Here you will find resources for all residential landlords. Please let us know if you have any questions.
Laws related to rental properties are very complicated. If you want to read the actual Wisconsin statutes, they can be found in two places:
Wisconsin Administrative Code ATCP 134 (Agricultural, Trade and Consumer Protection)
We recommend a great web-page—iPropertyManagement.com This site has laws specific to all states and lots of good advice.
USING THIS SITE
Most of the information we developed for tenants is also useful to landlords. We particularly recommend you check out:
• Submitting an application
• Reading a lease
• When you move out
• Fair housing laws
COMMON MISTAKES MADE BY LANDLORDS
• It is illegal to require a non-refundable application fee. If the landlord does not accept an application or if you withdraw your application before the decision (in writing),earnest money must be refunded except for the actual cost of a credit check and a background check for out of state residents The refund must be done by the next business day.
• According to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, landlords cannot charge for routine carpet cleaning - either during the rental term or from a security deposit - no matter what the lease says.
Here are some tips from landlords courtesy of the Madison Tenant Landlord Resource Center.
1. Keep Emergency Contact Information for all tenants. We've heard enough stories of tenants going into a coma / becoming ill / becoming mentally unstable / dying, that we really encourage landlords to get emergency contact information when you're signing a lease. With everyone. You can get contact information for different kinds of situations (financial, medical, personal, etc), but it's a great idea to have that on hand, in case something seems weird.
2. Offer Roommate Agreements. If you have roommates living together, and your lease says they are jointly and severally liable, then they are. For sure. However, roommates often have problems with one another and that really doesn't have to be the landlord's problem. Roommates can hold each other accountable for problems, and that's way easier if they have a roommate agreement, so we encourage landlords to hand them out. This doesn't make the landlord responsible for enforcing that agreement, but it does make it much more likely that the roommates will talk about potentially problematic situations before they even come up.
3. Make your application criteria clear upfront. This will allow everyone to not waste their time/energy/money. If a low-income person is looking for housing, those application fees can really be crushing, and the constant credit checks, too. (Though prospective tenants can offer a recent credit report to offset the credit check fees). It also saves landlords and managers a lot of time spent screening applicants if landlords offer application criteria before people even apply.. It's okay to put multi-tier criteria out there, as well (such as: if applicants have a credit score lower than X but above Z, then they will be approved with a cosigner whose credit score is higher than Y). As an added bonus: this does a lot to protect landlords from discrimination complaints. If your criteria is upfront, then people are less likely to say that they were shown different treatment based on their being a member of a protected class.
4. Plan a time to sit down and sign the lease with each tenant. Use that time to go over each clause in the lease. If they have questions about the rules you've written, encourage them to ask. The more understanding they have of what you are asking for, the more likely they are to follow the lease.
5. Ask for information that you need when you are all sitting down to sign the lease. Such as:
6. Newsletters can be a great way to communicate. For example, one landlord does inspections every spring to check for ants and mold, and identifies which unit they'll be inspecting at what times on the newsletter. It can be helpful to remind tenants yearly about checking their smoke alarms and notifying the landlord if they're not working.
Application Fees or Earnest Money
When prospective tenants pay a fee that is turned in with an application for rental housing, those are often called "application fees" or are sometimes mistakenly called "security deposits." Technically, they are "earnest money," a kind of deposit which has rules about how it can be used. For rules regarding application fees, security deposits, and "earnest money," see ATCP 134.05.
What's the process?
1. Before a landlord can accept any money from an applicant, the landlord has to take the following actions:
2. Prospective tenant puts in an application to a landlord or management company with any required application fee (but it's really the same thing as "earnest money"),
3. Landlord thinks about the application. The landlord can keep the money in order to make a decision about whether to rent to the applicant for either 3 business days or, if their application says they can keep it longer, a maximum of 21 calendar days.
4. There's a decision about the application. The choices are
• Landlord rejects the application/refuses to enter a lease. In this case, the landlord must return the money (minus the actual cost of the credit check fee) within the end of the next business day from the point of the decision.
