Democrats are arguing that a bill that would make numerous changes to landlord-tenant laws would weaken tenant protections and has been rushed through the committee process.
The omnibus bill does a number of things. Included in the list of changes:
*It exempts landlords from civil liability for providing references for tenants and the law presumes they provide those references in good faith.
*Infestation of pests or insects may constitute damage to the unit that tenants may have to pay for if it's found that the damage is caused by their inaction.
*A landlord must now disclose housing or building code violations only if the landlord has been provided written notice of that violation. Current law requires disclosure if the landlord has "actual knowledge" of the violations.
*Prohibits local ordinances that limit a tenant's responsibility for damages, among other things.
*Would no longer void landlords-tenant contracts that include provisions allowing eviction of a resident if a crime is committed on the property, even if the tenant could not have prevented the crime.
*Allowing the towing of a vehicle off of a rental property without requiring the notification of police.
*Allowing a court to authorize the serving of summons regarding an eviction action by mail.
Democrats argued that the bill would allow "eviction by mail" and that removing certain statutes from law would allow victims of crime to be evicted by an overzealous landlord. They also say the bill was rushed through the committee process without proper review or input.
"Another abuse of power, another attack on the little guy," said Rep. Gary Hebl. "You know, even the landlords are not asking for this. There must be a lot of money why this bill went through so fast without any input, without any consideration."
The bill, authored by Rep. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, was first introduced in late April. Stroebel says the bill's language mirrors similar requirements for rental agreements in section 8 housing regulated by federal law. He also said that the evictions will be heard in court and the reasons for eviction will be properly brought out there.
"Evictions go through the judicial process," Stroebel said. "There's going to be a judge that's going to hear the facts and there's evidence to back it up."
For what it's worth, Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, says that the language Stroebel is talking about was about preventing a rental property from becoming a drug front, not allowing eviction for someone who is simply a victim of a crime.
Three representatives (Rep. Cory Mason, D-Kenosha, Rep. Chad Weininger, R-Green Bay, and Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range) have said they will abstain from voting on the bill, something attributed to their role as landlords. There was some rather tense debate following those recusals on whether they should have to state their specific reasons for recusal.