A Guide to Tenant Rights and Responsibilities in Wisconsin

Complimentary Story
May 2024

   Living in a rented property in Wisconsin comes with rights and responsibilities for tenants and landlords. As a renter, it’s helpful to know Wisconsin landlords must follow state statutes when drafting and enforcing their leases. Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 704, along with the Wisconsin Administrative Code Chapter 134, regulate the rental laws. In this guide, we lay out the information you need to navigate your tenancy smoothly, from making sure your home is safe and habitable to understanding rent rules, security deposits, and eviction procedures.

   Landlords must provide tenants with a habitable living space, meaning the property must be safe, whether or not this is explicitly stated in the lease. This includes heating, hot water, smoke, and carbon monoxide detectors. The landlord is responsible for the costs if any of these systems need replacement or repairs. A landlord is not required to provide kitchen appliances. However, if kitchen appliances are provided, it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix or replace these appliances as needed. Part of providing a habitable property also means that the property is mold-free. If mold is detected, the landlord is responsible for taking the proper actions to fix the problem.

   To that end, tenants are responsible for complying with building and housing codes materially affecting the health and safety of the tenant. They must use the premises, utilities, and appliances reasonably and keep the premises relatively clean. Tenants are responsible for repairs for any damage directly caused by the tenant, including infestations if the tenant is responsible.

Rent Control
   Wisconsin does not have rent control laws. If you are in a lease, the rental amount cannot be changed unless the lease terms allow it. However, when renewing a lease, your landlord can choose the new rent how they see fit. Wisconsin laws do not prohibit landlords from exponentially increasing rent amounts.

Security Deposits
   The landlord determines what the security deposit will be. Wisconsin statutes do not provide a limit to the amount of the security deposit. It is typical for a landlord to charge an amount equal to one month’s rent as the security deposit, although not mandated. Landlords are required to notify tenants of their right to an initial inspection of the property and to complete a “check-in” sheet.

   On this “check-in” sheet, tenants should thoroughly document the condition of the property. Upon vacating the property, the tenant should not be held responsible for any damages noted on the initial “check-in.” For example, note any cracks in the wall, scratches on the flooring, or stains of any sort.

   After vacating the property, the landlord has 21 days to return the security deposit to the tenant. The landlord may withhold some or all of the security deposit if there are damages above normal wear and tear to the property. Any unpaid rent or utilities the tenant was responsible for may also be withheld from the security deposit. Upon vacating, it is important to notify the landlord of your new address so the security deposit can be returned.

   Wisconsin laws allow tenants to sue their landlord if funds are improperly withheld from the security deposit or not returned on time. The tenant may be able to recover twice the amount plus court costs and attorney’s fees if this is the case.

   Eviction notices and procedures depend on the type of lease and reason for eviction. It is never legal for a landlord to evict a tenant for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons. Below are some common reasons for eviction, although it is not an exhaustive list.

   1). Hold over: If the lease has expired and the tenant remains in the property, the landlord may issue a notice to quit to the tenant. This puts the tenant on notice that they must vacate, or an eviction action will be started. If the tenant is under a month-to-month lease, the landlord must use a 28-day notice to quit. If the tenant is week-to-week, a 7-day notice to quit is required. If the tenant vacates within the appropriate notice period, the eviction action will not be filed.

   2). Lease violation: If a tenant violates the lease terms, the landlord may choose to issue a notice to correct the lease violation. If the lease is for a period of one year or less, the landlord can issue a 5-Day Notice to Comply or a 14-Day Notice to Quit. If the tenant does not comply or quit, the landlord may file an eviction.

   3). Illegal Acts:  A landlord may issue a 5-Day Notice to Quit to a tenant if there is illegal activity taking place.

   Before you put pen to paper, take the time to review the details of your lease. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or seek clarification. It’s never a bad idea to have an attorney review the lease and explain the terms to you before signing, either! Your lease is the foundation for your renting experience, so make sure you understand it before you commit to it. 

McLario, Helm, Bertling & Spiegel, S.C.
N88 W16783 Main St.
Menomonee Falls, WI 53051-2890
Tel: (262) 251-4210

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