Posts Tagged Screening Tenants

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  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.



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East Side Landlord “Think Small” Seminar Event on March 13th

Make plans to attend the fourth East Side Landlord Think Small event hosted by UWM!

This event is free and open to all interested landlords, with a special focus on Milwaukee’s East Side.

This spring’s event promises to be very engaging with featured presenter Attorney Tristan Pettit, who focuses his practice on representing landlords and management companies in landlord-tenant law matters.

Topics will include screening potential tenants and recent updates to landlord-tenant laws in Wisconsin.

As always, there will be networking time to share ideas with fellow attendees, Q&A time with the presenter, and light refreshments will be served.

Event Details

Date: Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Location: Chapman Hall on the UWM Campus, 2310 E Hartford Ave, Regents Room (2nd Floor)

Time: 4:30pm-6:00pm

Please RSVP to Heather Harbach at  Your registration helps us in our planning for this event. Please feel free to share this with other landlords that might find this session interesting! If you have further questions, please contact Heather Harbach, UWM Neighborhood Relations Liaison by e-mail at or by calling 414-229-4451.

Hope To See You There!


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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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CCAP Committee’s Recomendation To Change Wisconsin’s Expungment Laws Shot Down

Last year Wisconsin’s Joint Legislative Council created a Special Committee On The Review of Records Access of Circuit Court Documents – what I affectionately referred
to as the CCAP Committee.  Landlords were very fortunate that in the end the committee made no recommendations to change or alter information on CCAP or limit its access by landlords or any other group.  The committee’s sole recommendation was to call for the liberalization of Wisconsin’s criminal expungement statute.

The proposed bill, if passed would have done the following:

1.  Defined what is meant for a court to expunge a court record (and yes, this did include removing any reference to the conviction from CCAP)

2.  Clarified that an expunged record may not be considered for employment or housing matters.

3.  Stated that a person may petition the circuit court at any time to expunge the following:

-  any court record of a person who was under the age of 25 at the time the crime was committed and who was found guilty of a forfeiture, misdemeanor, and certain (lessor) felonies, that are punishable by up to 6 years in prison.

- any court record of a person charged with an offense punishable by a forfeiture, misdemeanor, or felony in which all charges were dismissed or for which the defendant was acquitted AND the court determines that the person will benefit by the expungement and that society will not be harmed by the expungement.

So as you can see, the proposed bill would have negatively affected landlords in the screening process and if passed would mean that a landlord would find no record of the applicant having ever been charged and convicted of crime x, y or z (or charged and acquitted or charged and the later dismissal of the case), if the applicant had applied for and received an expungement.

It also would have meant that even if the landlord somehow learned of the conviction (or acquittal or dismissal) and the later expungement, that the landlord could not use that information when making a decision on whether or not to rent to that individual.

Furthermore, it would have meant that a landlord would be precluded from inquiring as to the existence of any expunged record from a rental applicant whether that question
be on the rental application itself or verbally when talking to the applicant.

Thankfully we do not have to worry about this proposed bill being passed as it never even got introduced.  In a notice dated January 20, 2012, the Director of the committee wrote to the members of the committee to inform them that their recommended bill was not approved for introduction by the Joint Legislative Council by a vote of 13 to 6.  While a petition can be circulated to have the matter reconsidered, I have not heard of that happening.

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Update on Landlord Pre-Emption Bill

It has been awhile since I updated everyone on the pro-landlord legislation that is being addressed in Madison.  Senate Bill 107 (SB 107) — referred to as the Landlord Pre-Emption Bill —  has been passed by the Wisconsin Senate and is currently being reviewed by the House this term (AB 155).

You may recall that SB 107 prohibits any municipality from enacting any ordinance that limits a landlord from obtaining or using various types of information about a tenant or prospective tenant, such as household income, occupation, court records, rental history, and credit information, or limits how far back in time a prospective tenant’s
credit information, conviction record, or previous housing may be considered.

The bill has received much opposition from local municipalities and their lobbyists, not for the substance of the bill, but rather for the fact that if passed, the law will
restrict a municipality’s ability to draft certain ordinances.  Essentially the municipalities feel this to be a breach of their own sovereignty and an example of the state overstepping its bounds.  Many feel that this is really just a Madison problem — since it is the City of Madison that has enacted many of these restrictions on what information a landlord can consider when making a rental decision – and therefore should be dealt with at the city level.

Another group of critics believe that the bill discriminates against African-Americans.  Four Dane County Board Supervisors, two Madison City Council members and one Madison School Board member, sent a letter to Governor Walker and legislators on September 7, 2011, asking that the provision of the bill that will allow landlords to deny housing to tenants with criminal histories be removed because is discriminates against African Americans.

