Foreclosure Laws Are Back! - Tenant Resource Center

Foreclosure Laws Are Back!

Hello world! It is rare that I get to sit down and write something that feels like good news, but TODAY IS THAT DAY

But first, a flashback: it's the last day of the year of 2014, and even though it is a holiday, we at the TRC are mourning the loss of a protective law. December 31, 2014 was the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act's last day of life, and it sunsetted into the great beyond. And we were sad - without that law, tenants whose landlords are in foreclosures have no rights to: 1. know about the foreclosure, and 2., stay in the property once the rental unit officially ceases to belong to the landlord. Many tenants over the years, after faithfully paying their rent, have woken to discover that the sheriff is removing them, with no notice, due to no fault of their own. It was rough. 


For a lot of information: go to our Foreclosure page (where we explain the foreclosure process, and put the laws into context). It's been un-struck, and should be accurate. Also, go to the PTFA itself, only just pretend that the last section (Section 704, about it going away) isn't there. 

What the law means

The basic gist of this reinstated law is: In a foreclosure situation, where the landlord has defaulted on a mortgage with a bank, the tenant has rights to stay in the property. The tenant is allowed to stay:

  • until the end of the lease, unless the person who is buying the property will live in the unit as their primary residence. In that case, the new owner (once they have possession of the property) needs to give at least 90 days notice to the tenant to leave.
  • until the end of a 90 day notice, if the tenant has a month-to-month tenancy or a tenancy-at-will. 

Why we think this is true: this article explains the process this bill went through, and this Congress bill-tracking page shows the progression of the now-law (explaining that it's: 1. permanent (woohoo!), and 2. the same language as the 2009 bill except for Sec. 704 saying that the law will go away later on).

A weird thing: The bill that was passed says that the main body of the PTFA is "restored and revived as if the sunset provision in section 704 had not taken effect" (source). This is a little weird for us - we're more used to seeing effective dates (like, perhaps, the day it was signed, which was May 24, 2018). 

Please note: Wisconsin used to have some additional laws about how tenants have to be informed by the bank that a foreclosure action has begun, and that has not been reinstated - only the federal laws have been reinstated. So! While the tenant doesn't have to be informed by the owner/bank that a foreclosure is in process, a tenant is required to be given notice:

  • Within 10 days of the property being sold (ATCP 134.04(1)b), or
  • When there's a month-to-month tenancy, or if the new owner is going to occupy as a primary residence. Then, the new owner needs to give at least 90 days notice (PTFA Sec. 702(a)2).

How to figure out if the property is in foreclosure 

It can still be a good idea to know if the property is in foreclosure (if a tenant is thinking about signing a lease, or wondering why repairs aren't getting done), and there are some ways you can figure that out.

1. Call your County Register of Deeds. A list of contact info by county is here. Ask them how to learn if your property is in foreclosure.

2. Use the Wisconsin Court's public online records (aka CCAP): 

  • First Step: Figure out the exact legal name of the person or entity that owns the property. Your lease may have the correct name of the person who owns it, but another way to find out the legal name of the titleholder is to search on your city assessor's office/online lookup. (Madison's is here, Milwaukee's is here, and you can search online for others)
  • Second Step: Use that information to search on CCAP. CCAP is here. Click "I agree" and then plug in either the personal name of the owner (under "party name"), or the business name of the organization that owns the property (under "business name").

As a side note, CCAP does not always yield useful results. For example, a property that was foreclosed upon in 2010 was listed, in CCAP, not by its street address (1114 Mound St, Madison), but by its legal address (The West 40 feet of Lot 12, Block 7, Bowen's Addition, in the City of Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin.) So, um, yikes. The city assessor's website has many different ways to identify this property (parcel number, legal description, street address), so use the assessor's information to comb through all that while you're considering what may be on CCAP.

3. Dane County: Go to the Register of Deeds office, located at the City County Building in Room 110, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Madison, WI. Staff should be able to help you in finding out if the property is in foreclosure.

Alternatively, the sheriff keeps records for upcoming sales on this page. Search for your address. The sheriff only lists properties that are up for Sheriff Sale within the next month (or so). There are more extensive lists available at the City County Building, posted on the wall near the Wilson St. entrance.  If you wish to attend a Dane County Sheriff Sale, they take place every Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. in Room 2002 of the Public Safety Building, 115 W. Doty Street, Madison, WI. The website will note on which Tuesday the sale of a particular property will take place.

4. Milwaukee County: To figure out if any foreclosure action has been filed where you live, go down to the Milwaukee County Register of Deeds, located at the Milwaukee County courthouse, 901 N. 9th Street, Milwaukee WI, Room G-6, between 8am-4pm. If you have your address, they will search their records to find if the property is in foreclosure. There is no fee to do the search, and you do not have to bring any form of ID.

Alternatively, the Milwaukee County Sheriff has records for upcoming sales on this page. This information is not as complete as the Register of Deeds, but will give some leads on upcoming Sheriff Sales.

For Landlords:

It's tough luck to end up in a place where your rental property is being foreclosed, but here are some resources for you

* Hi! Did you know that we are not attorneys here at the TRC?  And this isn't legal advice, either.  If what we've written here doesn't sound right to you, talk about it with someone you trust. For help finding an attorney, check out our attorney referral list.


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