Oct 28

In the case that a tenant owes rent or other easily determinable charges, it is safest to send the letter as soon as practical and bill them separately for other damages.  

Returning keys may or may not be important in establishing the date the clock starts rolling.  More importantly is when did you know they were out and what was the termination date of their agreement.  

§704.28 (4) (b) was a big change.  Let’s say a tenant on a year lease vacates four months early, depending on when the unit gets rerented, the 21 days could start up to four months after they vacate.  

This also applies to month to month occupancies. If the tenant moved without notice, the notice date is implied to be the date the owner learned they moved out.

I look at (4) (b) as more of a safety net for owners that are sloppy in their response times or did not know the date the tenant vacated.  A far better approach would be to send a deposit transmittal letter as soon as you learn they left before the end of the agreement, stating the deposit is being applied to the rent due and that they are liable for the rent until, for example, Feb 29th, 2016 unless the unit is rerented prior to that date.  Also note that you are attempting to rerent the unit. 

Even if (4) (b) keeps you from losing a deposit lawsuit, it probably does not keep you out of court as tenants still believe the 21 days start the day they left and not the last day of the lease that could be months in the future. 

I feel it is very important when a tenant owes rent equal to or more than the deposit that you limit the deposit withholding letter to the rent with a notation that they are being billed separately for other damages.  If you have late fees in the written agreement those too can be part of the undisputed deposit withholding letter. [EDIT: Attorney Tristan Pettit points out that I was not clear that late fees must also be included in the non standard provision. ] 

There have been a few cases, including an outstate unpublished appellate decision, where the courts have doubled the wrongfully withheld items on a deposit transmittal letter and then applied that to a determination of double damages and attorney fees even though the rent alone exceeded the deposit.  For example the tenant has one month’s rent as deposit and leaves owing a month’s rent.  The landlord, being angry they left in the middle of the night puts $500 charge on the deposit letter for changing the locks. Tenant now is also angry and takes the landlord to court.  Some courts will mistakenly double the wrongfully withheld $500 and then clip the owner for the tenant’s attorney fees on top of that. Had the deposit letter just had the rent due on it and the owner billed the tenant for the questionable charges it would not have made the owner any less of a butthead, but he would have some money left to sign up for meditation or anger management classes.

You should also use the separate bill method for other things that are legit, but cannot be deducted from the deposit such as carpet cleaning if written into the rental agreement.  Note that our company does not change for carpet cleaning, but the WI Attorney General has said you may, as long as you do not deduct the charge from the deposit.

 704.28 (4) Timing for return. A landlord shall deliver or mail to a tenant the full amount of any security deposit paid by the tenant, less any amounts that may be withheld under subs. (1) and (2), within 21 days after any of the following:

(a) If the tenant vacates the premises on the termination date of the rental agreement, the date on which the rental agreement terminates.

(b) If the tenant vacates the premises or is evicted before the termination date of the rental agreement, the date on which the tenant’s rental agreement terminates or, if the landlord rerents the premises before the tenant’s rental agreement terminates, the date on which the new tenant’s tenancy begins.

(c) If the tenant vacates the premises or is evicted after the termination date of the rental agreement, the date on which the landlord learns that the tenant has vacated the premises or has been removed from the premises under s. 799.45 (2).

Sep 27

The AASEW’s ever popular Landlord Boot Camp is just around the corner.  It will be held on Saturday, October 4, 2014 from 8:30 am – 5:30 pm at the Clarion Hotel located near the airport.

At this Fall’s Boot Camp I will be updating everyone on how the courts have been handling and interpreting all of the law changes since Act 76 was passed back in March of this year.

I will also address numerous other of topics that will help you navigate Wisconsin’s complex landlord – tenant laws.  Learn how to run your properties with greater profit while staying out of trouble.  Landlording can be pretty complex, with a seemingly never ending myriad of paperwork, rules, landlord-tenant laws and simple mistakes that can cost you thousands.

Some of the other topics that will be covered include:

1) How to properly screen prospective tenants

2) How to draft written screening criteria to assist you in the tenant selection process

3) How to comply with both federal and state Fair Housing laws including how to comply with “reasonable modifications” and “reasonable accommodations” requests

4) How to legally reject an applicant

5) What rental documents you should be using and why

6) When you should be using a 5-day notice versus a 14-day notice, 28-day notice, or 30-day notice and how to properly serve the notice on your tenant

7) Everything you wanted to know (and probably even more than you wanted to know) about the Residential Rental Practices (ATCP 134) and how to avoid having to pay double damages to your tenant for breaching ATCP 134

8) When you are legally allowed to enter your tenant’s apartment

9) How to properly draft an eviction summons and complaint

10) What to do to keep the commissioner or judge from dismissing your eviction lawsuit

11) What you can legally deduct from a security deposit

 12) How to properly draft a security deposit transmittal  (“21 day”) letter

13) How to handle pet damage

14) What to do with a tenant’s abandoned property and how this may affect whether or not you file an eviction suit

15) How to pursue your ex-tenant for damages to your rental property and past due rent (and whether it is even worth it to do so)

There will also be time for “Q&A” and Lunch is included!

If that is not enough you will also receive a manual that is over 100 pages that includes all of Tristan’s outlines on the various topics and various forms.

 Who:         Taught by Attorney Tristan Pettit, who drafts the landlord tenant forms for Wisconsin Legal Blank.

When:       Saturday, October 4, 2014  from 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM —- Registration opens at 7:00 AM

Where:     Clarion Hotel 5311 S. Howell Avenue, Milwaukee

Price:        AASEW Members only $159 .  Non AASEW Members  – $249

Register:    Go to www.LandlordBootCamp2014.com and you can register online and read prior attendees testimonials.

Last year’s AASEW Landlord Boot Camp was filled to capacity.  So much so we even had to turn people away.  So register early to reserve your spot.

I hope to see many of you there.


Apr 18

A reader of ApartmentAssoc Yahoo Group asks:

A tenant killed himself in an apartment in March. He paid March rent. Is under lease. His mother wants his sec. dep. back. Am I legally obligated to give her the sec. dep? I couldn’t get a new tenant in time for April.

Always look first to the statutes:

§704.165 (1) 

(a) Except as provided in par. (b), if a residential tenant dies, his or her tenancy is terminated on the earlier of the following:

1. Sixty days after the landlord receives notice, is advised, or otherwise becomes aware of the tenant’s death.

2. The expiration of the term of the rental agreement.

(b) Notwithstanding s. 704.19, in the case of the death of a residential periodic tenant or tenant at will, the tenancy is terminated 60 days after the landlord receives notice, is advised, or otherwise becomes aware of the tenant’s death.

(2) The deceased tenant or his or her estate is not liable for any rent after the termination of his or her tenancy. Any liability of the deceased tenant or his or her estate for rent under this subsection is subject to the landlord’s duty to mitigate damages as provided in s. 704.29 (2).

(3) Nothing in this section relieves another adult tenant of the deceased tenant’s premises from any obligation under a rental agreement or any other liability to the landlord.

(4) A landlord under this section may not contact or communicate with a member of the deceased tenant’s family for the purpose of obtaining from the family member rent for which the family member has no liability.

Dec 12

SB 179 was signed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker today and is now Wisconsin 2013 ACT 76.

The legislation affects evictions, towing, municipal ordinances, responsibility for bed bugs and other insects.  Most importantly it allows for crime free lease addendums. I believe that the effective date for most of the statute is March 1st.

We will need to modify our leases to comply with or receive the advantage of some of the provisions.

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.

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