Posts Tagged Residential Rental Inspection (RRI) Program / Mandatory Rental Inspections / Landlord Licensing

City of West Allis Passes Landlord Licensing Ordinance

The City of West Allis recently passed a new ordinance that requires all property owners to register their rental properties with the City.

The new law is contained in 3 separate ordinances.   The first ordinances was passed back in August 6, 2010, followed by a repeal and revision to the original ordinance on September 24, 2010, followed by an ordinance creating a sub-section of the ordinance on October 7, 2010.

You can read all 3 ordinances here.

According to the new law, West Allis feels that landlord registration is necessary in order to properly enforce the city’s building, zoning, fire, and health codes and to safeguard persons (read “tenants”), property, and the general welfare.  The city says that only by having a list of current rental property owners and their contact information can the city expeditiously process building code enforcement issues (read: “issue fines and forfeitures”).

A summary of the provisions of this new “Landlord Licensing” ordinance includes the following:

- This new ordinance applies to all residential or commercial property owners (except owners of owner-occupied one and two family properties where ownership is recorded with the Milwaukee County Register of Deeds), condominium owners (except owners of owner-occupied condos where ownership is recorded with the Register of Deeds of Milwaukee County and a Condo Declaration is established and there is an appointed agent for the association).  Government-owned properties are also excluded from the ordinance’s requirements.  So essentially this ordinance applies only to rental property owners.

- The owner must live within the 7 county area ( Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Kenosha, Racine, Walworth Washington and Waukesha counties) or else the owner must appoint a “local operator” who lives in the 7 County area and has the authority to accept notice of violations for enforcement of city codes.

          NOTE:  The 1st version of the ordinance required the owner to live in the City of West Allis or that the “local operator” live in the “near area” of West Allis — whatever that means.  A bit restrictive don’t you think — obviously the city agreed hence the amendment.

-  A separate registration form (and fee) must be filed for each separate tax-key numbered parcel.

-  The registration form must include the owner’s names, address of residence, and phone number if the owner is a person or persons.  A post office box is not allowed.  If a “local operator” is appointed by the owner then the registration must include the same information for the operator.  The tax-key number and address of the property must also be provided on the registration form.

- The intial registration fee for the 1st year is $30 per property and $10 per property for each year thereafter.  If you file online the fee is only $20 for the first year.  A reduced registration fee may be offerred to those owners that attend a city-sponsored landlord training program or equivalent.

-  The form and fee must be filed by November 15th each year.  If filed later than Nov. 15th the fee will be increased to $100.

- Failure to file the registration form, fee, or change of information form is a violation and will result in a Notice being sent by the City.  If the owner fails to comply with the Notice then the city may file a court action against the owner.

- If the West Allis Municipal Court believes that the city has proven its case against the owner with regard to failing to comply with this new ordinance, the city may impose a forfeiture of not less than $100 nor more than $500, plus the costs of the prosecution.

Unfortunately, West Allis has opted to follow in the footsteps of Milwaukee – something many of us were afraid would happen — with regard to the landlord registration/licensing.  Let’s see what community is next to follow.

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DNS Has Started To Implement The New Residential Rental Certificate Program

As many of you know the City of Milwaukee’s new Residential Rental Certificate Program ordinance went into effect January 1, 2010. 

It is my understanding that the letter notices, along with a date for the inspection of your rental unit/s, the application, were all mailed out to affected landlords during the week of Dec. 28th — so those of you in the two designated areas should have received your mailing by now – Merry Christmas.

In anticipation of the many questions about the Residential Rental Inspection (RRI) Program the Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) has added a new FAQ page to its website regarding the program.  The web page also contains a link to a map of the two affected areas, a link to the RRI Application form and a link to the Pre-Inspection Checklist.

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Landlords Sue City of Milwaukee To Stop Residential Rental Certificate Ordinance

On December 29, 2009, three landlords filed a lawsuit against the city of Milwaukee in an attempt to stop the new Residential Rental Certificate Ordinance that was recently passed. 

The lawsuit includes a complaint, motion for temporary injunction, ex parte motion for temporary restraining order (TRO) and supporting affidavits.  Essentially, the plaintiffs are arguing that the ordinance as written is (1) unconstitutionally vague, (2) contains fatal defects, (3) fails to provide for an impartial review and (4)interferes with their constitutional right to contract with their tenants.

I would suggest that you read the entire lawsuit but I will attempt to summarize the plaintiffs’ main arguments.

1.    1st claim: The ordinance is unconstitutionally vague

The plaintiffs’ argue that the ordinance contains terms and phrases that are so vague that they do not properly notify landlords owning rental properties in the two designated areas as to what specific conditions will result in a denial of a residential rental certificate or the revocation of a certificate.  The ordinance gives the DNS Commissioner and his inspectors the subjective power to determine whether the conditions in a rental unit constitute a denial or revocation of the certificate.  This subjective power will result in a non-uniform application of the ordinance.

The plaintiffs cite 7 examples within the ordinance where the landlord does not have sufficient notice as to what specific conditions or number of conditions will trigger a denial or revocation of a rental certificate by the city.

