What to do if you’re facing eviction in Milwaukee

You knew you were behind on your rent but you didn’t think your landlord would really evict you.

But now there are a few large sheriff’s deputies at your door and suddenly you realize your landlord wasn't kidding. You are about to be put out on the street.

Failure to pay your rent is likely the primary reason landlords evict tenants, said Raphael Ramos, director of Legal Action of Wisconsin's Eviction Defense Project.

Here's what to do if you find yourself facing eviction.

First, try talking with your landlord

So what now? Call the landlord.

Even if you owe a bunch of back rent, landlords and tenant advocates agree it is almost always a good idea to reach out to the property owner and see what could be worked out.

“We encourage people to reach out to their landlord," Ramos said. “A lot issues are caused by a failure to communicate.”

Negotiate a payment plan

Talking to the landlord could result in working out a payment plan or, if that's not possible, working out an exit strategy.

"Don’t wait until the sheriff shows up at your door," said Colleen Foley, executive director at the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee. "You just lose control of your belongings. It's a very bleak picture."

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Heiner Giese, legal counsel for the Milwaukee-area landlord's association, agreed, saying a conversation could result in the landlord agreeing not to file an eviction action — an arrangement that keeps the eviction off the tenant's online court record.

Landlords frequently will not rent to people with a recent eviction action on their record. Some landlords who do rent to the recently evicted may demand a larger security deposit.

An eviction may also be avoided if a tenant applies for various rent assistance programs, Ramos and Foley said. Tenants facing or fearing eviction could contact a variety of agencies, including Legal Aid Society, Legal Action, the Milwaukee Rental Housing Resource Center, Impact 211, Community Advocates or the Social Development Commission.

But what if a tenant goes through the available rent assistance or is not eligible to receive it, and the landlord and tenant cannot agree on a payment plan?

You may have to move

"Sometimes people have to look into the realistic process of having to move," Ramos said.

If they do, they should first notify the landlord, he said.

"They need to have their belongings out or risk additional cost," Ramos said. "It's particularly important to turn over the key and notify the landlord."

Even if the tenant moves out, the landlord will still likely want to collect back rent.

And whether tenants move or not, they must keep an eye on the court process in case the landlord sues them for eviction and seeks an order to collect back rent.

The tenant "should always, always come to court if at all possible," Ramos said.

Check with the courts and seal the record

Even if a eviction case is dismissed, the now-former tenant may still have some work left.

Landlords often check online court records before renting to a person and may not rent to a person who has been sued for eviction — even if the case was dismissed.

So the tenant may want to file a motion asking to have their name sealed from Wisconsin's online court record system known as CCAP.

"It just requires having to go back into court — that's the biggest impediment," Foley of Legal Aid said.

Forms to file the motion to seal can be found on the Milwaukee Justice Center website. Although process is relatively simple, the Justice Center notes that "Legal advice is strongly recommended!"

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Evictions in Milwaukee: What to know if it happens to you