When entering into a lease agreement, both parties agree to specific responsibilities while renting a property. The landlord is responsible for supplying essential things like heating and cooling, water, electricity, and much more. But tenants also have responsibilities when it comes to renting out your home. When they sign the lease agreement, they agree to specific terms and conditions. As the landlord, it’s important to know these obligations and tenant rights just as much as your own. In this article, we’ll cover all you need to know when renting out your property in Wisconsin and tenant rights; that way, you’re prepared for what’s ahead.
What You Need To Know About Tenants Rights In Wisconsin
Tenant’s Responsibilities in Wisconsin
Like landlords in Wisconsin, tenants have responsibilities too when renting and living in your property. There are several key things that tenants are responsible for and may be liable under the law if they don’t fulfill their responsibilities. Below are some of the major things your tenant will be responsible for:
- Tenants should not tamper with the smoke detector or remove its battery.
- Tenants should test the smoke detectors regularly. If it doesn’t work, they are to notify the owner/landlord in writing. The landlord is to provide working smoke detectors.
- Tenants are to remove any piles of trash. Trash can be a fire hazard and keep the tenant from escaping if there is a fire.
- Tenants are to keep units clean and sanitary to help control rats & roaches.
- Tenants are to keep the appliances, stove, oven, refrigerator, etc., clean to help control rats & roaches.
- Tenants must put their trash and garbage in the garbage carts or dumpsters.
- Tenants need to keep bathroom fixtures clean and clear of things that will clog them.
If any of these items are not followed, it could be a violation of the law that may be grounds for prosecution, which could result in a fine of $150 to $10,000. You may also have grounds to evict your tenant for not following these tenant responsibilities.
Safety and Security
Your tenant needs to know that you will provide a safe environment for them, but it’s their responsibility to take safety precautions. For example, you will provide locks on the doors, but your tenant is responsible for locking the doors when they leave or while in the home. Some other safety measures tenants need to take would include:
- Always lock windows and doors.
- Making sure controlled access entrances are always closed and locked.
- Always lock sliding doors or patio doors.
- To keep curtains or blinds closed when away from the property for extended periods (Tenants can ask for window coverings).
- Always use a door viewer before opening the door; if there is no door viewer or it is broken, tenants are to request one.
- Common areas are to have adequate lighting. Tenants are to notify you if the timer isn’t working correctly or if light bulbs have burned out.
- Tenants are to not prop doors open or entryways into the building.
- Tenants are not to give out passcode information to anyone.
- Rental property keys are never to be labeled with the house or unit number.
As mentioned earlier, tenants are to maintain smoke detectors and to notify you in writing if there is an issue with them. Something to note, carbon monoxide detectors are required to be in new and existing residential buildings per Wisconsin law and should be provided for by the landlord.
Safe Housing Act
Under certain circumstances, the Wisconsin Safe Housing Act states a tenant may end their lease or have the landlord end another tenant’s lease if there is an anticipated threat to their safety. The law allows victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, or child abuse to end a tenancy if they or their children are in immediate physical danger and have a legitimate form of documentation of the threat. These include a restraining order, criminal complaint, or condition of release from prison or jail prohibiting contact with the tenant or their children. This law allows the person(victim) to give written notice ending a year-long rental agreement as though it were a month-to-month lease (written 28-day notice). The law also allows the landlord to evict the tenant named in the court order as the person committing the assault, abuse, or stalking.
Suspected “Drug-Related” and Other Criminal Activity
A landlord can serve a 5-day eviction notice that does not give the renter a chance to “cure” or fix the problem if they suspect that the renter, a member of their household, or any guests or invited visitors have engaged in:
- any criminal activity that threatens other occupants’ safety or health, people living in the “immediate vicinity” of the premises, or the landlord or their employee or agent.
- criminal activity that endangers the right to peaceful enjoyment of other renters or people residing in the “immediate vicinity” of the premises, or
- “drug-related criminal activity” on or near the premises.