2.     2nd claim:  The ordinance contains fatal defects

Basically this argument states that the ordinance as written contains terms which are unclear, have no definition, and fail to set forth clear standards for which a rental certificate will be granted.  Additionally it is argued that the ordinance gives the DNS Commissioner and his inspectors the arbitrary power to grant, deny or revoke a rental certificate without providing specific standards as to how that discretion should be used.

The plaintiffs provide 9 examples within the ordinance where significant terms are not defined or are unclear.  Essentially their argument is that the standard as to what will casue the issuance of a rental certificate is a subjective standard contained only in the minds of the Commissioner and his inspectors (and essentailly that the subjective standard will most likely vary from one inspector to the next).  This argument also focuses on the fact that the ordinance allows for the DNS Commissioenr to draft rules or regulations  which have not been made a part of the ordinance.  This means that the Commissioner could change the rules at any time and without providing owners prior notice of the changes.  The rules and regulations are not required to be made publicly available since they are not contained in the ordinance itself.

3.     3rd claim:  Failure to provide impartial review

Under the ordinance as written if a landlord does not agree with the decision rendered by the city inspector, the landlord can appeal that decision to the Commissioner of DNS — the employer of the inspector that made the intial decision.  The plaintiffs argue that as written the ordinance allows the individual and agency that made the unwritten rules for inspection and then subjectively applied those rules, to also act as the decision-maker for the review of any contested determination.  Wisconsin Statutes Sec. 68.11(2) require that all municipalities provide an “imparital decision-maker . . . who did not participate in making or reviewing the initial determination” to preside over any review.

4.     4th claim: Interference with the constitutional right to contract

According to the ordinance, all rental units within the two designated areas will be required to have a rental certificate in place (if there is a tenant residing in the unit) as of January 1st, 2010 — Friday.  If no certificate is in place by 1/1/10 then the owner of the rental will be in violation of the ordinance as written.  The argument made by the plaintiffs is that since the ordinance does not provide for the rental certificates to be issued until after an inspection takes place (which will be at least 30 days after 1/1/10) that landlords will be forced to terminate the tenancies of their tenants or else be in violation of the ordinance.  By being forced to issue a termination notice to their tenants, the plaintiffs argue that the city isinterfering with the landlords and tenants rental agreement – and by doing so they are interfering with a landlords right to enter into a contract with his/her tenant.

The plaintiffs are asking that the court to temporarily enjoin the city from enforcing the residentail rental certificate ordinance.  They are also asking the court to issue an order declaring that the ordinance is invalid.  Finally the plaintiffs are asking the court to permanatly enjoin the city from enforcing the ordinance.

This lawsuit has been tabbed to Judge Timothy Witkowiak.

A hearing on the plaintiff’s motion for a temporary restraining order was held earlier today before Judge Timothy Dugan.  Judge Dugan denied the landlords’ motion for a TRO without reaching the underlying problems with the ordinance.  One of the requirements in order to be granted a TRO is that some “irreperable harm” must be demonstrated.  Judge Dugan felt that becasue no landlord has been issued a citation by the city and because the city has not tried to remove any tenant from the plaintiff’s’ rental units, as of yet, that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate any irreperable harm.”

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Mayor Signs Milwaukee’s Residential Rental Certificate Program Ordinance

About 1 hour before the close of business yesterday, December 10, 2009, Mayor Tom Barrett signed the city of Milwaukee’s Residential Rental Certificate Program ordinance into law.  Mayor Barrett left everyone waiting and wondering if he would sign it as the deadline to do so was the close of business yesterday.

The ordinance can be read in its entirety here.

The Preinspection Checklist can be found here.  The checklist gives a detailed overview of all items that DNS will be inspecting when they come knocking in 2010.  The landlords in the two designated areas will probably get pretty familiar with that checklist during the next 5 years of the “pilot program.”

The ordinance will go into effect as of January 1, 2010.

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AASEW Continues To Fight Against The City of Milwaukee’s Residential Rental Certificate Program

The Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, Inc. (AASEW) continues its attempt to defeat the recently passed ordinance creating a Residential Rental Certificate Program in two areas of the city.  On December 7, 2009, the AASEW issued a Press Release urging the mayor to veto the legislation in order to avoid expensive litigation. 

Additonally, President of the AASEW Tristan Pettit wrote a letter to Mayor Tom Barrett pointing out many of the legal problems with the ordinance.  A similar letter was sent to the members of the Common Council  prior to their vote last week – which went ignored.  The letter specifically delineates 6 of the many structural and legal problems with the ordinance and encourages the mayor to veto the legislation in order to spare the city the time and expense of defending the poorly drafted legislation in court.

The Mayor has until the close of business on Thursday, December 10, 2009 to sign the legislation or else it would go back to the Common Council for reconsideration.  If the Mayor vetoes the ordinance then the Common Council would have to garner 10 votes (from the 15 members) in order to override the veto.

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Earlier today by a vote of 9-5 the city of Milwaukee’s Residential Rental Certificate Program ordinance was passed by the Common Council. 

