All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again (Lease Renewal Ordinances version)

2000: “Proposed ordinance to delay future tenant-property showing” (By then Daily Cardinal writer and future Wisconsin State Journal higher ed reporter Deborah Ziff)

2010: “Proposal would help student renters before they’re pushed to sign new lease” (It would have been a lot more fun if Deborah had written this one, too – but anything by Kristin is always good)

Unfortunately, the Cardinal’s archives only go back to Jan 1 2001 so I can’t find the full story on their website. My memory is a bit hazy, so I don’t remember exactly how the 6 months got cut down to 4 months by the time the Cardinal’s archives come to life. That’s history we should know, so we don’t repeat the process. It was later changed to 3 months. (The Herald’s archives are no better. Please, to both papers – go back a few more years!)

As the 2010 article points out, even if the non-standard lease provisions are struck, landlords are likely to just use waiting lists and big deposits to hold a spot in line, and we’re not much better off than we were before. I think we need to make a bigger effort to change the marketplace. The Housing Fair is one attempt at that. The first fair would be held in November 2010, then in 2011 we’d do it in December, then in 2012 in February. If it’s a big enough event, it could be the unofficial start of the rental season.

There’s also a lot of lobbying that should be done with the Apartment Association to pressure their members to not rent so early. Eli Judge made it a point to build excellent relations with the apartment association, and was able to get things done with them, and Bryon Eagon has continued that trend. There is certainly more opportunity for ASM to also get involved on a person-to-person level and start working to see what can be done.

Or, and this is a wild, crazy and probably bad idea that I’ve been thinking about for all of maybe three minutes now, and will probably delete from this post before anyone reads it, but maybe a per-month tax on any lease that’s been signed but the term haven’t started? ie, if you sign a lease in November of 2010 that starts in August of 2011, you pay a tax in Nov 10, Dec 10, Jan 11,…,and July 11? Maybe its a tax on anything more than three months in advance, so it’s not too onerous. (And 3 months isn’t a real proposal – it could be 2 months or 4 months or 6 months, whatever. Just something so the system is not “the only way to pay no tax is to sign a lease the day of.”) You can (and people do) make a case that keeping the rental market somewhat liquid is good for the city – if you’re new to the city and want to live downtown, it’s a problem if you have to sign a lease 6 months in advance. The money raised can be used to help fund building inspectors or something else useful to renters.

Like I said, this is almost certainly a bad idea: I wonder, does it discourage people from renting in Madison at all? I don’t think it should apply to businesses, so off the top of my head I can’t think of how it would harm them, except if it discourages people from renting in Madison it would also negatively impact their ability to attract workers, but I suspect there are very few if any people who get hired 6 or 9 months in advance and sign a lease that far out. Finally, if it doesn’t seriously change the market, then people would still rent early anyway. In that case, it’s just a tax on renters for no good reason, and that’s a step backwards. But, it might be a big enough signal to the market that renting later is better, and if people intentionally delay renting to avoid the tax, then maybe it’s worth doing.


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