By Ald. Nik Kovac, Special to OnMilwaukee   Published Dec 17, 2015 at 6:18 PM Photography: Bobby Tanzilo

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If property owners don’t like the details of the fire code, should they still be required to install sprinklers? If the ideological zeal of Sen. Frank Lasee (R-DePere) and Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville) is taken to its logical conclusion, then they won’t be.

Assembly Bill 568 is "designed to make it easier for landlords," said Lasee and Brooks in a Dec. 4 memo to their colleagues. It would gut a municipality’s ability to hold landlords to any kind of consistent standard and would effectively destroy all protections for historic buildings in this state.

That is because they want to allow individual property owners to opt out of historic protections. If any individual can choose to not follow a rule, then as a practical matter there are no rules.

Currently, the zoning code and the historic preservation guidelines are used in order to protect public safety, health and welfare. If we can’t protect the welfare of the public by protecting historic buildings and districts, and if we can’t protect the health of the public by inspecting problematic rental properties, then will public safety be next? Will the senator from De Pere and the representative from Saukville attempt to rewrite local fire codes statewide?

It strains credibility, but they already have.

True to their ideological bent, Lasee and Brooks are not leaving the fire codes alone, either. Their bill would limit the ability of local governments to require sprinklers in buildings, no matter what the local fire chief thinks. Why do they want to make it "easier for landlords" to rent out unsafe units and to damage the property values of their neighbors? Why can’t they see that the public’s health and welfare are important along with our immediate safety? 

On the East Side of Milwaukee, our regulation of landlords near the UWM campus has improved the quality of housing for students from across this state, and our protection of the North Point and Brady Street historic districts has increased the property values for generations of property owners. Study after study – in this city and nationally – have proven that historically-protected districts have higher property values than similar neighborhoods without protections.

Allowing individual landlords to opt-out of common sense and value-improving regulations will hurt everyone in the neighborhood (and it is likely illegal per current state law, as it would create ad hoc spot zoning). The practical effects of this ideologically-motivated legislation will be to reduce the livability and value of some of the best Wisconsin places to live in – and invest in.

Hopefully common sense will prevail, and AB 568 will be defeated.

Nik Kovac is alderman for Milwaukee's 3rd district.