Oct. 11, 2013 – A bill that would modify the relationship between a landlord and a tenant has passed the state Assembly – with amendments – by a near party-line vote of 57-37, and now moves on to the state Senate for final approval.
SB 179, which was introduced in the Senate in May and passed in mid-September, would extend the power of landlords, giving them the ability to serve eviction notices by postal mail, have a vehicle towed immediately from private property, and fast-track eviction trials.
It would also allow landlords to dispose of any property an evicted tenant leaves behind, as well as hold tenants liable for repairs that the landlord could have potentially prevented by taking better care of the property.
Wisconsin attorneys have differing opinions on the bill, with those who represent most facets of the real estate business coming out in support of the changes, and those who represent tenants saying that the bill will strip away rights from many of their clients.
Katie Stenz is the public affairs coordinator with the State Bar of Wisconsin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (608) 250-6145.
Some attorneys are also concerned about the bill’s impact on the unauthorized practice of law. Under current law, a person may prosecute or defend an eviction action pro se or through an attorney. If the “person” is a corporation or other legal entity, a “full time authorized employee” of the entity may appear. But under the proposal, an employee of a property management company, which is the agent of a corporate landlord, is allowed to represent the landlord in eviction proceedings. The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s unauthorized practice of law rules do not specifically authorize nonlawyer agents of corporate entities to represent the entity in small claims court.
The bill returns to the Senate with a few amendments, some of which seem to please both sides of the debate. One such change would ensure that tenants who were victims of a crime are not subject to eviction.
For a more detailed description of the bill and its legal ramifications, view the InsideTrack article: “Landlord-Tenant Law: Proposed Bill Impacts Eviction Process, Property Rights.”