Renters Rights in Wisconsin

Renting an apartment, residential home, or vacation home in Wisconsin can be an easy and satisfying experience. The prospect of a new home or living space can open up a variety of choices, decisions, and excitement! Renters enjoy the opportunity to build credit and this step may also help to make the decision of ownership in the future. Depending on the location and landlord, other perks of renting include low property maintenance issues, ease of moving, and the option of subletting if you decide to look elsewhere.

Renters do have specific rights in the state of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Housing supports a range of tenant rights, laws, and protections on behalf of the renter. Resources and protection can include collecting on your security deposit, providing background information about a landlord or management company, providing legal rights, and giving you the appropriate contact information to resolve disputes.

Here’s your guide for renters rights in Wisconsin:

Security Deposit

Wis. Stat. Ann. �§�§ 704.01-.45
Although the length of time between departure and the mailing of your security deposit will vary, Wisconsin requires return of the security deposit within 21 days. Any deductions must be reflected on an itemized form, and signed by the landlord. You do have the right to question anything on this form, but may need to set up a meeting with your landlord first to discuss the various issues. Since security deposits cover normal ‘wear and tear’, this can often be a grey area of judgment. It will be up to the landlord to describe and assert what they expect, but you can ask questions.

Do remember to fill out and sign the initial check-in form when you sign the lease, and be as detailed as possible. Take pictures or even a camcorder to record and date all damaged areas. This is the best way to protect your security deposit, and can easily help to resolve potential disputes later. If you do not receive your security deposit within the 21 day range, you do have the right to take the case to small claims court.

A landlord cannot legally evict you without a warning first. Section 704.11 of the Wisconsin Statute strictly prohibits seizure of a property when a tenant does not pay rent, unless it is expressly stated or signed for. The warning, however, usually takes the form of a written notice, and only after a period of time where you have not complied (e.g. paying up on rent, removing a pet) can they file a lawsuit. Here, the landlord will simply prove what you did wrong as a tenant. There are three types of notices that may be ‘served’ to a tenant.

1. Pay Rent or Quit: this gives you 3-5 days to pay the rent or leave
2. Cure or Quit: this gives you time to correct a violation or make a promise (e.g. no more trash in the front yard), or end the lease agreement
3. Unconditional Quit: this asks you to vacate immediately, and would occur after a serious violation such as illegal activity, being late on rent numerous times, or violating a lease clause without notice (e.g. pets, additional people staying without signing the lease)
4. 30-Day/60-Day Notice: This may be sent to you without any violation or agreement, and might just be a cause of business downsizing or other construction-related issue. Although a legal reason is required, you will still have to move out.

During the eviction lawsuit proceedings, you do have a chance of explaining your side of the story. This may include a poorly managed property, a landlord’s behavior, or proof of bad communication. If the landlord wins, however, you will be escorted off the property within a few days.

Upkeep of the Premises
704.05(4) Wisconsin Statutes.
As stated on the lease agreement, tenants are required to maintain and preserve their rental property as much as possible. Any fixtures or changes must be replace or restored after moving out, and anything that cannot be restored may be taken out of the renters’ security deposit. Any personal property left behind will either be stored by the landlord at the renter’s expense, mailed to the tenant by request, or simply dispose of the items if the renter does not claim ownership within a given period of time. This will vary by situation, and landlord, so do make sure to be thorough as possible when you leave the property.

When the property is untenable
The Wisconsin Realtors Association has created a standard form for landlords outlinng that the landlord does have an obligation to make necessary repairs and maintain the property at a certain standard. Wisconsin Statute 704.07 helps to interpret ‘untenable’ conditions, and a case is necessary to determine if damage occurred because of this.

Voluntary Termination
In the event that a retner and landlord agree to end a lease earlier than the date on the lease, the agreement should be made in writing. This is known as a ‘surrender,’ and is covered by Section 704.03(4) of the Wisconsin Statutes.

Rent Increases
If you are a month-to-month renter, the landlord does have the right to raise rent by giving a 28 day written notice before the next rent due date. There is no Wisconsin law that limits the amount of increase, or how often this can be done. If you have signed a one-year lease or more, rent cannot be increased unless stated or signed for otherwise.

The landlord does have the right to inspect, show, and repair your property but cannot enter without a 12-hour advance notice.

It is the landlord’s responsibility to provide you with contact phone numbers and names of a maintenance department or person who will handle any emergencies or maintenance issues. Landlords must also comply with local housing codes.

Check-Out and Leaving
Try to make an appointment with your landlord to walk through the check-out process with you. This will help to get things moving more quickly, especially if you are leaving the town or city. If they are unavailable, or simply refuse, to be detailed and thorough on your checkout form, and take pictures. Keep a copy, and make sure you leave a forwarding address for the security deposit and final copy. A landlord who does not provide you with a checkout form will forfeit any rights of reducing your security deposit for damages or cleaning.

Moving Out Early
If you decide to move out before your lease is over, you will need to put this in writing with the specific date of the move. The landlord will still be required to return a security deposit within 21 days,

Carpet Cleaning
It is illegal to deduct for carpet cleaning, unless the condition of the carpet is beyond normal wear and tear. You do have a right to file a complaning with Consumer Protection at (800) 422-7128, and the City Attorney at (608) 266-4511. However, the landlord can take this complaint to small claims court.

Most of these issues are located within the lease agreement, or as an addendum. If you are unclear or unsure about anything (even while you are renting), do make sure to stay in touch with your landlord or set up a meeting to discuss the issue. It’s always important to document everything and make copies in the event of a dispute or lawsuit. Do take good pictures and steps for a thorough check-in and check-out process. This way, you can rest assured that you have the information and facts you need, and will enjoy the freedoms and benefits of renting in Wisconsin!

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