Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Protects Tenants Seeking Lead Hazard Remedies

Ordinance prohibits evictions of tenants seeking advice or service for lead hazards.

By - Jul 11th, 2019 03:25 pm
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Homes on Keefe Avenue. Photo taken March 25th, 2019 by Carl Baehr.

Homes on Keefe Avenue. Photo taken March 25th, 2019 by Carl Baehr.

An ordinance introduced by Alderman Jose G. Perez aims to protect tenants from evictions and retaliation by landlords for seeking to have lead hazards addressed.

The legislation, which was passed unanimously Tuesday by the Milwaukee Common Council, explicitly prevents landlords from evicting, terminating a lease, or denying automatic renewal of a tenant who seeks advice or service regarding known or suspected lead hazards in a rented home. The protections also extend to individuals who cooperate with the city on investigating and abating lead hazards including lead paint and water.

Perez said the need for the legislation came to light after working with the Milwaukee Health Department on lead abatement. Under new commissioner Jeanette Kowalik, the department has worked to get its Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, including home abatements, functioning again and compliant with federal and state guidelines and funding requirements. A myriad list of serious failures at the department became public when Mayor Tom Barrett announced the resignation of his longtime appointee Bevan K. Baker in January 2018.

“Prolonged exposure to lead can have extremely dangerous health consequences, especially for children,” said Perez in a statement. “Milwaukee residents should not be unfairly punished or evicted by their landlord for investigating the lead levels in their home, whether through the city or an outside service. In fact, they should be commended for taking steps to keep their family and themselves as safe as possible.”

The Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin had objected to an earlier version of the legislation, but supported an amendment introduced on the council floor by Perez. The amendment added the language “who is in compliance with the terms and conditions of a lease or tenancy.” Calling the change “fair and sensible,” Association attorney Heiner Giese said: “[This] clarifies that tenants cannot use a lead hazard or lead nuisance complaint as a defense to an eviction or the landlord’s modification of their rental agreement if they are delinquent in rent or otherwise in breach of the rental agreement.”

At a hearing on the legislation at the Public Safety & Health Committee in late June, Giese said the intent of his proposed amendment was “to make sure the tenant was acting in good faith.”

“This has been a huge issue that has been plaguing the community,” said Alderwoman Chantia Lewis at the June hearing. “One thing we need to bring to the table is that we have many landlords, that you know maybe are not really taking care of their properties.”

“We have the term slumlord for a reason,” added Lewis. She stressed that the issue with lead abatement wasn’t just with lead service lines, but with the whole home.

The ordinance was originally sponsored by Perez and Lewis, but the entire council was added as co-sponsors before the measure was unanimously approved. The proposal is awaiting the mayor’s signature before becoming law.

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Related Legislation: File 181759

More about the Lead Crisis

Categories: City Hall, Real Estate

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