Jan 23

There is a discussion over on theApartment Association email discussion group about sending deposit letters via email.

I would be careful with creative methods of returning deposits or sending notice to tenants. The law is ATCP 134.06(2) Returning security deposits. A landlord shall deliver or mail to a tenant… “ and §704.28(4) Timing for return. A landlord shall deliver or mail to a tenant the …” Email is not in there.

The risk of being on the cutting edge is suffering large legal costs even if you are right. Below is a Wisconsin case that an owner had to take to the Court of Appeals in part because he sent the deposit letter via FedEx. The trail court ruled that FedEx was not mail and therefore the owner was liable for double deposit and attorney fees.

KIDD (Landlord) v. MCMASTER (Tenant)

“DYKMAN, J.[1] Michael Kidd appeals from a judgment awarding Dianna L. McMaster $18,029.93. He contends the trial court erred by finding that Federal Express is not a statutorily approved method of transporting a security deposit to a tenant under WIS. ADMIN. CODE § ATCP 134.06(2)(a).

The majority of the judgement, $15,171.69 was “reasonable attorney fees .” I’ll assume the rest was double deposit. The landlord won on appeal, but at what cost?

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 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 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.

Thanks

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/


preload preload preload