What a week!! Yes, I know I say that a lot… but this time I really mean it. It has been a busy week, but then they all are. But it has been educational and exciting as well.
First let’s talk about the ‘Chucks. They control their own destiny for their place in the play-offs next week. They won their 5th straight last night in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the 10th inning, 3-2. La Crosse beat Madison. This gives the Woodchucks a one game lead over Madison, La Crosse and Green Bay in the 4-way battle for that play-off spot. The ‘Chucks have 5 games left, all at home. Two more against the Waterloo Bucks tonight and tomorrow and the season will be decided with a 3-game series against La Crosse on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
I did start off the ‘Chucks season talking about some of the changes. I admitted in that post that the new logo and the new uniforms would probably grow on me. The uniforms have. I also complained about Woody’s off-season exercise regime. However, Woody has been more active and last night, between innings late in the game, he was on the field doing his famous worm dance move for the first time this season.
The next thing that really made this week one for the books was the realization that my opinion counts. That whether people agree with me or disagree with me, there are those of you out there that really want to know what I think about various issues. I am flattered… I really and truly am.
This weekend I received a telephone call from a TV producer in Milwaukee who is working with some of the larger media markets to put together focus groups for the governor’s race as well as the US Senate race, and I was invited to participate with the Wausau group. Then I received a mailing from the Village of Weston. They have sent surveys out to 36 people as a type of focus group to determine what the Village has done well, where there is room for improvement, and what should be some of their short term and long term priorities. You may have noticed that for the longest time I had stayed away from commenting on the City/County HR Department merger. But after having three different people ask me what are my thoughts, I did post article comments and even do a blog entry. My blog entry reporting on the Exhibitour wine decision didn’t make it to my blog because Citizen Wausau wanted it as a front page submission, and I am honored anytime I write something when it makes it to the front page. I have been getting some positive feedback on the “Readers React” things I have written for the Daily Herald that show up in Sundays’ papers. And, icing on the cake, was the invitation to participate in Wausau’s Housing Task Force, which had its second meeting since the hearings earlier this week.
Before heading to tonight’s Woodchucks game, I will be doing the Dr. Rent Radio Show on WNRB-LP, 93.3 FM, from 5 to 6 PM.
We have a few interesting questions. A tenant called me to ask if they were late in rent, how long do they have to move if the landlord tells them to move? The same tenant’s landlord wanted to enter the property to show it with a few hours notice, was this okay? Finally, a question that didn’t come to me, but was asked of someone else who is well versed in Landlord-Tenant law that I thought was worthy of addressing on the show; a tenant wanted to plant a flower garden in their yard and the landlord is saying no… what is the tenant’s recourse?
As for the main show topic, last week we explained how the Wausau Housing Task Force has been re-formed since the three public listening sessions. This new make up of the Task Force didn’t make it to Tuesday’s City Council agenda, so we are still not “official.” The task force now includes (pending approval), a home owner who testified at the public hearings, an attorney who also testified at one of the hearings who often represents tenants (and is a tenant herself), and a local outspoken landlord with his own blog and radio program. In its two first meetings, we looked at the transcripts of all the testimony and broke the issues that came up into some main categories of topics that this Task Force should be addressing.
New Registered Agent Rule: Right now, the new ordinance requires all rental properties to have a registered agent as a point-of-contact for the inspections department. The agent needs to be a corporate entity with a full-time staffed office within the City of Wausau, or an individual within Marathon County. The Registered Agent rule has merit in concept, but the geographic restrictions may be causing undo hardship. The Task Force will look at the possibility of expanding the geographic area where the Registered Agent can be located.
Police Department and Enforcement Issues: The Task Force will have separate meetings with the police department to discuss various comments made at the hearings about enforcement and communication to come up with possible solutions to address the criminal end of the blight issues.
Defining Landlord/Tenant Responsibilities: This was a recurring theme. When should the inspections department go after the property owner, and when would it be more appropriate for them to more aggressively pursue compliance from the occupant (tenant)? Not only does the Task Force need to come up with recommendations as to when which party is responsible, but what changes will be needed in the current processes to handle this.