They argue that allowing a landlord to deny a rental applicant housing based on his/her criminal convictions will unfairly affect African-Americans because while they
only comprise 6% of the state’s population they account for almost 50% of those with arrest and conviction records.  Thus the critics of the bill argue that to allow a landlord to deny a rental applicant based on his/her criminal record is to allow landlords to deny housing based on race.

The critics are relying on the doctrine of “disparate impact.”  The disparate impact doctrine holds that certain laws may be discriminatory and illegal – even if the law is neutral on its face — if they have a disproportionate “adverse impact” on members of a minority group.

This disparate impact argument is ignoring a key ingredient – one’s choice to engage in criminal activity.  One’s race is not something that a person has control over – we are born into a certain race.  On the other hand, individuals do have control over whether or not they engage in criminal activity.  Committing a crime is a volitional act.  Being born African-American is not.  We are dealing with apples and oranges here.

Disparate impact arguments are often raised when a law unintentionally affects a minority group through no fault of their own.  This small group of critics, are trying to apply the disparate impact doctrine to individuals that made a voluntary decision to engage in criminal activity.


UPDATE – 10-28-11 — On Wed. Octo 26, 2011, By a vote of 59-34 the Assembly voted to suspend a rulling on AB155.  An amendment was made by Rep Chris Taylor (D-Madison) that would protect some local control within the bill – the amendment was tabled by a vote of 60-33.

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AASEW’s Next Meeting Focuses On The Topic of Credit Reports – Monday, July 18th

Would you like to know if your prospective tenant is a good credit risk?

Then join the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin (AASEW) at our General Membership meeting on Monday, July 18th, 7:00 p.m, at the Best Western, 1005 South Moorland Road in Brookfield.  Kathy Haines, of Landlord Services, LLC will present “Credit Reports 101:  How To Determine If Your Prospective Tenant is a Good Credit Risk”

 At 6:30 p.m. right before our meeting, come to network with others in the industry and enjoy free appetizers!

Also at 6:30 p.m. come to our Traders Corner if you are interested in buying or selling rental property and bring your listings with you!!

Have a question for a seasoned landlord?  Stop by for Meet your Mentor, at 6:30 p.m. as well!

We hope to see you there!

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What Questions Should You Ask An Applicant’s Current and/or Prior Landlord During The Screening Process

Screening applicants/potential tenants is the single most important element of landlording in my opinion.  As I have mentioned in prior posts, if you properly screen your applicants you will have a better chance of finding a good tenant that pays rent on time and does not abuse your investment property.

Landlords should require each adult person to completely fill out a written rental application.  After you have all this good information about your applicant you now need to confirm that info.  You have not conducted a thorough screening until you have confirmed all of the information that was provided to you in the application. 

Some of that info is more important than others.  In my experience the most important information that you need to confirm about a potential tenant is: (1) the applicant’s current and prior rental history, (2) the applicant’s employment information, and (3) whether or not the applicant has been evicted, had a money judgment taken against them, or been charged/convicted with a crime  — this information, at least for now, can be obtained through CCAP.

This post will focus on item #1 – the applicant’s current and past rental history.  The way to confirm this information is to communicate with both the applicant’s current landlord AND their prior landlord.  You are probably asking yourself, “why is it necessary for me to talk to more than just the applicant’s current landlord?”  The answer is simple — if the applicant is a bad tenant then the current landlord may tell you anything (even a bunch of lies) in order to get rid of their problem tenant.  A less than honest landlord who is trying to unload a bad tenant may neglect to tell you that the tenant has loud parties every weekend, pays rent late every single month, enjoys hoarding pit bulls, and thinks its funny to rev the engine on his crotch rocket when he comes home after bar time.  While it would be nice if all landlords realized that we are all in this together and were truthful to one another, that is not always the case.  If you think that a fellow landlord would not lie to you in order to pass on a nightmare tenant then I want to let you know that I have a new ebook for sale which I just completed writing – and which I am selling for the unreasonable low price of $79.95 – that I guarantee you will teach you how to make a million dollars in 30 days through investing in real estate, even during this recession : )

A prior landlord – one tht is at least one landlord removed from the applicant’s current landlord – has no reason to lie to you.  They no longer have any connection to their old tenant and therefore have no personal interest in whether you accept him or her as your new tenant.  So it is always reccomended that you talk to both the applicant’s current landlord AND their prior landlord.  Now that you know who you should be talking to and why, the next hurdle is determining what questions you should be asking. 

Oftentimes, the current/prior landlord is going to want to confirm that the applicant has authorized you to talk to them about the applicant and his/her information.  This may involve having the applicant call the landlord and verbally telling them that they can talk to you, but more often than not it involves providing the landlord with a written authorization signed by the applicant.  If you are using a good Rental Application then you may already have the authorization language in that document. 

