By Alyssa Geary
A controversial bill in the Wisconsin legislature could make big changes for landlords and tenants. The bill, known as Senate Bill 466, proposes changes that would strengthen the power and discretion of landlords.
According to the bill, landlords will be able to sell personal property of former tenants without providing any notice to those tenants. Also, the bill mandates that tenants notify their landlords, in writing, of any repairs or maintenance needed on the property. The landlord would then be given “adequate time” to fix the problem before the tenant can report the issue to a building inspector, elected public official or local housing code enforcement agency.
Matt McHugh, the owner of Clear Water Real Estate Enterprises, said he understands why many of the proposals of the bill were brought up and that he has experienced some of the issues that the bill addresses.
“Tenants are much more informed than they ever were, they’re much more aware of their rights,” McHugh said.
McHugh said he acknowledges that the Internet and other technology makes information and reviews on agencies and landlords more readily available to tenants and that good or bad perceptions of landlords are earned, which is what drives McHugh to run his business in a proficient manner, he said.
“I care about our business as a professional business and therefore our perception within our customer base,” McHugh said. “It’s our reputation, so we work hard to do things not only professionally, but correctly and ethically.”
One of the frustrating issues that McHugh has come across in his experience, he said, has concerned the disposal of property that former tenants leave behind.
“There is quite a laundry list of steps and expenses that a landlord has to go through,” McHugh said, ”including involving a sheriff, getting a bonded and insured mover, getting a storage company and all at my own expense of items that are left because I cannot determine what is and isn’t abandoned property.”
McHugh said landlords are responsible to notify the former tenant that the personal property that they left behind has been removed and stored. If the former tenant provides the landlord a forwarding address, the notification can be provided directly through the security deposit report, he said. Also, if the tenant has not provided a forwarding address, McHugh said, then the landlord can place a public notice in the newspaper.
After the items have been stored for 30 days and remain unclaimed, the landlord can either dispose of the items or attempt to sell them, McHugh said. The proceeds of the sale of the items may go towards the costs that the landlord has incurred, and any money that is left over must go into a special fund, as landlords cannot make a profit off of this transaction, he said. However, McHugh said he has found in his experience that most of the items that former tenants leave behind and do not claim often do not amount to anything of value.
“The reality is, you don’t get this money recouped and the stuff that’s left is junk, that’s why it was left in the first place,” McHugh said. “The common sense doesn’t add up to what the law’s intent was, and as a result, you’re creating a huge burden on society for all landlords.”
Kimberly Pluedeman, a 22-year-old recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a current tenant, also pointed out the importance of common sense when dealing with rental issues, particularly with necessary repairs or maintenance on a property.
“You should contact your landlord first and make sure that they know that the problem is there. Then if nothing is getting done, then contact someone else,” Pluedeman said. “It just seems that a lot of these are just common sense to a certain extent.”
Another key element that Pleudeman said she thinks would help in the tenant-landlord issue is communication.
“If there was a lot more communication between landlord and tenant,” Pluedeman said, ”then there would be a lot less problems.”
McHugh said he also believes that lack of communication is a key factor in many of the issues that come up between tenants and landlords, which he hopes that the bill will help address, especially with contacting the landlord in writing about any maintenance that needs to be done.
“I would like that accountability from all parties,” said McHugh, who acknowledged that both tenants and landlords can abuse the system. “In the end though, the bill may help to improve the issues between tenants and landlords if both parties are responsible. I just hope for communication to be the biggest thing and responsibility.”
Bill SB 466 is being sponsored by Republican state Senator Frank Lasee of De Pere.