City to ask to inspect lawmaker's residence
Knilans, a Republican who defeated incumbent Democrat Mike Sheridan in November, has been trying to sell his house, which sits about three blocks outside the 44th District on Janesville's east side. Since announcing his candidacy last summer, Knilans has said his intention is to move the family into the district.
But his house hasn't sold, and in an effort to meet a state requirement that he live in the district he serves, Knilans signed a lease and is paying rent to his brother Michael Knilans, a city council candidate who lives on Winchester Place on the city's west side.
Knilans' apparent mistake was in telling reporters that he was living in his brother's basement, where a bed has been set up.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin contacted the city and questioned whether the basement meets codes for habitation. Based on a 2002 inspection when the house was built, it might not meet city codes for basement egress and hard-wired smoke detectors.
The party then contacted the Gazette and other media outlets, wondering whether Joe Knilans' residency was illegal. A Madison television station inquired with the city and asked that it investigate the basement living arrangement.
Gale Price, Janesville's manager of building and development services, said he will send Michael Knilans a letter saying that the city has received a complaint. Michael Knilans will be asked to contact the city and schedule an inspection.
Price said that until someone from the city physically inspects the basement, it's impossible to determine wether it is legal or illegal for Joe Knilans to sleep there.
"A lawmaker should not flaunt the law," said Graeme Zielinski, the spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin who first contacted the Gazette. "Now he must fully and truthfully answer legitimate questions about his residency and suffer what consequences may come."
Residency issues are not new to the 44th District. Whether Sheridan lived in or out of the district was a point of contention for several of his six years in office, something Zielinski said is an issue that is in the past.
"I've been upfront about this from Day One," Knilans said. "When I was campaigning and whenever the Sheridan residency issue came up, I said 'I don't live in the district right now either, but I am selling my home and will move into the district as quickly as I can.' "
Knilans said that while he waits for a determination from the city, he would start looking for somewhere else to live in the district.
"I didn't realize this was going to be such a big deal," he said. "I did the smartest thing I could to support my family financially and live in the district legally while trying to sell my house.
"My wife is losing her job, and I still need to put food on the table," Knilans said. "We just can't afford right now to have one for sale and pay for another."