Assembly Passes Massive Landlord-Tenant Bill

Opponents Say Changes Could Harm Some Tenants, Cause Homelessness

Wisconsin State Capitol
Mike Steele (CC BY)

The state Assembly passed a bill Tuesday that would make a number of changes to laws governing landlord-tenant relationships in Wisconsin, including one change opponents argue could harm domestic violence victims.

The bill would limit the amount of time courts can prevent domestic violence victims from being evicted from their homes.

Under current law, courts can issue a stay to prevent someone from being evicted while they’re waiting for an emergency assistance program to take effect. Under the bill, that court stay would be limited to 10 days.

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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said 10 days is enough time for victims to work with their landlords to prevent eviction.

“Allowing them 10 days to make sure no eviction could happen allows them to work with their landlord, develop a payment plan if necessary, figure out how they’re going to ensure the protection for themselves,” Vos said.

The bill would also require renters to have a doctor’s note to bring an emotional support animal into a rental home or apartment. Supporters argue that will prevent people from claiming their pet is an emotional support animal to get around a landlords’ no-pet policy.

Rep. John Jagler, R-Watertown, said the bill isn’t intended to keep support animals from the people who need them.

“My concern is that these people that are scamming the system really take away from the folks who really need these animals,” he said.

The plan includes a number of other provisions sponsors say are aimed at increasing security for landlords and tenants.

However, many Democrats in the Assembly argued the proposal doesn’t do enough to protect tenants.

“This bill is a giveaway to wealthy developers in the rental industry,” said Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison.

Subeck spoke specifically against an element of the proposal that would require renters’ eviction records to be publicly available for 10 years, saying that would wrongly prevent qualified people from being approved for leases.

A number of apartment associations support the measure. Advocacy groups including End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin and Legal Action of Wisconsin oppose it.

The bill passed on a vote of 58-34. All Democrats and one Republican, Rep. Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, voted against the bill. It now goes to the state Senate.

The Assembly also approved bills Tuesday that would:

  • Change the makeup of the Council on Worker’s Compensation, requiring the proportion of representatives of organized labor on the council be the same as the proportion of employees in this state who are union members. The bill passed 54-37 and now moves to the state Senate.

  • Re-establish a Wisconsin Conservation Corps program. The bill passed on a voice vote and now moves to the state Senate.

  • Create a pilot program for some school districts to disregard state mandates for minimum hours of direct student instruction. The bill passed on a voice vote and now moves to the state Senate.

  • Offer tuition reimbursement for students called into active military duty. The bill passed on a voice vote and now moves to the state Senate.

  • Allows minors to operate temporary stands, like a lemonade stand, without a permit or license. The bill passed on a voice vote and now moves to the state Senate.

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