We are, yet again, making updates to the website. We will work as quickly as we can. This is the 5th law change in 4.5 years and we are short-staffed (feel free to donate here). Until all the updates are made to the website and our training guides and our staff and volunteers are re-trained, brochures will not be available.
Think this is ridiculous? We do too! If you have immediate questions about these law changes, please call the sponsor of all of these bills, Sen. Frank Lasee's office at 608-282-3541.
Unless something else is written in your lease, one of three new laws might change your rights.
Purple text applies to leases and events as of 12/21/11 (2011 Wis. Act 108)
Orange text applies to leases and events as of 3/31/12 (2011 Wis. Act 143)
Green text applies to leases and events as of 3/1/14 (2013 Wis. Act 76)
Blue text applies to leases and events as of 11/1/15 (CR 14-038)
Maroon text applies to leases and events as of 3/2/16 (2015 Wis. Act. 176)
More information on law changes is available here. Have your lease available when calling the Tenant Resource Center so we can help you know what your rights and remedies are, including whether you can double your costs when you sue a landlord.
Getting Repairs Done
Step 1: Make a List. Before contacting the landlord, make a list of the repair problems that need to be fixed.
Step 2: Contact the Landlord and Start a Paper Trail. Be sure to tell the landlord as soon as there is a problem. Some repair issues will get worse if not fixed right away. Give the landlord the list of the needed repairs and a reasonable time limit to do the work. (This should be based on how urgent the issue is to you, and how long it might take to repair.) If you speak in person or on the phone, be sure to follow up right away with a letter or e-mail saying what you talked about and keep copies of everything.
Step 3: Put it in Writing. Start keeping a log of all calls, including the times and dates of calls, who you talked to, and what you requested. This is important for three reasons:
- Landlords often take things more seriously when they're put in writing, and might make the repairs faster.
- It is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant for asserting their rights (including when requesting repairs). In order to protect yourself, you need proof of the request.
- If the problem gets worse because the landlord won't fix it, you shouldn't be charged for the extra damage. Just like retaliation, to protect yourself you need to have proof of when you reported the repair and how bad it was at the beginning.
Step 4: Get Serious. If your landlord does not contact you or make repairs quickly enough, write a letter or e-mail with a new deadline, and tell them you will take further action (see below) if they don't meet it. Be sure to keep a copy for yourself!
NOTE: Don't Ignore Emergencies! For some urgent problems, such as no heat or a broken lock on the main door, you might choose to contact building inspection immediately, and not go through the steps of writing letters if the landlord is not responding to initial phone calls. If you smell gas, leave the house immediately and then call your utility company!
Step 5: Call the Building Inspector. If the landlord still won't make the necessary repairs, call the Madison Building Inspector: (608) 266-4551. For Spanish, call: (608) 266-4216. (Other Dane County listings at the bottom of this page.) Building Inspection can order the landlord to fix certain problems, such as lack of heat or hot water, a pest infestation, water damage, mold, but not cosmetic things such as faded paint or stained carpeting. The Building Inspector will order the landlord to make the repairs by a deadline and will come back to see that the repairs are complete.
Step 6, Option A: Apply for Rent Abatement (City of Madison and Fitchburg Only). Rent abatement is a partial rent credit, based on the severity of a repair issue the landlord won't fix. It pays you back for the amount of time you couldn't fully use the apartment. If the landlord doesn't complete the repairs that were ordered by the Building Inspector, tenants in the cities of Madison and Fitchburg may be eligible for rent abatement from the date of the inspection. Do not simply withhold rent, or you will risk being evicted. You must first have a Building Inspector look at your apartment and order repairs. They should tell you at that time whether those repair issues are eligible for rent abatement. If the landlord fails to complete them by the deadline, contact Building Inspection again to apply for rent abatement. If you are not sure about your eligibility, call the Building Inspector (Madison: (608) 266-4551 & Fitchburg: (608) 270-4240). MGO 32.04, FO 72 Article III
Step 6, Option B: Repair and Deduct (City of Madison only). In addition to the rent abatement process in the City of Madison, IF the landlord fails to complete the repairs ordered by the inspector by the due date and the tenant is eligible for rent abatement, the tenant may choose to make repairs on their own and deduct the cost of those repairs from the rent. They must follow the procedure below. This may be an alternative to rent abatement for some or all of the non-emergency items in a repair order, but may not be duplicated by rent abatement.
