Aug 21

In the past week I have had three owners ask about pools.  First, let me say this is much better than the questions about ice dams that we get most of the year.  ;-)

If your lease is silent on pools, you may use the Wisconsin state law that requires your tenant to comply with local housing codes.

§707.07(3) (c)  A tenant in a residential tenancy shall comply with a local housing code applicable to the premises.

Milwaukee Ordinance define the requirement for pools, starting at 75-20-5

“PERMIT REQUIRED. In addition to the requirements of ch. SPS 390, Wis. Adm. Code, no person shall construct, install, enlarge, establish, maintain or make any alteration to any public swimming place or any outdoor private swimming place without a pool construction permit issued by the commissioner.”

If your tenant is a month to month you must give them a 14 day termination.  I suggest if they were otherwise good tenant that you include language such as “We will vacate this notice only if you remove the pool within 48 hours conditioned on not reinstalling a pool in the future without first obtaining all permits and complying with all City regulations”.   Attached a copy of the Milwaukee pool regulations.

If you use a year lease you must give them a 5 day breach notice, allowing them 5 days to remove the pool or be evicted.

Why are owners against pools, don’t they want the tenants to enjoy summer?  Pools are dangerous even when installed with proper fencing etc.

  • An average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States
  • About  one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger.
  • For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

Oct 08

Our world is full of traps for rental owners… Fail to document the deposit return letter when was sent and a $300 deposit turns into $5,000 with attorney fees. Try to be helpful and not rent the third floor walk up to a person with a bad leg and pay $10,000 in a Fair Housing claim. Likewise tell the person with the companion dog that there is no way you are renting to a person with a Pit Bull and pay another ten grand. Give the tenant with a year lease a 14 day for disturbing the neighbors and breaking your windows or the tenant with a month to month a 5 day for the same reason and you will have to start your court case all over again. The list of pitfalls is endless and growing.

So how do you collect your rent, fill your vacancies and evict tenants without getting in trouble or having expensive do-overs?

You could throw your arms in the air and give up, but that probably is not the most effective approach. You can go through life figuring these are things that only happen to the other guy or to”bad” landlords. That works for a while until you become the other guy. You could hire an attorney to be along side you for every decision, but that probably is not financially effective.

The only viable answer is to know the laws that affect us well enough to either know the answer or know when you need help. You can venture out and learn as you go through your own mistakes, usually a very expensive education – there is a reason they call it the school of hard knocks, or you can get as much education as practical before you find yourself on the losing end of a legal battle.

I started with the learn as you go method. It cost me three grand in 1982 dollars when a tenant that snuck out in the middle of the night sued for their deposit. I lost because I did not know the law well enough to make the proper argument that the 21 days did not start on the day they skipped out, but rather on the day I found they moved. So my letter sent seven days after I found a vacant apartment was proper, but laws only work for those that know them.

My next education was a Bob Smith Landlord Tenant Law course at Marquette. Much more informative and less expensive. A couple of years later Bob condensed this into a full day landlord tenant law for the Association. It cost somewhere around two hundred dollars and included his book “Landlord Defense: Eviction and Collection manual” that had most of the forms needed. For those who want to stroll down memory lane, here is a Sentinel article with a really young picture of Bob:

The Association continues to offer the best landlord tenant law course out there. The Landlord Boot Camp gives you the fundamentals in a full day Saturday class. It is updated to include the latest law changes and includes a 100 page plus manual. It is presented by Attorney Tristan Pettit who writes the standard landlord tenant forms for Wisconsin Legal Blank. Tristan also worked on SB179 that may become law later this month. If it does pass he will have an insiders view on how this law can be best utilized by owners.

The next Boot Camp is Saturday October 26th 8:30 AM to 5;30 PM. Costs is $159 for AASEW members and $249 for non-members.

Learn more or sign up at:

Sep 12

A reader of our discussion list at asks the following:

I have couple questions regarding to eviction. I have given notice, which due yesterday. If the rent arrives shortly after the court paper file, Can I take the payment but still be able to go head with the eviction because I really don’t want to continue with this tenant?

