Apartment Safety in Madison - Tenant Resource Center

Apartment Safety in Madison

Purple bold or strikethrough language indicates changes under SB107 (Wis. Act 108). These apply to leases written after 12/21/12 or events that occur after that date, unless otherwise indicated in your lease.

Orange bold or strikethrough language indicates changes under SB466 (Wis. Act 143). These typically apply to leases written after 3/31/12 or events that occur after that date, unless otherwise indicated in your lease.

Green bold or strikethrough language indicates changes under SB179 (no enactment number yet).  These laws will apply to leases written after 1/1/14 or 2/1/14 or events that occur after that date unless otherwise indicated in your lease and depending upon when the Governor signs the bill and it is published.

Have your lease available when calling the Tenant Resource Center so we can help you know what your rights are.  Also, depending upon when the violations of Wis. Stat. 704 occur, your ability to sue for double damages, court costs and attorney fees may vary.

While this information on this webpage is only intended to be applicable for apartments located in the City of Madison, you may find much of the general information helpful, no matter where you live. Other municipalities may require safety features for rental units as well. If you live elsewhere, check the internet or phonebook for your local building inspector and ask about what is required for your area.

Also available as a PDF for easy printing.

Apartment Safety

Whether you are about to move to a new apartment or are already living somewhere in the City of Madison, there are several safety tips you should be aware of and steps you can take to ensure your safety.

Safety Tips

Door Locks, Door Chains, and Dead Bolts

Always lock your deadbolt—both when you leave and after you get home. A deadbolt provides the most security available by a standard lock when used properly. The deadbolt on your apartment door should be at least an inch long. Do not prop open the door to your apartment or leave it open for friends or roommates.

Window Locks and Ventilation Locks

Always lock your windows. All first floor windows or windows accessible by a platform or fire escape are required to have both regular locks (which do not allow the window to open at all) and ventilation locks (which allow the window to open a few inches for ventilation but not wide enough to allow entry). These locks, when installed and used properly, will not allow entry without breaking glass. If locks are missing or don't work, request repairs. If repairs are not made, do not hesitate to call the building inspector. In the City of Madison that number is 608-266-4551.

Key Use Policy

Never label your keys or key chain with your house or unit number. If you lose your keys, your residence will be at risk. If you need extra sets of keys, ask the landlord. (You may be required to pay a small deposit for extra keys.) If the locks were not re-keyed before you moved in, you may ask the landlord to do so. (You may have to pay this expense yourself, however, as the landlord is not obligated to change the locks between tenants except in special circumstances.)

Security Locked (Controlled Access)Entrances

Controlled access buildings are only secure if the common doors remain closed and locked when not in use. Do not give out the code to the key pad to enter your building. Remember, if you prop the doors open or give out the security code, you are compromising the safety of the whole building.

Sliding Door Locks and Secondary Security Devices

Unsecured sliding doors are a common target for unauthorized entry. Be sure your patio door lock mechanism locks securely when closed. A secondary locking device such as a stick can be placed in the sliding track to prevent the door from opening and can allow for a small opening to let in fresh air, while remaining safe.

Common Area Lighting

Be sure common areas have adequate lighting. If bulbs are burned out or if lights on an automatic timer are not turning on when dark, notify the landlord right away.

Window Coverings

Keep your curtains or blinds closed if you are away from home for an extended period of time. Open window coverings make it easy for an intruder to see that you are either not home, or home alone. Do not assume window covering that are present when you look at an apartment will be there when you move in. Ask the landlord if they are included. If window coverings are not provided, ask the landlord if he or she will provide them.

Door Viewer

Always use your door viewer before you open your door for someone. If the door viewer is broken or not provided, notify the landlord immediately.

Check Out the Area Before You Rent

Call the City of Madison Police Department's non-emergency number (608-255-2345) and ask to speak with the neighborhood officer for the area you are thinking about moving into. If possible, walk around the neighborhood yourself and talk with current residents about any safety concerns they have about the area.

Smoke Detectors

State Law requires the owner or manager of a unit to provide a working smoke
detector on each floor including the basement.  If a tenant gives written notice to the owner or manager that the smoke detector is not functional, the landlord must take action within five days to make the smoke detector functional.  Wis. Stats.  101.145(4)

The tenant is required to maintain the smoke detector (e.g. by providing 
batteries) and must give written notice to the owner or manager if the smoke detector is not working properly.  Wis. Stats. 101.145(3)(c)

All residential rental properties within the City of Madison shall have smoke alarms in place which meet one of the following requirements:

(a) hardwired smoke alarm with a battery backup OR

(b) a smoke alarm powered by a non-replaceable, non-removable battery capable of powering the smoke alarm for a minimum of ten years. 