NOTE: Before beginning any such repairs, the tenant must send written notice to the landlord with the following information:
- Statement that they intend to repair and deduct
- Name of the tenant
- List of work to be done
- Name of the person who will do the work
- Date the work will begin (has to be at least 10 days after the notice is sent or 24 hours if the work was ordered to be done in less than 10 days)
- If the tenant does the work, a good faith estimate of how long the work will take
Also, be sure to do either of the following:
1. Wait 10 calendar days after mailing the written notice, then begin work for non-emergency items.
- OR -
2. For repairs which were ordered to be completed in fewer than 10 days, wait 24 hours to begin work.
If the landlord files a letter of objection with the Building Inspector before the tenant begins work, then the tenant cannot repair and deduct until the rent abatement hearing takes place. For items the Hearing Examiner finds eligible for rent abatement, the landlord will reimburse the tenant for 125% of the cost of repairs as is determined by the Hearing Examiner.
If the work requires a licensed professional, the tenant may not perform the work. If the tenant does the work themselves, the rate they can be paid is found in MGO 4.20(3). The tenant is responsible for obtaining all permits and approvals that are necessary. Fees required for permits and approvals may be deducted from the rent.
To reduce the rent, the tenant has to submit all copies of all the invoices to the landlord, along with an itemized statement showing the actual cost of the repairs and lien waivers for all contractors that performed work. If the amount of repairs exceeds the amount of the rent, the remaining portion can be deducted from the following month's rent.
The tenant may not be evicted or retaliated against for following the procedures in MGO 32.17 and it will be presumed to be retaliation if the landlord attempts to end the tenancy within the following 6 months unless the landlord can show "good cause" for the eviction. The landlord can be fined $150 to $900 for attempting to retaliate.
Step 7: Move Out Because of Constructive Eviction. Constructive eviction is what happens when repairs are needed so badly that the rental unit becomes uninhabitable. More information on constructive eviction is available here. To be successful:
- There must be a severe health or safety hazard; and
- The tenant must give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to repair the problem; and
- If it is not repaired (or the repair is so extreme that it will impose "undue hardship" on the tenant) the tenant may constructively evict. Wis. Stat. 704.07(4)
Fires and floods are good examples of conditions that may cause someone to constructively evict. Wis. Stat. 704.07(4) This happens in only the most extreme repair situations, and involves risk on the part of the tenant. If a tenant can successfully claim constructive eviction, they are no longer responsible under the rental agreement for unpaid rent after they move out and can get back any prepaid rent. If a tenant tries to claim constructive eviction but is not successful, the tenant may be liable for rent to the end of the rental agreement plus any legal fees but the landlord will have to mitigate their damages.
To improve your chances of successfully claiming constructive eviction, carefully document the repair problems, your requests to the landlord, and the overall condition of the rental unit. Send your landlord notice in writing that you are leaving because the rental unit has become uninhabitable. Keep track of all the expenses you must pay because you had to leave (motels, eating out, etc.). Even if a court eventually decides that you were not constructively evicted by the repair issue, the landlord still has a duty to try to find a new tenant for your old rental unit (just like if you had broken your lease).
Under state statute, a tenant cannot go to court and ask for permission to constructively evict; instead it is used as a defense if the tenant moves and the landlord sues the tenant for unpaid rent. This is why it is extremely important to document all the actions you take if you are going to constructively evict yourself from the apartment.
Step 8: Call Consumer Protection. Consumer Protection laws require landlords to follow through on repair promises. If your landlord made a written or verbal promise to make a repair but has not followed through, you may file a complaint with Consumer Protection by calling (800) 422-7128. If the landlord never made the promise in writing, then you should send the agency copies of your letters to the landlord and mention the landlord's verbal promise. Your letters may be good evidence, especially if the landlord never wrote back to deny the promise was made. For more information on how to get things in writing from your landlord, visit our Get It In Writing page. ATCP 134.07
Risky Alternative: Withhold Rent. Not paying your rent to pressure a landlord into making repairs is extremely risky. You could be evicted for nonpayment of rent unless you can prove to the court that withholding your rent was justified. Because tenant-landlord laws do not authorize tenants to do this, it is never certain that the court will decide in the tenant's favor; instead, the tenant may be evicted. If nothing else works, here are four ways to improve your chances of successfully withholding rent:
- Request the Repairs Several Times in Writing Before Withholding Rent. Give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repairs and give clear deadlines.
