Landlord groups to apartment owners: Hit ‘pause’ on evictions

    Photo by Montgomery County Planning Commission/Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

    While a state moratorium on evictions ended two weeks ago, two apartment associations are urging landlords to hold off on expelling tenants who are behind on their rent as COVID-19 persists and with it record-high unemployment.

    “Our success as housing providers is dependent on the financial stability of both our tenants and the communities within which they live,” declared the Wisconsin Apartment Association (WAA) and the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin (AASEW) in a joint statement this week.

    “It is critical for the survival of rental housing that tenants who can pay rent do so,” the organizations stated. “It is equally crucial that property owners work with tenants who are suffering legitimate financial hardships due to the current economic upheaval. That way landlords will be able to pay the taxes and municipal charges without which local government cannot function. That way sorely-needed housing will not become abandoned due to mortgage and tax foreclosures as happened in the post-2008 housing crash.”

    “There hasn’t been quite a situation like this,” Chris Mokler, WAA legislative director, tells the Wisconsin Examiner. “The advice that we’ve given landlords since the start of this COVID-19 crisis has been to try to break down the barriers and work with tenants.”

    Most tenants have been able to keep up rent payments this spring, according to the organizations, while others who have not are waiting to collect unemployment compensation or federal stimulus checks. The associations in their statement counseled apartment owners to exercise patience.

    “Those Wisconsinites who have applied for state and federal UC are due to receive payments, especially the $600 weekly special federal benefit, which they will be able to apply to past and current rent,” the WAA and AASEW stated. And, they noted, a new $25 million rental assistance program announced last month by Gov. Tony Evers “will also enable tenants to catch up on past rent and stay current in coming months.”

    Rental property owners should talk with tenants who are behind on their rent and negotiate written payment plans instead of simply sending nonpayment notices and going to court, the organizations stated.

    The groups also urged landlords to waive late fees and seek mediation services if needed rather than seeking an eviction order. And they advised property owners to defer seeking evictions if tenants can show they have an unemployment claim pending, or if they have applied for the rental assistance program.

    “We want to approach our tenants with the same compassion as we would expect to receive from others,” the groups stated.

    The apartment organizations wanted to head off the possibility of a rush of evictions that could make matters more difficult for landlords and tenants alike.

     “The landlord’s not guaranteed money just because he’s filed an eviction,” Mokler says. “We’re trying to do right by our tenants, and we’re trying to do right by our landlord members, too.”

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.