January 31, 2018

Assembly approves "The Rental Housing Affordability Act of 2018"

Last week, the Wisconsin State Assembly overwhelmingly, 58-34, approved Assembly Bill 771, "The Rental Housing Affordability Act, and its accompanying substitute amendment. The amendment was the work of a number of stakeholders who raised concerns about the legislation during drafting and the public hearing.

Assembly Bill 771:

Assembly Bill 771 is designed to make it easier for landlords to provide Wisconsinites with quality, clean, safe, and affordable housing. Some of the bill's core provisions include:

  • Historic Preservation--This bill allows owners of historic properties who, during the repair or replacement of properties located in a historic districts, to use materials that are similar in design, color, scale, architectural appearance and other visual qualities. It is imperative to denote that the language pertaining to historic preservation was provided to my office by the Wisconsin State Historical Society. Furthermore, the language represents United States Department of Interior standards and those employed by the State of Wisconsin. Like the Wisconsin State Historical Society, I believe the language provides clarity to those looking to preserve, purchase, or utilize historic properties.

  • Rental inspections--The substitute amendment to Assembly Bill 771 authorizes a city, village, town, or county to establish a rental property inspection program in designated districts in which there is evidence of blight, high rates of building code complaints or violations, deteriorating property values, or increases in single-family home conversions to rental units. No inspection of a unit may be conducted under the program if the occupant of that unit does not consent to allow access, unless the inspection is under a special inspection warrant. Under such a rental property inspection, if no "habitability violation" is discovered--for a definition of habitability violation, see the substitute amendment--during an inspection, or if such a violation is corrected within a period designated by the municipality, then the political subdivision may not inspect the same property again for at least five years. However, a political subdivision may designate a period of less than 30days to correct a violation if the violation exposes a tenant to imminent danger. 

  • Landlord work--This section clarifies the language contained in section 704.07(3)(a) of Wisconsin State Statutes which states that if a tenant causes damage, "the tenant must reimburse the landlord for the reasonable cost" of making the repairs. This language has been contained in Wisconsin's landlord-tenant statutes for many years. This provision is tenant-friendly, as landlords will not be able to charge professional rates for work they undertake themselves. Instead of hiring a plumber at $80 per hour to clear a clogged toilet, the landlord can do it himself or herself at a rate of perhaps $15 per hour.

  • CCAP--Current law authorizes the Director of State Courts to implement an automated information system--referred to as the Consolidated Automation Program (CCAP) case management system--for circuit court records. Substitute amendment 1 to Assembly Bill 771, to the contrary, prohibits the Director of State Courts from removing case management information from CCAP's Internet access site for a civil case that is not a closed, confidential or sealed case for the following time periods: (1) If a writ of restitution has been granted in an eviction action, a period of 10-years (current law is 20-years). (2) If an eviction action has been dismissed and no money judgment has been docketed, a period of at least two years.

  • Emotional support animals--The substitute amendment expands the scope of the state's open housing law to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disability-related needs for emotional support animals and replaces provisions of current law relating to specially trained animals to conform with United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, herein referred to as HUD, guidance. Specifically, the substitute amendment defines "emotional support animal" to mean an animal that provides emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship for an individual, but that is not trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. With respect to emotional support animals, the substitute amendment adopts an approach similar to the one set forth by the 2013 HUD guidance, including authorizing a housing provider to request documentation of a disability-related need for an emotional support animal from a physician, psychologist, social worker, or other health professional, and incorporating certain other limitations. However, it specifies that the health professional must be licensed in Wisconsin and acting within his or her scope of practice.

Assembly Bill 771 now heads to the Wisconsin State Senate for debate and final passage.

Testifying on Assembly Bill 771 before the Senate Housing, Real Estate, and Insurance Committee.

Assembly and Senate Transportation Committees hold joint hearing on Assembly Bill 717, "The Electric Vehicle Freedom Act."

This week, the Assembly and Senate Transportation Committees held a public hearing on Assembly Bill 717, "The Electric Vehicle Freedom Act," that I coauthored with Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield). Electric vehicle owners from communities throughout Wisconsin came to the capitol to testify in favor of this legislation.

Current law prohibits the direct sale of vehicles to consumers from manufacturers. Decades ago, this law was enacted to protect franchised automotive dealerships from having to compete directly with automobile manufacturers after making a significant capital investment.

Rapid technological advancements are changing the face of business and the automotive marketplace is no exception. Some electric car manufacturers have employed state-of-the-art business models in which vehicles are sold directly to consumers in stores. As such, they lack affiliated dealers with whom to compete. Current law prohibits Wisconsin consumers to purchase these vehicles in state, resulting in them having to travel across state lines to test, purchase, or service their vehicles. This results in Wisconsin losing jobs, capital investment, and the tax revenues associated with permitting electronic vehicle manufacturers selling their vehicles in the "Badger State."