“Drug-related criminal activity” is the distribution or the manufacturing of a controlled substance not prescribed by a doctor for medical use by a disabled person. A disabled person can manufacture, use, or possess this controlled substance, and it can be in possession of their personal caregiver or worker.
Other Safety Information
Wisconsin landlords are not to enter an apartment unless they give a minimum of 12-hours notice to the renter, and it must be to make repairs, inspect, or show the residence for rental or sale. Notification may be verbal (including leaving a message) or in writing. There is no requirement that the renter actually receives that notice (for example, during an extended absence). If the renter waives the notice requirement on a case-by-case basis or in emergency situations, the 12-hour notice is not required. But if the landlord suspects lease violations, such as a party or an unauthorized pet, those are NOT reasons to enter without notice.
Under Wisconsin law, landlords are to disclose specific information to renters (usually in the lease or rental agreement), such as any major problems that affect the rental’s liveability, and identify anyone authorized to act on the landlord’s behalf.
Rent and Fees
As a landlord in Wisconsin, you are free to charge any rental amount agreed upon by both parties because there is no rent control or limit required by the state. Furthermore, landlords are not limited by how much they can raise rental fees, but they must give a minimum of 28 days advanced notice when doing such.
In Wisconsin, tenants can legally withhold rent payments. The renter may withhold payment for failure to provide essential services, including, but not limited to:
- The landlord fails to make repairs
- Lack of water
- Lack of heat
- Any other condition affecting the habitability of the premises
Landlords may not charge renters a late fee unless the lease agreement explicitly notes such a penalty. Wisconsin law does not indicate the late fee amount to be charged. If the landlord does decide to charge a late fee, it is recommended to charge a reasonable amount, although there is a $20 returned check fee limit.
If your tenant wants to terminate the lease, they are not required to give notice for fixed end date leases; the agreement expires on the lease’s last day. For example, if you have a one year fixed lease agreement, your tenant does not need to give notice before the end of the lease that they wish to terminate. That being said, it’s always a good idea to communicate in writing with your tenant that the upcoming lease end date is approaching. If they wish to renew that they notify you by a particular day; if not, you will assume they will be moving out by the lease agreement’s last day.
There are situations where tenants in Wisconsin have to provide written notice for the following lease terms:
- Notice to terminate a lease that has no end date. Five days’ notice is required.
- Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 28 days’ notice is required.
There are a handful of situations in which a tenant can legally break a lease in Wisconsin without penalty; these would include:
- Early termination clause
- Active Military duty
- Unit is uninhabitable
- Landlord harassment or privacy protection
- Violation of lease agreement
- Domestic Violence
There are some reasons your tenant may give that are not justified to terminate the lease, which include:
- Buying a house
- Relocating for a new job or school
- Upgrading or downgrading
- Moving in with a partner
- Moving to be closer to family
Something to keep in mind when it comes to leasing termination as the landlord you have the reasonability of re-renting the unit. The law refers to this as “mitigating damages.” This means that if the tenant leaves the lease early and you re-rent the home before the lease ends, then the new tenant’s rent will apply to the previous tenant’s debt. The landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent their property instead of charging the tenant for the remaining rent due under the lease agreement. If you (the landlord) re-rent the property quickly, all the tenant will be responsible for is the amount of time the property was vacant. In Wisconsin, the law requires the landlord to make a reasonable effort to re-rent the property; usually, judges in civil courts award landlords with at least one month’s rent, no matter how quickly the home is rented.
The Fair Housing Act bans discrimination based on race, color, national origin, familial status, religion, sex, or disability. Wisconsin also has special protections based on ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, and income source. These rules do not apply to owner-occupied properties or properties operated by religious organizations.