My notice is for August’s rent. When I file the court paper, Am I be able to sue for August’s and September’s together?

Easy part:  At the second and third cause hearing you will be able to claim the September rent, October rent if the case drags out that long and damages and should get a judgment assuming personal service or publication of the summons.  Whether you will actually collect those amounts is often a different matter.

More difficult part:  The Statute changed in March 2012 to state that acceptance of rent after the expiration of a notice terminating tenancy for nonpayment does not void the eviction action.  I feel the statute can be read in a manner that it may only apply if you commence the action prior to taking the money.  But remember I am not an attorney, just a landlord.

Also in practice it appears that Milwaukee County Courts tend to still view acceptance of rent as an agreement to cancel the eviction.

The new law

799.40  Eviction actions.

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

Apr 06

For most of my career I felt strongly that M-T-M was the only way to go if your tenants were lower income.  About a year ago I rethought this.  Okay I constantly rethink a lot of things we do on nearly a daily basis, it’s called optimization,  but this time we did a trial test of year leases.  I feel a lease for a term may be best in today’s environment, but have not recommended it across the board for other owners we work with.

My argument against year leases was that you could not compel them to pay the lost rent for the balance of the lease if they skipped out, yet had to keep the tenant to the end of the lease even if you would prefer they were gone.   The exceptions of course are nonpayment and documentable lease violations.   With a month to month it is 28 days without cause and 14 days with cause- no right to cure, speeding the process..

The following are possible advantages of using a year lease even if your tenants are marginally collectable at best:

Screening:  Tenants that refuse to sign a year lease because they don’t plan on being at one address that long are not worth renting to.

Collections: In a M-T-M  a 5 day can only be for rent due, not for other unpaid charges.  With a lease the 5 day can include unpaid deposit, late fees, utility charges etc.

Bad behavior:  In a M-T-M you can use a 14 day with no right to cure.  This does not lessen your burden of proof and does not make the 90 pound pit bull “puppy” leave any faster.  In fact it often causes the dog to stay for the remained of the tenants’ occupancy.  You can also give a 28 day notice without any reason (or 30 or 60 if that is what you have in your written agreement.)

In a year lease you can use a 5 day.  Sure they have the right to cure, but if the same breach occurs again with in the lease period you get to use a 14 day with no right to cure.  The five day has sped up the resolution of some issues tremendously.  Take the pit bull example. If the dog is gone within five days, never to return – great.  If on day 6 the dog is still there you can file with the court.  This can calm the other tenants and neighbors quicker because you seem more on top of the situation.

Yes, the tenant can argue that the breach did not exist.  They could argue  that with a 14 day notice under a M-T-M as well.  That is why using a 28 day without cause was a method that worked for M-T-M.  But you really do not want to be evicting willy nilly anyways.  That makes you look bad and harms your bottom line.  So adequate proof is not necessarily a bad thing.  Plus if you find a dog on April 4th and decide to give the tenant a 28 day rather than duke it out with a 14 Day you have to put up with them until May 31st and then file an eviction on June 1st if they are still there. So it could be late June when they are finally gone.   With a lease you could be in court as early as 18th or 19th

For me today it is use the year lease and document, document, document any breaches.  Then, if you need to go to court to evict be prepared to some sort of stipulation.  In the dog example you may wish to give them a move out that coincides with the last day of the month conditioned upon them keeping the dog elsewhere for those 12 days and paying the rent.

If the legislature gives us the same 5 Day rights under a M-T-M as we have under a year lease I may reconsider the use of leases, but I am not sure as I feel pretty strongly today that it is a bad sign if a tenant is unwilling to sign up for a year.

Ideally the legislature will also give us the right to use crime free addendums again.  That will help owners deal more proactively with disruptive behavior problems

Mar 23

The Wisconsin Landlord Tenant Law Omnibus bill was signed into law by Governor Scott Walker around 4 PM March 21st, 2012.  You must be in compliance with the provisions for tenancies  entered into beginning April 1st.

One thing the bill does is add a new prohibited lease provision:

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