Voting in favor of the new ordinance were Aldermen Ashanti Hamilton (1st district), Nic Kovac (3rd district), Robert Bauman (4th district), Milele Coggs (6th district), Willie Wade (7th district), Robert Puente (9th district), Michael Murphy (10th district), Terry Witkowski (13 district), and Willie Hines, Jr. (15th district). 

Voting against the ordinance were Aldermen James Bohl, Jr. (5th district), Robert Donovan (8th district), Joe Dudzik (11th district), James Witkowiak (12th district), and Tony Zielinski (14th district).

Alderman Joe Davis, Sr. was not present and did not vote.

There was very little discussion on the proposed ordinance prior to its vote.  Alderman Kovac (the primary sponsor of the ordinance) spoke in favor of the revised ordinance and gave a summary of the revisions that were made.  Alderman Robert Donovan then spoke out against the ordinance and summarized some of the criticism that citizens had with the proposal as expressed at the public hearing earlier.  Alderman Murphy then spoke in favor of the ordinance and emphasized that it is a pilot program that will be reviewed each year.

If you are interested in viewing the video recording of the vote and other related information just click here.

This new ordinance will make it mandatory for all landlords who own rental property in two designated areas of the city (the UWM area on the city’s east side and the Lindsay Heights neighborhood on the city’s north side) to apply for a rental certificate in order to continue renting out their rental properties.  When applying for the certificate the owner will need to pay a $85 per unit fee and allow an inspector from the city’s Department of Neighborhood Services to inspect the interior of the unit.

For more detailed information on this ordinance please refer to my prior post.

The AASEW was opposed to this ordinance and had hired legal counsel to point out the various legal problems with the ordinance and its drafting to the ordinance’s sponsor, Alderman Nic Kovac.  On a positive note, the original ordinance that was proposed was revised to address some of the issues and concerns that were brought to light by the AASEW.   A copy of the newly enacted ordinance (Proposed Substitute C) can be read in its entirety here.

The Department of Neighborhood Services also put together a Residential Rental Inspection Program Preinspection Checklist which it is assumed will be sent to the owners of rental property in the two designated areas prior to the inspection.  This checklist sets forth the specific types of violations that DNS will be looking for during its inspection.  While the checklist is still pretty extensive it is still better then just having the subjective term “disqualifying violation” in the ordinance as was the case with the prior version.

This ordinance will become effective January 1, 2010.

As this ordinance is phased in please let me know your thoughts as to how it is being implemented.  This is a pilot program and it will be reviewed annually so any and all input from affected landlords is vital.

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As I mentioned in a prior post, the City of Milwaukee’s Common Council agreed to hold off on voting on the city’s proposed mandatory rental inspection ordinance (Residential Rental Certificate Program) for 1 month.  The reason for the postponement was to allow the drafters of the proposed ordinance time to go back and make some revisions and clarifications.

The Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, Inc.  (AASEW) retained the services of a law firm who met with the drafters and sponsors of the proposed ordinance and offerred suggested changes.  During that 2 hour meeting the AASEW attorneys also pointed out the myriad of legal problems with the proposed program and how it was drafted.   It appears as if the revised ordinance was completed this past Friday, however I first received a copy of the ordinance today, only after our attorneys called one of the sponsors to check on the status.

You can read the proposed ordinance with its revisions here.

While the city appears to have included some of our suggested changes for the most part they ignored our comments.

One concern that the AASEW has that was ignored was the fact that the ordinance still does not contain an objective definition of a “disqualifying violation.”  The AASEW has been told that a rental certificate will only be withheld if the current conditions in the unit are so bad that there are safety concerns for the tenant.  To me that would mean such things as an improperly secured porch, a bedroom in the attic, or something similar.  Our attorneys were even presented with a list of such qualifying conditions at the meeting after they pressed this issue.  However, those listed conditions still have not been included in the definition of a “disqualifying violation.”   Why not?

The ordinance as written reads as follows   – A disqualifying violation “means . . . or other conditions that violates the provision of the building code . . . ”  So in essence, a rental unit could be denied a rental certificate for any building code violation — such as not having the address number posted on the garage in the alley.  This does not seem to me to qualify as safety issue that would warrant the denial of a certificate.  Nontheless, the city could argue that the lack of an address number on the garage of a rental unit is a safety issue becasue if there is a fire or similar hazard the paramedics or fire department’s response might be delayed if they drive  through the alley and can’t determine which property to go to.  Maybe that is a safety issues – I don’t know – but my point is why don’t we put all of the cards on the table so that everyone is clear.  Do I think it is the city’s intent to deny a certificate for something like missing address numbers in the alley?  I certainly hope not — but I don’t know, nor do you, nor does the inspector that is going to inspect the unit.  What I do know  however is that as the ordinance is currently written a landlord could be denied a rental certificate becasue of missing address numbers on a garage. 

I don’t want this ordinance to become a tool for an inspector who wants to make life miserable for a landlord that he doesn’t particular care for.  If the city truly only means to withold a rental certifcate in certain situations which place the tenant safety at issue then why don’t we specifically include what those conditions are so that everyone — including the inspectors themselves — have clear direction.

This proposed program is to be voted on by the Common Council on Tuesday, December 1st.  Have you told your alderperson how you should think they should vote.  If not, please do.

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