Survey results could steer Superior rental housing initiatives

Residents have until mid-October to make their voices heard on Superior's rental housing situation. What happens next, said members of the City of Superior Rental Property Study Ad Hoc Committee, may hinge on those surveys.

Residents have until mid-October to make their voices heard on Superior’s rental housing situation. What happens next, said members of the City of Superior Rental Property Study Ad Hoc Committee, may hinge on those surveys.

“The hope of the group is to try to improve rental housing in Superior,” said committee chairwoman Millie Rounsville, CEO of Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency. To that end, she said, public input is critical to identify the issues surrounding rental units in Superior.

“We need input to make basic determinations,” said city Building Inspector Dan Curran, a non-voting member of the committee.

Is there a need for landlord education, renter training, rental licensing or something else entirely?

“So many answers we don’t know,” Rounsville said.


For a year, the group has been discussing rental housing in Superior, which contains some of the oldest housing stock in the state. Each brings a unique viewpoint. John Mahan owns more than 50 rental units in the city.

“I’m there to protect, to the best of my ability, landlord rights,” he said. Mahan would like to see a fair playing field emerge from the committee, whatever the ultimate recommendation is.

“I just want it to be equal and equitable,” Mahan said.

Curran wants apartments to be safe.

“This is not a fee collection idea,” he said. “That’s not the basis of it. It’s about protecting the inhabitants of buildings, of rental property.”

Although the city has ordinances and a property maintenance code, there is no way to check if landlords are following them. So the building inspection department is left reacting to unsafe situations instead of preventing them in the first place. They’ve dealt with everything from units left without heat for weeks and illegally subdivided property to rotted floors and leaking sewage pipes.

“You just couldn’t possibly dream this stuff up,” Curran said.

With an estimated 5,000 rental units in Superior, there may be hundreds of landlords. It’s not fair to lump them all together, Curran said, because the majority are following the rules.


“We’re talking about a minority, but at this point the minority is basically pushing the rules for the majority,” he said.

Some of it boils down to education. For instance, Mahan said, written leases aren’t required in Wisconsin. But they can protect both the renter and landlord if a problem arises. On the other hand, check-in lists are required, but not always handed out to new renters. Lead handouts are just as crucial.

“Landlords need to be educated if they’re going to be in this business, and it’s a business,” Mahan said. “They need to know what’s going on.”

Renters may not be aware that building inspection files are public. Before renting someplace, Curran suggested, stop by the office to see if there have been any complaints or issues, either with that property or that landlord. Before buying a duplex or other apartment complex, the building inspector suggested, check that it’s permitted by law to be where it is, and that all conversions were done with the proper permits.

“So many building are being converted without permits,” he said. “They’re fire traps; accidents waiting to happen.”

Committee members are hoping for public input to help point them in the right direction.

“I think they’re going to have a better handle on it with the survey results,” Curran said. People can also indicate if they would be willing to serve on a committee or group aimed at addressing rental housing issues. Mahan said it’s important for people to utilize the comments section, too.

“The comments, in my opinion, are as important or more important than the survey itself,” he said.


There are three surveys available through the city’s building inspection website, . There are separate surveys for landlords, tenants and community members. They are online, anonymous and open for comment through Oct. 17.


Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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