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Recent Changes to Wisconsin’s Landlord-Tenant Law

On March 31, 2012, Wisconsin Act 143 went into effect with some very important changes to Wisconsin’s landlord-tenant law. Here are some brief descriptions of the key changes:

Ban of Moratoriums on Eviction Actions. Municipalities are no longer able to hold moratoriums on evictions.

Prohibited Lease Provisions. There are now eight provisions prohibited in leases that, if present, cause the entire lease to be void. Seven of these prohibited provisions were previously listed in the Wisconsin Administrative Code’s Residential Rental Practices. The eighth provision prohibits a lease from containing a provision allowing a landlord to terminate a lease due to a crime being committed on the rental property that could not have been reasonably prevented by the tenant.

Severability of Rental Agreement Provisions. Except for the eight prohibited lease provisions discussed above, if a provision in a rental agreement is deemed invalid or unenforceable, parties to the lease will still be held accountable for the remainder of the intact provisions.

Removal of Abandoned Tenant Property. If a tenant vacates the property and leaves behind personal property, the personal property is deemed abandoned. The landlord then has the right to dispose of the abandoned property as it sees fit, provided the landlord does not intend to store the property for return to the tenant, the landlord must notify the tenant of its intent to dispose of the personal property at the time the lease is entered into or renewed. The law requires medications and prescriptions to be held by the landlord for a minimum of seven days. In order to dispose of a manufactured or mobile home, or a titled vehicle, the landlord must provide notice to the tenant and to any secured party of which the landlord has notice. Self-storage facilities are not affected by the new law.

Providing Notice of Code Violation. Landlords are required to provide tenants with notice of any building or housing code violation prior to entering into a lease, if all of the following apply:

  1. The landlord has actual knowledge of the violation
  2. The violation affects the dwelling unit that is the subject of the prospective agreement or a common area of the premises
  3. The violation presents a significant threat to the prospective tenant’s health or safety
  4. The violation has not been corrected

Information Check-In Sheet. Landlords are required to provide residential tenants, when the tenants commence occupancy, with a check-in sheet that contains an itemized description of the condition of the premises at the time of check-in. Check-in sheets establish the condition of the premises at the commencement of occupancy for purposes of repairs that need to be made and for purposes of responsibility for damage at check out. Tenants have seven days from commencement of occupancy to return the completed sheets to landlords. The check-in sheet is not required if the lease is being renewed. Check-in sheets are also not required for plots of land used for manufactured or mobile homes.

Mandatory Damages Upon Hold Over. If a tenant fails to vacate the rental property after the lease termination date, damages awarded to the landlord are mandatory, rather than discretionary, and are calculated by doubling the rent apportioned by the number of days the tenant holds over. This figure is the minimum amount of damages recoverable by the landlord.

Withholding Security Deposits. Landlords may only withhold from security deposits amounts reasonably necessary to pay for:

  • Tenant damage, waste, or neglect of premises
  • Unpaid rent for which the tenant is legally responsible
  • Payment that the tenant owes under the rental agreement for utility services provided by the landlord, which aren’t included in the rent
  • Payment that the tenant owes for direct utility service provided by a government-owned utility, to the extent that the landlord becomes liable for the unpaid amount
  • Unpaid monthly municipal permit fees assessed against the tenant by a local unit of government, to the extent that the landlord becomes liable for the unpaid amount
  • Any other payment for a reason provided in a nonstandard rental provision document

Normal wear and tear cannot be a cause to withhold any amount from the security deposit. The return of the security deposit is required 21 days after the termination of the lease or after eviction. If the tenant vacates prior to the termination of the lease AND the landlord finds a new tenant, the return of the security deposit is due 21 days from the beginning of the new tenant’s lease. If the tenant holds over, the security deposit is due 21 days following the date that the landlord learns the tenant has vacated the property.

Acceptance of Past Due Rent. The acceptance of past due rent can no longer be the sole grounds for a court to dismiss a landlord’s eviction action.

Unfair Trade Practices. Violations under Chapter 704 may now constitute unfair methods of competition or unfair trade practices under Wis. Stat. 102.20, which permits tenants to sue landlords for double the amount of damages and attorneys’ fees.

Commercial Application. The entire new law applies to both commercial and residential leases, except for the sections that deal with prohibited rental provisions. Commercial leases are not subject to the prohibited lease provisions.

This article provides a brief overview of some of the important changes to Wisconsin’s landlord-tenant law. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact your Davis & Kuelthau attorney.