Why Wisconsin's New Bill Expanding Landlord Rights Will Unfairly Hurt Tenants

| by Nicholas Roberts
Wisconsin State Capitol buildingWisconsin State Capitol building

A new bill passed in Wisconsin's State Assembly on Feb. 11 dramatically expands the power of the state and of rental property owners at the expense of tenants and local municipal governing boards.

The bill, which was passed by the Republican-dominated assembly, goes against the principles of "small government": it would prohibit local municipalities from enacting any ordinance requiring rental properties to be inspected, registered or certified without showing good cause, The Cap Times reports.

Officials in various cities around the state also argue the bill will make it more difficult to crack down on irresponsible landlords who neglect to follow city codes in the upkeep of their properties.

But the even more alarming aspect of the proposed legislation is the dramatic new powers it gives to landlords in how they are allowed to treat tenants. If the bill becomes law, any person, including the tenant, a member of the tenant's household or anyone visiting the tenant, could be evicted if the landlord suspects engagement in criminal activity, regardless of any prior arrests or convictions, The Associated Press reports.

Landlords who suspect criminal activity would be allowed to evict tenants within five days.

There are ostensibly protections in the bill that restrict the ability of landlords to evict crime victims. But the broad definition of the word "crime" under the bill could mean that an otherwise upstanding tenant could be evicted from an apartment if, for example, that tenant's daughter and boyfriend visit the apartment and the boyfriend attacks the girl, which was an argument made by Assembly Democrats opposed to the measures.

Also, while the bill may help landlords limit criminal activity on their properties, Tony Gibard of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence told Wisconsin Public Radio it could also end up working against victims of domestic violence.

"I just want the committee to think about what that means in the life of a domestic violence victim who may have just been beaten, bloodied and brutalized and has five days to figure out what to do," he said.

Ultimately, the vast new powers granted to landlords are ripe for abuse and will undoubtedly be taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals if the bill becomes law.

The bill will now head to the Wisconsin Senate to be considered, and if it passes it will likely be signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The Senate should debate the various defects of the current proposed bill and make amendments which will protect the rights of tenants' due process, rather than putting them at the mercy of landlords who claim to suspect criminal activity without having to provide any proof.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: AP via Star Tribune, WPR, The Cap Times / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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