Dealing With Unwelcome Guests

Here at the TRC, we see a lot of folks who are down on their luck. Nationwide, long-term unemployed (those who have been searching for work for longer than 6 months) account for more than 1/3 of the folks who are unemployed, which means that some folks just can't catch a break.  We see tenants and landlords in this position, struggling to get their head, finally, above water. 

Sometimes, those folks have kind friends or family who are willing to help them; people who let those down-on-their-luck folks stay for a while till they start to make things work on their own.  Those folks are wonderful people, but not all charitable residencies end on friendly terms. Today, I'm writing about how to get that long-term person, that used-to-be-friend, out of the house. 

One of the trickier things in tenant-landlord law is that there really isn't a great definition of what a tenant is.  Wis. Stat. 704 doesn't really define a tenant (the closest it comes is to define a tenancy), and ATCP 134 defines a tenant as "a person occupying, or entitled to present or future occupancy of a dwelling unit under a rental agreement..." Since rental agreements can be verbal (or written, obviously), it means that saying to a friend, "hey, why don't you stay here for a few weeks until a spot at the shelter opens up," could be considered a rental agreement.

So, let's say that things aren't going well.  For example: Parent says to adult child that they can come back home for a while, and adult child isn't being a good, law-abiding citizen. Friend allows guest to stay, and guest doesn't adhere to the apartment complex's rules. In this way, those who are tenants or homeowners can become landlords, and find themselves wondering how to get help with getting this person to leave.

Some people end up in this situation and then call their police or sheriff, and sometimes law enforcement says that the folks who offered housing have to go through the eviction process in order to get the help of law enforcement to force those guests out.  People get a variety of responses in this situation, so you might start by calling your local police or sheriff.  If they tell you to call us, or to go through the eviction process, here's how:

(Please note that we are not attorneys here, and that this isn't legal advice.  If the steps listed don’t feel right to you, ask for more information from a trusted source).

Step 0. Are you safe? If you are not safe: Get some help!  Contact us or call your local Domestic Abuse agency, and figure out how to invoke the Safe Housing Act, where you can force someone out quickly if you are not safe.  More information on the Safe Housing Act is on our Ending Your Lease page.  Don't go through the other steps, if you're not safe.

Step 1. Try to work it out. This is obvious, yes, and most people try to work before they get to us, but it can be helpful to really, really think about it. Go into the conversation willing to give a little (somehow), and see if it can allow you to come to an agreement. If you do come to an agreement to end the lease, try filling out our form about mutually agreeing to end a rental agreement, or put it in writing after the fact.

Step 2. Send a non-renewal notice to the guest. If negotiating doesn't work, and you and your guest don't have some kind of agreement about when things will be over, then send a non-renewal notice to your guest's address (probably the same as yours), give at least 28 days, starting the day AFTER the day that the notice gets to them. Technically, you're treating this person as a "tenant at will" which means that you have some sort of non-traditional lease, that doesn't involve regular payment periods. (The laws about how to serve non-renewal notices are here).

Step 3. Wait for the day that the rental agreement is over - either the day you've agreed to in the Mutual Agreement Form, or for that 28 days to end in the Non-Renewal Notice. Once the rental agreement has clearly expired, then you can go down to your local county courthouse and file for an eviction (this is the form you fill out).  In this situation, the eviction would be for "Holding Over." It's a $94.50 charge to file for eviction, plus costs to serve the court papers. You can ask for the court fees to be waived if you are low income - file an Affidavit of Indigency. Once you file at the courthouse, they'll give you a hearing date to allow a judge or court commissioner* to hear your case. The Wisconsin Court System has a guide for the steps in an eviction. For more information about the eviction process, see our web page on Eviction (it's more from the tenant's perspective, but the facts are solid).  

Step 4. Go to court for eviction. Make sure you show up, and bring several copies of whatever written agreements you have, along with copies of your mutual agreement form, or non-renewal notice. See our Small Claims Court Tips here. If the judge or court commissioner* grants the eviction (technically, the "writ of restitution"), then follow their instructions about how to enact the order. Actual procedures vary by county, but it usually involves taking the writ of restitution to the sheriff, and scheduling the removal of the unwanted guest.

Step 5. Next time, get your agreements in writing.  It really does help, and it makes it easier to hold someone accountable to reasonable expectations. If nothing is in writing, it's not possible to evict someone for a breach of lease, or for holding over. So, get it in writing, while things are still cheerful.


* Hey! Did you know that if you get a small claims judgment by a court commissioner, and you don't like that judgment, then you can ask for a full trial with a judge?  It's like a do-over!  You can present your same argument to that judge during the trial and see if you can do it better.  Of course, the other guy gets that choice, too, so be aware that going in front of a court commissioner might lead to doing the whole rigmarole again in front of a judge.  This is much different than appealing a Small Claims judge's decision - that goes to the Court of Appeals where they don't look at the same argument, but rather, they review the court record to see if there were errors in the Small Claims Court process or application of law.