- Put Withheld Rent into an Escrow Account, or Savings Account. Make the deposits on the day your rent is due. Do not spend it! You may need to prove you had the money. Additionally, you may need to prove to a judge that you were withholding rent for the specific purpose of enforcing your rights, and that the money is available if the repairs are completed.
- Include a Note to Your Landlord with Your Partial Rent Payment and Explain Why You Are Withholding Rent. Make sure to pay this on time and mention that you have the money in an escrow account and that you will pay in full when your landlord has made the necessary repairs. Be sure to keep a copy for yourself!
- Release the Withheld Rent After Your Landlord Makes the Repairs.
As of 3/01/14, all landlords in Wisconsin must give at least a 12 hour notice to enter for repairs, unless it is an emergency and they have to enter to protect the property or someone on the property. ATCP 134.09(2), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(a)4, Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(d)1, 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 2, Eff. 3/1/14.
You can agree to let your landlord enter sooner than 12 hours to make the repairs more quickly. This is a one-time exception and the landlord still needs to give proper notice the next time. In some cases, tenants may have signed a NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISION that modifies state law regarding landlord entry. Check your lease for any such clauses. For more information, see Landlord Entry. MGO 32.05(1)(e), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(a)4
NOTE: In the City of Madison & Fitchburg, these NON STANDARD RENTAL PROVISIONS are unenforceable. MGO 32.02(1)(c), FO 72-4, FO 72-29(4) Eff. 13/1/14.
Who Is Responsible For Repairs?
Landlord Repair Responsibilities
- Keep heating, plumbing, electrical system, and building structure in good condition. Wis. Stat. 704.07(2)(a)
- Keep common areas such as hallways, storage areas, laundry rooms, parking lots, and yards in good condition. Wis. Stat. 704.07(2)(a)1
- Maintain all supplied equipment, including all appliances. Wis. Stat. 704.07(2)(a)2
- Comply with all local housing codes. If the building is occupied by one or more tenants, improper use or damage by one tenant does not relieve the landlord of the duty to maintain the premises for the other tenants in the building. Wis. Stat. 704.07(2)(a)5
- Provide a working smoke detector on each floor including the basement. If a tenant gives written notice that the smoke detector is not working, the landlord must fix it within five days. Wis. Stat. 101.145
- Install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in all new and most existing residential buildings. Wis. Stat. 101.149
Tenant Repair Responsibilities
- Perform minor maintenance such as changing light bulbs. Wis. Stat. 704.07(3)(b)
- Keep the apartment in a safe, sanitary condition.
- Comply with all local housing codes. Wis. Stat. 704.07(3)(c)
- Keep the thermostat set at a reasonable temperature to prevent freezing of pipes and other equipment.
- Repair, or pay the landlord to repair, all damages caused by the tenant and their guests. Wis. Stat. 704.07(3)(a)
- Keep working batteries in smoke detectors and give written notice to the landlord if smoke detectors are not working properly. Wis. Stat. 101.45
2013 Wis. Act 76 includes language about pest control. This does not mean the tenant automatically has to pay for pest control (like bedbugs) but it does say that have to pay if the pests were caused by "actions or inactions" of the tenant or their guests. The landlord still has to repair the problem, regardless of whoever ends up paying for it. Wis. Stat. 704.07(3)(a), 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 12, Eff. 3/1/14.
Avoid Problems: Take Steps Before Signing A Lease
There are several things tenants can do before signing a lease to minimize the chances of future repair problems. See our page Preparing to Rent for more information on how tenants can protect themselves before signing a lease.
- Before entering into a rental agreement or accepting earnest money, the landlord must tell the tenant about documented, uncorrected building code violations that they have actual knowledge of and which are a significant threat to the prospective tenant's health or safety. ATCP 134.04(2)(a), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(d)1, 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 2, Eff. 3/31/12 and 11/1/15.
NOTE: 2011 Wis. Act 143 only changed the language about required disclosures in Wis. Stats. 704.07. 2011 Wis. Act 143, Sec. 16 & 17 Eff. 3/31/12 It was unclear at the time how this would affect the Consumer Protection regulations. Now, these same requirements are also in the Consumer Protection Code. This brings ATCP 134 in line with the State Statutes. ATCP 134.04(2)(a), CR 14-038, Sec. 3, Eff. 11/1/15.
