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Surge in evictions in Wisconsin expected after ban expired

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A legal firm that offers free help to renters facing eviction expects to see a significant rise in new cases now that the ban on evictions has expired. But there is help on the way.

Gov. Tony Evers had ordered landlords to hold off on filing new eviction notices during the pandemic, to help renters who were out of work get through the crisis. That order expired May 26.

"Probably we'll see the rush of filings in mid June and things will really tick up starting in July," said Heidi Wegleitner, an attorney with Legal Action of Wisconsin.

Based on unemployment numbers in Wisconsin, Legal Action predicts there will be 44,000 new evictions, on top of the backlog in the courts that piled up when the order halted proceedings.

"There's just so many more people in this situation because of the COVID crisis and the economic impact it's had and so many people being unemployed," Wegleitner told 27 News. "We had a crisis before. Now it's just that much worse."

The governor announced last week that the state will make $25 million available to residents who lost income during the pandemic to help make rent payments.

Plus, Dane County leaders are proposing a $10 million eviction prevention fund.

The Tenant Resource Center in Madison will issue that money, helping callers apply for the funds as soon as the county board approves the plan.

"With both tenants and landlords, we're trying to reassure them that if you can just hold for a few weeks until the county approves that funding officially, there will be some help on the way," said Robin Sereno, executive director of TRC.

Sereno tells 27 News it will still be a few weeks before everything is set, but TRC is hoping it will work out in time to help cover July rent.

Right now, the TRC office is closed but staff members are still taking more calls for help after the eviction ban lifted. The organization helps both renters and landlords and takes 400 to 500 calls a day now, up from 100 to 200 before the pandemic.

"Everything's stressful, landlords have mortgages, absolutely, we understand that it's an extremely stressful time for everyone," Sereno said.

"There are people out there trying to be good landlords and trying to understand the law. It's incredibly complex."

Kelly LeGrand's Greater Madison Resource Center is also seeing more calls for help.

"I put these families in hotels if I have funding available. I have a lot of families who are sleeping in their cars right now," LeGrand said.

She hopes the funding will help some families, but she knows there are others who will be homeless, like one single mother who moved out to avoid an eviction on her record that could make it difficult for her to ever rent again.

"They didn't renew her lease, she didn't want an eviction so she just packed her stuff and moved out," LeGrand told 27 News. "She put everything in storage and she just bounces around from place to place to place."

Right now, LeGrand is referring callers to TRC to file an application for rent assistance as soon as they're available, and helping with costs to relocate or finding resources like shelters.

"Donations are welcomed every day," she said. "If we wouldn't have had the support of the community since COVID started, my company would have stopped."

Legal experts say it's important to reach out for help if you think you're facing a possible eviction. And make sure to talk with your landlord to try to reach an agreement.

"Communicate with the landlord to let them know that you're interested in resolving these issues and you're looking for help and you hope you can work something out," Wegleitner said.

Legal Action of Wisconsin can be reached at 855-947-2529. Tenant Resource Center is at 608-257-0006.

Meanwhile, a federal moratorium on evictions continues through July 25, so anyone living in federally-funded housing cannot be evicted until then.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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