Fair Housing Laws - Tenant Resource Center

Fair Housing Laws

Note: Was your lease signed or did your concern start before 4/18/18? If so, please see the bottom of this page for law changes that may impact your situation. For quick summaries of the many many law changes, see our Law Changes Page.

What Issues Are Covered by Tenant-Landlord Laws?

Tenant-landlord laws address a wide variety of topics, such as:

  • Applying for housing
  • Returning a security deposit
  • Breaking, ending, or changing a lease
  • Landlord entry
  • Repairs
  • Eviction
  • Retaliation
  • Dealing with noisy neighbors

Where Can I Get Help?

The Tenant Resource Center, located in Madison, offers the following services to tenants and landlords throughout Wisconsin:

  • Information about your rights and obligations under state law and local ordinances
  • Copies of leases, rental applications, and other useful forms and sample letters
  • Materials in Spanish
  • Referrals to private attorneys, legal services, and other agencies
  • Assistance locating emergency rental assistance (Dane County only)
  • Publications for tenants and landlords
  • Presentations to groups and organizations (fees if outside Dane County)
  • Mediation for tenants and landlords in eviction court or in other rental disputes (Dane County only)
  • Housing and resource lists
  • Limited case management 

What Issues Are Covered by Fair Housing Laws

Fair housing laws address illegal discrimination in the housing market. In Dane County, it is illegal to deny housing or treat someone differently based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex
  • National Origin/Ancestry
  • Religion
  • Family Status (household composition, including presence of children in a household)
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Marital Status
  • Victims of Domestic Abuse or Other Crimes
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Lawful Source of Income
  • Arrest/Conviction Record DCO 31.11(1)(e), former MGO 39.03(4)(d), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(a)1.e (there are some protections in this HUD memo)
  • Physical Appearance
  • Political Beliefs
  • Military Discharge Status
  • Student Status
  • Gender Identity (City of Madison Only)
  • Receipt of Section 8 Resources (Dane County and City of Madison)
  • Citizenship Status
  • Not Providing a Social Security Number on an Application (City of Madison and Dane County only) DCO 31.15, MGO 32.12(7)(b), former MGO 39.03(4)(d), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(a)1.f

Where Can I Get Help?

The Fair Housing Center of Greater Madison serves residents of Dane County. These services include:

  • Intake of fair housing complaints, case management, and counseling complainants on options for legal remedies
  • Investigation on behalf of people alleging housing discrimination
  • Fair housing presentations to housing consumers, providers, and the general public

What Kind of Housing Question Do You Have?

Frequently, housing questions involve either tenant-landlord or fair housing law:

  • A landlord told me he wouldn't rent a second-floor unit to me because I have children. Is this legal? This is a fair housing question - call the Fair Housing Center.
  • I moved out a month ago and haven't heard anything about my security deposit. Can the landlord just keep my money? This is a tenant-landlord question - call the Tenant Resource Center.
  • My rental manager is trying to charge me a monthly fee for my service animal. Is this legal? This is a fair housing question - call the Fair Housing Center.
  • I found a 5-day eviction notice for nonpayment on my door today. Does this mean I was evicted and have to move? This is a tenant-landlord question - call the Tenant Resource Center.
  • A landlord told me no apartments were available, but I still see the complex advertised. I'm African American; could this treatment be because of my race? This is a fair housing question - call the Fair Housing Center.
  • My apartment complex is falling apart and the landlord refuses to make repairs. Doesn't he have an obligation to make them? This is a tenant-landlord question - call the Tenant Resource Center.

These two areas of housing law are separate in our state and local laws, but they are often experienced simultaneously or in combination.

For example, the same tenant who feels she's been illegally denied an apartment because of her race may also be having trouble getting her application fees back from the landlord who denied her. This person would want to contact both agencies.

Find Out More About Your Rights

If you are not sure whether you have a fair housing or tenant-landlord question, call either agency. After talking with you, the counselor will suggest that you contact the other agency if that seems like an appropriate referral.




The laws changed in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. Many factors can determine which laws apply to your situation, including when the problem occurred, when the lease was signed or renewed, and when an eviction took place. If your lease was signed or problem started before 4/18/18 you will want to carefully review the language of the law to determine if it applies to your situation.

Purple text applies to leases and events as of 12/21/11 (2011 Wis. Act 108) Summary

Orange text applies to leases and events as of 3/31/12 (2011 Wis. Act 143Summary

Green text applies to leases and events as of 3/1/14 (2013 Wis. Act 76Summary WI, Summary Dane Co.

Blue text applies to leases and events as of 11/1/15 (CR 14-038) Summary

Maroon text applies to leases and events as of 3/2/16 (2015 Wis. Act. 176) Summary

Brown text applies to leases and events as of 4/18/18 (2017 Wis. Act 317) Summary

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 request double damages, court costs and reasonable attorney fees when you sue your landlord.

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