When providing the authorization to the current/prior landlord be careful to only provide the landlord with the authorization language, the applicant’s signature, and the date that it was signed.  While the current or prior landlord most likely already has all of the applicant’s personal information – you do not want to take the chance and divulge personal info that you shouldn’t have.

Prior to calling a landlord you should be aware that sometimes an applicant will list a friend or a family member as their current or prior landlord.  They may do this for any number of reasons such as: (1) they have no prior rental history, (2) they have been evicted by their prior landlord, (3) or they know that they are a less then stellar tenant and that their landlord will not have positive things to say about them.  As I’m sure you can guess, a family member or friend that is standing in for the applicant’s real landlord is going to have nothing but glowing things to say about the applicant. 

In order to avoid having this ruse played on you, you should attempt to confirm that the person you are speaking to is the actual current or prior landlord.  There are several ways you can do this but none of them are foolproof.  One trick is to call the alleged landlord and act as if you are a tenant inquiring about a vacancy.  If the listed “landlord” is a friend or family member they will probably not respond appropriatley to your inquiry.  I have caught one person applying to rent from me by this method.  The person I called responded along the lines of “what are you talking about — you must have the wrong number – I ain’t renting out sh*t.” 

Another option is to check online property data records for the munucipality in which the current/prior landlord’s property is located to see if the name on the property records matches the name of the alleged landlord.  This method does not always work.  If the property is being managed by a management company then the name that the applicant gave you is most likely that of the manager and not the owner.  Additionally, if the property is legally owned by a business entity then there will be no individual person’s name listed on the property data.  Most municipalities have their property data infromation available on the web.  I just googled “property data” and the name of various municipalities in Milwaukee County and came up with 4 sites in just a few seconds — Milwaukee, West Allis, Greenfield, Wauwatosa.  Short of the above methods you will just need to remain attentive during your conversation with the person and see if they “slip up” while talking with you.

Some landlords will be happy to answer your questions orally over the phone while others — especially the larger landlords and management companies — will only respond to your questions in writing.  This means that you will need to send them written questions.  This is normal and should not be a cause for concern.  These companies are merely trying to protect themselves as they will now have proof of the answers they provided you should the tenant accuse them of false statements or sue them for slander.

Whether you are asking your questions verbally or in writing you should insure that you use the same questions for every applicant when talking to their current/prior landlord.  If you fail to do this you may end up inadvertantly violating Fair Housing (discrimination) laws.  To make this simple you should prepare a script of questions that you will use.  I would suggest that you have an experienced landlord, property manager, or landlord-tenant law attorney review your questions prior to using them.

There are no hard and fast rules as to what questions you should ask but any questions posed should include the following:

1.     Confirm that the applicant is/was a current/prior tenant.

2.     Confirm the address of the current/prior rental unit.

3.     Confirm the dates that the applicant resided at the current/prior landlord’s property.

4.     Confirm the rent amount that the applicant is currently paying or paid in the past.

5.     Ask if the applicant has ever been late in paying their monthly rent.  If the answer to this question is “yes” then you should follow up with a few additional questions such as:  how late was the rent paid; was the rent paid late more than one; and how many times was the rent paid late?

6.     Ask if the applicant has ever violated any other terms of the rental agreement (i.e. damage to property, loud parties, unauthorized guests, illegal activity etc).

7.     Ask if the landlord ever had to serve the applicant a 5-Day or 14-Day notice.  If the answer is “yes” then you should attempt to learn additional info about the breach.

8.     Finally, you should ask the landlord if s/he would ever rent to the applicant again.

Remember that your goal in talking to the current/prior landlord and asking them these questions is to try and obtain as much pertinent information as you can about the applicant so that you will be better able to determine whether or not the applicant will be a good tenant for you.

It is important to realize that some landlords may not be comfortable answering these questions – especially the more detailed questions – as they may be fearful of retaliation by the tenant or being sued by them.  This fear is the primary reason why some landlords will only reply to written questions with written answers.  I have personally experienced landlords who would only give me “yes” or “no” answers to my questions and refused to provide any detail.  On the other hand I have talked to more than one landlord that told me way more about an applicant then I would ever want to know (and way more than a landlord should ever knowabout his/her tenant).  You take what you can get! 

Remember that if a landlord is unwilling to verify the applicant’s information then you have a valid and legal reason to deny housing to that applicant, assuming that verification of information contained in the application is part of your written screening criteria.

I hope that it goes without saying — although I will say it anyway – that during this “vetting” process you should only ask relevant and non-discriminatory questions.  If you stick to asking questions about the topics listed above you should be OK.