It seems like lately, the number of bad days I have been having severely outnumber the number of good days. However, as president of the Wisconsin Apartment Association, I get to speak with landlords all over the state and yesterday, I had a long discussion with a Kenosha-area landlord that makes my issues with the City of Wausau seem trivial.
As a landlord, unless you live right next door to a property, you really don’t know what goes on there. Not knowing just on its own doesn’t make you a non-caring “absentee” landlord. There is only so much you can do. It is unfair to drop in on a tenant to check up on them on a regular basis. It is illegal to check on them without advance notice (except in very specific instances). If the rent is paid every month on time, and you drive by the property on a regular basis and it appears well kept, if there have been no calls of problems from neighbors, property inspectors, or the police; why should the landlord think that there are any problems at a rental?
The landlord in question is anything but an “absentee” landlord. He lives in the same county as his rental properties. He does proper underwriting and screening. He understands and follows Wisconsin landlord-tenant law. He is active in his local apartment association and works closely with city and police leaders to help with landlord-tenant issues. This is a landlord who is very active in his community.
So.. imagine if you will the situation. The tenant is allowed to have pets per the lease and does have two dogs. However, based on neighbor complaints to law enforcement the dogs are taken away from the tenant due to neglect. The tenant is issued municipal citations because of the care (or lack of) the dogs are given. The dogs are turned over to the local animal shelter. The tenant fights to get his dogs back and takes his case to municipal court. The tenant does all he can to get the animals back but it is determined it is in the best interest of the animals to adopt them out to new homes and that is what was done by the animal shelter.
At NO POINT in the process is the landlord informed of what is going on. The tenant never tells the landlord that he lost custody of the dogs. No neighbor informed the landlord of the problem with this tenant. Local law enforcement never informed the landlord of the animals being kept in sub-standard conditions or the tenant being cited. The landlord was never told about the legal battle over whether or not custody of the animals should go back to the tenant or not.
One question is, should the landlord have been informed? This is a tenant problem, and the local police and local government took up the problem with the person causing the problem. On the other hand, if the landlord was aware of what was going on, there are steps the landlord could have taken to help law enforcement and city government solve this problem, more quickly with significantly less expense.
However, now that this entire drama with the tenant and his two dogs is done and over, the landlord now received a bill for more than $5,000. What is this bill for? It is from the local government to recoup the costs that it incurred in housing the dogs at the animal shelter, the treatment the dogs received, and the legal fees incurred in the fight with the tenant.
It is one thing when a tenant is a problem, the landlord knows the tenant is a problem, the city or the police contact the landlord and the landlord refuses to do anything about the problem. But in this case, the first the landlord even heard about this is when they get the large bill in the mail.
This is not fiction. This is happening right now in the Village of Pleasant Prairie, a “suburb” of Kenosha.
Like I said, this is not what one would consider an “absentee” landlord. He has spent years working closely with leaders and the police department in the City of Kenosha. Kenosha is looking at a landlord registration system similar to the one Wausau put in recently. However, instead of Kenosha just establishing a policy that actually causes more issues than it solves, they are working with property owners to ensure this registration system makes sense and will be effective. I have even helped by pointing out some of the flaws in the Wausau ordinance that Kenosha should avoid.
As much as Kenosha is willing to work with rental property owners, the Village of Pleasant Prairie sees rentals as an evil that they would rather not have and anything that happens in a rental is instantly the fault of the landlord.
The landlord is hoping to work with the Village to make this $5,000+ bill go away to save the Village on legal fees. If taken to court, the landlord feels that the Village was negligent because they provided zero notice to the property owner and allowed the property owner no chance to mitigate these thousands of dollars of damages. It will be interesting to see what happens in this case.
In the mean time, this property owner is warning other landlords who own rentals in Pleasant Prairie to be extremely cautious in allow tenants to have pets. A village policy, a policy that is probably illegal, will now impact responsible pet owners who choose to rent – the Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again.