Practical Safety Tips
- Check Out the Area Before You Rent: Call your police department to inquire about the area. Some police departments are more or less able or willing to share information. If possible, walk around and talk with current residents about any safety concerns they have and their relationship with the local officers. MADISON ONLY: Call the City of Madison Police Department's non-emergency number at (608) 255-2345 and ask to speak with the area's neighborhood police officer or community police officer, if there is one.
- 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 the landlord won't make them, do not hesitate to call City of Madison Building Inspection at (608) 266-4551 or do an internet search for an inspector in your area (our list of statewide building inspectors is on the Repairs in Wisconsin page).
- Door Locks, Door Chains, and Dead Bolts: Always lock your dead bolt when you leave and when you're home. The dead bolt should be at least an inch long. Do not prop open the door to your apartment or apartment building.
- 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 prop them open or give out the code to the keypad. You could compromise the safety of the whole building.
- Sliding Door Locks & Secondary Security Devices: Unsecured sliding doors are a common target for unauthorized entry. Be sure your patio door 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.
- Window Coverings: Keep your curtains or blinds closed if you are away from home for an extended period of time. Do not assume that the window coverings are included with the apartment. If window coverings are not provided, ask the landlord if they 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.
- 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 it is dark, notify the landlord right away.
- 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.
State law requires the owner or manager of a unit to provide a working smoke detector on each floor including the basement. Wis. Stat. 101.145(4). 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. Stat. 101.145(3)(c).
MADISON ONLY: All residential rental properties within the City of Madison shall have smoke alarms in place which are either a hardwired smoke alarm with a battery backup or 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.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Wisconsin law requires carbon monoxide detectors to be installed and maintained in all new and most existing residential buildings. Wis. Stat. 101.149. Local building and fire inspectors are authorized to inspect for these detectors at the same time as they would inspect for smoke detectors. The Madison Fire Department maintains information about what is required. See the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services website for more information on carbon monoxide and smoke alarms. 2007 Wis. Act 205, 2009 Wis. Act 158
Required Landlord Disclosures
Before renting, the landlord must tell the tenant about uncorrected building code violations affecting leased areas or common areas that they have actual knowledge of and which present a significant threat to the prospective tenant's health or safety. (For more information, see Preparing to Rent.) Wis. Stat. 704.07(2)(bm), 2011 Wis. Act 143, Sec. 16 & 17. Eff. 3/31/12. ATCP 134.04(2)(a), CR 14-038, Sec. 3. Eff. 11/1/15.
Landlords must also tell prospective tenants about any "conditions affecting habitability" which they know about, or could know about based on a reasonable inspection, whether or not there is a report from building inspection. These conditions include:
- Lack of hot or cold running water;
- Heating system that can't reach 67 degrees Fahrenheit all year round;
- No electricity, plumbing, or sewage systems (or systems that are unsafe or not in good operating condition);
- Any structural or other conditions that could be a health and safety risk. ATCP 134.04(2)(b)
E-mail or Text Communication for Promises to Repair
If it is written into the lease, the landlord can “provide and indicate agreement” by other electronic communication (email, text, fax) for any promises to clean, repair or improve the premises prior to entering into the rental agreement. Stat. 704.10(3), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 42. Eff. for rental agreements made or renewed on or after 4/18/18. 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 56.
Repair Action Steps for Tenants
1. Fill out Check-In Form
Note needed repairs on your check-in form. For more information on the move-in process, see our pages on About Security Deposits and Preparing to Rent. Additionally, inspect your apartment for the following safety features:
- Security-locked entrances to common areas
- Dead bolts/sliding door locks and window locks
- Lighting in common areas
- Door viewer
- Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors
2. Contact the Landlord to Request Repairs
Even if you listed security repairs on your check-in form, put repair requests in writing to your landlord, reminding them 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. For additional information, see Repairs in Madison and Fitchburg or Repairs in Wisconsin.
3. 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 to complete the repair.
4. Call Building Inspection
In most instances, the security measures listed in this brochure 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. City of Madison: 608-266-4551.
