Fine the Landlord? Or… Fine the Tenant?

Can you tell it is the first week of the month? Last week I did three blog entries in a row in three days… and now we have gone a week since the last one. In addition to normal month end activities, this last weekend was an exciting one. The Kenosha Police Department has been working with the Kenosha Landlord Association putting together an 8-hour landlord educational program. The police dept got a grant to offer this course 18 times to classes of 25 people each, and this last Saturday was the first time it was offered. I helped them write the portion of the class that covered basic landlord-tenant law, screening and fair housing and was also asked to present those classes. This level of cooperation between the police department and properties owners is… well.. I can’t say enough. We need more of this all over the state.

However, my Thursday morning blog posts are Dr. Rent Radio Show previews. The Dr. Rent Show can be heard on WNRB-LP, 93.3 FM in the Wausau area from 5 to 6 PM.

This week, we are covering questions that have come up. We didn’t get through all of the questions last week, so we will start with those we didn’t get to. We will start with covering the rights of a tenant when the landlord faces foreclosure. We will next cover how to terminate a lease because of noise complaints. We then have a couple of questions on when to use 5-Day and 14-Day notices and also when you can actually file the eviction action.

A few new questions came up which will get added to this list. If your tenant is a student, is there any reason why you should refuse payment of the rent from a parent? If you have a month-to-month agreement, can you change the rules and polices? Someone asked a question on my CW blog about army worms in the yard, is this a landlord issue or a tenant one? Finally, a landlord has multiple tenants on a lease, but is only having a problem with one of them. Can the landlord evict just the problem person or do all tenants have to be listed on the eviction filing?

Last week we started the show talking about Wausau’s Housing Task Force. After spending the first couple of meetings going over all of the testimony from the three public hearings, we took the issues that were brought up and separated them into a number of areas to be addressed separately. The first issue that the Task Force started looking at our last meeting was defining landlord and tenant responsibilities. Normally, the City will address a problem with the property owner, however are there times when the City should also include the tenant? It is not the intent of the Task Force to dictate to landlords what their contract terms should be. It is also not the intent to let landlords off the hook.

To make this issue easier, we decided to separate residential rentals into two categories: single family/duplex and all others (multi-family). Empirical evidence shows that the vast majority of problems are from single family and duplex rentals, so that is where we are going to focus our attention for now. Right now, we are just coming up with suggestions and this task force cannot make decisions, we can only make recommendations. Some of the items where the group concurred that the City should be more aggressive with the occupants of the property include pet problems and putting garbage in proper containers and following ordinances about storage of the containers and when to get those containers to the curb and back. Living condition/cleanliness also tends to be an occupant issue. Property owners are responsible for structural issues. They are also responsible for supplying the garbage containers for the tenant’s to use. Lawn care could go either way depending on how it is written up on the lease. A good policy would be to contact the landlord, but also let the landlord know that if lawn care is a tenant issue, provide the City with the tenant contact information and a copy of the lease where it establishes lawn care as a tenant problem.

Again, I am not saying this is what the City is going to start doing. These were some ideas the Task Force came up with and when we meet again the evening of September 7th, we will continue these discussions. If the Task Force decides these are the way the City should proceed, we can then recommend it to Public Health and Safety Committee.

We also had time on last weeks radio show for a couple of my long list of questions. The first was a smoking ban established by a landlord. The landlord dictated no smoking in the units, in the common areas, or on the grounds. This restriction is becoming more and more common. However, the question had to do with the sidewalk and street in front of the rental, the landlord also said there could be no smoking there. Can they do that? Well, is if the street and sidewalk are private and on private property, it falls within the “grounds” provision. However, if it is a public sidewalk and street, all in the public right of way, I personally don’t understand how a landlord can dictate a rule to a tenant for the tenant to follow when they are off the premises. It would be like telling the tenant they can’t smoke when they are at the neighbors. My personal opinion (afterall, I am not a lawyer), is that the landlord cannot regulate a tenant smoking when they are off the property.

Two questions came from the Central Wisconsin Apartment Association in Stevens Point. These were just policy questions, and were asked of all members for their thoughts. The first was tenant painting. The consensus was that allowing tenants to paint is a bad idea. The problem is that often they can cause more damage than improvements. I have personally seen tenants get paint on the wood trim, the carpets, and even paint over outlets where they couldn’t be used. Even though every landlord who responded, including myself, indicated that our leases prohibit that, I did indicate that in the soft rental market in the Wausau Area, I have made exceptions and if tenants ask about painting, I will give them verbal permission without changing the lease provision. I will inform them that it has to be returned to the same color it was when they moved in or they will be charged for me to do that, and also they will be charged if I have to deal with paint where paint shouldn’t be. Since I have started giving verbal permission over a year ago, I have yet to have a bad experience.

The next policy question had to do with the common problem of tenant’s not paying the last month’s rent and using the security deposit. The landlord then doesn’t have the deposit to cover damage items or unpaid water bills. The policy question was about charging a larger deposit. First, make sure you can (this isn’t allowed in Madison). My suggestion was that I will charge a larger deposit based on my underwriting and tenant risk. If the tenant has a cat, I will charge a larger deposit ($200 more than normal) to help cover the additional damages that might occur. Also, if I am taking tenant with a high risk of default (recent eviction for non-payment), and they cannot provide me with a qualified co-signer, I may ask for a double-deposit. That way if I evict as soon as a rent payment is missed, I have enough deposit to cover it.

It is not unusual for landlords to ask for “last month’s rent and deposit” up front. Just keep in mind, that any money received by the landlord that is more than one month’s pre-paid rent needs to be treated as a security deposit according to ATCP Rule 134.02. Often the local market will dictate if a landlord can charge a larger deposit. And if you are going to change the amount of a deposit on a case by case basis, be sure to follow fair housing laws and don’t change the terms because of a protected class (in my case, having pets and high credit risk are not protected classes).

Well… I suppose I need to get some bills paid and then finish checking out some units that just came vacant. Until 5 PM this evening when I am on the air… HAPPY RENTING!

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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, Kenosha, Paint, Questions, Security Deposit, Smoking Ban, WNRB and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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