Not long ago, Tim Johnson turned down a man who wanted to rent one of his apartments in Fitchburg because he'd once been convicted of a gun crime. Now Johnson fears his ability to make such choices will be undercut by the county's new fair housing ordinance.
"For decent law-abiding landlords who are trying to have decent tenants," says Johnson, "it makes it more difficult for us."
The revised ordinance, which the County Board will likely vote on next week, has been in the works for years. "The heart of the ordinance is creating a substantial process [through which] the county can pursue housing violations," says Supv. Carousel Bayrd. "We really just wanted to add teeth to the ordinance."
As it stands now, the proposal doesn't prohibit landlords from denying a lease to a person who has been convicted of a crime. But Bayrd is considering adding a time limit for discriminating based on criminal records.
"The idea that individuals who have completed serving their time nevertheless can be denied housing just doesn't make any sense," she says.
Nancy Jensen, executive director of the Apartment Association of South Central Wisconsin, says her group is mostly okay with the ordinance, but understands landlords' concerns about renting to convicts.
"We have a fine line we walk," she says. "If you make a mistake, you increase the liability risk for the other residents."