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Wisconsin Landlord Group Calls For Delaying Evictions As Renters Struggle From COVID-19

New State Assistance Program Will Help With Overdue Rent; Local Leaders Warn It May Not Be Enough

apartment complex
Kyle Cheung (CC BY-NC-ND)

As new assistance for renters becomes available statewide, organizations representing property owners and managers are calling for landlords to delay evictions.

Wisconsin was under a statewide moratorium on eviction filings because of the COVID-19 pandemic until May 26. Chris Mokler, legislative director for the Wisconsin Apartment Association, said there’s been a slight increase in evictions since the ban ended.

But his organization is encouraging landlords to continue working with tenants on a repayment plan instead.

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“People are facing a crisis right now. Some of them are unemployed, some of them lost their job and they’re in tough situations,” Mokler said. “Landlords should do everything they can to communicate with their tenants, learn about their situation, see if they can help them out.”

Mokler said any new evictions would likely face a three to six-month delay in the court system because of the backlog of cases waiting to be heard.

He said the new Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program should help some tenants catch up on missed payments.

The $25 million program will provide up to $3,000 to eligible individuals for making up missed rent payments or security deposits. It’s funded by money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed at the end of March.

Hetti Brown is executive director of Couleecap Inc., one of the community action organizations that is administering the new program. Brown said her organization started taking applications on Monday, and they’ve already received around 150 inquiries without advertising the program.

“Already the interest in a rental assistance program to help people who are behind on their rent is far greater than we think the funding can support,” Brown said. “Most of our clients have been out of work for three to four months now. And if they continue to be out of work, then the rental assistance program that we do have, that we are very thankful for, will not have the money that we need.”

Couleecap, which supports those living in Crawford, La Crosse, Monroe and Vernon counties, has been offering other financial assistance to help people impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Brown said 65 percent of households that have applied asked for help paying their rent.

She said increased unemployment benefits and stimulus checks from the federal government have helped, but many people are reporting it’s not enough.

“Sometimes they are prioritizing rent. But if they do that, then they don’t have any money left for other household expenses. Or because the eviction moratorium was in place through May 26, they paid other critical bills that they still had to pay and now they’re behind on rent,” Brown said. “We also have some people who come to us who have not yet received their unemployment benefits even now, even though they were laid off several weeks ago, even months ago.”

Brown applauded the Wisconsin Apartment Association’s call for property owners to work with tenants. She said Couleecap has heard from renters that their landlords are willing to work with them on an extension or repayment plant.

“We understand that landlords need to be paid as well. But people right now just need a little bit of time to try to get back to work or even wait for unemployment (benefits),” Brown said.

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