(NOTE: Normally I prefer to have my Dr Rent Show preview blog entry out first thing Thursday morning… but it is “that time of the month” so I apologize how late it is.)
School has started again. I know that for a number of reasons. First, my trek down Franklin Hill in the morning takes a little longer because I somehow manage to time my leaving for work with the School Bus picking up students. Second, next week Junior Achievement starts. For the last 10 years, I volunteer in the Wausau School District to teach Entrepreneurship to 8th graders. Finally, my own classes will start again soon. This year I will be doing three classes for the UWMC continuing education office: my 4-week course on landlord-tenant law, a one-night course on evictions (I will actually give that same class two different times), and then a one-night refresher class that just covers changes in the laws since the last time I did the 4-week class.
Starting with tonight’s Dr. Rent Radio Show on WNRB-LP (93.3 FM, starting at 5 PM), I will let people know about those UW classes, the class times and dates, etc. Also, on tonight’s show we will cover a question about if a landlord can withhold the deposit when a tenant dies when there are still a few months left on the lease. Another question that came from a new tenant of mine had to do with earnest money. They put money down with an application on a different place, but changed their mind before they were approved. The landlord returned most of the money; however, per the application, $100 of it the landlord kept. Can they do that??
The main show topic tonight will be an in-depth look at the Wisconsin Apartment Association Conference and Trade Show coming up in early October in Neenah. We will go over what classes are being offered and little bit about the various instructors and other offerings.
Last week’s Dr. Rent show, I thought, was one of the more informative ones I have done in recent history. The first thing we discussed was exactly how the Section 8 program works. I could spend an entire blog entry just on the Section 8 program. In a nutshell, Section 8 allows people on very low income to rent “market rate” apartments. After applying and qualifying, they are given a voucher through the local housing authority (for Marathon County, that is Wausau’s Community Development Authority office at the 550 E. Thomas Street office, NOT at City Hall). The way the voucher works, is they find a unit (with certain reasonable rent restrictions) that is up to code and has a landlord willing to work with the Section 8 program (it is a voluntary program, or at least it is supposed to be). The low income person then pays to the landlord, about 30% of their income in rent. The remaining rent due is paid by the Housing Authority.
The Section 8 program is nice because it allows for low income individuals to live in market rate housing developments. At a meeting I was at (which was the main topic of last week’s show), it was stated there is a huge need for 2 bedroom apartments for low income families. However, I made it clear that did not mean that more low income housing units need to be built. There is an over-abundant supply of market-rate 2 bedroom housing units. The Section 8 program would solve both problems allowing people on low income who need the 2 Bedrooms to rent the 2 Bedroom units already out there.
The problem is funding. Over the past few years, government policy at the state and federal level has been “Home Ownership at Any Cost.” And, to pay for some of these home ownership incentives (that have led directly to the current housing/foreclosure crisis), they have cut funds from other housing programs, like Section 8. Currently, the CDA is allotted 400 Section 8 vouchers from the federal government, but only has the funding to issue 300 of them. They also have 30 vouchers issued by the state through WHEDA. However, there are 490 families on the waiting list and as of August, no one had been able to come off the waiting list since February.
THAT’S A PROBLEM!
Last week we also had two questions with real easy answers from two tenants. If someone owns a mobile home but rents a lot, does their landlord still have to follow the rules that apply to apartments and such? Yes, mobile home lot rents fall under the “Ag Rules.” (ATCP 134.02 )
I also got a question from a tenant where the water is included in the rent, is it legal for the landlord to turn off the water if the rent is late? No! If the tenant is in breach of the lease, the landlord can only evict the tenant after following certain steps; which includes providing proper written notice and going through court (this will be covered in my UWMC class on evictions). Limiting access to things that the landlord is responsible to provide (such as turning off the water) is considered a “constructive eviction” under the law and is no different than changing the locks on a tenant. A landlord simply can’t do that without a court order.
If a landlord provides the water, but as a separate charge, my answer may change a little bit. In that case, the landlord probably becomes a “utility provider” and turning off service for non-payment would need to be done in accordance with the laws that regulate utility providers instead of the laws that regulate landlords, and those laws have a few less hoops to jump through. However, without looking up those laws, there is still going to be a requirement for notice, a time given to cure after notice, and there are probably certain restrictions. A landlord can never just “turn it off” as soon as the payment is late.
As mentioned in my comments on the Section 8 program, the main show discussed a focus-group meeting I participated in to help Anne Werth and the Wausau Community Development Department work on their 5-Year Consolidated Plan. (They are required to have such a plan for much of the federal and state funding they receive). They met with a number of focus groups and had discussions on Wausau Area issues with homelessness, youth, healthcare, housing, community or ethnic-specific organizations, and area funders.
I was a part of the Housing focus group. I was the only “for profit” housing provider there. Others there were members of the local Housing Authority and representatives from Catholic Charities, the Neighbor’s Place, the United Way, and other housing-related groups.
Our group came up with 4 main needs that Wausau has. First, a need for more rental units available to those with very limited income (which goes back to the Section 8 comments I made earlier). There is also a need for Foreclosure Prevention. A part of that would be education and awareness, which feeds into the third main need we identified as a need for Financial Literacy including classes and counseling. The final main need we identified was a need for Permanent Housing for Persons with Addictions, which includes a better offender re-entry program for those re-entering society after incarceration.
Although those were the four most urgent needs our group identified, we had identified other needs as well, including: the fact that utility costs are becoming less and less affordable; there is no one local renter’s advocacy group, centralized a place to refer a renter when they are having issues with their landlord; there is a need keep people mobile to include making mass transit available to when and where people need it; the economy is making it harder not only for people to get off waiting lists such as the Section 8 list, but it is harder for people to even get on those waiting lists because of the “black marks” they may have against them; there is a “red tape” problem when trying to help out people who are in older properties, because often to quality for a grant program to fix a minor problem, the entire house will need to be brought to code, which could cost more than the house is worth; and funds from programs that offer one-time assistance from agencies such as CAP, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, etc are running out.
So, you can see, last weeks Dr Rent Radio Show was one for the books with lots of great information. I will try, in the next week or two, to do a more in-depth blog entry on the Section 8 program. So, until tonight’s show at 5 PM, HAPPY RENTING!