COLLECTING A SECURITY DEPOSIT
When collecting a security deposit in Wisconsin, landlords must notify tenants of:
• Their right to an initial inspection and/or list of damages
• Additional utility costs
• Non-typical security deposit deductions
• Existing violations or conditions affecting the habitability of the rental unit
Initial Inspection: At the time a security deposit is collected, landlords should provide tenants with a check-in sheet and notify tenants in writing of their right to do an inspection within 7 days after the start of the tenancy. The tenant should conduct an initial inspection and notify the landlord of any damages or defects to the rental unit. This could include:
• The tenant can also request a list of damages or defects, if any, deducted from the previous tenant’s security deposit, whether or not they were repaired (landlords can require tenants to request this in writing) If the tenant requests a list of previous damages or defects, the landlord must provide it within 30 days after the tenant makes the request or 7 days after the landlord notifies the previous tenant of security deposit deductions, whichever is later. The landlord is not required to disclose the identity of the previous tenant or the amounts withheld from the security deposit.
Landlords in Wisconsin must provide a receipt for the security deposit that includes the purpose of the payment and the amount.
RETURNING THE SECURITY DEPOSIT
In Wisconsin, the following things can be deducted from security deposits:
• Unpaid rent and utilities
• Costs of damage excluding normal wear and tear
• Monthly municipal permit fees (e.g. mobile home parking fees)
• Other charges outlined in a Nonstandard Rental Provisions form
• If landlords want to make deductions from the security deposit that are not automatically granted by law, they must be disclosed to the tenant in a separate written document titled “NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISIONS” provided to the tenant before they sign the lease agreement.
Landlords cannot deduct for “Normal wear and tear” which is defined as deterioration that occurs naturally as a result of the tenant using the property as it was designed to be used.
• Gently worn carpets
• Lightly scratched glass
• Faded paint and flooring
• Lightly dirtied grout
• Loose door handles
• Stained bath fixtures
“Damage” means destruction to the rental unit that occurs because of abuse or negligence by a tenant during the course of the tenancy.
• Examples include:
• Heavily stained, burned, or torn carpets
• Broken tiles or windows
• Holes in the wall
• Missing fixtures
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Can the landlord charge for replacing the carpet in Wisconsin?
• Landlords can charge for replacing the carpet if it is damaged beyond normal wear and tear.
• Some wear and tear on a rental unit’s carpet is expected after normal day-to-day use of the property. For example, carpets typically become discolored, indented, or gently worn, when used in a normal way. However, non-typical, abusive use of carpet results in rips, visible stains, or burns. Landlords have the right to charge the tenant for the replacement of the carpet in areas where serious damage has occurred.
Can the landlord charge for nail holes in Wisconsin?
Yes, landlords can charge a tenant for nail holes if they damage the walls in a way that is not a result of ordinary enjoyment of the rental unit. Tenants have the right to use the walls within their unit in a reasonable way. This includes inserting small nails or thumbtacks to hang posters or pictures. However, large holes from drilling, multiple nail holes, large nail holes, and holes made for hanging heavier things may be considered damage and thus, chargeable to the tenant.
Can the landlord charge a cleaning fee in Wisconsin?
Landlords in Wisconsin can make deductions from the security deposit for cleaning, but only if the tenant causes damage that requires cleaning (e.g. wine stains on the carpet).
Can the landlord charge for painting in Wisconsin?
Yes, in Wisconsin, landlords can charge for painting, except for normal wear and tear. For example, if the tenant:
• Causes damage beyond normal wear and tear. Normal wear includes minor scrapes from daily use, fading due to sunlight, or minor cracks in the original paint. Landlords can charge for repainting if the damage is not the result of normal use. This includes stains, large or deep scratches, and water damage.
• Repaints the wall but is not permitted to do so under the lease agreement
• Repaints the wall in an unprofessional way
Landlords must return any remaining portion of a security deposit and an itemized statement of deductions, if any, no later than 21 days after the tenant vacates or is evicted from the rental unit.
