Renters, landlord rights impacted by new legislation

A Wisconsin bill that changes how and when local governments inspect rental properties is headed to the governor’s desk. The bill passed by the State Senate on Tuesday would change how local governments conduct regularly scheduled inspections of properties. Those who opposed the legislation say it protects bad landlords, but proponents say this will help tenants.

The Wisconsin Apartment Association brought its concerns to the legislature about current tenant-landlord laws, including how local governments conduct regularly scheduled inspections.

“A lot of cities just wanted to go charging in to rental properties to do inspections, not realizing the tenants do have Fourth Amendment rights,” said Chris Mokler, director of legislative affairs for the Wisconsin Apartment Association.

Under Assembly Bill 771, tenants would be allowed to refuse the inspection, unless there is a special warrant. If there isn’t a violation– such as no heat, running water, or electrical issues, then the property couldn’t be searched for another five years.

“If any time within that five years, the tenant has an issue, they can call,” Mokler said. The bill does allow complaints to be investigated during this time if they are reported to inspectors.

In some communities that conduct regular checks, the bill could affect a sizable student population.

“We want to make sure students have all the information they need to make educated decisions about housing- whether that’s on campus or off campus,” said Kirsten Gabriel, director of student life at Viterbo University.

About half of all Viterbo University students live in off-campus housing. The university has a specific site with a list of resources and guides to help renters.

“There’s also a set of resources that tells you what to do in the event of a challenge. So if something doesn’t go as you anticipate, is it within your rights to pursue recourse,” Gabriel said.

That might include calling an inspector to ensure a landlord is following up on issues outlined in the new bill. The law also helps tenants by narrowing the time a landlord has to fix the problem.

“This does good for both landlords and tenants. This puts the pendulum in the state of Wisconsin more equal for both parties,” Mokler said.

The bill allows municipalities to create a rental property inspection program in certain neighborhoods that have high rates of complaints, declining property value or more homes being converted to rental units. The legislation also changes how landlords notify tenants of eviction, fees for prospective tenant background checks and preserving historic properties.