5. Changing the Locks in an Emergency
Tenants in Wisconsin can ask the landlord to change their locks and they are required to do so under the Safe Housing Act. (See next section.)
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. The landlord does not need to reimburse the tenant for the cost of changing the locks. MGO 32.05(2)
Safe Housing Act
The Safe Housing Act says that under certain circumstances, a tenant may terminate their lease or have the landlord terminate another tenant's lease if there is an imminent threat to their safety. They can request the landlord change their locks and the landlord must do so if the tenant has proper documentation. The law allows victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or child abuse to terminate a tenancy if they or their child(ren) are 1) in imminent physical danger AND 2) have an accepted form of documentation of the threat. These include a permanent injunction (restraining order), criminal complaint, or condition of release from prison or jail prohibiting contact with the tenant or their child(ren).
This law allows the victim to give written notice ending a year-long tenancy as though it were a month-to-month tenancy (written 28-day notice). For more information see Ending Your Lease. The law also allows landlords to evict the tenant 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. Stat. 704.16, 2007 Wis. Act 184
In Dane County: Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) can provide counseling and free legal advocacy for tenants in Dane County who are the victim of domestic or child abuse, sexual assault, or stalking. DAIS can assist tenants in obtaining the necessary injunctions to terminate their leases, and assist with the termination itself. They also provide other support, resources, and safety counseling. In Dane County call 608-251-4445; or 800-747-4045
Outside Dane County: Contact your local domestic abuse agency.
Calling Police: Lease Provisions May Void Your Lease Agreement
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 if there are too many police calls. This has caused many landlords to put potentially illegal clauses in their leases. MGO 25.09, Wis. Stat. 704.44. ATCP violation effective 11/1/15. ATCP 134.08
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. Stat. 704.44. ATCP violation effective 11/1/15. ATCP 134.08
There have been several changes to the law about what language in a lease would make it illegal. The entire lease could be void and unenforceable if these clauses were in the lease. The following language may make the lease void and unenforceable:
- Language that would allow the landlord to terminate the tenancy of a tenant based solely on the commission of a crime in or on the rental property, if the tenant, or someone who lawfully resides with the tenant, is the victim of that crime, as defined in Wis. Stat. 950.02(4). Wis. Stat. 704.44(9), 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 25. Effective for leases entered into or renewed on or after 3/1/14. ATCP violation effective 11/1/15. ATCP 134.08 (9)
- Language that would allowthe landlord to terminate the tenancy of a tenant for a crime committed in relation to the rental property and the rental agreement does not include the Notice of Domestic Abuse Protections required under Wis Stat. 704.14. Wis. Stat. 704.44(10), 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 26. Effective for leases entered into or renewed on or after 3/1/14. ATCP violation effective 11/1/15. ATCP 134.08(10)
ATCP 134.08 adds the followingf to the list of "prohibited provisions" which make the entire rental agreement void and unenforceable" (if the tenant so chooses). These rules are also still unenforceable, if the tenant wants to stay in the contract.
- Lease provisions which allow retaliatory acts due to calls for law enforcement, health or safety services. ATCP 134.08(1),
- Lease provisions which allow a landlord to evict a victim of a crime, because of that crime. ATCP 134.08(9), and
- Leases which have rules against crime that do not include a notice of domestic violence protections. ATCP 134.08(10), CR 14-038, Sec. 11. Eff. 11/1/15.
"NOTICE OF DOMESTIC ABUSE PROTECTIONS
(1) As provided in section of 106.50(5m)(dm) of the Wisconsin statutes, a tenant has a defense to an eviction action if the tenant can prove that the landlord knew, or should have known, the tenant is a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking and that the eviction action is based on conduct related to domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking committed by either of the following:
(a) A person who was not the tenant's invited guest.
(b) A person who was the tenant's invited guest, but the tenant has done either of the following:
- Sought an injunction barring the person from the premises.
- Provided a written statement to the landlord stating that the person will no longer be an invited guest of the tenant and the tenant has not subsequently invited the person to be the tenant's guest.
