City of Milwaukee may license residential landlords

City of Milwaukee may license residential landlords
Property owners say policy would be money and power grab by city

By Charles Rathmann, SBT Reporter

The City of Milwaukee may consider requiring residential landlords to pay licensing fees for their properties, even though a study recently completed for the Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) advises against the policy.
If the policy is adopted, owners of residential rental properties would have to pay a fee and submit to periodic inspections of properties.
"We are always looking at alternatives," DNS Commissioner Marty Collins said. "Many cities do this. One of the reasons for considering this is that I continually am asked by the common council about alternative methods of funding code enforcement."
Representatives of other departments of the city, including the Department of City Development, refused to comment on the likelihood of the policy.
According to Collins, the city’s current code enforcement system of enforcement, which relies on complaints to drive inspections and fines, is faulty.
"There is a substantial amount of fear on behalf of tenants that if they allow an inspector in, they will be evicted," Collins said. "If people are afraid to use that system, the system won’t work."
However, a prominent Milwaukee landlord claimed that market forces are more likely to ensure quality housing than universal licensing fees and a new city bureaucracy.
"We have seen this come up before," Jim Wiechmann said. "We have had this issue discussed and rediscussed. The last time the city looked at this was the late ’80s … It doesn’t make any sense when 95% of the landlords in the city abide by the law. Among landlords, if they are big, they are professional, and the competition is intense. Everybody is pretty service-oriented."
Wiechmann acknowledged that some bad apples exist in the city, but he claimed they would continue their antics even if licensing were in place.
"A couple of people who flip properties and hide their ownership will still do the same damn thing," Wiechmann said. "All this would do is put more governmental control on the market as a whole. If they want additional funding, that is understandable. Everywhere in the city, officials want to find some additional funding, but with the license goes control."
Wiechmann suggested alternative methods of funding code compliance for DNS.
"We multifamily owners already pa
y special billings on our garbage pick-up, over and above what a single family residence pays," Wiechmann said. "Why don’t they raise the real estate taxes? Not that I want that to happen, but that would be a hell of a lot less onerous."
A study conducted by graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs concluded that licensing would not be an effective policy tool, according to Andrew Rechovski, the professor who taught the two workshop courses.
"We conclude that Milwaukee should not implement licensing because the policy would be expensive, meet strong political opposition, and cause more problems for Milwaukee’s rental markets than it would solve," the study stated.
Collins was critical of the methodology used in the study and questioned the fact that politics played a role in the recommended course of action.
"The students focused on the fact that licensing system advocates lack political clout opponents have," Collins said. "But in the end, I think we have no idea what the common council would do."
The study was presented to Mayor John Norquist and other policy officials
May 9.
"There seemed to be interest," Rechovski said. "There were some questions by the mayor. The basic recommendation of the students was not to move forward with this recommendation."
According to Rechovski and Collins, the city’s Office of Management and Budget has frequently tapped the LaFollette Center for policy research for various city departments. Mayor Norquist is a graduate of the program.

June 13, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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