By PrincessSafiya Byers
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.
Good landlords exist.
Ihsan Atta, aware of a bevy of negative news about landlords emanating from coverage of the city’s housing crisis – including a spate of evictions – wants people to know that.
His company, Opus Corporation, owns residential and commercial properties in the Riverwest neighborhood and surrounding areas.
Atta contacted News414, the joint project between NNS and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism that uses innovative technology and research techniques to deliver crucial information to residents, with that in mind. NNS then contacted him.
His properties range from senior-based apartments to places where residents work with people with cognitive disabilities. They include the building that holds the George Floyd mural on North Holton Street and East North Avenue and the one that has a Brianna Taylor mural in the alley on North Holton and East Locust streets.
Mastering the ‘nuances’
He said learning the culture of the neighborhoods where he owns property is one way he avoids trouble.
“Understanding the little nuances to each neighborhood makes it a little easier to handle issues that may arise,” he said. “For example, if I know my tenant lost a family member: Understanding that it is a cultural practice to have a lot of visitors after death, it is easier to address when their neighbor calls me concerned about traffic in her building.”
Atta said relationships matter.
“Having a relationship with the people you are working with just makes things easier,” he said. “Sometimes people are surprised to see the relationships I have with my tenants.”
Mattie Mallott was one of those people.
Mallott, 70, has been renting from Atta for the past 18 years and said she’d never had a landlord so professional and friendly.
“I rarely have problems, but when I do, I know it will be fixed quickly,” she said. “I don’t have to wait weeks or call Ihsan multiple times to get things handled.”
She said his professionalism is why she has rented from him for so long, but his friendly nature is the icing on the cake.
“He does things like getting us Christmas gifts every year,” she said. “And when my husband passed four years ago, not only did he show up to the funeral, but he also reached out to see if I needed a decrease or assistance with rent because he knew we’d lost a second income.”
Dorrian Malone, who has been renting from Atta for almost six years, shared Malott’s’ appreciation for the landlord.
“Ihsan is quick to handle any maintenance issue I might have,” he said. “And he is always willing to be patient and work with me if I need it.”
Atta said he is fortunate to have the capacity to extend grace to his tenants when they need it, but he understands that not all landlords can do that.
“I’m not a huge landlord, but I have other things going on, so I can be more flexible,” he said. “Not all landlords are as fortunate.”
‘This is a business’
Atta said some people don’t understand how the investment property business works. So when you mix that misunderstanding with the predatory landlords who get attention, you can get an unfair narrative about landlords.
“Like it or not, this is a business,” he said. “Property owners are paying increased utility cost and for labor when anything goes wrong or needs updating as well as paying for tools and equipment.”
He said no other business is expected to provide a service and get no returns.
“Most of us are good people just trying to make it,” he said. “But a small percentage of them make it look bad for all of us.”
Atta got into real estate 26 years ago. When he initially got into the business, he was fixing up houses and putting them back on the market, then he started investing in rental properties. Now Opus Corporation serves as a parent company for the investment property business, a construction and remodeling business and wholesale and retail vinyl and aluminum windows business.
Atta said he strives to make sure all his units are in conditions that he would be comfortable living in. He said he gets routine inspections done, communicates often and gives notice of any changes well in advance.
“I believe that anywhere can be a nice place to live,” he said.