thank you must go out to those of you who have sat through one of my seminars — I remind myself of those Canadians from the Great White North from when I was a kid.

The top 5 most read blog posts over the past 2 years are:

1.  Late Fees, Part 1: What Amount Can You Charge?

2.  Lead Based Paint Disclosure Forms

3.  What Is The LIfe Expectancy of Your Carpet, Refrigerator . . .

4.  Security Deposit Trasmittal Letters: How To Draft a Legal 21 Day Letter.

As I mentioned last year, when I first started this blog I didn’t know what to expect.  The results have been more than I could have imagined at the outset.  Thank you once again for your support.   Please feel free to let me know of any other topics you would like me to address over the forthcoming year.

Take care

T

Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Wisconsin Landlords

About 75% of my law practice involves representing landlords and management companies on issues that they confront on a daily basis (the other 25% involves business and general civil litigation).  Devoting such a large segment of my law practice to representing landlords, I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with many of you, talk to you, learn from you, and sometimes even notice a few things that if they had been done differently, could’ve saved you some money and headaches. 

Knowledge is power and I firmly believe that with more knowledge, landlords can make changes that will make their landlording or property management business prosper.  I thought that some of my observations this past year would make for a pretty decent New Year’s resolution list for Wisconsin landlords.

ASIDE:  When applicable, I have linked each specific resolution to one of my blog posts that addresses that specific subject or provided a link to the law on that topic.  It should be noted that sometimes the link is to a longer post that addresses more than one issue, so the direct reference may be a bit farther down in the post — i.e. Resolution #3′s link – the reference is way at the bottom of the post). 

Tristan’s Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Wisconsin Landlords

1.   I will review my current rental agreement and other rental documents to make sure that they do not include any of the seven prohibited provisions as set forth in ATCP 134.08.  If you are using a rental agreement from ezLandlordForms.com, Office Depot, or OfficeMax – get rid of them, before a court throws them out for you.

2.   If my rental property is owned by an LLC (even if I am the sole member of the LLC) and I need to file an eviction action (in Milwaukee County), I will ensure that I bring proof that I am a full-time employee of the LLC or I will hire an attorney to represent the LLC in court.

 3.   If my tenant and I make any modifications to the rental agreement, or if my tenant and I decide to modify an agreement that we signed in eviction court, I will make sure that those modifications are in writing and signed.

4.   If I have an automatic renewal provision in my rental agreement, I will not attempt to enforce it unless I have sent my tenant a separate written reminder, at least 15 days but no more than 30 days — in addition to any other notice period required — prior to the beginning of the renewal period as required in ATCP 134. 09(3) and sec. 704.15, Wis. Stats.   For example, if my tenant signed a lease for a specific term (as opposed to a month to month or some other periodic tenancy) I will remind myself over and over and over, that I cannot hold a tenant responsible for the next month’s rent after the lease term ended, just becasue the tenant failed to give me written notice that they would be vacting at the end of the lease term.  To do so would be a violation of the automatic renewal law.

 5.   If I am a relatively new landlord– or if I haven’t attended any landlord-tenant law refresher courses recently — I will sign up and attend the AASEW’s Landlord Boot Camp, so that I will be better able to avoid costly mistakes while managing my rental properties.

 6.   If I do not already have a set of written screening criteria, which sets forth the minimum requirements that a rental applicant must meet in order to rent one of my rental units, I will spend the time and energy to draft such criteria and begin using it.

 7.   I will always remember to either: (a) return a tenant’s security deposit to them within 21 days of the date that they vacated, or (b) send a clear and understandable accounting of how the tenant’s security deposit was applied within 21 days of the tenant vacating.  I will not attempt to make deductions from my tenant’s security deposit for things that I am not legally entitled to deduct from it.  Simply put, I will NOT play games with my tenant’s security deposit.

8.   I promise that despite whatever sad story a prospective renter provides me, I will still take the time to conduct a thorough background check, including running the applicant’s name on CCAP, vetting their current landlord, prior landlord and employer, obtaining a credit report, and require that the applicant supply me with the necessary documentation to substantiate that they can afford to consistently pay rent.

 9.   If I learn of any legislation that negatively affects me as a landlord, I promise to write and/or call my congressman, senator etc. etc., and clearly explain why I think they should vote against the proposed legislation.  Landlords are one of the most regulated preofessions out there – I need to make my voice heard to try and mitigate this.

10.  I will treat the management of my rental properties as a business.   The government and court system treat the management of rental property as a business, so you need to do the same!

If you have any resolutions that you would like to add to this list please be sure to post a comment and include your resolution — I’m sure there are more that I forgot to mention.

Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2011.

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New Report States What Landlords Already Know – That Milwaukee’s Regulations Hurt Businesses

This past weekend I read a very interesting report which was drafted by the Institute for Justice as part of its City Study Series entitled Unhappy Days for Milwaukee Entrepeneurs: Brew City Regulations Make It Hard For Businesses To Achieve the High Life.

The report is 40 pages long (excluding footnotes) but I encourage everyone to read it.  The report touches on the following issues:

- How the city rigidly restricts the ability of entrepeneurs to operate businesses from their homes

- How the city abuses the custom of aldermanic privilege in order to deny businesses licenses and permits thus preventing businesses from opening and operating

-  How the city imposes restrictions on food-related businesses that make it next to impossible to get a business started

- How the city overburdens successful businesses with so many rules and fees that many businesspersons are contemplating moving out of the city

- How the city arbitrarily enforces building codes and historic preservation provisions making it too costly to rehabilitate old buildings

- How the city severely limits a businesses ability to place signage on its storefront

- How the city requires an expensive license in order to go out of business.

While landlording is not specifically discussed in the report several of the topics addressed clearly affect landlords.  One that comes to mind is the arbitrary enforcement of certain building code provisions – what landlord has not dealt with that?  Additionally I believe many landlords would agree that the city overburdens them with so many rules and fees that many are contemplating leaving the city.  I know of several landlords that have sold off all of their Milwaukee rental properties and now only own and manage rental units outside of the city.  I know of even more landlords that would love to do that very same thing if only they wouldn’t lose their shirt (and their pants, belt, socks and underwear) by selling their rentals in this poor climate.

Landlording is one of the most regulated areas that I am aware of, if you don’t believe me just take a look at this memo that was published by the AASEW board of directors on the topic.

The city’s new Residential Rental Inspection ordinance is another example of the city making it difficult for landlords to survive.

The Journal Sentinel’s Patrick McIlheran wrote about how difficult the environment in Milwaukee is for landlords not too long ago, which I blogged about.

According to the Institute for Justice’s report, landlords are not the only businesses that Milwaukee is making life, success, and survival, difficult for.

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