A New Vision for Renters’ Rights
Milwaukee County faces an affordable housing crisis. As Matthew Desmond has documented in his groundbreaking book Evicted, families throughout our community struggle to find sustainable housing and are often exploited by predatory landlords. The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office must take on a greater role in combating this crisis. As the next Sheriff, I will ensure fairness and equity in the eviction process while reforming the process by which the Sheriff’s Office auctions foreclosed properties.
Ensuring a Fair Eviction Process
The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office is sworn to protect and serve everyone in our community. The responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Office include administering the eviction process with fairness and a commitment to justice. While as Sheriff, I will ensure that all court orders are enforced, I will not prioritize evictions over public safety, and I will implement the following procedures to ensure a just eviction process:
- I will work to end evictions during the holidays, when evicted tenants face serious challenges in obtaining shelter and resources. I will partner with the Circuit Court and legislators at the county and state levels to implement a policy preventing evictions during the holidays.
- I will partner with judicial and legislative stakeholders to prevent evictions on days when the temperature is below 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
- I will ensure that all deputies in the Civil Process Unit (and all Sheriff’s Office personnel involved in the eviction process, including clerical staff) receive the best available training on how to execute eviction orders in a manner that respects tenants’ rights and dignity. This will include implicit bias and conflict de-escalation training, and training to ensure that deputies promptly connect evicted tenants with housing services.
- I will partner with social service agencies to ensure that individuals evicted from rental properties receive immediate assistance in obtaining secure shelter.
Regulating Sheriff Sales
Under the Wisconsin Statutes, elected sheriffs are responsible for selling foreclosed properties at auctions called “sheriff sales.” This process is routinely exploited by predatory landlords seeking to purchase leasable properties so that they can rent them out to vulnerable tenants at exploitative rents. Thanks to bipartisan efforts earlier in 2018, new legislation requires sheriffs to impose conditions on the sale of foreclosed properties so that only eligible bidders can bid, and the legislation also allows Sheriffs to conduct sheriff sales by internet bidding so long as the County passes an ordinance adopting internet sheriff sales. To date, unfortunately, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office has failed to support a model ordinance adopting internet sheriff sales. Immediately upon taking office, I will take the following steps to regulate sheriff sales:
- First, I will modernize sheriff sales. I will support a proposed Milwaukee County ordinance authored by Assistant Milwaukee City Attorney Gregg Hagopian that will establish online internet sheriff sales conducted by a registered auctioneer. This format was devised by a bipartisan group of legislators earlier this year to ensure transparent sheriff sales and to avoid existing problems with unscrupulous landlords buying properties. Internet auction sales will be a more efficient use of resources, and it will end current problems associated with having to be physically present to bid, such as when unscrupulous landlords intimidate bidding by other bidders.
- Additionally, I will enforce the new, mandatory bidder eligibility requirements that the new state law imposes, preventing landlords with outstanding judgments for noncompliance with building codes and with tax delinquencies from purchasing any properties at a sheriff sale.
- While the new state law imposed the mandatory bidder eligibility requirements - the new state law delayed the start date for this until the State Court system comes up with a standard form affidavit regarding the eligibility requirements. I will actively work with the courts to ensure that this affidavit is promptly drafted and implemented.
- Any sheriff sale conducted by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, whether online or at the Safety Building, will exclude landlords with outstanding judgments for noncompliance with building code violations and who have tax delinquencies.
- Any sheriff sale conducted by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office will be closely supervised by trained investigative staff, who will conduct background searches on potential purchasers to ensure that abusive landlords are in fact excluded from the sale.