Last August, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that in the 53206 area code, suspected electrical fires were occurring five times faster than in the rest of the city. Since their initial report, officials from Gov. Tony Evers to Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson have responded.
Earlier this month, the City of Milwaukee announced educational campaigns to help tenants protect themselves from electrical fires. Raquel Rutledge, investigative reporter and associate editor of investigations at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, shares the impact of their reporting and the actions coming out of town hall.
Rutledge reports that Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson and the Department of Neighborhood Services have launched an awareness campaign to inform tenants of the signs of poor electrical wiring. From area 53206, a master electrician will be available to assist tenants through their homes and help identify electrical fire warning signs. Efforts would then be spread throughout the city.
However, Rutledge points out that according to some council members, this new campaign looks like “fluff”. While the city is taking preventative action by educating tenants and distributing a safety checklist, Rutledge says the problem lies with landlords who more than likely have a long history of neglect.
It’s common for tenants to be afraid to complain, Rutledge says, for fear of being evicted. “We expose how there can be years and years of violations piling up on some of the landlords. Yet they continue to allow rental from these unsafe places. This early education campaign is the first step,” said Rutledge.
She adds that discussions are underway to pass a law in which owners would be required to have insurance on their property. She says these homes go uninvestigated most of the time until there is a homicide or suspected arson. If landlords are required to carry insurance for their properties, insurance companies would be more likely to investigate the matter, thereby putting pressure on landlords to keep their property up to date.
“I think that [are] some other provisions in the works. In addition to talking about resuscitating the inspection program, where you have the city’s department of social services doing proactive inspection of electrical systems in … areas where there is evidence of numerous violations” , explains Rutledge.
As it stands, there are no fines for violations, Rutledge notes. The fines come when the Department of Neighborhood Services comes to do an inspection. Although the first is free, if necessary, a re-inspection can cost $175 or more.
“There is discussion about whether they could have fines up front for these violations to encourage landlords to keep their properties up to code. [But] it’s just under discussion. I haven’t seen any bills on this,” Rutledge says.