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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Issue of the Week: Republicans Stick It to Renters

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Yet another Republican-led bill being fast-tracked through the state Legislature would gut consumer protections and reward campaign donors.

Instead of following the longstanding tradition of balancing the rights and responsibilities of renters and landlords, state Republicans want to give landlords new powers over their renters. Instead of giving the sheriff the authority to conduct evictions, landlords could do it themselves. That, obviously, could set up tense confrontations within an already-difficult situation.

Even worse, landlords could speed up the eviction process and they would be allowed to toss out, keep or sell the property of evicted tenants as long as they have written that provision into the lease. The bill allows landlords to evict tenants if a crime has been committed on the property “even if the tenant could not have prevented the crime,” according to the state Legislative Reference Bureau’s analysis. Landlords could pursue evictions while receiving rent from tenants and also landlords wouldn’t have to fully disclose all code violations to prospective renters.

The bill also prohibits local governments from enacting or enforcing their own ordinances on evictions. Again the state coming in and superseding what has been a local prerogative.

Unfortunately, this fast-tracked bill is another example of Republicans’ current approaches to public policy, gutting consumer protections and waging war on local control.

While landlords shouldn’t have to put up with chronically irresponsible tenants and should have the right to petition for eviction, there should be a level of mutual respect between landlords and their customers, the renters. Renters should be entitled to some basic rights to ensure their sense of safety and security isn’t subject to the whim of an all-powerful landlord. Nor should renters fear calling law enforcement. Unfortunately, this bill would discourage them from doing so since it could lead to an eviction.

The state Legislature shouldn’t get involved in this issue in the first place. Each community is different and has a unique rental market. That’s why municipalities have developed highly specific tenant-landlord ordinances. But legislative Republicans who pay lip service to local control when it enables them to pander to “small government” voters have decided that they suddenly like state mandates when they control state government. It’s payback as well. The deep-pocketed Wisconsin Realtors Association—which is headed by Jim Villa, Gov. Scott Walker’s former aide, and which overwhelmingly supports conservative Republicans in elections—is lobbying for passage of this bill because its members would be granted new powers over their tenants.

Contrary to the issue of job creation which the Republicans like to talk about, this legislation does not create one single job or make Wisconsin a better place to live.

But, unfortunately, if the current group of Wisconsin Republicans can find a way to reward special interest groups while gutting consumer protections, they’ll find a way to fast track it through the state Legislature.

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