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Thursday, September 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 51.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Madison city committee plans for more state-imposed restrictions on tenant protections
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Resnick: "Essentially the authors of the bill are making a statement that local control is not a high priority for them."
Resnick: "Essentially the authors of the bill are making a statement that local control is not a high priority for them."

A new bill that would strip even more tenant protections from Madison's housing ordinances has one city committee already planning how to tackle the fallout should it become law.

Supporters say the bill, AB 183, approved June 6 by the Wisconsin Assembly, would further standardize landlord and housing practices throughout the state, building off legislation passed in 2011. In practice, they also remove protections Madison has put in place to protect tenants.

The 2011 law (originally AB 155), for instance, allows Madison landlords to use prospective tenants' income levels, conviction records and employment history to deny leases. Before passage of the state law, landlords were only allowed to deny leases based on housing histories.

The new bill, according to the Wisconsin Legislative Council, makes numerous changes to landlord-tenant law and eviction actions in small claims court.

At a June 20 meeting of the city's Tenant and Landlord Issues Committee, mayoral aide Nicholas Zavos said landlords would no longer be required to disclose any information to the city or to tenants that is not required by state or federal law. This would affect the city's emergency contact management system, since the city now requires landlords to provide emergency contact information in case there is an incident where the police or fire departments need immediate access to a landlord.

Additionally, the city would no longer be able to directly deliver a booklet it created to inform both landlords and tenants about local and state law regarding landlord practices and to answer various frequently asked questions.

Because of this, the committee plans to create a new pamphlet detailing the new laws and "make it so available that everyone is aware of it," according to committee chair Curtis Brink.

"We may not be able to demand everybody to see it, but [the committee] will make sure [the information] gets out to people," Brink said.

Ald. Scott Resnick, a member of the committee, said Madison, as well as the city of Milwaukee, has more of these ordinances in place than most other Wisconsin cities because it has issues relating to tenants that smaller communities "simply don't have."

"These are protections that have been written over the course of the past couple of decades, often in response to a significant problem in the housing market," Resnick said. "Essentially the authors of the bill are making a statement that local control is not a high priority for them."

Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center and a blogger at Forward Lookout, identified other provisions in the proposed legislation that would impact renters.

The new bill, she said, would allow landlords to tow vehicles from their properties without Madison Police Department intervention, and would no longer require the Dane County Sheriff's Office to mediate conflicts between tenants and landlords when there is an eviction.

According to Konkel, these aspects of the bill would place a burden on the police department, which she said would receive phone calls from confused citizens about their "stolen" vehicles as well as be forced to handle disputes that rise between tenants and landlords during or after an eviction.

"Evictions are a highly emotional time for everyone involved," Konkel said. "The landlord wants their property back, the tenant is losing their home. There's no one to mediate or calm things down or deescalate things."

"If there's more and more violence related to evictions, police will end up becoming the first line of defense," she added.

The bill is now pending in the Wisconsin Senate's Committee on Insurance and Housing.

Zavos told the committee he has lobbied senators, including bill co-sponsor Sen. Frank Lasee (R-DePere), but so far has not had any luck changing their minds.

Brink, however, was still hopeful.

"Some would say there was a tendency we had too many ordinances, but it doesn't mean you have to take everything away," Brink said. "It... [should be] a balancing act."

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