New Tenant Landlord Laws Summarized - Tenant Resource Center

New Tenant Landlord Laws Summarized (Eff. 3/2/16)

This is the 5th change to tenant landlord laws in Wisconsin in 4.5 years. We at the Tenant Resource Center are exhausted from trying to keep up . . . the governor passed the bill on 2/29, it was published on 3/1 and went into effect on 3/2. The laws became available electronically on 3/17 (last Thursday) and here's our latest and greatest summary.

Here's the bill if you care to read it, its 6 pages that aren't exactly easy to read:  2015 Wis. Act 176

Here's Tenant Resource Center's summary, also available here (for printing):

Terminating a tenancy for criminal activity or “drug-related criminal activity.”

Landlords can serve a 5-day no-cure eviction notice if the tenant, a member of the tenant’s household, or any of their guests or other invitees, engages in:

  • criminal activity that threatens the health or safety of other tenants, or people residing in the “immediate vicinity” of the premises, or the landlord or their agent or employee; or
  • 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. 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 caregiver or worker. Wis. Stats. 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,
  • include:
    • 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. 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

Clarifies 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” with a 5-day no-cure notice. Wis. Stat. 704.19(2)(b)2., 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 28

This process cannot be used against the person who was the victim of the crime. Wis. Stat. 704.17(3m)(c), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 25


  • (9)  Allows 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, as defined in 950.02 (4), of that crime.
  • (10)  Allows the 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 required under 704.14.

Personal property of a “trespasser” on residential property (different definition from criminal trespasser).

“Trespasser” is a person who is not a tenant and enters or remains in residential property without the consent of the landlord or a person lawfully on the property. Wis. Stat. 704.055(1), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 21

Note: Wis. Stat. 704.05(5) still covers property left by a tenant who leaves or is evicted.

Landlords have to hold the property of a “trespasser” for 7 days from the date on which the landlord finds the property, if trespassers have left or have been removed from the property. After that, landlords can presume the “trespasser” has abandoned the property and can get rid of it in any way they find “appropriate,” within their sole discretion, unless the “trespasser” requests the property in writing before the landlord disposes of it. Wis. Stat 704.055(2)(a), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 21

If the landlord gets rid of the property via private or public sale, the landlord may send the proceeds of the sale, minus any costs of the sale and storage costs, to the Department of Administration for homeless programs. Wis. Stat. 704.055(2)(b), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 21

Note: All money received from interest on real estate trust accounts, and all money received under 704.05(5) and 704.055(2)(b) which are proceeds from sales of property left behind, will be used for grants to agencies and shelter facilities for homeless individuals. Wis. Stat. 20.505(7)(h), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 1

Creditors and others with an ownership or financing interest in the property (liens, etc.) may claim the property at any time before the landlord disposes of it or contracts to dispose of it, if the third party pays the landlord’s expenses for disposing of the property. Wis. Stat. 704.055(3), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 21

Other changes to criminal “trespassing” laws.

Law enforcement agencies must have a written policy regarding investigations for criminal trespass violations. If an officer has probable cause to arrest a person for criminal trespass to a property, the officer must remove that person. Wis. Stat. 175.403(2), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 17

The definition of criminal trespass to a property has been changed to not only include someone who “intentionally enters” a dwelling, but also for someone who “remains” in the dwelling without permission of another person who is lawfully on the property. If no person is lawfully on the property, then the “owner” determines if the person has consent to enter the dwelling. The law also requires a person to not only be there without permission, but to be creating a disturbance or breach of peace. This is a class A misdemeanor (fine up to $10,000 or 9 months in jail). Wis. Stat. 943.014(2). They also added a definition of a “dwelling,” which is a structure or part of a structure that is used or intended to be used as a home or residence by one or more people, regardless of whether it is currently occupied by a resident. Wis. Stat. 943.14(1), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 42

Note: This trespassing law is used by police at their discretion, in addition to, or in place of, a municipal ticket; or if/when they choose not to or don’t have a local trespass ticket that meets these specific circumstances; or if there are multiple violations or other aggravating factors. It may also be used by district attorneys when making charging decisions.

