By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Landlords would have more power to evict tenants for criminal activity under a bill the state Assembly passed Thursday that dramatically expands the rights of rental property owners.
The Republican bill would allow landlords to evict a tenant if that person, a member of the tenant’s household, a guest or any other person invited to their home engages in any criminal activity, regardless of whether anyone was arrested or convicted. Tenants would get five days to vacate the premises. Tenants who are the victims of the criminal activity could not be evicted.
Landlords are generally free to write provisions in a lease allowing them to evict tenants if anyone on the property is involved in criminal activity. Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill in 2013 that prohibits landlords from evicting a tenant if they’re a crime victim. That bill also requires tenants to receive notice that they generally can’t be evicted if they’re domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking victims. The new bill wouldn’t require such notice.
The proposal also would allow landlords to dispose of or sell property that trespassers leave behind, evict tenants who cause damage without repairing or paying for it and prohibit municipalities from inspecting rental property unless someone files a complaint or the inspection is part of a broader program.
Municipalities looking to add a property to a historic register would have to hold a public hearing. If the owner of the property objects to the classification, he or she could appeal to the municipality’s governing body, which could wipe out the classification with a majority vote.
Most of the half-hour debate in the Assembly on Thursday focused on the eviction provisions. Democrats complained the bill would lead to tenants getting evicted out of no fault of their own. For example, they said, a grandmother could be evicted from her apartment if her teenage granddaughter and her boyfriend visit and the boyfriend attacks the girl.
“There are thousands of Wisconsinites who struggle with neighborhood violence and poverty,” said Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay. “They deserve our support and our advocacy. This is who we should stand up for, or at least not stand against. This bill fails that test.”
Republicans said little. The bill’s author, Rep. Robert Brooks, R-Saukville, pointed out the bill does exempt crime victims from evictions but added he has learned that when he has the votes he should just be quiet. He submitted written remarks to the Assembly’s housing committee in December saying the bill would make it easier for landlords to provide safe housing.
The Assembly ultimately approved the bill 60-31, sending the measure onto the state Senate.
A half-dozen organizations, including the Apartment Association of South Central Wisconsin, the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Housing Alliance, which advocates for the factory-built housing industry, have registered in support of the bill, according to state Government Accountability Board records.
More than a dozen groups have registered in opposition, including the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault and End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin.