Rental inspection renewed

(First published in the September 26, 2019 issue of City Pages)

Wausau ended its rental licensing program in 2016 after a state law changed. New inspection districts is the latest answer.


A map shows the area of Wausau to be inspected. Red denotes the oldest properties (129+ years) and green the newest, built 1936-1957

The city of Wausau had inspected nearly 1,000 rental properties in the city during 2014 and 2015, after passing a new ordinance creating a rental licensing program with a fee. But landlords lobbied the legislature and new legislation passed in 2016 shut down the program, because it made licensing rental properties illegal under state law.

So city leaders are taking a different tack. The city’s Public Health and Safety Committee Monday passed a new ordinance that creates what amounts to inspection districts — a single district in which staff will inspect rental properties.

The first proposed zone is a roughly 20-block area between Bridge Street and East Wausau Avenue, and between N. Second and N. Seventh streets. Chief Inspector and Zoning Administrator Bill Herbert told the committee Monday that area was chosen because it was one of the densest with rentals that city inspectors hadn’t gotten to when the city’s licensing program was active.

The area is 75% rentals and the average house age is 110 years old. City wide the average is 42% housing rentals and 65 years old. “They’re more likely to have out of date stuff,” Hebert says.

Hebert says the program was useful because it helped ensure rental properties were up to code and that tenants had safe, sanitary places to live. The inspections department still finds issues, Hebert says, but now they’re reliant on tenants calling and telling them; many might not for fear of angering their landlord.  

If approved by the city council, the new inspections could begin in October, Hebert says.