Assembly Bill 717 amends the existing dealer franchise statute to permit manufacturers of solely electric vehicles to sell their products directly to Wisconsinites. It is imperative to denote that this legislation does not impair the protections provided to currently franchised dealerships.

Whether consumers prefer to purchase a gasoline-powered vehicle from an independent franchise dealer or an electric vehicle directly from a manufacturer, they should have that choice. Under this proposal, allowing direct sales of these vehicles will create jobs, new stores, and bring economic benefits to Wisconsin through tax benefits and economic investment.

Citizens from communities throughout Wisconsin visited the capitol to show their support for "The Electronic Vehicle Freedom Act."

2018 State of the State Address

Recently, Governor Scott Walker delivered his eighth "State of the State" address and outlined an ambitious agenda for Wisconsin in 2018. Wisconsin is making remarkable progress and 2018 is poised to be laden with historic legislative achievements.

Governor Walker, in his annual message, emphasized the profound impact his reforms had on the state. In particular, Governor Walker's speech highlighted Wisconsin's thriving economy, its three percent unemployment rate (a record low), continued commitment to lower taxes, the abolition of outmoded regulations and administrative rules, and historic investment in K-12 education that was included in the 2017-19 biennial budget.

Assembly Republicans have proposed an ambitious agenda for 2018 that continues to build on 2017's success by addressing the following issues:

  • Encouraging economic development by eliminating barriers to growth, attracting and retaining workers to Wisconsin, and increasing job opportunities, especially in rural communities.

  • Reforming the welfare system by promoting independence and helping those individuals looking to enter the workforce, but need assistance to do so.

  • Promoting healthy families by fighting the opioid epidemic, improving Wisconsin's foster care system, and combating Alzheimer's disease.

Additionally, Governor Walker addressed the myriad ways in which his administration will continue to work around federal healthcare issues, focusing on senior healthcare, preexisting conditions and assisting individuals stuck paying exorbitant deductibles. We must ensure that Wisconsinites have access to care they can afford. While it is not the state's responsibility to clean up the Obamacare mess, I am pleased that Governor Walker has outlined a solution to stabilize the health insurance market and make it easier for individuals to obtain quality, cost-effective private health insurance plans.

Governor Scott Walker delivering his 2018 "State of the State" address to a joint session of the legislature.

How Property taxes are determined

Local governments issue property tax bills each December and they are due January 31. The following is an explanation of how property taxes are determined each year.

Determining the amount of property tax that will be paid by a property owner is a year-long process. First, the local assessor (or state assessor for manufacturing property) determines an assessed value for the property based on its condition on January 1. Assessing an entire municipality's property is an arduous undertaking. Assessors have several months to complete their work. Municipalities hold an "open book" and meeting of the Board of Review where property owners are able to review the assessor's work, ask questions, and appeal assessments before the assessment role is closed and finalized. After the inspector completes his or her work at the local level, he or she transmits the data to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, herein referred to as DOR.

The goal for each municipality and its assessor is to value property at is fair market value (100 percent), and state law requires municipalities to be within plus or minus 10 percent of fair market value (90-110 percent), once every five years. Since all 1,851 municipalities submit their own data, provided primarily by local assessors, variation in assessment levels exists within the aforementioned range of market values. The assessed value determines each property owner's share of the municipality's tax burden since all property is assessed under the same standard by a local assessor.

However, other taxation districts (counties, school districts, technical college districts, and special districts) divide their levy among all property owners in their respective jurisdictions, which usually include more than one municipality. If assessed values were the end of the story, there could be an unequal distribution of the tax burden since municipalities' assessments can fall anywhere from 90-110 percent of fair market value. That would mean, for example, that if two municipalities were located in the same county and one was assessed at 95 percent (5 percent below market value) and the other at 102 percent (2 percent above market value), the residents of the municipality at 102 percent would have a heavier tax burden as a result of local assessments.

Equalization is used to solve property tax disparities. DOR's equalization process involves complex calculations that review overall changes to property values in a municipality. Equalization takes the assessment data and derives equalized values (100 percent fair market values) by class of property for all municipalities, counties, and other underlying jurisdictions by removing assessment variation. After values are equalized, the levies for other taxation districts are apportioned to municipalities based on the value of all property in each municipality compared to the entire value within the taxation district (county, school district, etc).

The apportionment from each of the other taxation districts is added with the municipal levy to determine how much each municipality must collect from all their taxpayers. The total amount of the levy is divided by the total value in the municipality to determine the tax rate, also referred to as a mill rate. A taxpayer's total property tax bill is the mill rate multiplied by their assessed value.

State of Wisconsin Blue Books

Copies of the 2017-18 State of Wisconsin Blue Book are still available. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this year's Blue Book, please contact my office: Rep.Rob.Brooks@legis.wisconsin.gov or (608) 267-2370.

Have a great week,

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State Capitol Room 309 North-PO Box 8952, Madison, WI 53708

(608) 267-2369

Email: Rep.Rob.Brooks@legis.Wisconsin.gov