On September 12, 2011, on behalf of the AASEW, I traveled to Madison to meet with the Wisconsin Rental Housing Coalition, several legislators’ aides, and an attorney from the Legislative Reference Bureau to assist in the review of and drafting of a new piece of legislation that will greatly affect residential landlords.
Not yet a bill, this proposed legislation is referred to as LRB-2098/1 or informally as the “Crime-Free Lease bill.” Initiated by fellow landlord and South Milwaukee Police Officer Brian Fleming, this legislation if passed, will change current Wisconsin law to allow a landlord to terminate the tenancy of any tenant (even those under a lease for term) that engages in criminal activity in their rental unit or on the rental property. A new type of 5 day notice would be created under this legislation which would not allow the tenant the opportunity to cure the breach and stay. It would basically be a “1 strike” law similar to what is in place in federal Section 8 site-based housing.
Criminal activity under the proposed legislation would be defined as any act or behavior that is punishable in Wisconsin by a fine or period of imprisonment or that is a violation of a municipal ordinance.
If the tenant fails to vacate the unit after being served with this new 5 day notice, the landlord would still be required to prove the criminal activity in eviction court.
The impetus for this legislation was the National Crime Free Lease Addendum that has been adopted and used in many counties outside of Wisconsin. Under this initiative, a tenant agrees not to engage in criminal activity on the rental property — or allow any of their guests to do the same — and signs a contract with the landlord to that effect. If the tenant or the tenant’s guests engage in the prohibited criminal activity, they agree to vacate the property upon notice by the landlord.
Current law in Wisconsin conflicts with the Crime Free Lease Addendum as tenants under a lease for a specific term, must be afforded the opportunity to correct the breach and remain a tenant the first time that they violate their lease — even if that violation is a crime.
Sec 704.17(2)(b) of the Wisconsin Statutes, allows a tenant under a lease who engages in criminal activity, to remain a tenant as long as s/he ceases the criminal activity within 5 days of being served the notice of breach. Thus, a landlord can be stuck with a tenant that he knows engages in criminal behavior until that tenant commits a second crime and can be served with a 14 day notice (which does not afford the tenant the opportunity to “cure” the breach and remain a tenant).
This puts Wisconsin landlords in a very difficult position and opens them up to liability. It also prevents a landlord from protecting his/her other tenants from the tenant that is engaging in criminal activity.
Once the bill is officially introduced and has obtained co-sponsors I will let you know so that you can begin calling and writing your state representatives to encourage them to vote in favor of this very important legislation.