Moving Out of Your Old Place
- Try to schedule a check-out appointment with your landlord. If your landlord agrees to do this, make sure you leave with a signed copy of the check-out form. If the landlord notes things are dirty or damaged, you may offer to clean or fix them. Check-out forms are no longer required as of 12/21/2011, but they are still a good idea and a tenant should create one if the landlord doesn't provide one. Try to get the landlord to sign it agreeing to what the apartment looked like when you moved out. MGO 32.07(5)(a), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(b) Effective 12/21/11.
- If your landlord refuses to go through the apartment with you, complete your own check-out form and take pictures or a video documenting the condition of the apartment. If you have a witness, have them sign your check-out sheet as well.
- If your landlord presents you with a check-out form that lists damages that you or your guests did not cause, do not sign it. Instead, complete your own check-out form with a witness and keep a copy. You should also take pictures or a video to prove the condition of the apartment.
- Put your forwarding address on the check-out form. Landlords are no longer required by law to include a place for this after 3/1/14, but it's still a good practice. MGO 32.07(7)(b), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(d)1, 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 2
- Mail your check-out form to the landlord with a letter saying that you performed your own check-out. Make sure to keep a copy for yourself! Information about putting things in writing is available here.
- Don't "abandon" property! 2011 Wis. Act 143 lets the landlord write it into your lease that they may declare your property "abandoned" and sell or throw out any property you leave behind (except prescription medication and medical equipment, which must be returned upon request within 7 days). Wis. Stat. 704.05, 2011 Wis. Act 143, Sec. 5-15 Effective 3/31/12.
Getting Your Security Deposit Back
- Your landlord must return your security deposit and/or a written, itemized list of deductions within 21 days from the date your lease ends. ATCP 134.06(2)(a) Under the new laws, the landlord can do this in an e-mail or text message. Wis. Stat. 704.10(2), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 42, Effective 4/18/18.
- Landlords may only deduct from the security deposit for damage beyond normal wear and tear and unpaid rent and utilities. ATCP 134.06(3)(a)
It is illegal (and a prohibited provision in the City of Madison) to charge for routine carpet cleaning or deduct for it from the security deposit even if your lease states you must pay for carpet cleaning. The only exception is if you damaged the carpet beyond "normal wear and tear." If your landlord deducted money from your security deposit or is asking you to pay for routine carpet cleaning, inform them in writing that it is illegal. If your money is not returned, file a complaint with Consumer Protection (608) 224-4953 or (800) 422-7128. You can also file a complaint with the City Attorney at (608) 266-4511 in the City of Madison. ATCP 134.06(3)(c), MGO 32.11(9)
A new note in ATCP 134.06(3)(c) makes it clear that even though a landlord is allowed to write a lease saying the tenant has to pay for routine carpet cleaning, they may not take this out of the security deposit. Any carpet cleaning charges they collect in advance must be treated as part of a security deposit, which must be subject to a refund. Deductions cannot include "normal wear and tear." Essentially, a landlord would have to sue a tenant as a separate matter if they did not pay for routine carpet cleaning required by the lease. CR 14-038, Sec. 10, Effective. 11/1/15.
Dealing with Landlord Deductions and Violations
If the landlord violates any security deposit laws, you may:
Write a Letter to Your Landlord
Include any of the following that apply:
- A description of the violation of the 21-day limit for the return of your security deposit
- A description of each deduction that you disagree with, and a brief explanation of why
- A request for receipts to make sure that the landlord really made the repairs. This is no longer required by law, but you can still request it. MGO 32.07(7)(b), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(d)1, 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 2 Effective 3/01/14
- Specific mention of the law or laws that have been violated
- An explanation that you could take further action, including small claims court for double the amount wrongfully withheld, plus court costs and reasonable attorney's fees. MGO 32.07(10), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(b) Effective 12/21/2011
- A reasonable deadline for the landlord to return the total deposit (such as five days, one week, etc.).
Be sure to keep a copy of the letter for your records!
File a Complaint with Consumer Protection
You can easily file a complaint with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. They keep complaint records and will contact the landlord about the violation. To get a complaint form, call (608) 224-4953 or (800) 422-7128 or fill one out online.
Sue in Small Claims Court
After the deadline in your letter expires, if the landlord doesn't respond, you may sue your landlord in small claims court for double what was wrongfully withheld, plus court costs and reasonable attorney's fees. MGO 32.07(10), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(b) Effective 12/21/2011
To sue your landlord, go in person to your county courthouse and file a "summons and complaint." The fee is $94.50 (waivers available if you are low income) and the landlord will have to pay you for this if you win. The landlord may decide to not contest your suit, to settle with you, or to countersue. More information about Small Claims Court is available here.