As a landlord, it’s important not to discriminate against potential tenants, current tenants, or past tenants. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Equal Rights Division handles housing discrimination cases. The following actions may be considered discriminatory when directed at a member of a protected class:
- Refusing to rent or sell on a genuine offer
- Falsely denying unit availability
- Offering different terms, conditions, or privileges
- Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations
- Steering tenants into specific buildings or neighborhoods
- Advertising that indicates discriminatory preferences
Something else that falls along the lines of house discrimination is pets and service animals. It is up to the landlord to allow pets or not in the rental property. Also, the landlord can give permission to one tenant to have a pet but not another as long as they do not discriminate against the tenant. Furthermore, it is not illegal for a landlord to discriminate against certain animals or breeds, including sizes, as long as they do that for all the tenants. Different rules apply for service animals or emotional support animals because they are not considered pets but rather a piece of medical equipment. To learn more about federal and state laws surrounding service animals and emotional support animals, check out Tenant Resource Center for more information.
Eviction in Wisconsin
When it comes to evictions in Wisconsin, there are specific laws regarding evictions for landlords and tenants. There has to be a cause to evict, and these tend to be the most common ones:
- Failure to pay rent
- Violation of the lease or rental agreement
- The tenant has committed violent acts
- The tenant has engaged in illegal activity at the rental property
To evict your tenant, there are rules and regulations regarding how you go about it and the amount of time you give them before filing for eviction.
Firstly, written 5-day, 14-day, or 30-day notices must be given first, stating the violation and the right to cure or not to cure. Right to cure means to fix the issue or pay a specified amount to fix it, like if your tenant damaged something within the property. No right to cure means the tenant needs to move within 14-days even if they fix the problem. But remember, you must have a legitimate reason to evict a tenant; if your reason to evict is that you want to sell your rental property fast, that is not a legitimate reason.
Currently, evictions in Wisconsin for failing to pay rent are on hold due to COVID-19 until January 31, 2021, but new legislation could extend that deadline. Tenants may still be evicted for reasons other than not paying rent or making a housing payment. The Order mentions explicitly evictions may be based on the following:
- Engagement in criminal activity while on the premises;
- Threatening the health or safety of other residents;
- Damaging or posing an immediate and significant risk of damage to property;
- Violating any applicable building code, health ordinance, or similar regulation relating to health and safety; or
- Violating any other lease obligation, other than the timely payment of rent or similar housing-related compensation (including late payment or non-payment fees, penalties, or interest).
Remember to follow all the rules and regulations when filing for eviction; you don’t want to lose your case because of a simple error. Most importantly, don’t take matters into your own hands to evict your tenant. Changing the locks, turning off utilities, and removing your tenant’s possessions are all referred to as “self-help” measures and are illegal for a landlord to do. Only a judge can decide a tenant must leave, and only a sheriff may physically remove the tenant. If you were to take self-help measures, your tenant could sue you for double damages, plus court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.
As a landlord, it’s good to know what your rights are and what your tenant’s rights are too. Ultimately it’s up to you to find a suitable tenant for your rental property, which involves learning more about them and their previous housing history. Sadly, that does not guarantee you will find an upstanding tenant to lease to, circumstances can change, and a good tenant can sometimes turn into a problem tenant. When that happens, it can definitely make you reconsider renting your property and think about selling it instead.
If you’re in a fixed-term rental agreement but are curious if you can sell your Wisconsin rental property with tenants still in it- the good news is that you can!
Based in the Milwaukee area, Cream City Home Buyers purchases rental properties with tenants and would be an ideal buyer for this type of selling scenario.
Besides buying your rental property with tenants, they also purchase houses in as-is condition, so you won’t have to worry about trying to make repairs or updates to the place. Also, they do not charge realtor commissions or service fees and will even help pay closing costs.
Cream City Home Buyers is a great buyer if you’re-
- Facing foreclosure or bankruptcy
- Dealing with unfinished construction
- Code violations
- Foundation damage
- Water damage
- Termite damage
- And so much more
Feel free to chat with Cream City Home Buyers to see how they would be able to purchase your Milwaukee rental property and make you a cash offer within 24-hours; you’ll be glad you did.
The material and information in this article is for general information purposes only. You should not rely upon the material or information within this article as a basis for making any business, legal or financial decisions. Be advised to seek the advice of a Wisconsin landlord and tenant attorney regarding your landlord rights and your lease agreement.