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Berrada Properties accused of tenant violations during pandemic in Milwaukee

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Rick Wood
/
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
An apartment on North 29th Street in Milwaukee owned by Youssef "Joe" Berrada company featuring his signature boulder on lawn. Berrada says the boulders prevent people from driving onto the properties.

The state Department of Justice is suing a Milwaukee landlord, Youssef “Joe” Berrada, owner of Berrada Properties for allegedly violating landlord-tenant law. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that while the state DOJ was preparing this case, Berrada collected nearly seven million dollars in rental assistance.

Journal Sentinel reporter Cary Spivak has been covering the alleged tenant rights violations tied to Berrada Properties.

Spivak says Berrada was one of the leading evictors in the city. Now, coincidentally, his number of eviction have declined since he started collecting seven million dollars in rental assistance.

"They either try to evict or at least strongly urge people to move out because it's cheaper and more efficient to go in there and do the rehab if nobody's there," he says.

The civil enforcement action against Berrada includes a range of violations. Like keeping renter's deposits when he shouldn't have, quality of living violations and not getting rid of pests.

"When you have that type of concentration, it impacts the quality of the apartments because the tenants' choices are limited. It impacts what you rent and what rent you can charge because the choice is limited," says Spivak.

Even before the pandemic, the relationship between landlords and tenants could be complicated. Raphael Ramos, an attorney for Legal Action of Wisconsin, notes that tenants hold foundational rights in Wisconsin.

One of them is the right to a habitable property. "Tenants have the right to live in properties that are decent," he explains.

Two other essential tenant rights that Ramos mentions are the right to enjoy the property and the right to get notice of eviction. Before the eviction filing, the tenant has the right to cure the issue.

"If someone is going through the eviction process, I think there are a couple of things to remember. First, the process really kind of begins before the eviction actions [are] even filed. So, if someone is having an issue with their landlord, there are a lot of resources available," says Ramos.

Groups like Mediate Wisconsin, Legal Aid Society, and Community Advocates have all raised awareness by creating a virtual Milwaukee Rental Housing Center where tenants can access resources.

Since the end of the federal eviction moratorium, eviction filings have steadily increased to over 100 a week in Milwaukee, a testament to how the pandemic has impacted housing.

Ramos points out that the pandemic has increased access to the city's numerous free legal help organizations and financial rental assistance. However, he worries about the future of evictions, especially for those most vulnerable.

"There's a question of will we go back to what it was pre-pandemic — when there was no money available?" says Ramos.

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