It was an interesting weekend for me. It was my first “Leadership Day” as president of the Wisconsin Apartment Association, a trade industry group that is made of up investment property owners all over the state.
Historically, Leadership Day has been a weekend conference where the “leadership” of the association has gotten together and had speakers or done other activities to help us become better leaders. Attendees would include members of the Board of Directors of the WAA, as well as those in leadership positions of our various local affiliates.
However, just because we have always done something a certain way has never been a good enough justification for me that is the way something should be done. I am open to new ideas and trying different things. You will never know if trying something completely different is a good or bad idea until you actually try it. So, I decided to do leadership day differently. Instead of the same old theme of topics to help make us more effective leaders, I invited anyone who wanted to come and the main topic would be the committee structure of our mostly volunteer organization.
I wanted the members to give the leadership direction. This is, after all, their association and in order to most effectively serve them as president, I need to know what is important to them. What do they think we do really well, what do they think are areas that we have room for improvement. We held it in La Crosse because that is where our annual Educational Conference and Trade Show is going to be later this year in October, so it will also provide those who attended a preview of our venue and what the La Crosse area has to offer.
Although it was not very well attended (just over a dozen members came and participated), I am still calling the WAA Leadership Day 2010 a great success; mainly because of the number of great ideas and suggestions. Many are just small improvements that we can do, but two of them are HUGE ideas that change the essence of what we do and how we do it. These are ideas that I will be bringing to our Board of Directors at our April meeting.
The idea I am most excited about has to do with education that WAA offers its members. A large part of the mission of the Wisconsin Apartment Association is to educate investment property owners… landlords. And, we do a pretty good job of that with a selection of nearly 20 different courses on everything from landlord-tenant law to fair housing to proper screening techniques to lead-based paint issues to general maintenance classes. In addition, our annual conference has a number of other classes given by speakers in many different topics.
However, a big idea that came out at Leadership Day comes into the essence of what it means to be a member of the Wisconsin Apartment Association. How is a landlord who is a WAA member different from any other landlord? Yes, the WAA landlord has made an additional investment, depending on the local this could be well over $200 per year. Yes, the WAA landlord gets a monthly magazine from the WAA and a newsletter from their local association. Yes, the WAA landlord has more chances to interact with their peers through local and state association functions. But… really… what makes a WAA landlord “better”? Why should a tenant rent from me because I am a WAA landlord instead of someone else who is not a member of our association?
Our “focus group” that was discussing education came up with a great idea to not only help answer those questions, but also gets right to our mission. I stated that the WAA (through its educational foundation, Rental Housing Resources), has about 20 different classes that it can offer. However, those classes are not free. Much time and research and work was done to create these copyrighted classes, plus instructors had to be trained and have to take time out of their schedule to go and teach these classes, that are designed to last about 3 hours each. Therefore, although these classes exist, they are only “available” if a group contracts with us to provide a specific class.
Two of these classes get to the core of what every landlord should know. We have what we call our “101” and “102” classes. “101” covers Wisconsin’s statutory landlord-tenant law, WI SS 704. “102” covers the administrative rules that cover residential rentals, ATCP 134. Although there are many other laws that landlords need to follow, if you have a good understanding of WI SS 704 and ATCP 134, easily 90% to 95% of issues that come up fall under these areas. These laws cover things like security deposit withholdings, prohibited lease provisions and prohibited rental practices, maintenance requirements, and the specific notices needed when there is a breach of lease and how those notices are to be delivered. Good Stuff! The kind of stuff that every landlord really not only should know – BUT NEEDS TO KNOW!!
So… this radical proposal?? Make it a REQUIREMENT to be a member of the Wisconsin Apartment Association to have taken the 101 and 102 classes. This also will help set landlords who are WAA members apart. If a tenant rents from a landlord who is a member of the WAA, that tenant then KNOWS that their landlord has taken classes and understands the rules that affect rental housing here in Wisconsin.
This means that how these two courses are offered needs to change. We don’t want to mimic the government and provide “unfunded mandates.” We don’t want the locals to be required to have their members have this training and now the locals have to pay to bring these classes to their area.
The proposal would be for us, as a state association, to provide these classes. The WAA has divided the state into 5 geographic regions. And the WAA would offer the 101/102 class at least twice a year in each region, so each year there would be 10 opportunities for members to get this training. And, this would be a benefit of membership. Members would be required to attend these classes, and therefore would not have to pay to take these classes, this would be included in their membership dues.
This may also act as a recruitment tool. One of the missions of the WAA is to provide education to landlords, not just our members. So, when we offer these 10 classes all over the state each year, any landlord would be able to attend. We would need to figure out a cost for non-member attendees, but there are a couple of details we would work out.
Like I said, a couple of really good, “big picture” ideas came out of our meetings on Saturday, but this one alone made our “Leadership Day” a success. I am excited to present this to our board and hope that we can turn this suggestion into reality.