Sep 24

If your business model relies on using workers that you classify as “independent contractors” the latest interpretation from the US Department of Labor should be of extreme concern you.

Hat tip to Attorney Tristan Pettit for alerting me to this.

I have written a number of post about the dangers of calling a worker an independent contractor when they met the definition of employee.   Well that bar was just raised substantially.

Rather than the old tests, the new ones are fairly bright line:

Ultimately, the goal is not simply to tally which factors are met, but to determine whether the worker is economically dependent on the employer (and thus its employee) or is really in business for him or herself (and thus its independent contractor).

But the ruling goes even further than is the worker dependent on the pay they receive from you.  Below are a few paragraphs of the Department of Labor document worth noting.

If the work performed by a worker is integral to the employer’s business, it is more likely that the worker is economically dependent on the employer.


In sum, in order to inform the determination of whether the worker is in business for him or herself, this factor should not focus on the worker’s ability to work more hours, but rather on whether the worker exercises managerial skills and whether those skills affect the worker’s opportunity for both profit and loss.


The worker should make some investment (and therefore undertake at least some risk for a loss) in order for there to be an indication that he or she is an independent business.


For example, investing in tools and equipment is not necessarily a business investment or a capital expenditure that indicates that the worker is an independent contractor.

So if the guy is a licensed electrician doing work for dozens or hundreds of other owners – pretty much he is a contractor.

However if you are paying a painter $10 an hour, or even $20 for that matter, and he works primarily for you – he is an employee and you would be well served to consider making him a legitimate employee or hire out a company that uses employees.

Remember too that if someone working on your property  is injured your rental property liability policy will not cover them.  Either you or they need to have a worker comp policy.  And this risk is even greater than the DOJ coming after you.

Sep 11

What I’ve seen in Milwaukee County Small Claims Court over the years is mixed. Some Court Commissioners accept §704.07(3)(a) [below] as applying and require the tenant to “reimburse the landlord for the reasonable cost” although a couple of commissioners have taken ATCP 134.06(4)(b)  to mean actual costs only. But a strong argument against this position is ATCP 134.06(4)(a) also allows for “reasonable compensation”

There was a published case, which for whatever reason I cannot find, that allowed an owner’s $15 per hour labor charge.

There is also a unpublished Court of Appeals opinion where an owner had an hourly rate in his non standard “The court also awarded the Hofackers $45 per hour for labor, pursuant to one of the [nonstandard] provisions.”  I would not rely on this case as the amount per hour sounds excessive to me, plus it was a District III decision, which often rules far differently than District I. Also note that the landlord ultimately lost the case at the trial court on other issues and was charged $11,417 in attorney fees plus $3,796.64 in double damages for withholding a $1,300 deposit, some of which the court allowed as a deduction.  This case should be a warning to those who overstate charges even when they are entitled to withhold all or part of the deposit.

Despite Hofacker being a poor case, having a nonstandard provision where the labor rate is more inline with normal labor costs may be helpful for owners that do their own work.

The best option though for those who do some work on their properties, but also pay to have work done, is to direct the paid labor towards deposit type issues and work on items that will not be charged to the tenant yourself

The Statute and Admin Code

§704.07(3)(a) If the premises are damaged by the negligence or improper use of the premises by the tenant, the tenant must repair the damage and restore the appearance of the premises by redecorating. However, the landlord may elect to undertake the repair or redecoration, and in such case the tenant must reimburse the landlord for the reasonable cost thereof; the cost to the landlord is presumed reasonable unless proved otherwise by the tenant.

ATCP 134.06(4)(b) No landlord may intentionally misrepresent or falsify any claim against a security deposit, including the cost of repairs, or withhold any portion of a security deposit pursuant to an intentionally falsified claim.

ATCP 134.06(4)(a) If any portion of a security deposit is withheld by a landlord, the landlord shall, within the time period and in the manner specified under sub. (2), deliver or mail to the tenant a written statement accounting for all amounts withheld. The statement shall describe each item of physical damages or other claim made against the security deposit, and the amount withheld as reasonable compensation for each item or claim.

P.S. Reread the disclaimer:  I am “just a landlord,” NOT an attorney or even a doctor despite having terrible handwriting. If you need legal advice or have appendicitis, don’t rely on something you read on the internet and do it yourself. Rather, hire a competent professional.

