By Sam Woods
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Even though the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention’s eviction moratorium is not set to expire until June 30, Milwaukee tenants continue to be evicted.
We know this because you all have shared your stories with us through our News414 project, a free texting service connecting residents to resources. We’ve gotten a lot of questions about housing, tenants’ rights and navigating the eviction process.
So last week we assembled a panel of local experts to talk about eviction and tenant rights in a virtual event called “Making rent: A conversation about eviction and tenant rights.”
The panel included Amani neighborhood project director Denisha Tate-McAllister; VIA outreach and engagement manager Kevin Solis; Community Advocates housing strategy director Deb Heffner; Mediate Milwaukee mediator Joanne Lipo Zovic; and Legal Action of Wisconsin attorney Raphael Ramos.
You can view the full event on Facebook, but here are our four main takeaways.
1. Check out the Rental Housing Resource Center.
The Rental Housing Resource Center is designed to be a one-stop shop for tenants and landlords. This can include rental assistance programs, filing to be covered under the CDC’s eviction moratorium or mediation services. Its partners include Community Advocates, Legal Action of Wisconsin, Mediate Wisconsin and others.
To use the service, go to renthelpmke.org and fill out the form for either tenants or landlords. You’ll then be connected with resources that fit your needs.
These resources have always existed, but Heffner said that this new arrangement helps programs and services connect to serve residents quicker and more efficiently.
“If it seems like we are hyping up the Rental Housing Resource Center, it’s because we believe in it,” Ramos said.
2. Do not try to be your own lawyer or get legal advice from someone who is not a lawyer.
Even when you might have a case, such as if your landlord is not making needed repairs, you still need to be careful when taking action. Ramos made the point that often tenants will rightfully think they have a case but then ruin their chances in court by taking action on their own, such as withholding rent.
Tenants can avoid getting themselves into trouble when they already have a case by going to credible sources of legal information, such as the Legal Aid Society or Legal Action of Wisconsin. Avoid relying on your friends or family members for legal advice, even when your case seems cut and dried.
“Common sense does not necessarily reflect the law,” Lipo Zovic said. “What seems like it makes sense under the law isn’t the way the law is written.”
“So it’s really critical that people understand what they can and can’t do before they take action that could harm their own self interest,” she said.
3. Landlords and tenants: Talk to each other before taking action.
The panelists stressed the need for consistent and collaborative communication between landlords and tenants. While this may be uncomfortable, services like Mediate Milwaukee exist to settle disputes between landlords and tenants without them having to go through the court system.
“We’ve got to lean into the discomfort a little,” Lipo Zovic said. “We can be proactive and try to figure out a way to not resort to an eviction.”
Both tenants and landlords can request mediation or more information about Mediate Milwaukee by calling 414-939-8800 or emailing email@example.com.
4. Rental assistance may not come until 14 days after completing an application, but often aid comes sooner than that.
Heffner said while Community Advocates continues to hire new staff to process applications, they have also received an influx of applications that may delay the processing time. However, Heffner said, you should receive rental assistance within 14 days of completing an application, and often tenants will get it sooner than that.
Heffner added that once an application is completed, the landlord will be notified. This can help put your landlord at ease even if the aid will not arrive by the time your rent is due.
Landlords cannot fill out the application but can submit information for tenants that will notify the tenant of the option to apply for rental assistance.
One thing that helps expedite the process is making sure to submit all required documentation as soon as possible.
News414 is service journalism project provided by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service in collaboration with Wisconsin Watch. We respond to your direct needs and deliver free, valuable information directly to you over text messages. We also publish online investigative news stories to amplify the voices of city residents, explore solutions to problems and hold people in power accountable.
We offer every user the ability to connect directly with a reporter to obtain information. Text MILWAUKEE to 73224 to see how it works.