Emotional support and Service animals
Emotional Support Animals, Service Animals, companion animals are all names that people use to refer to the animals that help people with disabilities in their day-to-day life. However, they aren't all the same thing. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal is defined as "any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is defined by Wis. Stat. 106.50(1m)(im) as "an animal that provides emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship for an individual but that is not trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”
However, the difference between ESAs and service animals isn't relevant for those in rental housing. Both service animals and ESAs count as reasonable accommodations for a disability within fair housing law. Therefore, no matter what you call the animal - the animal is allowed, as long as: the tenant has a disability and the animal is necessary to treat the disability, as confirmed by reliable documentation.
When can a tenant request an ESA?
In order for a tenant to request a support/service animal as an accommodation for a disability, the animal must be necessary to afford the individual an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling or to participate in the housing service or program. Further, there must be a relationship between the individual’s disability and the accommodation the animal provides. If these requirements are met, a housing provider must permit the assistance animal as an accommodation.
Landlords may request documentation:
Landlords can request two pieces of formal documentation:
1. Confirmation that the individual has a disability. Wisconsin law states that if the disability is immediately apparent, a landlord may not request any disability related information.
2. Confirmation that the animal is necessary to treat a medical condition or a disability.
Federal law states that the tenant must supply “reliable documentation”
A landlord cannot require an individual to:
• Reveal what kind of disability they have, or what disability is treated by the companion/service animal (Tenants are protected by HIPPA, which does not require the tenant or the health professional to disclose the nature of their disability or other medical details. Wis. Stats. 106.50(2r)(bg)2. & (1m)(mx), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Secs. 29 & 30)
• Require that the tenant/prospective tenant prove the animal has been specifically trained
Who can provide documentation for animals?
Federal and State laws disagree on the type of documentation required for emotional service animals. Wisconsin laws require the documentation related to the disability-related need for an emotional support animal to come from a licensed health professional, defined as “a physician, psychologist, social worker or other health professional” who is licensed or certified in Wisconsin and is acting within the scope of their license or certification.
On the other hand, federal law requires the person with a disability must provide "reliable documentation.” (FHEO 2013-01). Since Wisconsin law imposes a stricter requirement for documentation than federal law, landlords who require documentation from Wisconsin licensed health professionals may be liable for violating federal law, if, for example, the tenant has documentation from a professional licensed in Minnesota. We are not lawyers, so if you have a question about this, you should contact a lawyer.
Animals can be denied in specific circumstances:
Under Federal law, a landlord can deny a service or companion animal:
On the state level, there are few circumstances in which a landlord is allowed to deny a service animal or emotional support animal. Those circumstances (listed in Wis. Stat. 106.50(2r)(br)4)are:
1. The applicant does not have a disability, or does not have a disability-related need for the animal.
2. The tenant fails to provide requested documentation allowed by law
3. The service animal or emotional support animal would impose an undue financial or administrative burden that would fundamentally alter the nature of the housing program or services. The specific animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of a person that cannot be reduced by another reasonable accommodation.
4. The specific animal would cause substantial physical damage to a person's property that cannot be reduced by another reasonable accommodation.
A landlord cannot charge the tenant extra pet fees for a service animal or emotional support animal since they are considered medical equipment needed for accommodation. Additionally, landlords cannot apply other pet policies like breed or weight restrictions to service or emotional support animals.
A landlord is able to charge a tenant for damages done by their ESA or service animal. Wis. Stat. 106.50(2r)(bg)3.
A landlord could require renters insurance, if they require it of everyone.
Thank you to the Madison Tenant Resource Center for this information.
Determining when a person is unable physically and/or mentally to live in regular rental housing is difficult for everyone—for the person, for their family and, sometimes, for the landlord.
The staff at the Madison Tenant Landlord Resource Center in consultation with the Fair Housing Council of Madison have come up with some great advice which they agreed we could share on this website. .
