Wisconsin Landlord-Tenant Law
Being a tenant or landlord in Wisconsin can be challenging at times. One party often relies on the other to meet their responsibilities in the landlord-tenant relationship, such as making repairs, keeping the premises clean or being on time with rent payments. When one party fails to uphold their end of the bargain, the other party may fall back on the lease’s terms or state laws for a resolution.
Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, you should typically be able to deal with legal issues without going to court. Some landlord-tenant disputes will leave you with no other option. Both parties need to know the basics of renting out a place, how to collect or pay security deposits, about fair housing laws, etc. This overview of key Wisconsin landlord-tenant laws will help guide you.
Wisconsin’s Open Housing Laws
Wisconsin prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants based on characteristics that are protected by the state’s open housing laws. Specific actions like denying necessary housing accommodations may be considered discriminatory if the landlord does these things because of a tenant’s:
- Familial status
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- National origin
- Status as a victim of sexual assault, domestic abuse or stalking
The lease agreement is the foundation of the landlord-tenant relationship. It is a legally binding contract detailing the responsibilities both the landlord and the tenant promise to uphold. In addition to specifics like amenities, renovations and other apartment features, the lease includes legal details like:
- The security deposit amount and what it covers.
- The rent rate and payment schedule.
- Grounds for lease termination and eviction.
- The length of the leasing term (weeks, months or years).
- Repair policy and procedures.
- Roommate and guest policies.
Landlords typically charge new tenants a security deposit amounting to one month’s rent as a condition of their lease agreement. Wisconsin law doesn’t limit how much a landlord may charge for a security deposit, but municipal laws may. A security deposit is separate from the first and last months’ rent payments and can be used by the landlord to cover:
- Unpaid rent.
- Damages to the rental property beyond normal wear and tear.
- Unpaid utility charges owed to either the landlord or a government body.
- Unpaid municipal permit fees owed by the tenant that the landlord became liable to pay.
- Any other fees incurred under the terms of a non-standard rental provision in a lease agreement.
At the end of the tenancy, the landlord may withhold portions of the security deposit to cover the above damages. However, they are required to provide the tenant with a written notice itemizing the charges and the remaining balance of the deposit within 21 days after the lease is terminated and the tenant has vacated the property.
Repair and Maintenance Duties
Both the landlord and the tenant, by state law, each have responsibilities to the maintenance of the rental property, including repairs. In general, landlords are responsible for maintaining provided utilities, appliances, infrastructure and common areas and making repairs to hazardous conditions. Tenants, on the other hand, are generally responsible for keeping the rental property clean and safe within reason.
In particular, landlords must:
- Abide by all state and municipal health and safety codes.
- Keep the property, equipment and services (e.g. heating, air conditioning and water) within their control in a reasonable state of repair
- Repair structural damages.
Tenants, by law, must:
- Responsibly dispose of waste and keep the rental property clean so as not to attract pests.
- Refrain from neglecting or damaging the rental property and landlord-provided furnishings and services.
- Reasonably use utilities, services and appliances as intended by design or by the terms of the lease, municipal codes or housing authority.
- Comply with all applicable state and municipal housing codes.
Getting Legal Help from a Wisconsin Attorney
While many landlord-tenant conflicts can be resolved without going to court, the laws involved in these conflicts are complex. The Wisconsin Bureau of Consumer Protection published a landlord-tenant guide that contains more information and tips about state landlord-tenant laws. If you find you are in need of legal counsel or advice, you should consider hiring a landlord-tenant lawyer to represent your interests.