More than a dozen tenants’ rights provisions in the city of Madison could be tossed out under a bill speeding through the Legislature.
The bill would prohibit communities from enacting laws more strict than state law when it comes to the various notifications landlords must give tenants.
Assembly Bill 183 also would make it easier for landlords to:
Evict tenants and dispose of their property.
Have vehicles towed.
Hold onto deposits.
Shield known defects from prospective tenants unless they’re documented by a building inspector.
Avoid liability if they give negative references on previous tenants.
Make a tenant responsible for eliminating an insect infestation if the landlord believes the cause is “acts or inaction of the tenant.”
The bill was introduced Tuesday and will have a hearing at 10 a.m. Thursday before the Assembly Committee on Housing and Real Estate.
Tenants’ rights groups blasted the proposal, but the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, tried to downplay its effect, calling it a “continuing updating and reform of regulations” involving residential rentals.
“The bill does a number of things, all of which are to make the transactions between landlords and their tenants easier and more fair,” he said. “Nothing in this bill is all that much to get excited about.”
Ross Kinzler, executive director of the Wisconsin Housing Alliance, said the bill would “create more uniformity with landlord-tenant laws across the state.”
Kinzler cited the case of one landlord who owns seven properties in and around Madison who has seven different lease forms and follows seven sets of rules for dealing with tenants.
“That’s kind of crazy,” Kinzler said.
The bill also would make it faster and easier for landlords to get rid of property — ranging from clothes to aging mobile homes — that tenants leave behind when they’re evicted.
“Why should the landlord bear the expense of storing a person’s property for 30 days while they (tenants) decide whether to take it with them?” he said.
“We’re saying ... ‘You better not leave it behind.’ ”
But Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center in Madison, said the bill is a mish-mash that attempts to fix a hastily-passed law last session, and it also has new curbs on the rights of tenants.
A bill passed in 2011 that made changes in landlord-tenant law has been fraught with confusion, Konkel said.
“I am extremely, extremely concerned,” said Konkel, a former Madison City Council member. “There is so much confusion about what happened in the last bill, and this layers another level of confusion over that.”
She added, “It’s such a broad set of changes with no notice and no education. I don’t know who they’re getting input from, but they had a lot of unintended consequences last time, and I fear we’re headed the same direction again.”
Said Colin Gillis, an organizer for the Wisconsin Alliance for Tenants’ Rights: “The bill’s sponsors are fast-tracking this legislation because they don’t want it subjected to public scrutiny.”