Subcommittee reviews landlord’s Halloween policies

Kait Vosswinkel, Clarion Staff Writer

In their monthly meeting on Nov. 10, Madison’s housing subcommittee of landlord and tenant issues brought Halloween to the table.

The subcommittee invited Madison Property Management (MPM) to speak at the meeting in response to some unrest over new tenant policies enacted for Halloween.

In the agenda, some of the more questionable regulations were examined, determining whether or not they were truly legal, necessary or beneficial.

As one of the most prominent management companies in downtown Madison, MPM has quite a number of properties to handle, including several high-rise apartment buildings. This autumn, three of those apartment buildings adopted temporary crowd-control measures on Halloween night.

Students received letters by post, email and attached to their doors notifying them of the temporary holiday policy changes.

On the evening of Halloween, in order to re-enter the building, tenants would have to wear a wristband.

The tenants could request additional wristbands for parties as long as the number didn’t exceed the capacity limit for the apartment.

James Stopple, the president of MPM, came to the meeting speaking on behalf of the company. He began by introducing the two areas in the contract under which the newly adopted policies could be categorized.

In the first area of the contract, the responsibility to keep unknown persons off of the property is stressed. This obligation is clearly expressed as a mutually beneficial standard, and is shared between the landlord and the tenant.

The second area of the contract that could possibly umbrella the new policies is the paragraph ensuring the tenant’s right to privacy.

In Stopple’s opinion, these contractual responsibilities were at risk on Halloween. The doors to the high-rise apartments were left open constantly throughout the night because of the heavy traffic. In order to regulate who was coming and going, and to ensure the privacy and safety of his tenants, new policy was necessary.

Tenants who misplace or forget their wristbands, however, risked being locked out of their own apartments. Brenda Konkel, representing the Tenant Resource Center at the meeting, also made it clear that the spontaneous introduction of new policies such as mandatory bracelets goes directly against contract law.

Despite the controversy, Stopple’s overall reaction to the success of the new policies was positive.

“The system was well-received by residents. Nobody called, there were no reported thefts and there were no reported injuries, which is just wonderful,” Stopple said.

Another questionable practice addressed in the meeting was the expansive use of non-standard rental provisions and liquidated damages. Non-Standard rental provisions were initially introduced in a very limited sense to allow for extraneous charges. They have been expanded to include fines for an extensive list of transgressions or liquidated damages, some of which are considered questionable by tenants.

Liquidated damages are generally defined as recordable, measurable damages to property and are often incurred by tenant misconduct.

In their nonstandard rental provision, MPM includes certain hazy issues in their liquidated damage charges. For example, the company bans keg use entirely, charging a fine even if the activity is legal and there is no damage incurred.

MPM also charges an hourly fine in cases of a delayed moving date. Konkel expressed concern over the fees. She questioned the nature and necessity of the fines, inferring that they are simply means for profit gain.

Stopple responded, defending the charges.

“The courts have looked at liquidated damages and discerned that it has to be a reasonable amount. Oftentimes with property management there are unseen damages. With a keg party, for instance, there could be tenants selling alcohol by the cup, which is illegal. There could be tenant disruption. Ancillary expenses like running DVR’s back to see who set off the fire alarm – those charges add up. We’ve decided on a reasonable amount to put in the contract,” Stopple said.

Concluding the meeting, the subcommittee expressed that MPM is legally free to regulate traffic, especially considering the odd circumstances surrounding Halloween. They are free to enforce a bracelet policy, however it must be included in the contract.

MPM refines their policies and reviews their contracts annually.

“We try to make changes and be proactive. We are very proud of being voted ‘best management company in Madison’, and hope to keep that title,” Stopple said.

Future changes to MPM’s contracts and a more detailed discussion surrounding liquidated damage charges remain important topics, and will be explored in the future.