As a tenant in Wisconsin, you have rights and
responsibilities. To avoid problems, it is important to understand your rights
What you should know before you rent
Landlords may not advertise or rent condemned property.
Before entering into a rental agreement with a prospective
tenant or accepting any earnest money or security deposit, landlords should
disclose any building or housing code violation to which all of the following
apply: the landlord has actual knowledge of the violation; the violation
affects the dwelling unit that you will be renting or a common area of the
premises; the violation presents a significant threat to your health or safety;
and the violation has not been corrected.
Landlords must also disclose:
If you are required to pay utilities.
How utility charges will be divided if the dwelling is one
of several not individually metered.
The total amount of rent and other non-refundable fees.
You have the right to inspect the unit before you rent it.
The landlord is required to notify you in writing, and provide you with seven
days to inspect and notify the landlord of any pre-existing damages to the
dwelling unit. We recommend you take along a flashlight, light bulb, hairdryer,
pen, and the check-in sheet:
Turn on each light switch to see if it works.
Check outlets (use hairdryer) and sockets (use light bulb) –
defects could cause fires.
Turn on sink and bathtub faucets – check for leaks, proper
drainage and water temperature.
Flush toilets – check for leaks.
Look for smoke detectors.
Check ceilings and walls for cracks and water stains.
Are there deadbolts on apartment and exterior doors?
Push on the windows – are they secure? Are latches in good
Check for window storms and screens.
Check condition of furnace. Even in summer, turn up
thermostat to make sure it actually works.
Look at water heater to see if it is leaking.
Promises of repairs by a landlord should be provided to you
in writing, including a completion date, before you agree to rent the property.
Rental agreements are not required to be in writing.
However, if there is a written rental agreement, the landlord must give you an
opportunity to read it before you decide to rent. When renting, you must be
furnished with a copy of the agreement.
If an earnest money deposit is required with your rental
application, the landlord must return the entire deposit by the end of the next
business day if your application is rejected. If for some reason you decide not
to rent, the landlord may withhold from your deposit actual costs or damages.
If a security deposit is required, you have 7 days from the
first rental date to inspect the premises and notify the landlord of any
defects so that they will not be unfairly charged to you. You should notify the
landlord of the defects by returning a completed information check-in sheet and
keep a copy for your own records.
If you fail to return a check-in sheet within
7 days, you will be giving up your right to contest some security deposit
withholdings for pre-existing conditions.
In addition, before accepting your
security deposit, the landlord must notify you that you have the right to
request a list of damages charged to the previous tenant.
The landlord may charge you the actual cost, up to $20, to
obtain a credit report from one of the three nationwide credit reporting
agencies (not credit information resellers), provided the landlord has notified
you in advance of the charge and also gives you a copy of the report. If you
have a credit report that is less than 30 days old, you may give this report to
the landlord to avoid paying for a new report.
What you should know while renting
At the start of a tenancy, the landlord must provide you
with the name and address of a person who can be readily contacted regarding
The landlord is responsible for making any repairs that are
necessary to comply with local housing codes and to keep the premises safe. If
the landlord refuses to repair major building defects, you may report the
defect to your local building or health inspector. The landlord may not
retaliate by evicting you.
Unless otherwise agreed, tenants are usually responsible for
routine minor repairs. You are also required to comply with any maintenance and
sanitation requirements imposed on tenants by local housing codes. You are
financially responsible for any damages that you or your guests have caused.
A landlord has the right to inspect, repair, and show the
dwelling unit at reasonable times. Except for emergency situations, the
landlord may enter only after a 12-hour advance notice unless you allow entry
on shorter notice or agreed to a different timeline in the rental agreement.
If you are a tenant renting by the month, the landlord may
raise your rent by giving you written notice at least 28 days before the next
rent due date. There are no state laws limiting the amount of a rent increase.
If you have a lease – for example, a six-month or one-year
lease – the rent may not be increased during that time unless specifically
stated in the lease.
What you should know about terminating a tenancy
If you are renting by the month, the landlord may terminate
the rental agreement by giving you a written termination notice at least 28
days before the next rent due date. You must use the same procedure in
notifying the landlord of your intent to terminate the rental agreement unless
you agreed to give a longer notice. Tenants may deliver the written notice in
person or by certified or registered mail.
A six-month or one year lease usually terminates
automatically at the end of the lease, unless the rental agreement specifies
otherwise. If the lease provides that it will be automatically renewed or
extended unless you give advance notice of termination, the landlord must
“remind” you of the provision at least 15-30 days in advance of the notice
deadline. Otherwise, the landlord may not attempt to enforce the automatic
If you “break” a lease by moving out early, you may be
obligated to pay for the remainder of the term unless another suitable tenant
is found. However, the landlord must make reasonable efforts to find a
substitute tenant and minimize any rent losses. When moving out, it is always a
good idea to contact your landlord to arrange for a final checkout inspection.