Dealing with the issue during the application and lease signing process.
Question you can ask: A landlord can ask on the application about a prospective tenant's capacity to live independently. The landlord cannot differentiate between a prospective tenant who lives independently without outside help and one who lives independently receiving help from someone like a home health aid, or a family member. If a prospective tenant discloses that s/he is not able to safely live in the unit, the landlord may legally deny them housing.
While a person is living in a rental unit: what to do if someone isn't doing well, or if that person is disturbing their neighbors.
Resources: Landlords can make resource agencies available for tenants, by providing a list of helpful agencies. Landlords can also call the Eau Claire County Aging and Disability Resource Center, if they feel that a tenant is not able to live safely in the rental unit. https://www.eauclairecounty.gov/our-government/departments-and-facilities/department-directory/aging-disability-resource-center
After: If the tenant moves or dies, then here are some things a landlord might keep in mind.
If tenants break a lease, it means that they are moving out before their legal (lease) obligation is over.
Once the tenants move out, the landlord needs to take steps to re-rent the apartment. Wis. Stat. 704.29 This is called mitigation---when a landlord lessens the amount of money that a tenant owes (mitigation technically means "reducing the severity"), by taking normal/reasonable steps to allow another prospective tenant to rent the property under similar lease terms. The landlord does not need to rent the now-vacant apartment before other units that might be available to rent, but it does have to be offered to prospective tenants, in the way that rentals are normally available to prospective renters.
The landlord can charge tenants for lease obligations they did not fulfill, including: rent for the time that the unit was vacant, utilities for the bare minimum to keep the home safe, and other monetary obligations made clear in the lease. The landlord cannot charge for time in which the landlord was not making the unit available to prospective renters.
Domestic Abuse: For Landlords
Domestic abuse victims have specific protections under state law. While it can at times seem confusing, and at times it can feel like you are caught in the middle, it is important to know the laws.
The things you Must Do: Wis. Stat. 704.16 says that you, as the landlord, must provide certain protections to tenants who are being abused if they have certain kinds of proof.
Here's how it works:
The tenant shows you proof. It needs to be one of these to invoke special protections.
1. A domestic abuse/sexual assault/stalking restraining order for the tenant or their child
2. Proof of a criminal charge against the abuser for domestic abuse/sexual assault/stalking for the tenant or their child, or
3. A condition of release where abuser is ordered not to contact the tenant or their child because of domestic abuse/sexual assault/stalking.
The tenant asks you for one of these three special protections:
1. The tenant who is the survivor of abuse can ask that the abusive tenant be removed (from a shared lease, an apartment complex, a mobile home park). You would need to give the abusive tenant a 5-day notice. This is one of the few times that you do not need to give any right to cure the problem and stay.
2. The tenant who is the survivor of abuse can ask to be removed from a lease if staying would put them in danger. That tenant would need to give notice as if they were a month-to-month tenant, even if they aren't. This is one of the few situations where someone can be taken off the lease without the permission of anyone else on the lease. You must allow the survivor to cancel their part in the lease, if the survivor requests in this way.
3. The tenant who is the survivor of abuse can ask that their locks are changed. That can be something they do themselves (and then give you the key) or ask that you do within 48 hours. The tenant can be charged for this cost. You must allow the locks to be changed, if the survivor requests it
All of this should be in a letter: The letter should say that they are in danger, what proof they have (above), and what protections they are hoping for (above).
The things you Can't Do:
1. You can't say no: If a tenant is being abused, and follows the procedure above, from Wis. Stat. 704.16, then you need to do what they ask.
2. You can't take action against a tenant for calling law enforcement for their safety: Under Wis. Stat. 704.44 and ATCP 134.08(1), landlords can't non-renew or evict a tenant for calling 911 for their safety. And if, as landlords, you have anything in your lease about too many police calls, you also need to include some very specific wording in your lease about domestic abuse protections. Otherwise the tenant can simply choose to void the lease.
