Judge rules in city vs. landlords lawsuit

La Crosse County judge rules in favor of the City of La Crosse

A decision has been reached in the case of 32 landlords suing the City of La Crosse.

The landlords argued a new city ordinance requiring them to register their properties and allow the city to do a yearly inspection violates state law.

Last week, landlords received what they considered a small victory when the city made a change to the ordinance, which now requires tenants to be notified of an inspection. But the landlords still had concerns the ordinance was violating state laws.

La Crosse County Judge Scott Horne ruled in favor of the city on Wednesday.

“The petition to declare the registration program invalid and void is denied. In the request for injunctive relief, which would preclude the city from enforcing the registration system also is denied,” Horne said.

The ruling came as a bit of a shock to the attorney for the landlords.

“We still feel that we have a very good argument that state law pre-empted what the city passed,” attorney Bernardo Cueto said.

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat is pleased with the outcome. He says when the ordinance was drafted, the City Council made sure it complied with state law, adding that it was not meant to cause problems, it’s meant as a step to improve La Crosse and its large number of rental properties.

“It really makes up about half of our housing stock. The notion that there should be some certainty on just the general health and safety was really important,” Kabat said.

Cueto says his clients believe the ordinance will have a negative impact on the area, though.

“We believe all that will lead to kind of affordable housing going away in the area. We believe that landlords will have to respond to these changes by raising rent, (and) some will decide to stop being landlords altogether, which will lower the amount of rental properties in the area, which might drive away a lot of people including a lot of students from our colleges and universities,” Cueto said.

“As far as we’re concerned, our ordinance is a good ordinance and were going to continue to work with the property owners to register rentals and inspect them and make sure. It’s really part of the overall neighborhood effort,” Kabat said.

Cueto says he has two choices now. One, he and his clients can talk to state legislators about being more specific in the state’s laws, which is what Judge Horne suggested, or he could appeal the ruling. He says whatever decision is made will need to come fairly quickly, as there is a pretty small window of time to file an appeal.