Such smoke alarms must be installed in the following areas: in each bedroom; in each sleeping area; within six feet of each door leading to a bedroom or sleeping area of each unit; and on each floor of the building.

Fire safety education is required for all tenants. Upon each new lease, and at least once every 12 months for continuing tenants, the owner shall provide tenants with fire safety educational materials as provided by the Madison Fire Department.  This highlights parts of the approved ordinance, but does not cover it in its entirety.  Please visit the City of Madison Fire Department website athttp://www.madisonfire.org or call MFD at (608) 266-4420 for further details and current forms and related documents.  MGO 27.05(2)(w), 32.06(2)(a)1.j., 32.06(4) and 34.42.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Wisconsin law (2007 Wisconsin Act 205 and 2009 Wisconsin Act 158) requires carbon monoxide detectors to be installed and maintained in all new and most existing residential buildings.  Local building inspection agencies and fire inspectors are authorized to inspect for these detectors at the same time as they would inspect for smoke detectors.  The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services has authority over these rules and maintains current information on their website.    

Required Landlord Disclosures about Safety

NOTE: The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection had rules in place about disclosures. SB466 (2011 Wis. Act 143) made adopted similar rules but prohibits the Department from making different rules. So it is unclear if all the rules apply since they don't seem to conflict. Furthermore, while the state legislature prohibited the department from making rules, they did not prohibit local municipalities, so the Madison and Fitchburg ordinances seem to stand.

 • Before entering into a rental agreement or accepting earnest money, the landlord must tell the tenant in writing about lack of hot or cold running water, lack of safe electrical system, lack of sewage disposal, heating systems unable to reach67°F in all living areas in all seasons, and all other likely health or safety hazards. ATCP 134.04(2)(b), MGO 32.08(2)(a), FO 72-108(2)a.

• Before entering into a rental agreement or accepting earnest money, the landlord must tell the tenant about documented uncorrected building code violations. The landlord must do this by showing the tenant the portions of the building and the notices or orders which have not been fully complied with.ATCP 134.04(2)(a),MGO 32.08(2)(c), FO 72-108(4)

• Before the rental agreement is signed, put any promises to repair in writing, with specific deadlines for each repair. ATCP 134.07, MGO 32.09, FO 72-136, 72-137

 • Wis. Stat. 704.07(bm) says that a landlord has to disclose building code violations that they have actual knowledge of, have not been corrected and present a significant threat to the prospective tenant's health or safety. Of course, one could argue that all building code violations are a significant risk to the health or safety of the tenant, that is why they are violations of the building code.

Action Steps

Note Needed Repairs on Your Check-in Form

When you move in to your new apartment in the City of Madison, the landlord is required to give you a written check-in sheet to fill out and return (MGO 32.07(5)). The landlord is required to give you at least 7 days to inspect the dwelling unit and notify the landlord of any preexisting damages or defects. ATCP 134.06(1)(a)1. Additionally they need to let you know that you can get a list of the deductions from the previous tenant's security deposit. ATCP134.06(1)(a)2. and if requested have 30 days to provide that to you, or within 7 days after they return the previous tenants security deposit, whichever is sooner. ATCP 134.06(1)(b)

The new state law now requires the landlord to provide the tenant a "standardized information check-in sheet that contains an itemized description of the condition of the premises at the time of check-in."  It appears that the landlord should fill in the check-in sheet." Wis. Stat. 704.08. If the landlord fails to do so, it will be very difficult for them to prove the condition of the apartment if they try to make deductions from your security deposit.

Additionally, the new law says: "The tenant shall be given 7 days from the date the tenant commences his or her occupancy to complete the check-in sheet and return it to the landlord." It appears there should also be an area for the tenant to fill in the check in sheet with their description of the condition of the premises. It is unclear if there is a deadline for the tenant to fill in the check-in sheet, but the landlord should give you at least 7 days. We don't believe failure to meet their deadline in any way negates the information on the form and if you are late, that should not prevent you from turning it in.Wis. Stat. 704.08.

Make sure to double check the landlord's description of the condition of the premises. Don't take their word for it since they probably quickly went through the unit between tenants. Make sure to note all scratches, burns, wear marks, etc, no matter how minor. If you don't write it down on the check-in form, you risk the landlord attempting to take it out of your security deposit at the end of your lease. So be picky!

No matter what, tenants should keep a copy of the completed check-in form (or forms) for themselves. If you didn't get a check-in form, make your own or get one from the Tenant Resource Center and send a copy to the landlord. Completing the form will document the state of the rental unit when you moved in, and what damages you should not be charged for. Click here for a sample check-in form for you to use. Landlords would have to modify this form for their purposes or fill one out themselves and also offer one to you.

