The Advance-Titan

Rental inspection causes controversy

Advance-Titan | The Advance-Titan

The rental housing inspectors working in the program started last week by the city of Oshkosh won’t be kicking down doors looking for illegal things in homes, Councilman Thomas Pech said.

Oshkosh Community Development Director Allen Davis said the inspectors will not be reporting drugs or other illegal things they find in the house.

“The inspectors are only looking for things on their checklist,” Davis said. “They don’t have the proper training to identify any of that and won’t report it.”

Pech said the only thing the inspectors are looking for are health and safety code violations.

“If you’re in the business of renting a house for someone to live in, you should make sure they have a house that’s safe and is a healthy environment to live in,” Pech said.

Discovery Properties co-founder Randy Schmiedel said the Winnebago Apartment Association, which Discovery is a part of, wasn’t upset with the ordinance itself but rather the details of it.

“This program, over a five-year period, will cost millions of dollars to the landlords,” Schmiedel said. “And in return, like any business, ultimately those costs get passed on to the customer (in this case the resident).”

Erik Forsgren, the Oshkosh Student Association attorney on retainer for students on campus, said he has never seen renters so upset in his nearly four-decade career.

“What are they trying to hide?” Forsgren asked. “I’ve never seen the renters as passionate and loud about something in my 38 years of experience.”

Pech said there won’t be dramatic events with search warrants and busting through doors of houses.

“We’re not going and looking in drawers,” Pech said. “We’re not looking in closets. We’re not doing that type of thing. They’re going to be looking at plumbing and heating. They are not going to be inspecting or looking into personal effects.”

Discovery Properties sent an email to their renters saying the voluntary inspection is starting, and it’s within renters’ rights to refuse entry.

“Once they are inside, you or I can not control the outcome of the inspection,” the email stated.

Discovery Properties said if the inspector finds things such as extension cords being utilized throughout the house, illegal bars, drug paraphernalia or undocumented pets, the renters could receive citations.

Forsgren said the landlords are not allowed to take money from renters’ security deposits to repair the properties unless the damage is beyond normal wear and tear.

“The landlords are only able to withhold a renter’s security deposit for one of five reasons, one of which being damage beyond normal wear and tear,” Forsgren said.
“If they try to use it to pay for damages you can’t help, such as electrical issues, you could take them to court.”

Schmiedel said the landlords will be billed for the inspection, and any damages induced by the resident will be billed back to the student for their negligence.
UWO junior Annika Hobson said she has no problems with the ordinance.

“If they’re not going to inspect for anything illegal, they’re just doing it to make sure that there’s no mold or that kind of thing, I think it’s fine,” Hobson said.

Forsgren said if the inspectors ask renters to open anything that is not on the list of things they can search for, residents can decline.

“If the inspector comes in and starts looking around in places that they aren’t allowed to, like drawers or cabinets, the student can come to me, because they don’t have a warrant and that’s illegal,” Forsgren said.

Councilman and UWO student Ben Stepanek said the ordinance is restricted so that the inspections are city-wide and systematic.

“This prevents us from targeting only the landlords the city has had documented problems with,” Stepanek said. “Because of this, our rental inspection program includes all rental properties.”

Stepanek said he urges students to let inspectors into their home and shouldn’t fear retribution from their landlord because the law is on their side.

“There has been an effort by many landlords to spread misinformation and lies about the ordinance and inspection process to their tenants to scare tenants from letting inspectors in,” Stepanek said. “If a landlord has maintained their property like they should be and adhering to the minimum housing codes, then they should have nothing to fear from an inspection.”

Read More: Rental Ordinance Details Disputed

Read More: Council passes rental inspection law

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Independent Student Newspaper of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Rental inspection causes controversy