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Significant Changes to Landlord-Tenant Law in Wisconsin Effective March 31, 2012

By: Neil Wojtal

 

Major revisions were made to the Wisconsin Statutes, Chapter 704 regarding landlords and tenants.


Here are the highlights:

 

1. Section 704.05(5) – This section now states that the landlord may presume that property the tenant leaves behind is abandoned and the landlord may dispose of the property if the landlord has provided written notice to the tenant. The written notice can be included in the rental agreement or renewal and must state that the landlord will not store any personal property the tenant leaves behind. The landlord can dispose of the property regardless of whether it is owned by the tenant or someone else. The tenant or a secured party can redeem the property prior to disposal if they pay any landlord incurred expenses associated with the disposal of the property.

 

Two exceptions are medical items and manufactured homes, mobile homes and titled vehicles. With medical prescriptions and equipment, the landlord must hold the item for 7 days before disposal and the items must be returned to the tenant if requested in this 7 day period. Any manufactured home, mobile home or titled vehicle cannot be disposed of until the landlord has given written notice to the tenant and any secured party that the landlord has actual knowledge of, by regular or certified mail to the tenant's last known address.

 

Note that a landlord must provide written notice in any new rental agreement or renewal if the landlord will not store abandoned property, with the exception of medical prescriptions and titled vehicles as referenced above. Therefore, you can add this provision to your new rental agreements or renewal agreements. For those tenants who are in the middle of a lease term, you can amend the rental agreement to include this language and have the tenant sign it. Of course, they could refuse. In that case, it should be included in the next renewal agreement. For month-to-month tenants without a written rental agreement, you should provide this change in a written notice effective 30 days after the notice.

 

If a landlord does not provide the notice, then the old statutory provisions requiring the storage of abandoned property will continue to apply.

 

2. Section 704.08 – This section requires the landlord to provide a check-in sheet to the tenant which the tenant must complete within 7 days of first occupancy. The check-in sheet must contain an itemized description of the condition of the premises at the time of check-in. This section would require the landlord to give a detailed description of the premises at the time of occupancy.

 

It is our suggestion that you should take photos of the premises prior to tenant move in to have visual evidence of the condition of the premises prior to tenant occupancy.

 

This new statutory requirement applies to all tenancies beginning on or after March 31, 2012.

 

3. Section 704.02 – This section now states that if any provision in a rental agreement is found to be invalid, the rest of the agreement is still in force.

 

4. Section 704.44 – This new provision contains exceptions to Section 704.02. If any of these provisions are included in your rental agreement, the entire rental agreement will be void.

 

Here is the section:

 

704.44 Residential rental agreement that contains certain provisions is void. Notwithstanding s. 704.02, a residential rental agreement is void and unenforceable if it does any of the following:

 

     (1m) Allows a landlord to do any of the following because a tenant has contacted an entity for law enforcement services, health services, or safety services:

     (a) Increase rent.

     (b) Decrease services.

     (c) Bring an action for possession of the premises.

     (d) Refuse to renew a rental agreement.

     (e) Threaten to take any action under pars. (a) to (d).

     (2m) Authorizes the eviction or exclusion of a tenant from the premises, other than by judicial eviction procedures as provided under ch. 799.

      (3m) Provides for an acceleration of rent payments in the event of tenant default or breach of obligations under the rental agreement, or otherwise waives the landlord's obligation to mitigate damages as provided in s. 704.29.

     (4m) Requires payment by the tenant of attorney fees or costs incurred by the landlord in any legal action or dispute arising under the rental agreement. This subsection does not prevent a landlord or tenant from recovering costs or attorney fees under a court order under ch. 799 or 814.

     (5m) Authorizes the landlord or an agent of the landlord to confess judgment against the tenant in any action arising under the rental agreement.

     (6) States that the landlord is not liable for property damage or personal injury caused by negligent acts or omissions of the landlord. This subsection does not affect ordinary maintenance obligations of a tenant under s. 704.07 or assumed by a tenant under a rental agreement or other written agreement between the landlord and the tenant.

     (7) Imposes liability on a tenant for any of the following:

     (a) Personal injury arising from causes clearly beyond the tenant's control.

     (b) Property damage caused by natural disasters or by persons other than the tenant or the tenant's guests or invitees. This paragraph does not affect ordinary maintenance obligations of a tenant under s. 704.07 or assumed by a tenant under a rental agreement or other written agreement between the landlord and the tenant.

     (8) Waives any statutory or other legal obligation on the part of the landlord to deliver the premises in a fit or habitable condition or to maintain the premises during the tenant's tenancy.

     (9) 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.

 

If you have a provision in your rental agreement that contains any of the language referenced in Section 704.44 above, remove the provision immediately or your rental agreement will be void and unenforceable.

 

5. Section 704.28 – This section contains changes concerning security deposits. The most significant change is in Section 704.28(4) (b):

 

If a tenant vacates before the rental agreement termination date, the 21 days for the return of the security deposit begins on the termination date or on the date the landlord re-rents the premises, whichever comes first.

 

6. Section 704.07(2)(bm) – This new section states that before any earnest money or security deposit is paid, the landlord must disclose any uncorrected building or housing code violations to the tenant that present a significant threat to the tenant's health or safety.

 

7. Section 704.95 – This new section states "Practices in violation of this chapter may also constitute unfair methods of competition or unfair trade practices under Section 100.20."

 

This may mean that a practice that violates Section 704 may also be enforced under the trade practices statute. That could mean double damages and reasonable attorney's fees for a party suffering a loss.

 

Note: It is unknown how the new statutes will be interpreted by the courts. Once there is some history of court case decisions under the new statutes, the interpretation of the various statutory provisions may change.

 

You can view the new statute Section 704 at:

 

http:/docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/704.pdf

 

This blog is designed for general information purposes only and should not be construed to be formal legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your own situation. Although great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy and utility of the information contained in this blog, no warranty is made, express or implied, and Zimmerman & Steber Legal Group, LLC assumes no liability in connection with any use or result from use of the information contained herein.


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