The New Landlord/Tenant Law: Dispelling the Ugly Rumors

 Debbi Conrad  |    February 05, 2014

The new landlord/tenant and eviction measures contained in 2013 Wis. Act 76, which for the most part does not go into effect until March 1, 2014, have attracted a lot of attention in the media and in the rumor mill. Misguided and exaggerated reports abound proclaiming that this legislation will be very harmful to tenants and will trample their rights. To set the record straight …

Eviction notices will be mailed so tenants will not know they had a court date

Amendments to Wis. Stat. § 799.12 provide that any circuit court may enact a rule authorizing the use of certified mail for the service of the summons in an eviction action. Any such court rule must require certified mail with return receipt requested. Service of the summons is considered completed when it is mailed, unless the envelope enclosing the summons has been returned unopened to the clerk prior to the return date. Thus tenants will sign the receipt for the eviction summons, or it will go back to the court if the tenants do not accept the mailing and the court will know there has been no service. 

Sheriff’s deputies are not required to be present during an eviction

The landlord delivers the writ of restitution ordered by the court to the sheriff and pays the applicable fees, and then the sheriff executes the writ. The sheriff always comes to remove the tenants and any other persons found at the premises. The amendments to Wis. Stat. § 799.45 allow the landlord to elect to remove the tenant’s personal property and store or dispose of the property — the landlord need no longer warehouse the tenant’s property. Upon notice to the sheriff, the sheriff will assist and supervise this removal and handling of the tenant’s personal property. 

REALTOR® practice tip: Given the volatility and unpredictability of eviction situations, the prudent landlord will have the sheriff stay on the premises to supervise the removal of tenant personal property following the eviction of the tenants.

Notice that landlords may dispose of personal property may be given the day the tenants are moving out

Landlords and property managers no longer have to store personal property left behind by tenants. Wis. Stat. § 704.05(5) provides that landlords may presume that the property that the tenants leave behind is abandoned and may dispose of it in any manner that the landlord believes to be appropriate, if and only if, the landlord first has provided written notice to the tenant. Notice must be given in the original rental agreement or a renewal and must indicate that the landlord will not store any personal property the tenant leaves behind when the tenant is removed from the premises. These notice dates would not occur on the day a tenant moves out.

Landlords can throw away a tenant’s abandoned belongings

Beginning with evictions filed on March 1, 2014, the landlord no longer needs to warehouse the evicted tenant’s personal property and may dispose of items left behind by placing them in the dumpster, donating them to charity, selling them or by another appropriate disposal method. The tenant or any secured party has the right to redeem the property at any time before the landlord has disposed of it or entered into a contract for its disposition, by payment of any expenses that the landlord has incurred with respect to the property. This provision does not provide that the landlord can simply throw away the tenant’s personal property when the tenant still has possession of the premises. The handling of personal property takes place only after the tenant has vacated the premises or been evicted by the sheriff. 

REALTOR® practice tip: The ability to presume the property is abandoned and subject to the landlord’s judgment as to proper disposal after the eviction of the tenant does not come into play automatically. The landlord must have given the required notice to the tenant when the tenant entered into the rental agreement, or upon renewal of the rental agreement. 

The legislation allows domestic abuse victims to be evicted

Wis. Stat. § 704.16 — on the books since 2008 — provides that a tenant may terminate a tenancy when there is an imminent threat of serious physical harm to the tenant or the tenant’s child and the tenant provides the landlord with proper notice and documentation. Under Wis. Stat. § 106.50 (5m) (dm), which has been in effect since December 2009, a tenant who is a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking has a defense to an eviction based on the commission of one of those acts if the tenant proves that the landlord knew or should have known that the tenant was a victim of the aforementioned crimes, along with other criteria.

The new Wis. Stat. § 704.14 provides that a residential rental agreement must include a Notice Of Domestic Abuse Protections in every rental agreement or an addendum to the agreement, beginning with rental agreements entered into or renewed on March 1, 2014. The mandatory language of this notice educates everyone and heightens tenants’ awareness of their existing rights.

Tenants are automatically liable if bedbugs are found

Wis. Stat. § 704.07(3) now states that if the tenant’s actions or inaction leads to damage to the premises, or results in an insect or pest infestation, then the landlord may allow the tenant to repair and remediate the damage, or the landlord may do so and require tenant reimbursement of all reasonable costs. If the landlord can prove that the infestation was caused by the tenant, the tenant is responsible for all eradication costs and other damages. This does not eliminate the need for the landlord to prove that the tenant caused the infestation.

Landlords can withhold money from security deposits without notification

Wis. Admin. Code § ATCP 134.06(4) continues to require that the landlord deliver a written statement to the tenant accounting for any amounts withheld from a security deposit. The statement shall describe each item of physical damage or other claims made against the security deposit, and the amount withheld as reasonable compensation for each item or claim. No modifications in the new law alter this result.
Illegally parked vehicles will be towed without any verification regarding whether the vehicle was stolen

The new provisions allow for the immediate towing of vehicles illegally parked on properly posted private property upon the request of the property owner or agent. A parking citation need not first be issued. The posting must be clearly visible and warn that non-authorized vehicles will be immediately towed. The towing service must notify local law enforcement of the model, make, vehicle identification and license plate numbers of the vehicle being towed as well as the location to which the vehicle will be removed. The towing companies cannot remove a vehicle if law enforcement advises that the vehicle is stolen. The Department of Transportation will develop rules regarding the reasonable charges for removal and storage of vehicles, the form and manner of display of a notice necessary to qualify a property as “properly posted,” and guidelines for towing services’ notification to law enforcement upon removal of a vehicle. That is why the provisions for the towing of vehicles illegally parked on posted private property will not go into effect until July 1, 2014.

At the end of the day, elimination of unnecessary delays and expenses helps alleviate some the landlord’s extra costs and lost income involved each time a tenant gets into trouble and is unable to meet the terms of the rental agreement. Allowing a bad tenant to remain in an apartment without paying for the housing increases the landlords’ costs, which often result in higher rents for the good tenants — an outcome that benefits no one.

Debbi Conrad is Senior Attorney and Director of Legal Affairs for the WRA.

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