Oct 16

Late yesterday the Wisconsin Senate approved an Assembly amendment to SB 179.  This law, which should be in effect around the first of 2014, makes sweeping changes to Wisconsin Landlord Tenant Law.   The bill was a combined effort of the Apartment Association of Southwestern WI, The Wisconsin Realtors and the Wisconsin Apartment Association.

The Legislative Council Memo on SB 179 puts the changes in fairly layman terms. AASEW past president Attorney Tristan Pettit worked extensively on the bill.  He will be providing information on the changes at the AASEW Fall 2013 Landlord Boot Camp.

Highlights of the bill taken from the Leg Council Memo are, and this is my analysis of what is important and not a legal opinion by an attorney because as you know I am Just A Landlord:

Restrictions on Local Ordinances [Sections 1 to 4]

Municipalities are currently prohibited from enacting or enforcing ordinances that:

  • Imposing a moratorium on eviction actions
  • Places certain limitations on what information a landlord may obtain and use for screening.

New law adds prohibitions against ordinances that:

  • Limits a tenant’s responsibility, or a landlord’s right to recover, for any damage or waste to, or neglect of, the premises that occurs during the tenant’s occupancy of the premises.
  • Limits a tenant’s responsibility or a landlord’s right to recover for any other costs, expenses, fees, payments, or damages for which the tenant is responsible under the rental agreement or applicable law.
  • Requires a landlord to communicate to the municipality any information concerning the landlord or tenants unless the information is required under federal or state law or is required of all residential real property owners.

Leases [Section 18]

Under current law, if a lease is void and unenforceable if it contains a provision that allows the landlord to terminate the tenancy of a tenant if a crime is committed in or on the rental property, even if the tenant could not reasonably have prevented the crime.  [s. 704.44 (9), Stats.]

The new law allows for Crime Free Lease Addendums as long as you include  a specified notice, in the lease agreement or an addendum to the lease agreement, of certain domestic abuse protections available under ss. 106.50 (5m) (dm) and 704.16, Stats.  The first of these sections prohibits a landlord from evicting a tenant because of the tenant’s status as a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking.  The second of these sections provides that a residential tenant may terminate his or her tenancy if the tenant or a child of the tenant faces an imminent threat of serious physical harm from another person if the tenant remains on the premise


Timing of return of Security Deposit with regard to evictions [Sections 15 and 16]

Under current law, if a tenant is evicted, a landlord must return the security deposit to the tenant, less any amounts that are appropriately withheld, within 21 days after the date on which the writ of restitution is executed or the date on which the landlord learns that the tenant has vacated the premises, whichever occurs first.  [s. 704.28 (4) (d), Stats.]

Under Senate Bill 179, If the tenant is evicted before that date, the landlord must return the security deposit within 21 days after the lease terminates or, if the landlord re-rents the premises before that day, the date on which the new tenant’s tenancy begins.  If the tenant is evicted after the termination date, the landlord must return the security deposit within 21 days after the date on which the landlord learns that the tenant has vacated the premises or the date the tenant is removed by eviction.

Service of Summons in Eviction Action [Section 22]

Allows courts to permit service of eviction summons by Certified Mail.  This will be on a county by county basis.


Allows LLC to appear by member or agent, rather than requiring attorneys [Section 21]

Under current law, in any small claims action, a property owned by an LLC must use an attorney or full time employee of the LLC

Senate Bill 179 eliminates the requirement that the employee be a full-time employee and also allows any small claims action by a member of the person, an agent of the member or an authorized employee of the agent.  This provision applies to all small claims actions, not only evictions.

Disposition of Property Left on Rental Premises After Eviction [Sections 9, 10 and 29 to 46]

Under current law, in Milwaukee County, the sheriff must remove and store the tenants’ property. In all other counties, the landlord may choose to be responsible for the removal and storage of the property.

Under Senate Bill 179, if a tenant is evicted and leaves property on the rental premises, the landlord is not required to store the property unless the landlord and tenant have entered into a written agreement which provides otherwise.  If the landlord does not intend to store personal property left behind by a tenant, the landlord must provide written notice either when the tenant enters into or renews the rental agreement. If this notice is provided, the landlord may dispose of the property, other than prescription medicine or medical equipment, in any manner that the landlord determines is appropriate.

Towing of Vehicles [Sections 5 to 8]

Under current law, a vehicle that is parked on a private parking lot or facility without the permission of the property owner may not be removed without the permission of the vehicle owner, unless a traffic or police officer issues a citation for illegal parking, or a repossession judgment is issued.

Under Senate Bill 179, a vehicle that is parked without authorization on private property that is properly posted may be towed immediately regardless of whether a parking citation is issued.

This final one is the most complex of the changes and requires some Administrative rules to be created.

There is also a change regarding Mobile Home Parks, but I am not impacted and therefore did not review them.

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

Jun 13

(Read about the law here)

Not sure what it means to you as a landlord?  Do not miss one of the most important Apartment Association meetings of the year!

Tristan Pettit, Heiner Giese, Bob Anderson of Legal Action of Wisconsin  and others will discuss the changes in the law and what it means to you as a landlord and how to be compliant.

When:   Monday June  18th 7 PM

Where:  The Best Western, 1005 S. Moorland Road, in Brookfield

Who: AASEW Attorneys Tristan Pettit and Heiner Geise along with Bob Anderson, a tenant advocate attorney to present an opposing view.

Cost:  Free to current AASEW members, $25 to guests, or $59 with a 2012 AASEW membership included.

The focus of the meeting will be on Wisconsin’s new Landlord Omnibus Law (Act 143).  We will have two landlord attorneys (myself and AASEW attorney Heiner Giese) and one tenant attorney (Bob Andersen of Legal Action of WI) on our panel.

We will discuss the major changes to the law, give our opinions as to how those changes will be interpreted by courts, and advise you as to what you will need to do to be in compliance with the new law.  Oh yeah . . .  and we will also answer your questions.

And you will get FREE food as well.

The meeting will be held at the Best Western Hotel located at 1005 S. Moorland Road in Brookfield WI.

Cost to attend is free to members of the AASEW and $25 for non-members (or choose to become a member and pay only $59 and avoid the $25 fee).

It should be a great evening of discussion and education.  I hope that all of you can attend.

Apr 28

Wisconsin’s Act 143 Landlord Omnibus bill has been of great concern to owners that have read the content as well those who have read the Legislative Council memo on the bill.

AASEW Attorney Heiner Geise had researched this a bit and came to the conclusion it is not quite as bad as originally thought.  He received an opinion consistent with his view from the Leg Council.

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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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