NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Bill sounds like a lousy tenant. He’s described as a “poor housekeeper”. That’s a polite way of saying he’s a slob. I’ve seen a photograph of his apartment. He has a garbage bag full of trash in his front hallway. There seems to be random junk on top of his refrigerator. Clothing is flung over a closet door instead of being hung up.
Admittedly, the apartment itself is also a dump. Floor tiles are missing. The ceiling plaster is rotted away and it leaks. The front doorframe is damaged and doesn’t lock correctly. The woman down the hall has mental problems and called the police on Bill – thinking he was armed with a gun. (In fact he was asleep; police forced their way into the apartment and then left.)
The story of Bill and his ratty apartment appears in this
week’s City Pages newspaper as part of their cover story about a landlord licensing
There’s a debate about who has the upper hand in tenant-landlord relations. There shouldn’t be – it’s the tenants have an overwhelming, and in many cases unfair, advantage. Eviction law overwhelmingly favors renters. Anyone who rents property can tell you how time consuming and expensive an evection is… to the point that many tolerate bad tenants because the process is so onerous.
During all of this, the landlord isn’t allowed to change the lock, turn off the heat, shut off the water or electric or retaliate against the bad-renter. The fines for forcing a renter out are substantial. And the renter can get an opportunistic lawyer and sue.
Against this backdrop
Here’s what I think is true about
Certain neighborhoods have too many poorly maintained rental properties. The city should step up inspections. The cost of certain highway sculpture could fund at least two additional building inspectors.
The city also has too many bad tenants.
Bad properties and bad renters have a way of finding each other.
If, by chance, a good renter finds themselves at a bad property they need to communicate with the landlord. Getting the city involved is the next step. The city had a seldom used rent-abatement process where a renter can withhold payment if there are code violations. It can't be used when the rent is in arrears. And all the while, the tenant should remember that the words that strike fear into any landlord’s heart are “I’m not paying the rent until certain things are fixed... go ahead and try to evict me.”