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Rethke Terrace exterior

The operator of an apartment complex for the formerly homeless, Rethke Terrace, ended its temporary ban on house guests amid questions about its legality.

The operator of Madison’s Rethke Terrace, a permanent, supportive housing complex for the formerly homeless, is reversing course on a temporary ban on house guests after questions were raised about the policy’s legality.

In response to an uptick in police calls at the East Side apartment building in recent months, including two stabbings within a week, the Madison Police Department had been working with the operator of Rethke Terrace, Heartland Housing of Chicago, to find ways to reduce police responses and increase safety.

One of the biggest changes was a temporary ban on residents bringing in guests.

But Brenda Konkel, the executive director of the Tenant Resource Center and a Madison mayoral candidate, contended such a ban was not legal.

“While I understand that the police may have some issues with activities in the building, they should not be encouraging landlords to break our own local laws,” Konkel said in a statement Monday. “Being poor or living in a low-income neighborhood doesn’t mean you have less rights as a tenant.”

In her statement, Konkel pointed to a Madison ordinance that says “a landlord may regulate guests, but may not prohibit a tenant from having all guests.”

The $8.9 million, four-story, 60-unit building, which opened at 715 Rethke Ave. in June 2016, has allowed dozens of chronically homeless and homeless veterans, many with mental illness or addictions, to get off the streets.

Rethke Terrace is the city’s first major experiment with the Housing First model that puts chronically homeless people into housing with few or no conditions and provides voluntary support services.

Joseph Dutra, a spokesman for Heartland, said in a statement the temporary ban on adult visitors was meant to address “the safety of all of our Rethke Terrace residents.”

“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,” he said of the guest ban.

Konkel also criticized whether the ban was being implemented fairly, saying she was allowed to visit a Rethke Terrace resident last week without having an identification card or being pre-approved by a case manager or property manager.

“The ban was in effect, but they allowed me to go ahead and visit the resident. The fact that they are not applying this ban to everyone in the same manner is concerning,” she said.

In her statement, Konkel took issue with a notice she said residents received last week saying their units would be inspected by property management and police officers to make sure they were in compliance with the guest ban. She said such inspections would go against tenants’ constitutional rights.

Dutra said that staff had “miscommunicated the review of residential compliance regarding guest limitations.”

“We will not be inspecting any units as related to this matter, nor limit visitors,” he said. “We believe that housing is fundamental to achieving stability and greatly impacts the long-term success for participants.”

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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.