- Before entering into a rental agreement or accepting earnest money, the landlord must also tell the tenant about any conditions affecting habitability which they know about, or could have known about based on a reasonable inspection. These include any lack of: hot or cold running water, safe electrical system, sewage disposal, heating systems unable to reach 67°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
- Call the Madison Building Inspector to check if there are any current building code violations or citations on the property: (608) 266-4551 or 266-4216 (Spanish).
- Before the rental agreement is signed, the landlord must put any promises to repair in writing, with specific deadlines for each repair. ATCP 134.07
- Call Consumer Protection at (608) 224-4953 or (800) 422-7128 to check if there have been any complaints filed against your prospective landlord.
- Inspect the rental unit your are considering, taking notice of repairs and improvements that need to be made.
- Negotiate with your prospective landlord about what repairs or improvements will be made, and write those into the lease.
- If your lease has a provision that allows the landlord to not provide the premises in a habitable condition or maintain the property, this is not enforceable and you could automatically break your lease if you needed to. These provisions make your lease "void and unenforceable." Wis. Stat. 704.44(8), 2011 Wis. Act 143, Sec. 35 Eff. 3/31/12. ATCP 134.08(8), CR 14-038, Sec. 11, Eff. 11/1/15. For more information and other reasons a lease may become void and unenforceable, see Ending Your Lease.
- Contact the Tenant Resource Center to ask questions about items in your lease.
Avoid Problems: Take Steps While Moving In
Document All Repair Problems Carefully
Fill out your check-in form. Filling in your check-in form is the best way to prove the condition of the apartment if the landlord tries to make deductions from your security deposit later on for damages that were already there. The new law says you shall be given 7 days from when you move in to complete the check-in sheet and return it to the landlord. It is unclear if there is a deadline for the tenant to fill out the check-in sheet, but the landlord should give them at least 7 days. Wis. Stat. 704.08 Failure to meet the landlord's deadline does not in any way negate the information on the form. Eff. 3/31/12. ATCP 134 says that tenants have at least 7 days from when they move into an apartment to give the completed check-in form to the landlord. How this is impacted by 2011 Wis. Act 143 is unclear. Eff. 3/31/12.
NOTE: Previously, landlords were supposed to also fill out the check-in sheet. This was only required between 3/31/12 and 2/28/14. Wis. Stat. 704.08, 2011 Wis. Act 143, Sec. 18, Eff. 3/31/12. 2013 Wisconsin Act 76 removed the language about the landlord filling out the check-in sheet. 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 13, Eff. 3/1/14.
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 use our Sample Check-In Form 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.
Request a list of previous tenant's deductions. The landlord is required to let you know in writing that you can get a list of the deductions from the previous tenant's security deposit. ATCP 134.06(1)(a)2 If requested, the landlord must provide this within 30 days, or within 7 days after they return the previous tenant's security deposit, whichever is later. ATCP 134.06(1)(b) This list may be helpful in recognizing other repairs that need to be done.
Request repairs. A check-in form is not a request for repairs; it simply documents the condition of the apartment. If you want the landlord to fix certain problems, follow the suggestions in the first section for getting repairs done. For more information, see our Sample Repair Request Form.
Useful Phone Numbers
Emergency Utility Numbers
Madison Gas & Electric
(608) 252-7111 or (800) 245-1123
Alliant Energy (Wisconsin Power & Light Co.)
(800) 862-6263 (Gas & Water)
(800) 862-6261 (Electricity & Power Outage)
Wisconsin Public Service Corp.
(800) 450-7280 (Gas)
(800) 450-7240 (Electricity)
(800) 895-2999 (Gas)
(800) 895-1999 (Electricity)
Other Statewide Resources
Asbestos & Lead Section, Department of Health & Family Services
Wisconsin Radon Information Centers
Bat Conservation Corps of Wisconsin
(608) 837-BATS (2287)
NOTE: If your area does not have a municipal Building Inspector, the State Building Inspection Unit through the Department of Safety and Professional Services maybe be able to help: (608) 266-3151. They have limited enforcement ability and may charge for inspections. You can also try calling an appropriate person at the State Health Department or your local fire inspector.
Building Inspection Departments
Madison, City – Spanish
|Tuesday, Thursday 7:45AM-11:30AM; Monday, Friday 12:30PM-4:15PM|
|Westport, Town||608-845-4375, 608-849-4372 x 3|
|Public Health Departments|