As a landlord, you need to be familiar with rental property laws in your state. Otherwise, you could end up on the wrong side of the law (and the wrong side of a lawsuit) regarding things like eviction process and security deposit. If you own a Wisconsin rental property, make sure you know the landlord-tenant laws in Wisconsin. 

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Rent and Payment Laws

Landlords can accept cash payments for rent or deposits, but they must provide a written receipt. Tenants who pay using checks may also request written receipts.

The utilities may or may not be included in the rental amount, but the landlord must tell the tenant if the utilities are not included before the rental agreement is signed or any money is paid.

According to an FAQ from the Wisconsin DATCP, there are no laws limiting the amount of rent increase. When a lease ends and a new agreement is created, landlords can increase the rent however much they see fit, and there is no rent control in Wisconsin.

Charging Late Fees

Landlords can charge fees for late rent payment as long as the lease includes a provision stating when and how the late fee will be assessed. If a tenant is behind on rent and makes a payment, the payment must be applied first to the rent that is currently due. Landlords are not allowed to charge additional fees for failing to pay a late fee. 

Security Deposit and Earnest Money Rules

Wisconsin allows landlords to charge applicants an earnest money deposit as long as the landlord has identified the specific unit available for rent. The landlord must return the deposit by the end of the first business day if the landlord rejects the application if the applicant withdraws the application before the landlord accepts or rejects it, or if the landlord does not make a decision within three business days. If the landlord and tenant enter a rental agreement, the earnest money deposit should be applied to either rent or the security deposit or returned to the tenant. 

Wisconsin landlords are also allowed to require a security deposit as long as certain requirements are met. The tenant must be told in writing that they have seven days to inspect the unit and document any problems. The tenant must also be given the opportunity to request a list or description of the damages that the previous tenant had deducted from their security deposit refund. If the landlord requires more than one month’s rent to be paid upfront, the rent for the additional months is considered a deposit. 

After the rental agreement ends, the landlord has 21 days to mail the security deposit to the last known address of the tenant. The landlord can deduct amounts for certain losses, including tenant damage, nonpayment of rent, nonpayment of utility services, and certain other costs that the landlord and tenant have agreed to, such as routine carpet cleaning. A description of each deduction and the amount for each deduction must be provided.

Evicting Tenants

Wisconsin landlords are not allowed to conduct self-help evictions, in which they force out the tenant themselves. Likewise, landlords are not allowed to conduct constructive evictions, in which they change the locks, remove doors, cut off utilities or otherwise harass the tenant into leaving.

If a landlord has a legitimate reason to evict a tenant, the proper, legal process must be followed. 

  • In most cases, the landlord must provide either a five-day cure notice giving the tenant time to remedy the issue or a 14-day notice to vacate.
  • If the tenant does not leave after being given proper notice, the landlord can file for an eviction in Small Claims Court.

Written Rental Agreements

Verbal rental agreements are allowed under Wisconsin rental property rules. However, the landlord is required to provide written information regarding the name and address of the person authorized to collect rent or manage and maintain the premises. The tenant should be able to contact this person or these people, and the address must be located in the Wisconsin. 

When landlords provide written rental agreements, they should give the tenant time to read everything over before signing. After both the tenant and the landlord sign the rental agreement, the tenant must be given a copy of the full agreement.

Although some nonstandard rental provisions are allowed under Wisconsin law, certain terms are banned. For example, landlords cannot say that they are not liable for property damage or personal injury caused by their own negligence, and they cannot claim authorization to use self-help evictions. 

Pet Rules

When creating rules on which pets are allowed or whether pet fees will be charged, Wisconsin landlords must pay attention to federal anti-discrimination laws and the Fair Housing Act. 
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an individual with a disability may request to keep an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation, and the landlord may not be able to deny the request as long as certain conditions are met. Note that an assistance animal can refer to an emotional support animal as well as a trained service animal.

Obtaining a Landlord License or Registration

As a landlord in Wisconsin, you may need to meet city or county requirements for licensing and registration. In Milwaukee, ownership information for all buildings other than one-and-two-family dwellings that are occupied by the owner must be registered with the Department of Neighborhood Services.

Additional Laws and New Legislation 

This is an overview of the most important Wisconsin landlord-tenant laws, see Wisconsin’s Landlord Tenant Guide and the Wisconsin State Law Library for more details. Also be aware of any city or county laws that may impact your responsibilities, as well as any new legislation or relevant federal rules. 

Protecting Yourself with Landlord Insurance

Being a landlord can mean navigating some fairly complicated local, state and federal rules. Landlords may be sued for various reasons. A tenant may claim that you violated their tenant rights by evicting them, for example, or a visitor may claim that you were negligent in maintaining the property and they were injured as a result. On top of that, you also have to deal with the threat of property damage and the potential for lost income if a unit is uninhabitable as a result.
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