RUSH TO EVICT: Filings increase 30% since statewide moratorium's end.

 
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Byline: Michaela Paukner, mpaukner@wislawjournal.com

It's been a busy month for Legal Action of Wisconsin, which offers free legal help to low-income tenants who are threatened with eviction.

Ever since the end of a statewide moratorium on evictions on May 26, attorneys at the nonprofit firm have been hit with a surge of calls for assistance.

Christine Donahoe, housing law priority coordinator at Legal Action, recently calculated that the number of evictions filed in Wisconsin in the first 12 business days in June was 30% higher than the figure for the same period last year. CCAP records show 2,252 cases were filed under the Small Claims-Evictions class code from May 27 through June 19.

"We expect that to continue to increase, especially as people fall behind in July and as the federal moratorium lifts on July 25," Donahoe said.

Wisconsin's 60-day moratorium, imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, suspended all evictions and foreclosures save in cases in which there was threat of harm. Its lifting on May 26 in Milwaukee County brought out a group of landlords so eager to file that they stood in line at the courthouse even though, technically, the moratorium was still in place.

The moratorium did not mean that all eviction filings had ceased. Courts were generally still holding hearings during the 60-day period to decide if there was threat of harm.

For tenants who were still faced with eviction proceedings, it was up the courts to decide if the proceedings should still go forward, Donahoe said. And even when cases were eventually dismissed, there were serious consequences for tenants.

"Even if that eviction were dismissed, it would stay on the tenant's record, and there would be an easily searchable, freely accessible record on CCAP that an eviction had been filed," Donahoe said. "That could seriously harm that tenant's ability to find housing for two years into the future."

The Wisconsin Apartment Association and the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, two groups that represent hundreds of property owners in Wisconsin, are also urging members to think of evictions.

Chris Mokler, legislative director of the Wisconsin Apartment Association, said he and his colleagues are recommending landlords defer evictions for tenants who are waiting for unemployment or stimulus payments.

"Right from the start, we've been telling landlords across Wisconsin to find a way to work with their tenants because it's a community problem that's...

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