Come On Wausau, Light My Fire

Eds Note: Jim asked for the week off, so I had to dock his pay. I’m tough but fair. So, we will let Dr. Rent stir things up a bit first this week.

John H. FischerBy: Dr. Rent

On Friday, a handful of landlords met with representatives from the Fire Dept. and Alderperson Hadley (chair of the Public Safety committee) to discuss smoke detectors. It was a GREAT discussion and it looks like we are moving in a direction where everyone will be satisfied with the result.

Before we left, the Fire Dept (FD) asked our opinions as landlords on the open burning issue that has received a great deal of attention. (For those of you new to the issue, open burning in things such as recreational fire pits is not allowed in city limits. However, it is allowed in many neighboring communities such as the Town of Wausau, Weston, and Rib Mountain.)

This is one of those very rare times when personally, I feel what is good for the goose should be kept comfortably away from the gander.

Fire PitAs a home owner, I support small, recreational fires. I currently live in the Town of Wausau, and before that in Knowlton (south of Mosinee). I had a nice fire pit by my old place, and got the fire pit for this house started before the snow came. However, as a landlord, I am NOT in favor of fire pits and recreational burning at rental properties.

The FD asked us because it appears that Wausau is trying to draft a recreational fire ordinance. They wanted our opinion on not having fire pits for buildings with 3 or more units. We all thought that is a great idea.

It is a common belief (that is not too far off the truth) that IN GENERAL, renters do not take as good of care of properties as owner-occupants. That is a general statement. There are many renters that actually take great care of their units, treating them better than if they owned them. And, there are owners who will let there place run down. However, the average renter does not care as much as the average home owner.

At one of my rural Weston duplexes, the tenants had put in a fire ring (of course without my permission). I don’t know which made me more upset: that they did that; that they did it right over the main water line going into the house (making the ground more shallow there and subject to freezing), or that it was less than 6’ from the house (with slightly melted siding to prove it).

I don’t think that everyone should be able to have a fire pit for safety reasons. The fire pit should be safe distance from the house, outbuildings, overhanging trees and other combustible items. It should also be far enough from a property line to not cause too big of an issue with neighbors. If your lot is big enough to meet these criteria, then why not?

The FD brought up the harmful effects of the smoke, but really I don’t see that as an issue. How many fires would be burning at one time? Wausau with fire pits is not going to look like a big campground with 200 fires in a 35 acre area. When I come home from work in the winter, I can smell the wood fires from wood stoves and fireplaces. Surely, there are more wood heating units putting smoke in the air at one time than there ever will be bonfires at any one time.

Basically, I am in favor of having small, recreational fires as long as they can be done in a safe manner. However, I don’t think that rental properties should be able to have them.

Write this down… I am in support of something for home owners but have a different opinion when it comes to renters rights. This is a rare occasion and don’t get used to it.

Dr. Rent.

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7 responses to “Come On Wausau, Light My Fire

  1. The Roof, the roof, the roof is on fire.

    I defer to the only Firefighter I know, Ted Tautges. We taught swim lessons together, and he likes the band Danzig.

  2. I don’t think open fires within the city limits is a good idea. Wausau has a higher population density than Weston or Rib Mountain and a small fire can get out of hand rather quickly (Dr. Rent’s melted siding is a good example). I don’t see how you could safely have a fire in the backyard of the average Wausau city lot.

  3. My point exactly… “average Wausau city lot.”

    What about those not so average lots? What about those lots in the City which are an acre or more? What about some of the lake-front / river-front properties?

  4. Granted, there are larger lots in the city, especially around the river/lake and in the newer subdivisions along the edge of town. Since I could never benefit from having a fire pit (my back yard is too small and is filled with four lovely shade trees), I think if a homeowner wants a fire pit, they should pay for the privelege.

    The city can implement a permit process to regulate the placement of fire pits. This would create a little revenue to offset the administrative burden and ensure that fire pits are safely located. I don’t know if this would open up liability issues, but if the city was concerned about liability, then it would continue to outright ban the fires.

  5. There are many cool little ‘fire pits’ available at Target etc. every year, even for the smallest of yards. As a homeowner in the city of Wausau, I would enjoy such a unit… why not. By the same token there should be some stipulations and or restrictions. No funeral pyres or roasted pigs.

  6. I take offense to the “make an exception for the average Joe renter” . You cannot reasonably create an ordinance that seperates 36% of the city’s population. Stereotyping renters as being less concerned for their “homes”, even in the broadest sense is insulting, narrow-minded and denegrating to all the renters out there who do take pride in caring for something they don’t outright own. Perhaps it would be more reasonable to either allow everyone or no one to have a fire pit. Why should a renter be denied the pleasure of sitting in the backyard enjoying the crackling glow of an evening’s fire? Is a 50 year old renter less inclined to do something as silly as putting a pit over the water line than a 20 year old? Is a low income renter more likely to melt the siding than a renter with a higher income? Is a woman…you get my point. Should all renters pay the price for a handful of bad apples? Do we send out the local police to make the firepit rounds asking for deeds and titles? And what happens during those rounds when a homeowner is found to be breaking rules or the law of good common sense? How about renters require permission from their landlords to have a firepit? Each landlord can do a quick up down character assessment to determine whether or not their renter is a responsible enough person to warrant and ok. Another option might be to do random searches to make sure the renter has mopped their floors and cleaned the grout well enough, monitor them for a year or so and then give permission. I hope the snark sufficiently conveys how preposterous I think your opinion is.

  7. I am one of the biggest advocates for NOT generalizing, anyone who knows me can attest to that. I am also one of the biggest advocates of tenant rights and fight the city/state on many occations when they pass (or attempt to pass) rules that discriminate unfaily against renters. Again, anyone who knows me can attest to that.

    That being said. Based on my 13 years experience with 200 rental units (give or take), I stand by the statements that made in my original post. If you are one of the renters who take as good of care of a property as a homeowner.. good for you.. you are a rare find. 10% or less of the litterally thousands of renters I have had over the years fit into that catagory.

    Renters in apartment buildings are not as issue here, I think we are talking more about people renting single family homes and side-by-side duplexes.

    Currently, we do not have a rental policy that forbids fire pits per se. However, we do have policies that indicate that the tenant cannot do things that will harm the lawn/landscaping, or harm the building. My personal policy has been, I am okay with what I don’t know. When I get a property back and don’t know there was a fire pit because they filled it back in.. or replanted the grass.. no harm no foul. But.. to find a large hole in the back yard and melted siding.. different issue.

    If it were to become a problem, I (as well as 95% of landlords) would put in a lease provision specifically forbidding them.

    As far as your suggesting to granting permission on a case by case basis. That may be feasible for a small landlord with only a few units. But the big players really need to toe the line when it comes to fair housing. We need to make ABSOLUTELY sure that we treat all the tenants the same. Any exception we make to a rule opens us up to fair housing investigation, the more units we have.. the bigger target we are.

    Nik, I am sorry that you take offense. I am assuming anybody in that small group of great tenants would.

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