In Dane County, you must go to Small Claims Court in the Dane County Court House at 215 S Hamilton St., Room L1007. When you get there you will be required to go through Weapons Screening. You will have to pass through a metal detector and all items will be sent through an X-Ray machine. The whole process is very similar to the security screening at an airport, so please plan accordingly. Once there, go to the basement, past the cafeteria, to Room L1007 (the Legal Resource Center) for the forms you need.
Moving Into Your New Place
Fill out the check-in form from your landlord. Your landlord is required to notify you, in writing, that you have seven days to report any pre-existing damages or defects. If the landlord fails to do so, it will be very difficult for them to prove the condition of the apartment if they try to make deductions from your security deposit. Wis. Stat. 704.08, Wis. Act 143, Sec. 18. Landlords were required to complete their copy of the check-in form between 3/31/12 and 2/28/14. Wis. Stat. 704.08, 2011 Wis. Act 143, Sec. 18, 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 13
If you didn't receive a check-in sheet, make your own or get one from the Tenant Resource Center. When filling out the check-in form, be thorough. The landlord cannot charge you for any existing damages that you include on the check-in form. Note problems such as stained carpets or damaged floors; cracked windows; torn or missing screens; nail holes; cracked paint; peeling wallpaper; dirty fixtures or appliances; stained walls and ceilings; plumbing, sinks, bathtubs and tiles that are worn, dirty, mildewed or not working properly; missing light bulbs, ice cube trays, broiler pans or glass light covers; electrical outlets or other items that do not work (light switches, stove burners, oven coils, etc.) and stained, scratched, or otherwise damaged countertops.
Before accepting any money, your landlord is required to notify you in writing that you may request a list of physical damages or defects, if any, that were charged to the previous tenant's security deposit. The landlord may require the tenant to make this request in writing. If the tenant requests a list, the landlord must provide it within 30 days or within 7 days of returning the security deposit, whichever is sooner.
Photograph or videotape the apartment upon move-in, being especially careful to document all damage and/or have a witness go through the apartment with you.
Make a copy of the completed check-in form for yourself and give the original to your landlord.
Start a rental file. Keep everything you get from the landlord, as well as copies of any written documents you send to the landlord and a log of any calls or visits with the landlord, including the date and time, the person you spoke with, and what you talked about. This way, if you ever end up in court or need to cite dates, you'll have clear documentation.
Dealing with a Dirty Apartment
If the apartment is dirty, either don't clean it and notify your landlord immediately to have it cleaned, or negotiate to have the landlord reimburse you for cleaning. Make sure you get a written agreement including the amount of the rent discount or any agreement for the landlord to pay wages per hour or cleaning supplies, and save your receipts. Consider negotiating a flat rate with the landlord to avoid arguing over the hours worked or amount paid for cleaning supplies.
If the landlord refuses to have the apartment cleaned or to pay you for the cleaning and the apartment is very dirty (moldy, animal feces), call your Building Inspector (for City of Madison residents, call (608) 266-4551).
For ongoing repair issues, see Repairs in the City of Madison.
Filling Out a Roommate Agreement
Many tenants, even close friends, end up having conflicts. To help avoid disputes about partners moving in, cleaning, subletting, pets, noise, smoking, etc., you and your roommates should fill out a roommate agreement. Often, just having this important conversation when things are still going well helps you prevent future problems! In case of disagreements (like who owes what for bills and rent) a roommate agreement is the best way to show who is responsible if you end up in court.
Sample roommate agreements are available at our office or on our website.
Living in Your Apartment
Safety and Security
- Door locks, chains, and deadbolts. Always lock your doors, even when you are home. Don't make your apartment and yourself easy targets for intruders by propping your door open or leaving it unlocked for friends or roommates. Always use your deadbolt and if you don't have one at least an inch long, request that your landlord install one. MGO 27.05(2)(h)
- Security-locked entrances. Controlled-access buildings are only secure if the common doors remain closed and locked when not in use. Remember, if you prop them open, you are compromising the safety of the whole building.
- Sliding doors. Unsecured sliding doors are a common target for break-ins. Be sure to use your patio door lock, plus a secondary locking device such as a stick in the sliding track to prevent the door from opening.
