This page covers the legality of rent increases, limitations on rent increases, and frequently asked questions about rent increases.
Limits on Rent Increases:
Wisconsin has no cap on how much rent can be increased (unless you are in income-restricted housing). Wis. Stat. 704 and ATCP 134 do not contain language about rent increases.
There is language in Wis. Stat. 66.1015 that states that "no city, village, town, or county may regulate the amount of rent or fees charged for the use of a residential rental dwelling unit." This means Wisconsin does not have rent control laws (or limits on how much landlords may charge for a market-rate apartment).
When it's illegal to raise rent:
A landlord may not raise your rent if:
You have already signed a lease.
- Your landlord may not raise your rent after you have already signed a lease with an agreed-upon amount.
It is the middle of a lease term.
- A lease term is any agreed-upon length of time that you will be renting an apartment. It is illegal for your landlord to change your rent in the middle of this period.
Different types of lease terms:
- Term Lease: you have a current lease with a beginning and ending date. You pay regularly (usually monthly) during that time. Example: the term is a year-long lease, beginning September 1st, 2023, and ending August 31st, 2024.
- Month-to-Month lease: you pay rent monthly, and your lease has no set end date. For month-to-month leases, the term starts on the day that rent is due (usually the 1st) and ends the day before the next payment is due. Example: the term is September 1st, 2023, to September 30th, 2023. You are technically a month-to-month tenant if you began your tenancy with a term lease (typically a year) and then continued your tenancy without signing another term lease.
- Other periodic tenancy: you pay rent at regular intervals (other than monthly), and your tenancy has no set end date. The duration of time in between rent payments is the term. The landlord may raise the rent for the next term, but not in the middle of one.
- Tenancy at will: this is the type of tenancy you have if you do not pay rent at set intervals or have a written lease (verbal leases are still valid and legally binding). In this case, your landlord may increase the rent at their discretion, with or without notice.
If you would like more information about types of tenancies, or if you need to know what kind of tenancy you have, you can find more information here.
Frequently Asked Questions:
When does my landlord have to tell me they are raising the rent for the next lease term?
Some leases do have language about when the landlord must notify you of a rent increase for a renewal. In that case, the landlord should follow their policy. If there is no policy, the landlord may tell you as soon or as late as they wish.
My landlord has offered me a renewal with a rent increase that I cannot afford. Can I negotiate a lower rate with them? How do I do that?
You can always attempt to negotiate parts of your lease with the landlord, including the rental rate. However, the landlord is not obligated to negotiate with you if they do not want to. If they are willing to, here are some things you could bring up:
- Compare the offered renewal rate to the Fair Market Rent rates set by HUD.
- Discuss the rates other tenants in the building are paying for the type of unit you live in (i.e., if you live in a 2-bedroom unit, talk to tenants who also live in 2-bedroom units) and bring this up to the landlord.
- Discuss the amenities you can access compared to those at other properties that rent at the same rate your landlord offered you.
- Sell yourself as a tenant. Do you always pay rent on time? Have you ever gotten any eviction notices? Any noise complaints? How long have you been a tenant? Negotiating may be more feasible if you have a strong rapport with your landlord.
If you and the landlord agree on a lower rental rate, ensure this agreement is in writing, and everyone has copies.
I've lived in the same unit for five years. My landlord has consistently only increased the rent by 5% yearly. They want to raise it by 20% for this next lease term. Is that allowed?
Yes. WI law prohibits rent control. Therefore, WI tenant/landlord law does not limit the percentages by which a landlord may raise the rent in market-rate housing. However, landlords should refrain from making these increases in the middle of the lease term.
Can my landlord raise my rent even if I'm in subsidized/income-restricted housing?
Yes, but there are restrictions depending on which type of subsidized housing you live in.
If you live in Public Housing, Multifamily Housing or are a Housing Choice Voucher (commonly known as Section 8 Voucher) holder, speaking with your Section 8 worker directly for details is best. If you need to find out who that is, the staff directory for the City of Madison Housing Authority is linked here, and the Dane County Housing Authority's is linked here.
The process is different if you live in Section 42 housing (sometimes called "moderately priced" housing). In that case, it is best to contact WHEDA directly about the limits on rent increases, which you can do here.
A few months ago, I had to call the building inspector because my landlord did not make repairs in my unit by the deadline they said they would. The inspector cited the landlord for the repair issues. The landlord has since increased my rent, and I believe it is because I complained to the building inspector. Can they do this?
Wis. Stat. 704.45 prohibits "retaliatory conduct," which you can read more about here. This means that if you, the tenant, exercise a right such as calling the building inspector to make a "good faith complaint" about unaddressed repairs, the landlord should not "increase rent, decrease services, or refuse to renew your lease" because you made that complaint.
If you are concerned that you have experienced a retaliatory rent increase, you have several options. Documenting the instances of retaliatory conduct in writing helps establish a timeline and create a paper trail of evidence. You may also file a complaint with DATCP (the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection) or contact a WI housing attorney to take legal action.
My landlord offered me the opportunity to renew my lease. However, the rental rate on my renewal was much higher than what the landlord offered other tenants in the same types of units. Can they do that?
This is tricky. Nothing in Wisconsin tenant/landlord law states that landlords with multiple units of the same size and amenities must charge the same for each.
However, this could potentially be a form of illegal discrimination. For example, if you are the only BIPOC tenant in the building and know that your landlord offered all white tenants a lower rental rate, this could be a red flag indicating potential illegal discrimination.
Several organizations in both the Madison area and Dane County can provide more information about illegal discrimination, including options for filing complaints, conducting investigations, and taking legal action. You can contact the Fair Housing Center of Greater Madison, the City of Madison Department of Civil Rights, or the Dane County Office for Equity and Inclusion.
*Note: We aren't attorneys at the Tenant Resource Center, and no part of this information should be regarded as legal advice. Our services aren't intended to replace an individual's responsibility to be familiar with the law. If you need legal assistance or representation, please contact a Wisconsin housing attorney.