(2) A tenant who is a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking may have the right to terminate the rental agreement in certain limited situations, as provided in section 704.16 of the Wisconsin statutes. If the tenant has safety concerns, the tenant should contact a local victim service provider or law enforcement agency.
(3) A tenant is advised that this notice is only a summary of the tenant's rights and the specific language of the statutes governs in all instances."
Tenants should not be afraid of being evicted for calling the police or emergency services for their own protection or because there is criminal activity in the building or on the property.
New Risk of Eviction for Suspected "Drug-Related" and Other Criminal Activity
As of 3/2/16, landlords can serve a 5-day eviction notice that does not give the tenant a chance to fix or "cure" the problem if they suspect that the tenant, a member of their household, or any guests or invitees, have engaged in:
- Criminal activity that threatens the health or safety of other tenants, people residing in the “immediate vicinity” of the premises, or the landlord or their agent or employee;
- Criminal activity that threatens the right to peaceful enjoyment of other tenants or people residing in the “immediate vicinity” of the premises; or
- “Drug-related criminal activity” on or near the premises. Wis. Stat. 704.17(3m)(b), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 25
“Drug-related criminal activity” is the manufacturing or distribution of a controlled substance that is not prescribed by a doctor for medical use by a disabled person. The disabled person can manufacture, use or possess this controlled substance and it can be in the possession of their personal care giver or worker. Wis. Stat. 704.17(3m)(a)1. & 2., 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 25
The 5-day no cure notice must:
- Require the tenant to vacate on or before a date at least 5 days after the giving of the notice,
- State the reason for eviction,
- A description of the criminal activity or “drug-related criminal activity”,
- The date it took place,
- The identity or description of the individual(s) who engaged in the activity,
- Advise tenant she/he may seek assistance of legal counsel, a volunteer legal clinic, or “a tenant resource center”, and
- State that the tenant has the right to contest the allegations in the notice before a court commissioner or judge if an eviction is filed. Wis. Stat. 704.17(3m)(b)1., 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 25
If the tenant contests the eviction, the tenancy may not be terminated without proof by the landlord by the greater preponderance of the credible evidence of the allegations. Wis. Stat. 704.17(3m)(b)1., 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 25
The person engaging in the alleged criminal activity or “drug-related criminal activity” does not have to have been arrested or convicted for this activity in order for the landlord to issue a 5-day no-cure notice for a crime. Wis. Stat. 704.17(3m)(b)2., 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 25
It clarifies that month-to-month tenancies and tenancies-at-will can be terminated, before the end of the rental period, for criminal or “drug-related criminal activity.” Wis. Stat. 704.19(2)(b)2., 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 28
For important information about these notices, please see our page on Eviction!
Other Useful Safety Information
Notice Required for Landlord Entry
Wisconsin landlords cannot enter an apartment unless they give at least a 12-hour notice to the tenant, and it must be to make repairs, inspect, or show the unit for rental or sale. Notice may be verbal (including leaving a message) or in writing. There is no requirement that the tenant actually receive that notice (for example, during an extended absence). ATCP 134.09(2). In an emergency, or if the tenant waives the notice requirement on a case-by-case basis, the 12-hour notice is not required. Suspected lease violations, such as a party or an unauthorized pet, are NOT reasons to enter without notice. See Landlord Entry for more information. Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(d)1, 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 2. Eff. 3/01/2014.
If it is written into the lease, the landlord can “provide and indicate agreement” by other electronic communication (email, text, fax) for any notice to enter to repair, inspect, or show the unit. Wis. Stat. 704.10(4), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 42. Eff. for rental agreements made or renewed on or after 4/18/18. 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 56.
Action Steps for Illegal Landlord Entry
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. In Madison, the police can issue a $600 fine for the first offense for unauthorized entry, and $1000 for the second, if you call and cite MGO 32.05(1)(e) & 1.08(3)(a) and let them know that the police have "bail deposit authority."
Useful Phone Numbers
City of Madison Non-Emergency Police Dispatch: (608) 266-4275
Madison Gas & Electric Emergency Number: (800) 245-1123
City of Madison Building Inspector: (608) 256-4551