- 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. MGO 27.05(2)(h)
- Window coverings. Keep your curtains or blinds closed if you are away from home for a long period of time. Open window coverings make it easy for an intruder to see that you are either not home, or home alone.
- Window and ventilation locks. All first floor and second floor windows 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. MGO 27.05(2)(h)
- Parking lot lighting. Parking lots for more than three cars must have lighting. MGO 27.04(2)(g)
- Common area lighting. Be sure hallways and basements have adequate lighting. If bulbs are burned out, notify the landlord right away. Common area lighting is required by MGO 27.04(2)(g) & (h)
- Getting repairs completed. In most instances, the above-mentioned security measures are required by local building codes. Always notify the landlord if repairs are needed. If the landlord does not respond, call the City of Madison Building Inspector at (608) 266-4551
- Keys. Never label your keys or key chain with your house or unit number. If you lose them, your apartment will be at risk. Landlords are not obligated to change the locks between tenants except in special circumstances, but if you'd like the locks rekeyed and the landlord does not want to do it, you could offer to pay for the rekeying. You can ask your landlord for extra sets of keys, but you may be required to pay a small deposit.
Dealing with Problems
- Repairs and pests. If something needs fixing, contact your landlord, either in writing or with a written follow up. Based on how urgent it is, give a deadline for completion. Keep a copy for yourself for documentation. If your landlord still doesn't fix the problem, call the building inspector, or follow up again (in writing) informing them that you are going to call building inspection. The inspector will look at your apartment and order your landlord to fix any code violations. If your landlord does not complete the work order by a specified deadline, you could be eligible for rent abatement (refund). Do not start withholding rent on your own or you may be evicted! You must complete the rent abatement process with the building inspector's office before you can deduct from your rent. If you caused the damage through your action or inaction, the landlord can charge a "reasonable hourly rate" for their time, materials ,and time spent purchasing or providing materials, supervising their staff or agents, and hiring a third-party contractor. Wis. Stat. 704.07(3)(a), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Secs. 37 & 38, Effective 4/18/18. 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. Wis. Stat. 704.07(3)(a), 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 12, Effective 3/1/14.
- Emergencies. If your landlord doesn't respond and there is an emergency such as no heat, water, or electricity, calling the building inspector may be the first step (for City of Madison residents, call (608) 266-4551). You may have to make arrangements to stay elsewhere and try to fix part of the problem yourself (such as shutting off the main water valve). Building inspectors do not do repairs; they just order the landlord to do so.
- Landlord Entry. If your landlord enters without a 12-hour notice, you should write them a letter citing the dates of illegal entry as well as the law prohibiting it. If it continues, call (608) 224-4953 or (800) 422-7128 to file a complaint with Consumer Protection which will send a written warning to the landlord. You can also call your local police non-emergency number if you're home when the landlord tries to enter illegally (for City of Madison residents, call (608) 255-2345). For more information, see our Landlord Entry page. MGO 32.05(1)(d) & (e), ATCP 134.09(2), Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(d)1, 2013 Wis. Act 76, Sec. 2, Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(a)4
- Retaliation. It is unlawful for any landlord to retaliate against a tenant who exercises their rights. A landlord cannot issue an eviction notice, increase rent, decrease services, or threaten not to rent or renew a lease just because you asked for repairs or called the building inspector. If you think your landlord is retaliating, call the Tenant Resource Center for more information, see our Retaliation Page, and make sure to start by putting things in writing.
Your Next Apartment
Reasons Not to Sign a New Lease Early
- Roommate conflicts. The earlier you sign a lease, the more time there is for a falling out with your future roommates. Remember, you'll be living with these people for an entire year.
- Potential apartment problems. After living in your apartment for a while, you may find major problems, such as a bad heating system or a basement that floods in the springtime. If you renew early, you'll be stuck there for a second year.
- Unknown future plans. You may find a great opportunity for study abroad or an internship, but if you've already signed a lease, you might get stuck paying rent while you're away.
- Lower rent. Many landlords reduce rent prices as it gets closer to summer and they worry that their apartment might not get rented by August.
Once you sign a lease, you're stuck. Unless your landlord put illegal provisions in your lease or other special circumstances apply, you can't break a lease without consequences. There is no "3-day grace period," no medical excuse, no school transfer exception, etc. Although the landlord must attempt to re-rent the apartment after you leave, they can charge you for all expenses (except the cost of showing the apartment) incurred in doing so, plus the rent while the apartment is vacant. Subletting is an option, but you'll still be responsible for the apartment, and it can be hard to find sublessees. See Ending a Lease for more information.