MILWAUKEE - A surge in evictions is straining the Milwaukee County court system, and Berrada Properties is behind 850 of them in the past two weeks.
Anna Hodges, the acting clerk of circuit court, said the system is being pushed beyond its max – calling it a triage situation with all hands on deck.
Berrada Properties says tenants left the company with no other choice. It has thousands of units across Milwaukee, and the 850 eviction notices have Colleen Foley working overtime.
"It’s a bit of a wild scramble right now to be frank, and it’s not just us. It’s impacting every facet of the system," Foley, the executive director of Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, said.
Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, Community Advocates and the Social Development Commission got a letter on Jan. 7 from Youssef Berrada saying that, after working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to minimize evictions, the company was going to start evicting tenants who owed the most.
The letter said the company would file 50 evictions per week, but since Jan. 24 Berrada Properties has filed 850 evictions – more than 500 of them since Feb. 1.
"I can’t make sense of this. I don’t understand this approach. It is also completely contrary to what we were told would happen," said Foley.
In a statement, an attorney for Berrada Properties said in part: "The decision was made to process a large number of evictions, with the expectation that once tenants who have no hope of satisfying significant past due rent obligations have been evicted, the number of evictions filed out of necessity, will immediately and significantly drop."
That explanation isn't enough for Foley.
"I think it’s obscene. I really do," Foley said. "It is a mad rush, and we are doing our best to just gage how to handle it best, and it didn’t have to be like this. This is irresponsible."
If you or someone you know is among the 850 families facing eviction, there are resources available through EvictionFreeMKE. People can also call 414-892-RENT Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to talk to a specialist for help.
The statement from Berrada Properties' attorney said the company is currently owed more than $5 million from tenants. The full statement is available below:
"Berrada Properties Management, Inc. has gone to great lengths to work with tenants who want to pay their rent and can’t – including creating an eviction diversion program – but unfortunately some tenants have not sought the help available and left us no choice. BPM is exercising its legal right to evict non-paying tenants, many who incurred significant balances of unpaid rent totaling as much as $17,000. The current amount of past-due rent, notwithstanding rent relief payments received by BPM through the course of the pandemic, exceeds $5 million.
"A recent letter to our community partners working with BPM and our tenants to prevent evictions showcased all that has been done during the pandemic to keep people in their homes. This letter also highlighted the need for BPM to follow through with the eviction process for those severely in arrears. BPM is allowing tenants who owe significant amounts up to two additional weeks beyond what the law requires to move out. We are also allowing them to leave, provided the premises are left in acceptable condition, with no money judgment and no strings attached, if they choose. We are also not objecting to any requests to seal evictions for those who have been filed against.
"BPM is faced with difficult choices. The backlog of evictions grew during a time when BPM first voluntarily, then by government order and even after its expiration, refrained from filing evictions. In all of 2021, less than 200 eviction actions were filed. The decision was made to process a large number of evictions, with the expectation that once tenants who have no hope of satisfying significant past due rent obligations have been evicted, the number of evictions filed out of necessity, will immediately and significantly drop.
"It is unfair to expect BPM, as a private business, to be deprived of the use of its property by allowing non-paying tenants to remain in residence. Those rents are needed to satisfy mortgage, tax, utility, and maintenance obligations that did not stop during the pandemic and continue to be due. BPM, like every other business owner, is entitled to be paid for the service it provides and these evictions are necessary to restore that.
"BPM will continue to provide safe, attractive professionally managed quality homes at affordable prices to its tenants. The rents paid by tenants will continue to allow BPM to improve neglected housing stock in areas of Milwaukee which suffer from a lack of capital investment."