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Ruling could affect how evictions handled (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A recent court decision in Dane County could affect the way Wisconsin landlords are able to evict tenants.

Some landlords let their management companies take care of eviction proceedings. However, state law requires that evictions cases be filed by “a person entitled to the possession of real property.” Some legal experts say that means only the landlord can sue, according to a Wisconsin State Journal report.

A Dane County circuit judge also has raised questions about the practice, and his decision this winter could lead to changes in the way eviction cases are handled.

Madison-based Wisconsin Management Co. had filed lawsuits against Sean Burke, his mother and his sister in 2011 after they fell behind in payments for storage units they rented in DeForest. But Judge Frank Remington dismissed those matters in February after concluding that the company likely broke the law when it, and not the property owner, sued the family and appeared in court.

Burke responded with a small-claims lawsuit against Wisconsin Management last month seeking $10,000 for filing an “illegal and unethical” eviction against him.

Bradley Bennett, Wisconsin Management’s collections manager, declined to comment.

Burke’s attorney, Tim Provis, argued that the state eviction law should be clearly interpreted to mean that management companies can’t sue for eviction if they don’t actually own the land.

That’s how things are handled in Milwaukee County, said Tristan Pettit, a lawyer and president of the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin. He said only the actual property owner is allowed to file suit.

Eviction cases are handled in small claims court. The only litigants who can appear in the court are the person or company that has the legal right to sue or who is the defendant; a full-time employee of a company that sues or is being sued; and, optionally, lawyers representing the parties.

Pettit said those provisions are also enforced in Milwaukee County, which can make evictions more expensive. Landlords often need to hire lawyers because they don’t have the legal expertise of their management companies, he noted.

If the same policy were enforced in Dane County, “those costs would become operating expenses and they would likely be passed on (in higher rents),” said Jay Koritzinsky, a Madison attorney who represents landlords.

As part of his lawsuit, Burke asked the court to ensure that property owners and management companies follow the correct procedures when removing renters from their homes.

“There are a lot of little people who are tossed out, and they can’t hire an attorney,” Provis said. “If they’re going to evict people, they should at least be forced to do it legally.”

Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj

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