- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The Wisconsin Assembly approved another Republican bill to protect landlords Tuesday, this time passing a measure that would limit local governments’ authority to inspect rental properties and crack down on emotional support animals in apartments.

The chamber passed the bill 58-34 despite Democrats’ complaints that the GOP was again picking on poor tenants. They said the bill weakens local control and amounts to another giveaway for landlords.

“This is a list of wealthy property owners’ desires,” said Democratic Rep. Amanda Stuck of Appleton.

Republicans said the bill is designed to save landlords’ inspection fees, in turn keeping rent costs down.

“This bill reduces the cost of delivering housing to the people of Wisconsin,” GOP Rep. David Murphy of Greenville said during a news conference before the Assembly took the floor.

Under the bill, local governments could inspect rental properties only in blighted areas and areas with numerous complaints, decreasing property values or increases in single-family home conversions to rental units. If an inspection doesn’t reveal a violation or the violation is corrected within a month, inspectors couldn’t return to the property for five years. Inspection fees would be waived in either case.

Local governments also would be prohibited from inspecting rental property that’s less than eight years old. They also couldn’t enact ordinances based on building aesthetics.

Republican Rep. Michael Schraa, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said he’s concerned about cities launching inspections simply to collect fees from landlords, which in turn forces landlords to increase their rent.

“To me, it’s a pure money grab,” said Schraa.

Court-ordered eviction stays for tenants applying for emergency assistance - one-time payments for families in cases of disasters, energy crises or impending homelessness - would last for 10 days under the bill. Currently, such stays remain in effect until the tenant’s eligibility is determined and the tenant receives the money.

A landlord or tenant’s waiver of a rental contract violation couldn’t be used as a defense in an eviction case and eviction orders would remain on the state’s publicly accessible court record website for a decade.

Other provisions include increasing the fee a landlord can charge for a prospective tenant’s credit report by $5; allowing landlords to charge potential tenants from outside the state up to $25 for conducting a background check.

Landlords also would be prohibited from discriminating against potential tenants with emotional support animals. Landlords could request documentation, however, from a health professional that the tenant needs the animal.

Republican Rep. John Jagler of Watertown said at the news conference that landlords are concerned about people claiming they need the animals for support when they really just want to sneak pets into their apartment.

The Apartment Association of South Central Wisconsin, the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Apartment Association all have registered in support, according to the state Ethics Commission records. Registered opponents include the Wisconsin Public Health Association and the cities of Madison and Milwaukee. The League of Wisconsin Municipalities has registered as neutral.

The bill goes next to the state Senate.

Republicans passed a measure in 2016 that allowed landlords to evict a tenant if that person, a roommate or a guest engages in criminal activity regardless of whether anyone was arrested or convicted. In 2013, they passed a bill that allows landlords to dispose of any property an evicted tenant leaves behind and evict tenants if a crime occurs on the property that the tenant could have prevented.

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The bill is AB 771.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1


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