After a seemingly simple loophole in La Crosse's rental moratorium began to catch on with more and more landlords, city officials began denying the option to some Tuesday night.
A 6-month ban on converting single-family homes into rental properties only has about two more months left, but some question how well it’s working, since many landlords have received an exemption from it. Twenty-seven landlords had applied for the waiver before Tuesday, and city committees approved every single one - but at Tuesday's Judiciary and Administration Committee, several were denied for the first time.
According to language in the moratorium, a landlord must show hardship has been endured because of the renting ban. So far, apparently 27 landlords have been able to do that.
"The economic hardship has been one that's been a pretty effective argument for those council members, and I think that's a big reason for why they've been granting them," Mayor Tim Kabat said.
The idea appears to be gaining steam – 37 waiver requests were up for debate during Tuesday’s Judiciary and Administration Committee meeting, though several were dnied. One of those requests was sent by Nick Charles, the owner of a three-bedroom home on Cameron Avenue that’s been rented out for seven years – until this fall.
“I got a latter in the mail: Dear Nick. Vacate your property,” Charles said.
Charles was hoping to leave Tuesday’s meeting with a waiver like the 27 landlords before him, and the 36 others joining him that evening – but he wasn’t holding his breath. He’s been preparing the rental property to sell.
"I'm not a gambler, so I don't think it's a sure thing."
Later Tuesday night, the committee chose to approve his request - others weren't so lucky.
With 30-plus waivers already passed by Tuesday, the goal of stemming the city’s rental properties doesn’t seem to be working. But Kabat said the moratorium has helped further another objective – identifying the problem at hand and how to tackle it.
"What my goal was, was to raise the awareness that this a problem for many of our neighborhoods, and that we needed to develop a more effective ordinance to actually enforce some standards for how properties are rented,” he said.
He added many of the waivers granted went to landlords who didn’t realize their homes needed to be registered as rental properties – that’s according to an ordinance passed in 2007 to try to curb renting in La Crosse.
An ad-hoc city committee is keeping tabs on the moratorium and how well it's worked. That committee will meet with City Council once the renting ban has finished, and members will recommend what to do from there. Kabat said he would not support an extension of the moratorium.
The moratorium is set to expire Jan. 20.