Terminating a periodic tenancy for breaches other than failure to pay rent.

For month to month tenants, the tenancy can be terminated if the landlord does any of the following:

  • Gives a 5-day notice with option to cure and the tenant fails to comply with the notice. The tenant is considered to be complying with the 5-day notice if the tenant takes “reasonable steps” to remedy the default or, if a payment of damages are appropriate protection for the landlord, the tenant makes a reasonable offer to pay the landlord for the lease violation. If within one year the tenant has another non-rent violation of the lease, the landlord can serve a 14-day no-cure notice requiring the tenant to leave within 14 days. Stat. 704.17(1)(b)1., 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 23
  • Gives the tenant a 14-day notice requiring the tenant to vacate (same as current law). Stat. 704.17(1)(b)2., 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 22

Note: This makes the month-to-month eviction process the same as the existing process for tenants with a term lease that is a year or less.

For leases that are one year or less and year-to-year tenancies, the process remains the same, except that for the second non-rent violation of the lease within one year, the landlord may give the 14-day notice at any time. They are no longer required to give the notice “prior to the tenant’s remedying the waste or breach.” Wis. Stat. 704.17(2)(b), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 24

Pre-empting local laws about building inspections.

No city, town, village, or county may pass an ordinance that requires:

Pre-empting local laws requiring rental property and/or owner/manager licensing, registration or certification.

No city, town, village, or county may pass an ordinance that:

  • Requires a (commercial or residential) rental property to be certified, registered or licensed. However, they can require a rental unit be registered if the registration consists only of providing the name of the owner, and authorized person to contact, and their contact information (address and telephone number). Stat. 66.0104(2)(e)4., 2015 Wis.Act 176, Section 8
  • Requires a residential rental property owner to register/obtain a license to own or manage residential rental property unless:
    • it applies uniformly to all residential rental properties, including owner-occupied rental property, and
    • it only requires information about the name of the landlord, the contact person, and their contact information (address and phone number). Stat. 66.0104(2)(g), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 10

Pre-empting local laws about occupancy and tenant transfer fees.

No city, town, village, or county may pass an ordinance that requires an occupancy or tenant transfer fee on a rental unit. Wis. Stat. 66.0104(2)(f), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 9

Pre-empting local laws building codes about fire safety.

Removes the provision that allowed cities, counties, villages or towns that had a pre-existing sprinkler ordinance to allow them to stay in effect. Wis. Stat. 66.1019(3), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 13 & 14

If a city, village or town has a contract with a multifamily housing owner that is not consistent with the state sprinkler laws or an order from the Department of Safety and Professional Services, the owner can waive that provision of the contract and, if waived, the lease is void and unenforceable. Wis. Stat. 101.02(7m), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 15

Municipal utilities not required to offer tenants a deferred payment agreement.

Municipal utility companies (electric, water, phone, cable, etc.) do not have to offer tenants a deferred payment schedule. The utility companies do not need approval from the Public Service Commission to offer plans, and the Public Service Commission cannot disapprove of them not offering payment plans. Wis. Stat. 66.0809(9), 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 12

Changes to the towing on private property laws.

If a landlord or any private property owner has properly posted signs or gets a ticket issued, an unauthorized vehicle can be immediately towed, at the vehicle owner’s expense, without the towing company actually contacting the law enforcement agency about the make, model, vehicle identification number and registration plate number of the vehicle and the location to which it will be removed. The towing company only needs to make a “good faith effort” to contact the law enforcement agency, except in Milwaukee (city of the 1st class) where they are required to notify, not just make a “good faith effort.” Wis. Stat. 349.13(3m)(dr)2., 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 18

The Department of Transportation will need to issue new rules about the fees that can be charged for removal and storage of the vehicle and towing, but only when no citation has been issued. If the property is properly posted with signs, the fees will not be determined by the department. Wis. Stat. 349.13(3m)(e)1. & 3., 2015 Wis. Act 176, Section 19 & 20

Allowing non-lawyers to represent landlords in municipal court cases involving an LLC (limited liability company).

If the defendant in a case is a limited liability corporation, the defendant appears “in person” if the person who appears is:

Other items in this bill.

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