Some landlords are applauding a Senate bill that, if approved by the Assembly, will wipe out nearly three decades' worth of tenants' rights in Madison. "You know how they say Texas is like its own country?" says Dede Birrenkott, owner of Birwood Property Management. "Madison is like that. It has strict rules that favor tenants, but property owners need to have the tools to turn away bad people."
Under the bill, landlords can, among other things, set higher income requirements and charge more than one month's rent for security deposits. They would no longer be required to use check-in or check-out sheets, and could deny tenancy for minor criminal infractions, like disorderly conduct. The Assembly's version of the bill - AB-155 - has been taken up by its housing committee.
Representatives from Madison Property Management, Steve Brown Apartments and Apex Properties - three of Madison's largest residential property management companies - declined to comment on how the bill might change how they do business.
But tenants' rights advocates say the bill is devastating for tenants, charging that it will unfairly target the poor and hurt communities as a whole. "It's going to be extremely difficult for low-income people with credit problems to find housing," says Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center. "It's going to force them into really crappy apartments and segregate the community more than it is."
Phil Ejercito, a citizen member on the city's housing committee, also takes a grim view. "This is going to make life difficult for a lot of people," he says. "It's unclear what the final impact will be. I don't think the authors understand what the impact will be, either."
Birrenkott shrugs off concerns that the bill might lead to more homelessness, as some have suggested. "There are lots of agencies that help people. And, frankly, a lot of people are homeless because they've made bad decisions," she says. "If you have bad credit, you would do something to fix that, wouldn't you?"
Konkel worries the bill paves the way for discriminatory practices, especially when it comes to criminal records. "They'll be able to use arrest and conviction records against some, but not others," she says.
Birrenkott says Madison's ordinances have forced her into a bad rental agreement "on occasion" but didn't give specifics. "Because of all the protected classes, it's hard to turn people away," she says. "We want to find people homes, but we need to protect our properties, too."