3. If the tenant breaks the lease, you can't waive your obligation to mitigate: Sometimes, tenants who are being abused won't have the proof they need to end their lease. However, tenants always have the right to break their lease, and landlords must mitigate.
4. You can't discriminate against someone for having experienced abuse or being the victim of a crime. Survivors of abuse are a protected class in the state of Wisconsin, so you can't deny someone housing, or give them a different level of service, because they were a victim of abuse.
What makes this hard for a landlord:
1. Your property is getting damaged: in cases of physical abuse, there often is a big component of property damage that goes along with the abuse, and it's really the last thing that a landlord needs. You can hold the tenants responsible for the actions of their guests, and hopefully, the survivor will be able to pass those charges along to the abuser once the abuser is held responsible.
2. It can be hard to tell who is the abuser: sometimes, abusers claim to be the victim (it's all part of the cycle of power and control), and so you want to make sure that you're not in a position of deciding who is right. It can have unexpected outcomes.
3. Often, the victim looks like the less appealing tenant: they have less money (because the abuser has been taking it), they often have a lot of police calls on their record, their credit is often dodgy. If you give them a chance to get their lives together, be specific and clear with the limits of what you're willing to do. Know that you have the right to evict even a survivor of abuse, if they don't follow the terms of the lease.
If a tenant contacts you about an abusive situation or you suspect abuse, refer them to the Bolton Refuge House.
And if you would like to learn more about domestic abuse, check out the resources at Bolton Refuge House.
Section 8 for Landlords
Here is what the voucher process looks like for a landlord
1. Application: A tenant who possesses a Section 8 voucher applies to live in your rental unit.
Section 8 vouchers are available from several agencies, so you need to check where the voucher is from if you have questions.
• Eau Claire City Housing authority is administered by the Central Wisconsin Community Action Council, under their Integrated Community Services program
• In addition, the Veterans Affairs has vouchers (VASH)
2. Screening: You screen the tenant, and decide whether or not to rent them the unit. Note: If you want to verify the voucher, you can ask to see a copy of it. If you want to verify how much the tenant is authorized to spend on a unit, you can call the housing authority who issued the voucher.
You use your normal screening procedure, except that you don’t need to verify their income.
3. Acceptance! You accept the tenant.
4. Fill out a form: Once a tenant is approved, you need to sign a form saying that you plan to rent to them. Generally, that form (called a "request for tenancy approval form" needs to be submitted within 60 Days of when they received their voucher form. They can get an extension, but if the tenants go over the time in which they are allowed to submit the form, the tenant won't get the rent assistance.
5. The Housing Authority screens your lease. A lease is not allowed to conflict with HUD rules, and they look for that upfront.
6. The Housing Authority verifies the amount of rent and tenant-paid utilities to ensure that the amounts are within the rent caps that the tenants are allowed to spend.
7. An inspector is sent to the rental unit. An inspector does an inspection and rent comparison - the price of the rental can't vary wildly from other comparable units in the area, or else it won't pass the rent comparison. The basic document explaining the inspection process is HUD's "A Good Place to Live!" They look for basic health and safety needs to be met by the home, and if the inspection fails, the landlord will be given time to fix it.
8. Sign the lease! You sign your regular lease with the tenant. You pick the rules and regulations that you set for the unit, and you have a normal tenant-landlord relationship, with normal tenant-landlord laws applying to the situation. Note: the housing authorities don't pay security deposits, so it's likely the tenant will need help with this from another agency, or will ask to work out a payment plan with you.
9. Tenant takes possession and HAP contract signed: When the tenant moves in, you sign the contract with the housing authority (a HAP contract basically says that HUD will pay the landlord and the landlord will accept that payment). The tenant signs a contract with the housing authority.
10. You get paid automatically each month. You get direct deposits straight from a housing authority.
For specific information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, please visit the ADA website.
See number 5: Paying Rent Late Because of Social Security, bullet point 3 on the TRC website linked above, there is a broken link to the Wisconsin Legislation site. Click to see information about 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 51.