Court Cases and Listening Sessions

First of all, both Mrs. Rent and I would like to thank everyone for their comments, thoughts, and cards after the loss of Matty last week. It meant a great deal to both of us.

I am trying to get back to my normal routine, which has not been that easy with the rain. I know we need the rain, but trying to get all of my mowing done around Mother Nature’s schedule (instead of when it works for me) is a massive pain. Much is going on in Dr. Rent’s world as the meetings of the Housing Code Task Force continue, two down and one to go this coming Monday (6 PM on Monday, June 21st, in Council Chambers at City Hall, 407 Grant Street). I am also helping Racine’s apartment association develop a class for landlords that they will be presenting together with the Racine Police Dept. Have I mentioned how great it is when property owners and city government work TOGETHER on things…???

Anywho… on with the show. I am back on the air tonight from 5-6 PM on WNRB-LP, 93.3 FM here in the Wausau area with another installment of the Dr. Rent Radio Show.

No real questions have come up in the last week, but there are a few minor things I want to discuss before getting to my main topic of the day. During the Task Force listening sessions, there have been comments made from property owners indicating they are not allowed to discriminate against tenants. This statement is both true and false. At the first hearing, I was asked to return to the mic to explain those comments, so I figured I would spend some time on the air also explaining them.

At Tuesday’s Plan Commission meeting, the CDA got approval to rezone a parcel from R-2 to UDD to construct a 6-unit apartment on the corner of Fulton and 7th St. I will offer some of my thoughts on this particular project… both the pro’s and the cons.

My main topic of the show will be similar to the last few weeks, I am staying with the theme of these meetings that the City of Wausau Housing Task Force have been having. Two weeks ago, I talked about what the Task Force is, how it was created, and what its recommendations were. Last week, I went through many of the comments made at the first hearing. This week, I will go through the comments made at Monday’s hearing. Once all three hearings are complete, I will do a blog post where I summarize all of the comments made (including my own). It will be interesting to see in that summary how my comments (based on notes taken during the meeting) will compare to the actual official notes from the meeting (based off of recordings of the testimony).

Last week, in addition to the Task Force, we talked about two recent Wisconsin court cases that dealt with landlord-tenant issues. In one, the tenant lost a case that I can’t believe was even brought. In the other, the landlord lost a case that at first glance seems unfair, but when you look into the details of the case, make a great deal of sense.

In the first case, a landlord was evicting a tenant because the tenant was not paying the electric bill and because of that from time to time the electricity was turned off by the power company. Having no electricity often creates potential safety issues, and becase of these issues (and this was a breach of lease), the landlord decided to evict. The tenant fought the eviction action indicating that he was disabled, and therefore not able to earn enough money to pay the electric bill; and because he was disabled, the landlord had to make a “reasonable accommodation” to this issue.

WHAT? Okay… let’s talk about reasonable accommodations. Property owners cannot discriminate against someone because of some kind of handicap or disability. If some type of modification is needed to accommodate a disability, and the modification is “reasonable,” the landlord MUST allow it. Some examples of reasonable accommodations that I have made in the past include allowing a service animal in a no pet building, installing grab bars in a bathroom, and changing what parking stall is assigned to what apartment so the person with the disability was the closest to the building’s entrance. Although the law says that property owner must ALLOW reasonable accommodations, the law indicates that the property owner has no obligation to pay for the accommodations, the cost of the accommodation is bore by the person needing it.

So in this case, I am trying to understand what possible reasonable accommodation the landlord could have made. Paying that electric bill for the tenant would be an accommodation, but would it be “reasonable”? – and it would defeat the entire concept of the person needing the accommodation paying for the accommodation.

The second case was a Brown County case where a Section 8 tenant was in a 1-year lease. That lease ended and when the housing unit was inspected, it didn’t meet Section 8’s guidelines. Section 8 won’t pay if the unit doesn’t pass inspection. The tenant continued to live there and a few months later, the property did pass inspection and Section 8 payments started again. The landlord sued the tenant for payment of those couple of months where Section 8 did not pay.

This case, on the surface, makes sense and the landlord should win. That is what Brown County Court decided. But when you take a closer look at the contracts, there is some interesting language and the Court of Appeals changed the decision based on contract law.

There were a few facts that no one disagreed with. 1) The Section 8 lease ran for a 1 year term, the same term as the original lease. 2) The landlord can’t sue the tenant when Section 8 doesn’t pay the rent. 3) If there is a conflict between the underlying lease and the Section 8 agreement, the Section 8 agreement rules.

The landlord’s argument was the Section 8 lease ended. The underlying lease had an automatic renewal and renewed on a month to month basis. The Section 8 lease didn’t go back into effect until the unit passed inspection. So, for that gap, only the underlying rental agreement applied which indicated that the tenant is responsible for rent. However, the Section 8 agreement says that in addition matching the term of the underlying lease, it also matches any renewals thereof. So, when the lease auto-renewed, the Section 8 contract ALSO auto-renewed and was still in effect. So, the Section 8 contract said tenant is not responsible for rent, Section 8 is… and that trumps the lease. So, the landlord needs to get rent from Section 8. And of course, the Section 8 contract also says the landlord doesn’t get any rent from Section 8 if it doesn’t pass inspection.

This was the right decision, and not just because it is what the contract says. I have some Section 8 tenants and those units get inspected annually. The Section 8 inspection is not that big of a deal. If the unit meets housing codes, it will pass. That means if this unit had failed multiple Section 8 inspections, there were housing code issues. I have no problem if a landlord is told by a court they can’t collect rent on a unit that was not “safe”.

Well.. the sun is finally out. I got most of my mowing done but ran out of string in my weed whacker yesterday. I reloaded the spool and suppose I should finish this up and get whacking those weeds.

Until I see you on the radio… HAPPY RENTING!


About drrent

Wausau, Wisconsin Landlord, past president of the Wisconsin Apartment Association, Host of the Dr Rent Radio Show on WNRB-LP, 93.3 FM, Wausau, WI
This entry was posted in Housing Task Force, Matty, Reasonable Accomodation, Section 8, WNRB and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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