Landlord and Tenant Issues Committee proposes best practices program

Assistant City Attorney Steve Brist presented a plan for basic principles to improve renter relations in a Landlord and Tenant Issue Committee meeting Thursday.

Image By: Dana Kampa

In an attempt to balance the interests of both landlords and tenants, city officials met Thursday to develop a voluntary best practices program.

Assistant City Attorney Steve Brist presented a 23-item proposal to the Landlord and Tenant Issues Committee as potential basic principles to follow and as a way to help Madisonians understand new state housing laws.

Committee member David Sparer compared the comprehensive program to the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, acting as an incentive for landlords when marketing to new tenants and for tenants to behave responsibly.

The most complex issue presented for balancing landlord and tenant interests is when landlords can begin renting for the next year. While property owners need adequate time to show apartments and remain competitive in the Madison market, renters need enough time to decide whether or not to commit to another 12 months.

UW-Madison student and committee member Tom Gierok said it can be especially difficult for students new to renting apartments when they are still getting acquainted with new roommates and exploring living options with late deadlines, such as studying abroad.

“Madison vacancy rate is … very, very low, which means there’s a market to push those leases out,” Gierok said. “At the same time, you can’t expect students to know what to do. We’ve never rented anywhere, we might not know the people that we’re living with that well. It’s a lot of pressure on both ends, but I hope it becomes a good discussion.”

According to the recommendations, landlords would also be able to show an apartment freely but must indicate a specific time window to be expected.

While there is no state law about capping late rent fees or security deposits, committee member Curtis Brink said irregularly high fees does not ultimately help the landlord or tenant. The fee is supposed to help make sure the landlord gets paid on time, not seriously penalize the tenant.

Jill Severson from the Apartment Owners Organization also supported itemizing security deposit deductions. Landlords would have to explain why they made certain deductions.

“Nobody should be shocked if there is a deduction,” Severson said.

Brink also said it would be good to further discuss how landlords should notify potential renters of past code violations, such as not providing adequate heating, fixing large holes in walls or providing security locks.

Under the guidelines, landlords also could not deny a housing application based on a minimum income standard, which could be useful to students new to apartments who might not have high-paying jobs.

The committee will further discuss the guidelines in its next meeting in January.

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