Most of this information is available in our brochure for easy printing.
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)
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 your local Building Inspector. 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. See our list of Local Building Inspectors (below) in order to contact your building inspector.
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 a pest infestation, you can try calling a fire department or public health inspector or the Department of Safety and Professional Services. Sometimes they are able to visit a home that is in need of repairs and sometimes they are able to persuade the landlord to take more significant action.
Step 6, Option A: Rent Abatement (Outside of Milwaukee, Madison and Fitchburg). 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. The State of Wisconsin does not have a formal rent abatement process like Madison and Fitchburg. For Milwaukee see option B below. Rent abatement is allowed under Wisconsin law, but when and how much a tenant can abate their rent is unclear. Wis. Stat. 704.07(4)
NOTE: For the reasons above, abating your own rent puts you at risk for eviction for nonpayment of rent, especially if there is another recommended method, such as in Milwaukee.
Here are some way to improve your chances of successfully abating your rent 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:
- Request the Repairs Several Times in Writing Before Abating Rent. Give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to make the repairs. Let them know you may abate your rent under Wis. Stat. 704.07 if they do not respond.
- Contact Your Local Building Inspector or the Department of Safety and Professional Services. Their report will provide a very important piece of evidence.
- Deduct a Portion of Your Rent that is Consistent with the Severity of the Repair Problem. To decide how much, you could consult the City of Madison rent abatement percentages as a guide and offer the lower end of the range to show good faith. These are available here (rent abatement is 32.04) or from the Tenant Resource Center.
- Keep Paying the Rest of Your Rent On Time! Include a note to your landlord with your partial rental payment explaining why you are abating rent.
Step 6, Option B: Withhold Rent (City of Milwaukee Only). The City of Milwaukee has specific procedures which tenants must follow to withhold rent and not risk eviction. For more information, tenants in the City of Milwaukee can call the Department of Neighborhood Services at (414) 286-2268 or visit their website.
Step 6, Option C (Risky): 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.
Step 6, Option D: 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.
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 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 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 7: 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
A landlord must give the tenant a 12 hour notice before entering to make a repair unless it is an emergency (like a pipe bursting). You can agree to let your landlord enter sooner than that to make the repairs more quickly, but the landlord still needs to give proper notice the next time. In some cases, tenants may have signed a NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISION that lets the landlord enter with less notice. Check your lease for any such clauses. For more information, see Landlord Entry. ATCP 134.09(2)
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. 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 has nothing to do with the landlord's responsibility to repair the problem, regardless of whoever ends up paying for it. This provision goes into effect for tenancies in effect on 3/01/2014. Wis. Stat. 704.07(3)(a), 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 12, Eff. 3/01/2014
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 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 in writing about 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
NOTE: 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's 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), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(d)1, 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 2
- Call the local Building Inspector to check if there are any current building code violations or citations on the property. See our list of Local Building Inspectors in order to contact your building inspector.
- 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, you can automatically break your lease. These provisions make your lease "void and unenforceable." For more information and other reasons a lease may become void and unenforceable, see Ending Your Lease. Wis. Stat. 704.44(8), 2011 Wis. Act 143, Sec. 35
- 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. 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. This was only required between 3/31/12 and 2/28/14. 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. Wis. Stat. 704.08, 2011 Wis. Act 143, Sec. 18, Eff. 3/31/2012, 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 13, Eff. 3/04/2014
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 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 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.
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. 3/31/2012
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)
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||
|Town of Madison||(608) 210-7261||
|City of Middleton||(608) 827-1070||
Fond du Lac
|Town of Middleton||(608) 833-4346||
|Cottage Grove||(608) 837-3371||
|Mt. Horeb||(608) 437-7884||
(920) 459-3481 (North)
(920) 459-3480 (South)
|Sun Prairie||(608) 825-1184||
|Verona||(608) 845-6695||Wausau||(715) 261-6780|
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 the 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.