Zolper Properties Threatens Rent Increase to Manipulate Tenants Over MPS Referendum

In a display of scumminess shocking even by Milwaukee landlord standards, Nick and Shane Zolper of Zolper Properties, sent a mass email to their tenants threatening to raise rent if the referendum to fund the Milwaukee Public School District by increasing property taxes passes. Multiple Zolper tenants have reached out to MATU with concerns about the audacity of this message.

Owning and managing hundreds of properties primarily in Milwaukee’s East Side and Riverwest neighborhoods, Zolper Properties is threatening to use its ability to make housing more expensive to manipulate its tenants into voting against the funding of public schools.  According to an email sent to MATU by Zolper tenants, Zolper Properties fear-mongered to tenants about the potential funding of MPS through increased property tax. “The tax hike, in large part, would be passed down to renters city-wide in the form of higher monthly rents,” said Zolper.

Tenants already have a disadvantaged position compared to their landlord and have very little recourse to do anything about this threat to raise rents even further, which Zolper Properties does annually for most of their units anyway. Zolper Properties admits that they “understand that any change in rent can be challenging and realize the inconvenience this would certainly cause” and states that changes in rent for their tenants will be directly linked to the outcome of the referendum on April 2nd. 

Though they want to provide “full transparency” about the fact that their tenants’ rental futures are tied to the outcome of an election, Zolper Properties isn’t looking for any debate or pushback. The email states that the purpose of the message is “not to debate the pros and cons of additional funding to MPS as a whole,” while simultaneously insinuating that tenants should vote for the interests of the landlord, who has the power to pass on the costs incurred from an increase in property taxes, rather than voting for their own interests. Zolper rents to parents who send their children to MPS schools- parents who will have to weigh the potential cost of voting in the interest of their child versus voting in the interest of their landlord’s profit line. 

According to the referendum proposal, property taxes would increase $216 per $100,000 in property value in the first year and then decline in subsequent years. While Zolper Properties holds a large portfolio, its owners are also extremely wealthy. From the data found at mkepropertyownership.com, Zolper’s consortium of LLCS own 179 properties with 3665 total units and a total assessed value of $300,416,300. 

Zolper Properties extracts tens of millions of dollars annually in rents. It would see a tax increase of just around $650,000, which is only a minute portion of the profit pulled in by this corporate entity. Looking for any way to increase their profits, Zolper Properties claims that landlords “alone cannot simply absorb a tax increase of this size.” This self-victimizing approach conceals the reality of their profitability. Their statement blames the rent increase on the potential property tax increase instead of their desire for maximum profit. Zolper Properties could easily absorb this property tax increase without increasing rent for their tenants, who submit to annual rent increases anyway. But any excuse to increase rents should be leveraged, right Nick and Shane?

The justifications put forward by Zolper Properties for sending this email are manipulative and lack the necessary context to be understood fully by tenants reading it. First, Zolper Properties cites a study released by the “Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) via a survey of Milwaukee landlords. This survey found that over 90% of landlords responded that a property tax increase of this magnitude will certainly lead to an increase in rental rates that will outpace inflation.” But this kind of response by landlords is obvious; even if the landlord can absorb the costs of a property tax increase without raising rents, they will not admit this. Instead, they will claim poverty and tell their tenants there is no other way except for more rent increases to sustain their business. Second, the MMAC is a business advocacy organization that lobbies for school privatization and claims to offer services that will help to increase the profitability of businesses in Milwaukee. It’s obvious why MMAC would conduct such a survey: it already knew how landlords would respond to a property tax increase and it intends to indirectly sway voters not to vote for additional public funding for MPS because its agenda involves increasing funding for charter schools at the expense of public schools.

In essence, Zolper Properties is attempting to scapegoat MPS’ need for increased funding, arguing that since “MPS received nearly $1 Billion in new taxpayer funding over the past four years from a previous tax hike in 2020,” they should not receive “another quarter of a Billion dollars.” The insinuation is that MPS has wasted the money from the 2020 increase and that the $200 million budget deficit MPS is running is an internal failure because it is not a profitable institution. In reality, public school systems cost money and should not be premised on profit. They are necessary for the reproduction of society through the development of the abilities of all of our kids. However, landlords like Zolper are short-sighted and single-minded when it comes to the value of public institutions. Only money matters to them.

Due to their class position, landlords can only conceive of value in terms of economic profit and tend to degrade the value of public institutions that require significant public funds to operate. Because public institutions are perceived as being unprofitable, they are then presented as undeserving by profiteers like landlords and business advocacy groups. Zolper cites the reality of increasing costs across the board, saying the “local tax base that is already paying more for everything from gas to groceries, and everything in between.” However, this fails to mention that rents have been increasing consistently since 2021 according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and that multiple energy rate increases have been requested by WE Energies and approved by the unelected Public Service Commission over the past several years. 

Zolper Properties wants voters to think that MPS is fiscally irresponsible because it is not profitable, but in reality, institutions like public schools are not meant to be profit-based. They are meant for the interest of the public good. Zolper is attempting to take advantage of economic misconceptions created by the propaganda by landlords and corporate interests to push more rent increases onto its tenants. The more property an individual or corporate entity owns, the more it pays in taxes to support the public good. Instead of crying about it and attempting to manipulate how its tenants vote, Zolper Properties should suck it up and pay their property taxes without passing the cost on to tenants who they know are already financially stretched to the limits.

Ultimately, this article does not advocate for landlords to “pay their fair share”. This article advocates for the complete abolition of landlordism in our society and a shift to collective and individual home ownership. The idea that landlords provide housing is a myth. The housing already exists. Landlords did not build the housing that they are now the keepers of; builders, plumbers, electricians, HVAC workers, drywallers, and others did that. Landlords are the gatekeepers of housing and we do not need them. If every landlord suddenly disappeared, all the housing would still exist, evictions would come to an end, and all empty units could be filled with those who need housing. The end of the landlord would be an overwhelming benefit to our society and Zolper Properties has demonstrated that through this message. The contradictions between tenant and landlord are irreconcilable. Luckily, there are many more tenants than there are landlords; all we need to do is get organized. Tenants hold their own housing futures in their hands, and the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union intends to work with tenants across the city to liberate housing from the grasp of the harmful and unnecessary landlord class.

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