The Marquette Lawyer magazine published a 10-page article in PDF form by Alan J. Borsuk and Tom Kertscher about evictions in Milwaukee.
View the PDF here
In the longtime words of the Wisconsin Supreme Court (these being from 1979): “The decisions of this court have held that there are a very limited number of issues permissible in an eviction action.”
Heiner Giese, a Milwaukee lawyer who has represented apartment owners for more than 40 years (and is the legal counsel for the RPA) is quoted in the article:
“Often, the most that attorneys for tenants can accomplish is to delay an eviction.”
The article explains more about this statement in the following two paragraphs:
But several property owners’ attorneys said that proceedings often are slower because more attorneys are involved and those attorneys use strategies for delaying outcomes. Some noted also that more property owners are calling on attorneys to represent them than in the past.
Several attorneys said that delays in concluding cases can mean increases in lost rent for owners, and extra costs for owners to pursue cases can mean higher rents or increased security deposit requirements for all tenants, including those who pay their rent steadily.
Tristan Pettit, an RPA board member, is also quoted in the article:
Tristan Pettit is executive vice president of the law firm of Petrie + Pettit and head of the firm’s landlord–tenant team. He said that the substantial increase in the percentage of eviction cases involving lawyers for the tenants has slowed down many proceedings. But, he said, it has also had benefits. “If you have a difficult tenant, having an advocate [for the tenant] can make things much easier,” he said.
The article also questioned the money going to attorneys who may delay the eventual eviction, rather than provide those funds to help tenants pay rent:
In the Stanford Law Review Online in July, two law professors questioned giving legal representation of tenants priority over what they regarded as the bigger need of tenants: rent money.
Here’s their view, as summarized by the law review: “Most low-income tenants facing eviction do not need a lawyer. They need rent money. . . . If we want to reduce evictions, tenant lawyers are not the best tool. Rental assistance could resolve, or even avoid the filing of, most eviction cases.” The authors said that the $46 billion in federal funds made available during the height of the COVID pandemic to help people who otherwise would have been facing eviction showed how much increased rental aid could reduce eviction problems. They called the movement to provide every tenant a lawyer in eviction proceedings “misguided.”
The article also covers the current trend in "redacting" or sealing of eviction records, by sharing Judge Cynthia Davis experience.
The number of requests in Milwaukee County Circuit Court to redact names of defendants in eviction filings has skyrocketed. In 2011, according to the clerk of the court, there were 63 such requests. In 2022, there were 1,959. “These have flooded our system,” Davis said. She was spending two mornings a week on such requests while she was on the small claims bench.
Generally, Wisconsin law strongly favors—indeed, requires—the accessibility of public records. Among other provisions, the legislature has provided (Wis. Stat. § 19.31) that “[t]he denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied.”
Tim Ballering is an RPA Board Member and the current Treasurer. He is quoted in the article as well:
Ballering said that new tenants who have had an eviction in the prior year fail to fulfill their lease obligations (to pay their rent) at significantly higher rates than other new tenants. By three years post-eviction, the track record is about the same as that of tenants without eviction records. Preventing landlords from seeing names of people who have been evicted is not only a problem for landlords, he said, but also for people who are better candidates to be reliable renters yet who may lose out in getting an apartment to someone with a past eviction.
Tim is further quoted in the article when the topic of mediation is covered, specifically highlighting Mediate Milwaukee (one of the organizations the RPA has had as a speaker at general meetings and who had a booth at our recent Trade Show).
Property owner Tim Ballering said, “Mediate first is a concept that we were unaware of in our industry.” The impact of COVID-19 accelerated efforts to mediate, he said. “A lot of people knew mediation was available mid-process, but to do it upstream is best for everyone.” He said mediation efforts overall have been “very successful.”