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.

Oct 12

A reader of the LandlordAssciation Yahoo Groups asks what can they do about a Wisconsin tenant who harrasses everyone that moves in above them into moving.  The owner is using a generic lease that is silent on the subject.

In WI absent a conflicting provision in a lease, §704 applies.  In particular, for this problem §704.05 (3).

http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/704/05/3

704.05  Rights and duties of landlord and tenant in absence of written agreement to contrary.

(1)  When section applicable. So far as applicable, this section governs the rights and duties of the landlord and tenant in the absence of any inconsistent provision in writing signed by both the landlord and the tenant. Except as otherwise provided in this section, this section applies to any tenancy.

…..

(3) Use of premises, additions or alterations by tenant. The tenant can make no physical changes in the nature of the premises, including decorating, removing, altering or adding to the structures thereon, without prior consent of the landlord. The tenant cannot use the premises for any unlawful purpose nor in such manner as to interfere unreasonably with use by another occupant of the same building or group of buildings.

This also works to get rid of drug dealers etc if your lease does not have such a provision.  The fact that this is statutory probably gives you better footing for an eviction that simply being in your lease.

But before you rush off and draft a crafty lease of your own, remember that in Wisconsin if your lease violates one of the “Nine Deadly Sins” contained in §704.44, the entire lease is void as to the landlord enforcing it, but a tenant may enforce the remaining parts they like.

 

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:
http://landlordbootcamp2013.com/

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