Whether you rent from a single-family, multifamily, condo, or luxury high-rise, you have rights in place to protect you as a tenant. Many tenants do not understand the extent of their rights which govern your living space, your use of that space, and your landlord's responsibilities.
Renters' rights are a combination of federal, state, and local laws that are designed to prevent rent gouging and housing discrimination while ensuring that tenants have a clean, safe place to live. They also provide tenants with legal protection in case the landlord lets the property become uninhabitable.
When you apply for an apartment or rental home, Wisconsin landlords are legally authorized to reject applicants based on negative references from previous landlords, bad credit history, past behavior such as consistently paying rent late, or other factors that make them a bad risk.
However, you can't be rejected based on race, religion, national origin, sex, familial status (ex. having children under age 18), or physical or mental disability. These are "protected categories" under the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, as amended (42 U.S. Code § § 3601-3619 and 3631). State law in Wisconsin also prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or source of income.
Your Right to a Habitable Home
One of your most important rights as a tenant is your right to a habitable residence. This means that the home must be safe to live in, without dangerous conditions, and with usable utilities. Your landlord is required to make any necessary repairs to keep your unit in reasonable condition while you live there. In Wisconsin, this law is enforced under a legal doctrine called the "implied warranty of habitability." If landlords don't take care of important repairs, such as a broken heater, tenants in Wisconsin may pursue options such as withholding rent, however, this is for more extreme cases. Unless your landlord is deliberately mismanaging the property by neglecting necessary repairs, it is more beneficial for you to work with your landlord on ensuring your home is habitable and in good condition.
Your Right to Your Security Deposit
Security deposits are among the biggest sources of dispute between landlords and tenants. When you rent, you normally are asked for a security deposit to protect the landlord against any damages you may cause. Some states set caps on these deposits, but in Wisconsin, there is no limit on the maximum amount a landlord can charge a tenant as a security deposit. With no limit, your landlord still must treat all renters the same and not impose a higher deposit without reason (a pet can be a reason for a higher deposit).
State laws control how long the landlord has to return the deposit and if interest will be accrued. In Wisconsin, the deposit must be returned within 21 days after the tenant has moved out. If some of your deposit is kept, you are entitled to documentation of the damage it is being used for.
Landlord-tenant law allows your landlord to evict you if you breach the lease, meaning you broke a promise you made in the lease. A landlord must have legal cause to evict a tenant early (before the term of the tenancy has expired). In Wisconsin, the most common legal causes are tenant failure to pay rent or violation of the lease or rental agreement. Some common violations of lease agreements include having people or animals living with you that are not allowed under your lease, or if you commit a crime on the premises.
Before the landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the court, the landlord must first terminate the tenancy which is done by giving the tenant notice. The type of notice required will depend on the type of tenancy as well as the reason for the eviction. If a landlord doesn't have cause to evict a tenant, then the landlord must wait until the end of the tenancy before expecting the tenant to move out. In some cases, the landlord may still need to give the tenant written notice to move before the tenancy terminates.
A tenant can only be removed from a rental unit after the landlord has won an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. At that point, the only person authorized to remove the tenant is a law enforcement officer. It is illegal for the landlord to ever attempt to force the tenant to move out of the rental unit, and the tenant could sue the landlord for trying.
After an eviction has occurred, the landlord may find that the tenant has left behind personal property. If the landlord and the tenant had a written lease or rental agreement with a clause stating that the landlord will not store the tenant's abandoned property, then the landlord can dispose of the property in any way that is legal; the only exception being for medication. The landlord must keep medication for 7 days after the tenant has moved out before disposing of them.
If the landlord and the tenant did not have a written lease or rental agreement with a clause concerning abandoned property, then the landlord must store the tenant's abandoned property and notify the tenant within ten days of storing it. The tenant will then have 30 days to claim the property. If the tenant does not claim the property within 30 days, then the landlord can dispose of the property.
Read Your Lease Carefully
Be sure to read your lease carefully so you understand what you are agreeing to. Your lease sets out the contractual basis of your relationship as well as all the legal rules you and your landlord must follow. It's usually a smart idea to take photos before you move in to show the condition of the unit. Renter’s insurance will help protect your personal belongings from theft and damage. Try to develop open communication with your landlord and report any repairs that are needed as quickly as possible. All kinds of disputes can be avoided with a clear and concise lease and rental agreement that informs tenants and landlords of their responsibilities and rights.
Under Wisconsin law, landlords must make certain disclosures, including uncorrected building and housing code violations. Landlords must comply with required federal disclosures regarding lead-based paint on the property, or face financial penalties.
Respecting Tenant Privacy
Wisconsin landlords must provide advance notice before entering a rental property; for example, when making repairs or showing the property to prospective tenants. To avoid problems, some landlords include a lease or rental agreement clause that complies with the law and informs the tenant of entry.
Legally Breaking a Lease
There are some important exceptions to the rule that a tenant who breaks a lease owes the rent for the entire lease term. You may be able to legally move out before the lease term ends in the following situations:
1. You are starting active military duty
2. Your landlord harasses you or violates your privacy rights
3. The rental unit is unsafe or violates Wisconsin health or safety codes
Under Wisconsin law, your landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent your unit no matter what your reason for leaving. So, you would only need to pay the amount of rent the landlord loses because you moved out early—which could take months, or sooner if you're lucky. The wise decision is to avoid breaking your lease and moving out without legal justification as this could lead to unnecessary financial loss.
As a renter, you have many rights and protections. Educating yourself allows you to make good decisions and be prepared for any potential problems that could occur. People love Manitowoc Property Management because we offer full transparency with our tenants and value mutual care and respect. If you're looking for a new home to rent or buy, don't hesitate to contact us.