If you are moving out at the end of your lease, the landlord
must return your security deposit, less any amounts that may be withheld,
within 21 days after you move out. If you move out before the end of your
lease, the landlord has 21 days to return your security deposit from either the
last day of your lease or the date a new tenant moves in, whichever comes
first. The landlord may deduct from your security deposit for unpaid rent or
damage caused by you or your guests.
While a lease may include a provision requiring the tenant
to pay for routine painting or carpet cleaning, the cost for routine carpet
cleaning may not be collected by the landlord in advance. All advance payments
in excess of one month’s rent must be treated as “security deposit” which
cannot be withheld for normal wear and tear.
Deductions can also be made for your utility bills paid by
If there are any deductions from the security deposit, the
landlord must furnish you with a written statement itemizing the amounts
State law does not require payment of interest on security
Risk of eviction
Tenants who pay partial rent, no rent, or late rent (even
one day late) put themselves at risk of eviction, as do tenants who break the
rules or terms of the rental agreement or cause damage.
Termination – Nonpayment or lease breach
Tenants may be given either a written 5-day or 14-day notice
to vacate the property.
5-day Pay Rent Notice. This written notice from the landlord
gives the tenant five days to pay rent or move out within five days. If the
tenant pays, the tenancy continues.
5-day Remedy Breach Notice. This written notice from the
landlord gives the tenant five days to remedy a breach of the lease other than
for non-payment of rent. If the breach is corrected within 5 days, the tenancy
14-day Notice. This written notice specifies that the
tenancy has ended because the tenant failed to pay the rent, broke the
agreement, or damaged the property. This notice does not offer the option of
paying the rent or correcting the breach.
For month-to-month tenancies, a landlord may serve a 14-day
Notice for either rent non-payment or for damage/lease breach, without first
serving a 5-day Notice to pay or correct.
For tenants on a lease, the landlord must first provide a
5-day Pay Rent Notice and option to pay rent; if the tenant pays and is then
late with rent again within 12 months, the landlord may then serve a 14-day
notice with no option to pay and stay. Similarly, a 14-day Remedy Breach Notice
(without an option to correct the breach and stay) can only be served to a
leased tenant after a prior 5-day Remedy Breach Notice in the last 12 months.
If you refuse to leave the premises after your tenancy has
been terminated, the landlord may start an eviction action against you in Small
Claims Court. You will be served a summons. This is your notice to appear in
court, but it does not mean you are evicted. In court, the judge asks you and
the landlord to explain your sides and then will make a decision about your
eviction. If you receive a summons for eviction, seek the help of a legal aid
service (look up LEGAL AID in the yellow pages of your phone book), consult
with a private attorney or call the State Bar of Wisconsin Lawyer Referral
Service at (800) 362-9082 or (608) 257-4666.
Removal from premises
The landlord may not confiscate your personal belongings,
turn off your utilities, lock you out of your apartment, or use force to remove
If the small claims court judge rules in the landlord’s
favor, the judge may issue a court order requiring you to leave the property.
If you do not, the county sheriff may remove you and your belongings from the
premises. These steps may only be taken after the small claims court hearing
and after the judge orders the eviction. If the court determines that you have
wrongfully overstayed, the landlord could be awarded twice the amount of rent,
prorated on a daily basis, for each day you unlawfully occupy the premises.
Unhealthy & unsafe conditions
Sometimes rental units become unhealthy, unsafe, or
unlivable due to a landlord’s failure to maintain the property. It would be
wise to get legal advice to learn if the tenant is able to legally abate
(adjust) the rent. A lawyer may indicate how to document the condition, what
agencies to contact, and what should be put in writing. If not done legally,
rent abatement could result in eviction.
If conditions are so bad that tenants feel they can no
longer safely live in a rental unit, a lawyer should be contacted before the
tenants officially move out to help prevent further financial obligation to the
If a problem develops
If a problem develops between you and your landlord,
information and assistance may be available from various local groups and
agencies, including housing code officials, landlord and tenant associations,
and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Landlord-tenant relations in Wisconsin are regulated by Wis.
Stat. ch. 704, and by Wis. Adm. Code ch. ATCP 134. In addition, Wis. Adm. Code
ch. ATCP 125 further regulates manufactured home community operator-tenant
If a landlord violates Wis. Adm. Code ch. ATCP 134, for
example, by refusing to return or account for your security deposit, you may be
able to start an action in Small Claims Court. Wis. Stat. s. 100.20(5) enables
you to recover twice the amount of any actual monetary loss, together with
court costs and reasonable attorney fees if the court awards them.