Difficulty of Evictions: Although sometimes removing problem tenants can take a while because of how our landlord-tenant laws work, these are mostly state laws and not something our Task Force can really do much about. The biggest thing that the Task Force can do is be on the look out for legislation that would make eviction a better tool in blight control, and having the City’s legislative committee support those proposals.
Assessments for Repairs: Something that came up was that the City has a dis-incentive for making repairs to properties. Is replacing siding a repair that is done to maintain a property’s value? Or, is replacing siding an improvement that should flag the property for reassessment and increased property taxes? The Task Force will be meeting with the assessment department to learn what rules they must follow and whether anything can be done to address this issue.
Homeowner/Landlord/Tenant Relationship: There was testimony at the hearings that landlords should make an effort to introduce themselves and their tenants to neighbors. This is not something that Task Force can really address, but this is something that can be encouraged through a grass roots effort with local neighborhood groups and the local Apartment Association. Also, there has been talk that there is a perception that in at least one of the neighborhood groups, landlord/tenants are not really made to feel welcome and it is more of a home-owners club. That is not the intent of these groups, and the Task Force needs to determine if this perception can be backed up in reality; and if it is true, we need to help these groups embrace their diversity.
Blight Defined – This is a big issue… what is blight? For some people, housing that doesn’t meet code and crime infested areas are blight. In other neighborhoods, putting your trash out one day early or driving in an alley is blight.
Drugs – Drugs and drug enforcement is its own, stand-alone issue.
Landlord Licensing – Yes, my old nemesis, licensing is still on the table, but the Task Force will be re-visiting the issue. Whatever action the Task Force takes to address issues with bad landlords, bad tenants and bad homeowners, these actions need to be taken in such a way that they do not punish those landlords, tenants and homeowners who are not a part of the problem.
The biggest thing is that we all accept the fact that blight is not a problem that happened over night, it is years (if not decades) in the making. As such, the problem will not be fixed overnight. This will require time, and desire, and cooperation.
A brief discussion of the Task Force was the main topic last week. I will go into more detail on these areas of focus I just discussed here as the main topic for tonight’s show.
We also had some questions last week. The question of untenantability is one I won’t get into on my blog. I feel that Attorney Tristan Pettit from Milwaukee does a great job of covering this issue in depth on his blog on his July 28th entry, his blog can be found at http://petriestocking.com/blog/.
Next, when does the deposit need to be returned if the tenant moves out before the end of their lease? The deposit gets returned within 21 days of “surrender” (if the deposit is not returned in full, there needs to be an itemized statement indicating what was withheld from the deposit and why). If the tenant vacates before the end of the lease, they need to give the landlord notice IN WRITING that they have VACATED. Once the landlord receives this written notice that the tenant is out, that is when to start counting out the 21 days. If the tenant leaves early but there is no written notice, the 21 days starts at the end of the lease. (If the tenant’s right to be in the property had ended, because of being given a 5-Day or 14-Day notice, then the 21 days start when the landlord knew they were out.)
A new landlord knew they needed an application and a lease, but are there any other forms that are needed? If the property was built before 1978, there also needs to be a lead based paint disclosure and EPA Pamphlet. If there are specific rules the landlord wants the tenant to follow, these should also be established in writing. If those rules impact the landlord’s access to the property, what can be taken out of a deposit, or create lien holder rights, then those need to be part of a form labeled “Non-Standard Rental Provisions.” Although a move-in check list is not required to be given to the tenant as the tenant can create their own by writing down things they find in the unit, it is a good idea to make the extra effort to supply your tenant with one.
Finally, what type of references should a landlord check? There are a number of things that you can do. Credit reports probably provide the most information. It is also a good idea to verify their income. You cannot discriminate on legal source of income, however amount of income and stability of income are fair game (in most of the state anyway). Checking the criminal history on CCAP is also not a bad idea. However, make sure you know what you are looking at. Pending charges that have not been concluded cannot be taken into consideration. Also, charges that have been dismissed also cannot be considered. For me personally, the housing reference is the single most important thing you can verify. However, no matter which of these items you decide to check, make sure that you follow the same procedure for all applicants and hold all applicants to the same standards.
I apologize for the length of this blog entry, but some time it is just surprising what we can all fit into a 1 hour radio program. If you don’t believe me, tune in at 5 PM. Until then, HAPPY RENTING!!! (and…. GO ‘CHUCKS!!!)