We are still making major changes to the website. Please check back to be sure you have the best information available. 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 10)
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 3/1/2014 (2013 Wis. Act 76)
More information on the 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.
Landlord Repair Responsibilities
• Before entering into a rental agreement or accepting earnest money, 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 reach 67°F in all living areas in all seasons, and all other likely health or safety hazards. ATCP 134.04(2)(b).
Note: SB 466 (2011 Wis Act 143) only changed the language about required disclosures in Wis. Stats. 704.07. It is unclear how and whether this changed the disclosure requirements in ATCP 134 and how that impacts local ordinances, if at all. However, the items noted above clearly present a threat to the tenant's health or safety and should be disclosed. Otherwise the landlord could be sued for misrepresentation (including double damages, court costs and reasonable attorney fees) under ATCP 134.09(9). (Wis. Stat. 704.07(2)(bm), 2011 Wis. Act 143, Sec. 16 & 17)
• Before entering into a rental agreement or accepting earnest money, the landlord must tell the tenant about documented uncorrected building code violations that are a significant threat to the prospective tenant's health or safety. ATCP 134.04(2)(a)?
• Before the rental agreement is signed, put any promises to repair in writing, with specific deadlines for each repair. ATCP 134.07
• Keep heating, plumbing, electrical system, and building structure in good condition. Wis. Stats. 704.07(2)(a)
• Keep common areas such as hallways, storage areas, laundry rooms, parking lots, and yards clean and in good condition. Wis. Stats. 704.07(2)(a)1.
• Maintain all supplied equipment, including all appliances. Wis. Stats. 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. Stats. 704.07(2)(a)5.
• 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.
Tenant Repair Responsibilities
• Perform minor maintenance such as changing light bulbs. Wis. Stats. 704.07(3)(b)
• Keep the apartment in safe, sanitary condition.
• Comply with all local housing codes. Wis. Stats. 704.07(3)(c)
• Keep 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 or their guests. Wis. Stats. 704.07(3)(a)
• Keep working battery in smoke detectors and give written notice to the landlord if smoke detectors are not working properly. Wis. Stats. 101.45
Before You Sign Your Lease
There are several things tenants can do before signing a lease to minimize the chances of future repair problems. (Please also see our Preparing to Rent page for more information on how tenants can protect themselves before signing a lease).
• Call Consumer Protection at (608) 224-4953 or (800) 422-7128 to check if there have been any complaints filed against your prospective landlord.
• Call the local building inspector to check if there are any outstanding building code violations or citations at the property you are considering.
• Inspect the rental unit you 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 waiving responsibility for landlord to provide premises in habitable condition or maintain the property, you can automatically break your lease - these provisions make your lease "void and unenforceable." Previously, case law was most clear about the provision about legal fees. Recent changes to state law make it more clear that the other provisions also make a lease void and unenforceable. (See Ending Your Lease for other reasons a lease may become void and unenforceable.) (Wis. Stat. 704.44(8), 2011 Wis. Act 143, Sec. 35)
• Call the Tenant Resource Center and ask questions about items in your lease. With the passage of SB466 or 2011 Wis. Act 143 some leases may have illegal clauses in them that make the entire lease void and unenforceable. Landlords may not understand the new rules and may be crafting provisions that are illegal. Wis. Stat. 704.44.
Document all repair problems carefully:
Fill in your check-in form. The new law 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." This means the landlord should fill in the check-in sheet. 2013 Wisconsin Act 76 removed the language about the landlord filling out the check-in sheet. So, they were only required between 3/31/12 and 2/28/14. 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. (Wis. Stat. 704.08, 2011 Wis. Act 143, Sec. 18, 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 13)
The new law also 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." This means there should also be an area for the tenant to fill in the check in sheet with their description 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 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.
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. (Wis. Stat. 704.08, 2011 Wis. Act 143, Sec. 18)
Request list of previous tenant's deductions. The landlord is required 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. If requested, they have to provide this within 30 days, or within 7 days after they return the previous tenants' 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 next section for getting repairs done. Click here for a sample repair request form.
Getting Repairs Done
• Make a list. Before contacting the landlord, make a list of the repair problems that need to be fixed.
• Call the landlord. Tell the landlord about the needed repairs and request that they be made within a reasonable time limit. Be sure to contact the landlord as soon as there is a problem, since some repair problems will worsen if they go unaddressed. Keep a log of all calls, including the times and dates of calls, who you talked to, and what you requested.
• Put it in writing. If the landlord does not contact you or make repairs within a few days, write a letter or e-mail and include a reasonable deadline for the completion of repairs. Keep a copy for yourself. Landlords often take written correspondence more seriously than phone calls, so be sure to write if your landlord has not responded to previous verbal repair requests.
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 phone calls. If you smell gas, call your utility company immediately!
• Follow-up. If your landlord fails to perform the requested repairs by the deadline, write a second time. This correspondence should note the previous repair request and announce you will take further action (see below) if repairs are not made by a certain date.
