The Wisconsin Assembly voted 58-34 to pass a bill (Assembly Bill 771) that severely limits the rights of tenants and makes it harder to catch bad landlords. The two most controversial changes include adding additional procedures to tenants seeking to claim emotional support animals and limiting the housing leeway given domestic abuse victims. The bills focus according the drafter, Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, is to tackle the increasing costs of landlords.
The first major change is one that affects domestic abuse victims. “There has been a trend in the Wisconsin State Legislature over the past few sessions that is slowly eroding tenant’s rights in favor of landlord rights — specifically the rights of tenants who are victims of domestic abuse,” said Chase Tarrier, public policy coordinator for End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin. Tarrier said the main reason domestic abuse victims stay or return back to their batterer is due to the lack of access to available housing. The new law will limit the number of days victims and families have to complete the Emergency Assistance program filing to a few days, which aligns with how long the process should ideally take. In practice, this may mean that procedural difficulties can result in domestic violence victims from obtaining the financial help they need.
Regarding support animals, tenant may now be required to provide documentation of their disability from a state-licensed professional and the disability-related need for the animal. Misrepresenting one’s disability in order to obtain housing may result in forfeiture penalties. Critics point out that the amount of actual abuse of the system is low and these additional procedures may make it difficult for people without health insurance or with legitimately misplaced documentation may lack housing opportunities.
A number of smaller changes greatly favor landlords. For example, the fees charged upon eviction will go up by the inclusion of fees and penalties into the total cost. New procedures were added to the inspection of shady landlords, though that provision has been modified several times throughout the bill’s process. In short, tenants should understand that they may soon lose some housing rights once this law goes into effect.