RACINE — What can a landlord do when a tenant doesn’t pay?
If the landlord kicks someone out, they definitely won’t be collecting rent until a new tenant moves in. But letting someone stay if they aren’t able to pay can lead to months of back rent, and it sets an unprofitable precedent. Not to mention, tenants may never get enough money together to cover the missed payments.
This is one of the issues landlords from the Southern Wisconsin Landlords Association talked about Thursday with Racine’s Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commission. Two Racine aldermen, Mary Land and John Tate II, along with several other community leaders, sit on the AAHRC. Mayor Cory Mason has attended each of the last two meetings, including the one Thursday night at City Hall, 730 Washington Ave.
Mark Russell, 57, was born in the Oxford, England and has lived in the Midwest since 2000. He manages upward of 40 units in Racine and Kenosha counties, and he is proud to say that he’s only evicted one tenant since becoming a landlord in the U.S. in 2016.
With the rest of his tenants, Russell says that his anti-evictions stance has driven him in debt at times. The only people he will evict are those “who keep pushing” back their payments and asking for extensions month after month without a reasonable excuse.
For example, Russell talked about a married couple who live in one of his properties who both suffered heart attacks within a month of each other. Neither was able to work, or pay rent. Now, Social Security payments are coming in, and they’ve been set up on a payment plan to start paying rent again, in addition to covering the months they missed. It’ll take a while, but Russell expects to make his money back.
“By the time Social Security comes around, it could be months,” Russell said.
Being lenient can put Russell in a hole from time to time, but he thinks it is ethically wrong to kick someone out if they’re facing unexpected medical expenses, especially if they’re going to be able to start paying again soon.
“I have a social responsibility,” he said. “I can (make a profit) while being socially correct.”
This policy is something that Jon Frickensmith, the president of the Southern Wisconsin Landlords Association, encourages.
“Evictions are bad for everyone. Landlords don’t want to evict anyone. Every time we have to get a new tenant, it costs us a lot of money,” Frickensmith explained at the commission meeting Thursday night. “Typically a landlord doesn’t start to evict someone for (missing) one month’s rent … I can’t imagine any landlord who would willingly go through an eviction process.”
An eviction is oftentimes more expensive than forgiving a couple months of rent for the landlord.
“The average vacancy costs us around $2,000. The average eviction can cost upwards of $5,000,” said landlord Chuck Albee at Thursday’s meeting, citing research from Landlordology.com.
This is because of the legal fees required to start the eviction process, serving legal documents to evictees, sometimes hiring a lawyer, and paying for sheriff’s deputies and a moving company on the day of the eviction, not to mention the lost rent.
“I have tenants literally laugh in my face about back rent. They just know what they’re going to do, they’re going to file bankruptcy,” Frickensmith said. “And now I’m the bad guy, so they don’t pay me.”
“Evictions are bad for everyone. Landlords don’t want to evict anyone. Every time we have to get a new tenant, it costs us a lot of money.” Jon Frickensmith, Southern Wisconsin Landlords Association president