In response to some violent incidents and an uptick in police calls, residents of the Rethke Terrace affordable apartment building on Madison's east side were recently temporarily banned from bringing in guests.
But that potentially violates housing laws, said Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center and a candidate for mayor, said in a statement released Monday morning.
On Monday afternoon, Heartland Housing of Chicago, which manages the facility, decided not to impose the guest ban.
“We are adjusting our approach to the safety and security of our residents immediately, as we have recently been made aware of local ordinances that do not permit these practices,” a statement from Heartland Housing spokesman Joe Dutra said.
“Many of the residents there will be relieved,” Konkel said. “I’m delighted. The residents there should treated like tenants in all the other buildings in Madison."
Rethke Terrace Apartments was built by Heartland Housing at 715 Rethke Ave. and opened in 2016. The project created 60 units of affordable housing for formerly homeless individuals, with 25 units slated for veterans. There are medical, mental health and substance abuse support services on the premises. The city provided almost $1.5 million to the $8 million-plus project.
The facility has seen a rise in police calls this summer, the Wisconsin State Journal reported, with 38 in June and 46 from July 1 to Aug. 3. There have also been two stabbings at the property.
In response, Heartland Housing put a number of measures in place in cooperation with the Madison Police Department, including a temporary ban on house guests. East District Capt. Thomas Snyder of the MPD told the State Journal that “many of the disturbances and fights we respond to have been initiated by visitors.”
According to Konkel, banning visitors goes against Madison General Ordinance 32.05(1)(g), which states “a landlord may regulate guests, but may not prohibit a tenant from having all guests,” with any guest regulations included in the lease. If there’s a change in the policy for guests, Konkel said, both parties have to agree to change the contract as stated in the lease.
In her own experience, the ban was not being applied equally, Konkel said, as she was able to enter the building last week without her I.D. or approval by a case or property manager.
“What kind of fair housing implications does this have that I was able to get in, me, a white person?” she said, adding that there’s a “fair amount of room for discrimination to happen here.”
Konkel also had concerns about how the ban was to be enforced. Last week, Rethke Terrace posted a notice stating “your apartment will be entered by Heartland Alliance property managers and officers of the Madison Police Department to perform an occupancy inspection. With the current guest ban, it is a violation of your residency to have guests in your apartment.”
That’s not constitutional, Konkel said, because “otherwise police could search and seize any building because the landlord brought them in.”
Madison police did not end up accompanying staff into rooms and Konkel said in the statement she was “relieved.”
“I have confirmed that MPD will not be accompanying the landlord into apartments. That was my primary concern, and the landlord’s notice saying that would happen was inaccurate,” read an email from city attorney Michael May to Konkel.
Rethke guests will be regulated in compliance with the ordinance and resident leases, the Heartland statement said, but Heartland will “not be inspecting any units as related to this matter, nor limit visitors.” Visitors will be subject to Rethke guest policies, like checking in at the front desk with an I.D.
In a statement, Konkel said that “our police department should not be spending their time managing property for landlords and recommending illegal practices.”
Jim O’Keefe, director of the city’s Community Development Division, disagreed with the implication that the police department was forcing Heartland Housing into any action. He said that Heartland staff, city staff from the Community Development Division, a representative from the Veterans Administration and the MPD met collectively and collaboratively a few weeks ago to problem-solve and “calm things down.”
“The police are not pressuring Heartland into anything here. Heartland is working side by side with the MPD,” he said.