Sep 08

A five day notice for payment is a “pay or quit” or right to cure. If the tenant presents the full amount within the five day period the notice is void.  Remember if you serve via certified mail, you must add two days.

The law changed with 2013 ACT 76, effective in March 2014.

799.40 (1m) Acceptance of rent or other payment. If a landlord commences an action under this section against a tenant whose tenancy has been terminated for failure to pay rent or for any other reason, the action under this section may not be dismissed solely because the landlord accepts past due rent or any other payment from the tenant after the termination of the tenant’s tenancy serving notice of default or after commencing the action.

If the tenant pays a portion but not all the rent due, the notice is probably valid.  The tricky part here is if you the tenant felt that you agreed to waive the notice if they made the partial payment.  This turns into ‘he said, she said’  To avoid that issue we have the following at the bottom of our notice:

“Non Waiver: If you make a  payment  of less than the $xxx.xx required by this notice, you will still be in default and SUBJECT TO EVICTION  unless the Owner agrees in writing to cancel this notice.”

Our system also prints the following on receipts of tenants with active five days:

“Non-waiver: This partial payment will be applied to past due rent owed and that by accepting same owner is not waiving his right  to proceed with an eviction based on the 5-Day notice dated xx/xx/xxxx unless tenant enters into a written payment agreement for the balance and owner agrees in writing to vacate the notice.”

Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD.  Don’t be a jerk about it.  If the tenant owes, let’s say $900, and pays, let’s say $820, with a promise to pay the balance with next month’s rent and you quietly accept the money and then file the eviction that would meet my definition and probably the Court Commissioner’s definition of being a jerk.  Court Commissioners can find some pretty creative ways around jerks. 😉  However in the same scenario the tenant gives you $200 and promises to be back on Friday to pay the balance on Friday and fails to, then by all means evict.

Finally the reader asked about payment in full of rent and late fees.   The law does not currently permit late fees on five day notices for month to month tenants and inclusion of those on a five day will cause the eviction to fail in some counties.  The Apartment Association is working to change this law in the current session.

Sep 04

There is a discussion over on theApartment Association email discussion group about income criteria for unmarried co occupants vs. married occupants.

A tenant is a tenant, regardless if they are married, cohabitation, straight, gay, white, black or green.

If you are using a reasonable income criteria for screening, that is good as long as you don’t factor in the other things such as marital status.  

Your protection if occupant A departs on month two of a year lease is to let occupant A know you are not releasing them from the obligation they have to you under the rental agreement. Simply moving out does not relieve the vacating tenant from their obligations under the rental agreement. 

As soon as you start analyzing if applicant A has enough income without applicant B for unmarried tenants, but consider the income of both undividedly  for married tenants you are running afoul of Fair Housing, at least in Wisconsin.

While marital status is not a protected class under Federal Fair Housing, it is a protected class under Wisconsin’s Open Housing Law and in a number of other jurisdictions.

Plain English version:


106.50 Open housing.

(1)  Intent. It is the intent of this section to render unlawful discrimination in housing. It is the declared policy of this state that all persons shall have an equal opportunity for housing regardless of sex, race, color, sexual orientation, disability, religion, national origin, marital status, family status, status as a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking, lawful source of income, age, or ancestry and it is the duty of the political subdivisions to assist in the orderly prevention or removal of all discrimination in housing through the powers granted under ss. 66.0125 and66.1011. The legislature hereby extends the state law governing equal housing opportunities to cover single-family residences that are owner-occupied. The legislature finds that the sale and rental of single-family residences constitute a significant portion of the housing business in this state and should be regulated. This section shall be considered an exercise of the police powers of the state for the protection of the welfare, health, peace, dignity, and human rights of the people of this state.

Aug 30

Years ago I had a secret weapon … Jott an iPhone app that allowed you to speak a note and have a fairly well typed email. Unfortunately Jott was shut down a couple of years ago.

A year ago I stumbled on an excellent replacement, DO note. This app is available for both iPhones and Android.  It is free as well.

While you are out in the field you can quickly take a note of something you will likely have forgotten about by the time you get to a proper place to jot down your notes.


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