• Call the building inspector. If the landlord still has not made the necessary repairs, call the Building Inspection Unit. Building Inspection can order the landlord to fix certain problems, such as lack of heat or hot water, pest infestation, missing screens or storm windows, mold, etc. Cosmetic repairs such as faded paint or stained carpeting will usually not be included. The building inspector will order the landlord to make the repairs within a specified amount of time and will return to see that the repairs are complete. Find your local building inspector listed below or in the government pages of the phone book. Tenant Resource Center has the building inspector phone numbers for most cities and towns in Wisconsin. You can call our toll-free line if outside of Dane County at 877-238-RENT. 2013 Wis. Act 76 includes language about pest control. The language does not make the tenant automatically liable for pest control, but it says that they are responsible if the pests are due to acts or inactions of the tenant. Regardless of the new law, it does nothing to with the landlord responsibility to repair the problem. This provision goes into effect for tenancies in effect on 3/1/14. (Wis. Stats. 704.07(3)(a), 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 12)
If you live in an area that has no building inspector and if there are major safety hazards in your apartment, such as faulty wiring or pest infestation, you can try calling a fire or public health inspector.
• Withhold rent (City of Milwaukee). The City of Milwaukee has specific procedures which tenants must follow to withhold rent. For more information, tenants in the City of Milwaukee can call the Department of Neighborhood Services at (414) 286-2268 or visit the website.
• Withhold rent. Rent withholding, or temporarily not paying your rent to pressure a landlord into making repairs, is extremely risky. When a tenant withholds rent, a landlord may take the tenant to eviction court for nonpayment of rent. If that happens, the tenant must try to prove to the court that withholding was justified. Because tenant-landlord laws do not authorize a tenant to do this, it is never certain that the court will decide in the tenant's favor; instead, the tenant may be evicted. After you have exhausted all other possibilities, 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.
- Put withheld rent into an escrow account, or savings account. Make the deposits the day your rent is due so you can prove you had the money. Do not spend it. You might have 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, explaining why you are withholding rent. 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. Keep a copy for yourself.
- After your landlord makes the repairs, release the withheld rent.
• Apply for rent abatement (Outside of Madison and Fitchburg). The State of Wisconsin does not have a formal rent abatement process like Madison and Fitchburg do. Rent abatement is allowed under Wisconsin law, but the process is unclear. Wis. Stat 704.07 (If the building inspector orders repairs and the landlord does not complete them by the deadline, or if your area is not served by a building inspector, you could deduct a portion of your rent consistent with the severity of the repair problem. To decide how much to deduct, you could consult the City of Madison rent abatement percentages as a guide. These are available here (Rent abatement is 32.04) or from the Tenant Resource Center.
• Move out because of constructive eviction Constructive eviction is what happens when repairs are needed so badly that the rental unit becomes uninhabitable. To be successful, there
- must be a severe health or safety hazard,
- the tenant must give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to repair the problem and
- then if it is not repaired the tenant may constructively evict.
Fires and floods are good examples of when someone may have 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, the tenant is no longer responsible under the rental agreement and may move out. 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. (Click here for more information on Mitigation).
To improve your chances of successfully claiming constructive eviction, have the repair problems, your requests to the landlord, and the overall condition of the rental unit well documented. 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, 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).
Unfortunately, a tenant can not go to court and ask for permission to constructively evict, instead it is used as a defense if the tenant moves and the landlord attempts to sue 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.
• 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 (608) 224-4953 or (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.
A landlord must give the tenant 12 hours notice before entering to make a repair unless it is an emergency. (i.e. a pipe burst). You can agree to let your landlord enter sooner than that 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. More information about landlord entry is available here. ATCP 134.09(2)
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) 895-1999 (electricity)
(800) 895-2999 (gas)
If your municipality's building inspector is not listed here, check your phone book or call our toll-free line if outside of Dane County at 877-238-RENT. Tenant Resource Center has the building inspector phone numbers for most cities and towns in Wisconsin.
|In Dane County:||Other major Cities in Wisconsin:|
|City of Madison||(608) 266-4551||Milwaukee||(414) 286-3441|
|Town of Madison||(608) 210-7261||Green Bay||
|City of Middleton||(608) 827-1070||Racine||(262) 636-9464|
|Town of Middleton||(608) 833-4346||Waukesha||(262) 524-3530|
|Cottage Grove||(608) 837-3371||
|De Forest||(608) 846-6751||West Allis||(414) 302-8400|
|Mazonmanie||(608) 767-2272||Janesville||(608) 755-3060|
|McFarland||(608) 838-3154||Eau Claire||(715) 839-4947|
|Mt. Horeb||(608) 437-7884||Appleton||(920) 832-6411|
|Monona||(608) 222-2525||La Crosse||(608) 789-7530|
(920) 459-3481 (North)
(920) 459-3480 (South)
|Stoughton||(608) 873-7626||Wauwatosa||(414) 479-8957|
|Sun Prairie||(608) 825-1184||Fond du Lac||(920) 322-3575|
|Verona||(608) 845-6695||Wausau||(715) 261-6780|
|Waunakee||(608) 849-5613||Beloit||(608) 364-6650|
|Westport||(608) 845-4375||Superior||(715) 395-7288|
Note: The state building inspection unit at (608) 266-3151 may be able to help tenants in areas not served by municipal inspectors. They have limited enforcement ability and may charge for inspections. If you live in an area without a building inspector, you can also try calling a health or fire inspector.
Other Statewide Resources
Asbestos & Lead Section, Department of Health & Family Services
Wisconsin Radon Information Centers
Bat Conservation Corps of Wisconsin
(608) 837-BATS (2287)
Rent abatement: To permanently deduct money from rent due to a reduction in value of the apartment
Rent withholding: To temporarily keep all or part of the rent until repairs are made. Rent eventually gets paid in full to the landlord
Escrow Account: A bank account for money that is being withheld by a tenant until the landlord makes certain repairs
Constructive Eviction: When a tenant is forced out of a rental unit because it has become uninhabitable