The Wisconsin Legislature recently made some important changes to the landlord-tenant laws. Wisconsin Act 176 went into effect March 2, 2016. The updates contained in this legislation could be very useful to landlords in several ways. But before taking advantage of the changes, landlords should be cautious to make sure they follow the correct procedures and don’t overstep.
Criminal Activity by Tenant
Under Act 176, a landlord may give a tenant a 5-day, non-curable notice to vacate the premises if the tenant commits a crime. This is a landlord friendly-change because it speeds up the process of getting a problem tenant out and does not require the landlord to give the tenant a chance to cure the violation.
Landlords should be very careful when exercising this new right though, because there are several caveats. First, a “crime” as used in this statute does not include any crime, but only a specific group of crimes: crimes that threaten the health or safety of other tenants or neighbors to the property, the landlord, agent or employee of the landlord, crimes that threaten the right of peaceful enjoyment of the premises of other tenants or neighbors, and drug-related criminal activities on or near the premises. (Be aware that “drug-related crimes” would not include possession or consumption, but only crimes that involve the manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance.) A “crime” is further defined as an act punishable by a fine or imprisonment, not a forfeiture, e.g., a municipal citation.
Landlords should also be aware that the 5-day, non-curable notice must meet some very specific requirements in order to be effective. For instance, the notice must include a specific description of the criminal activity, as well as advise the tenant of his or her rights.
Landlords looking to evict a tenant for criminal activity should keep in mind that if the tenant contests the eviction, the landlord will have to prove the criminal activity at trial, which could be a whole other costly can of worms. It should also be noted that this change in the law cannot be used to evict a victim of a crime.
Act 176 allows a landlord to call law enforcement to remove a non-tenant who enters or remains in the property without the consent of the landlord or another person lawfully on the property. Trespassing is a class A misdemeanor. Again, landlords should evaluate the situation before utilizing this procedure, as it could be argued that a trespasser becomes a tenant if he or she has paid rent. If the trespasser is there with the permission of a lawful tenant, that situation is not covered here. If you have tenants with an unauthorized guest living with them, traditional eviction would likely be a better option than using the trespasser process.
If the landlord is successful in removing a trespasser, the landlord must hold the trespasser’s property for at least seven days (if the trespasser has not removed it). If the trespasser has not removed his or her property after seven days, the landlord may dispose of it at his or her discretion. Another word of caution here. If the landlord chooses to sell the trespasser’s property, the funds must go to the Department of Administration less the cost of storage and sale. Sale of the trespasser’s property also opens the landlord up to scrutiny regarding the price accepted for sale. It seems that the cleanest way to dispose of a trespasser’s property is to either throw it away or donate it.
Local Government Controls
Some municipalities take it upon themselves to further restrict and regulate landlords beyond the state statutes. Act 176 has reined in those local governments. Local governments can still require landlords to be licensed, certified, or registered, but only if that process is limited to provision of the landlord’s address, phone number and name of landlord’s agent. The act also limits the fees local government can charge to landlords to only fees charged to all residential rental properties and fees charged at the time of an inspection. Fees for subsequent inspections cannot exceed double the original fee, and the act eliminates tenant transfer fees. Inspections may only be performed in response to complaints by individuals, in accordance with regularly scheduled inspection programs or in compliance with state and federal law.
While Act 176 provides new options and protections for landlords, it is not as straightforward as one might hope. There are several caveats and pitfalls that a landlord should take into account. A landlord looking to exercise a new option under Act 176 should read the statutes carefully before doing so, and confer with his or her attorney for more clarification and guidance if still unsure.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in lieu of the legal advice of a qualified and licensed attorney. It should also not be taken as creating an attorney-client relationship between the reader and the author. The information above could be applied differently based on the unique facts of any given case. If you would like to consult with one of our attorneys, please contact us for details.
ii Wis. Stat. § 704.17(3m).
iii Wis. Stat. § 704.055.