Inspect your apartment for the following safety features:

• Security-locked entrances to common areas

• Deadbolt lock

• Window locks and ventilation locks

• Sliding door locks

• Lighting in common areas

• Door viewer

• Smoke detectors

• Carbon monoxide detectors

Contact Landlord to Request Repairs

Even if you marked security repairs needed on your check-in form, put repair requests in writing to your landlord, reminding him/her that it is a safety issue. Date the request and keep a copy of it for your own records.

Many landlords do not use the check-in sheet as a notification of needed repairs. Instead, they promptly file the check-in sheet and don't look at it until the end of the tenancy.

Document Needed Repairs

Document the security repairs that are needed by taking pictures and keeping a log of actions you take, like contacting the landlord and calling building inspection. Make sure the log includes the date and time you called, the person you talked to and a brief summary of what you talked about including the requests or promises made.

Call Building Inspection

In most instances, the security measures listed on this webpage are required by the City of Madison building code, other areas of the state likely have similar codes if there is a building inspector. If your landlord does not respond to your repair requests, notify Building Inspection. In the City of Madison, the number is 608-266-4551.

Changing the Locks in an Emergency

Madison only: In an emergency, where the rental premises or the health and safety of the tenant are at risk, the tenant may change or re-key the locks without prior permission of the landlord. This is the only situation where a tenant may do this. The tenant needs to give the landlord a key within 48 hours or as soon as possible, and the landlord has the right to replace the altered lock (MGO 32.05(2)).

Wisconsin: Under some circumstances, Wis. Stat. 704.16(4) requires the landlord to change the locks or allow the tenant to do so, within 48 hours of being notified that the tenant is a victim of sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence or child abuse. The tenant can be required to pay for the cost of changing the locks Wis. Stat. 704.16(4).

Other Useful Information

Notice Required Before Landlord Entry

According to City of Madison ordinances, the landlord or any agents of the landlord must give a 24-hour notice before entering your apartment to make repairs or to inspect. (MGO 32.05(1)). For entry to show an apartment the landlord only has to give 12 hours notice unless you agreed to another process in the lease in a non-standard rental provision you initialed. (In an emergency, or if the the tenant waives the notice requirement on a case-by-case basis the 24-hour or 12-hour notice is not required.) If your landlord is entering without notice, at unreasonable times or for an inappropriate purpose, notify the landlord in writing that you request proper notification before entry. If the person entering without notice is a resident manager or an off-site manager, but not the owner, send a copy of the letter to the person's supervisor or the actual owner of the property. If unauthorized entry continues and makes you feel unsafe, call the police to file a report. The police can issue a $600 fine for the first offense for unauthorized entry, and $1000 for the second, if a tenant calls and cites MGO 1.08(3)(a) and lets the police know that they have "bail deposit authority."

Safe Housing Act

The Safe Housing Act (2007 Wisconsin Act 184) provides that under limited circumstances, a tenant may terminate a tenancy if there is an imminent threat to his/her safety by remaining on the premises. The law allows victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or child abuse to terminate a tenancy if they or their children are in imminent physical danger and have an accepted form of documentation of the abuse, such as an injunction. This law allows landlords to terminate the tenancy of the tenant (take them off the lease) who is named in the injunction or court order as the person committing the abuse, assault or stalking. This law is very detailed about the types of circumstances that allow a tenancy to be terminated, so please refer directly to the law for more information, and seek legal assistance if necessary (Wis. Stats. 704.16).

Don't Be Afraid to Call the Police

In some neighborhoods landlords are under pressure from the police and neighbors to cut down on police calls. Landlords may be threatened with violations of the Chronic Nuisance Ordinance (MGO 25.09) if there are too many police calls. This has caused many landlords to put potentially illegal clauses in their leases.

Wisconsin law says that a rental agreement is void and unenforceable if it allows a landlord to increase rent, decrease services, bring an action for eviction, refuse to renew, or to threaten any of these actions because a tenant has contacted law enforcement or emergency services for their safety.Wis. Stats. 704.44.

SB466 (2011 Wis. Act 143) also says a lease is void and unenforceable if it contains a clause that "allows the landlord to terminate the tenancy of a tenant if a crime is committed in or on the rental property, even if the tenant could not reasonably have prevented the crime. Wis. Stat. 704.44(9)

So, tenants should not be afraid of losing their apartment because the landlord gets upset with them for calling the police or emergency services for their own protection.

Some information in this flyer is adapted from "Security Awareness Checklist" courtesy of J&K Lock and Security Professionals and the Apartment Association of South Central Wisconsin.

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