Since 2011, the Republican-controlled state Legislature — led by lawmakers who own rental properties — has enacted sweeping changes in landlord-tenant law, with most of the changes favoring landlords.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who decides what bills advance to the floor for a vote, is a major landlord in Whitewater and supported each bill. He’s not alone; about one of every five legislators who voted on the bills is a landlord or a property manager.
Here are some of the key changes made under the laws:
- Allow landlords to dispose of tenants’ personal property, with the exception of prescription drugs and medical equipment, immediately after an eviction. Prior law said they had to store the property at the expense of the tenant.
- If criminal activity is occurring in a rental unit, a landlord can give a tenant a five-day notice and begin eviction proceedings, which can be contested by the tenant. An arrest or police involvement is not necessary. A tenant who is the victim of a crime cannot be evicted.
- Speed up the eviction process by eliminating some defenses used by lawyers who represent low-income tenants.
- Prevent local governments from limiting how far back a landlord can go in checking prospective tenants’ financial, housing and criminal histories.
- If a tenant has an emotional support animal, the landlord can require proof that it is needed.
- Limit tenants’ ability to withhold some rent if they continue to live in a unit they say is uninhabitable. The new law says any cited problems must impact health and safety. The landlord can challenge the withholding of rent in court.
- Make it easier for a landlord to shift the costs of exterminating bedbugs or other pests to the tenant.
- Void local ordinances mandating sprinklers in buildings with fewer than 20 units.
- Put restrictions on when and how a municipality can conduct targeted neighborhood inspections and cap the amount of fees that can be charged.
- A rental property can only be subjected to a neighborhood inspection once every five years unless the city discovers a “habitability violation,” such as a lack of hot or cold running water.
- Cap the reinspection fees a local government can charge a landlord after discovering building code violations to no more than twice the initial inspection fee.
- Limit an array of local powers, such as banning municipalities from requiring landlords to distribute voter registration information to new tenants and from imposing a moratorium on evictions.