Repairs are an extremely common subject of housing counseling sessions at TRC. Here are some of the most common questions: Who is responsible for what? What are the options when repairs go unaddressed for too long? What does the law actually say? What other resources exist in Dane County to support tenants and landlords with repair issues? The following should provide helpful information to answer all of these questions. 

Landlord Obligations Under 704 Tenant Obligations Under 704 Landlord Obligations Under 134
Getting Repairs Done Useful Phone Numbers Bed Bugs
Carpet Cleaning Landlord Entry Mold
Lead Paint Constructive Eviction Rent Abatement
Renters Insurance Flooding Ending a Lease

Under Wis. Stat. 704. 07

Landlords must: 

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  • Make routine repairs to the rental unit to make sure the unit is kept in a "reasonable state of repair." 
  • Routine repairs include:
    •  maintaining supplied equipment (such as refrigerators, washers and dryers, heat, air conditioning, etc.)
    • Repairing plumbing, electrical wiring, machinery, or equipment that is a part of the rental unit and does not work 
    • Comply with local housing codes. 
    • Provide a working smoke detector on each floor, including the basement. If a tenant gives written notice that the smoke detector is not working, the landlord must fix it within five days. Wis. Stat. 101.145
    • Install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in all new and existing residential buildings. Wis. Stat. 101.149
  • Communicate to tenants, before they sign a lease or the landlord accepts any money from them, any building or housing code violation to which the following apply
    • The landlord must know about the violation. 
    • The violation must affect the specific rental unit the tenant is signing for 
    • The violation poses a health or safety concern. 
    • The violation still needs to be corrected. 
  • Provide a check-in sheet at the beginning of a tenant's occupancy of their rental unit so that that tenant may make a note of any existing repair issues. A tenant must return this within seven days. 
  • May not put any language in the lease which says the landlord may not deliver the premises in a fit or habitable condition as defined by law. 
  • May not put any language in the lease which states that the landlord does not have to maintain the premises during the tenancy. 
  • May not retaliate against the tenant if the tenant makes a good-faith complaint to the landlord, an agency such as the local building inspector or DATCP, or an elected public official (such as a city alder).  

Tenants must:

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  • Keep the apartment in a safe, sanitary condition. 
  • Keep the thermostat set at a reasonable temperature to prevent pipes and other equipment from freezing.
  • Reimburse the landlord for "reasonable costs" of repairs IF the premises are damaged by the tenant's (or the guests' of the tenant's) "actions or inactions." 
    • This language in the law is why tenants need to notify their landlord when they see a repair issue begin. For example, a tenant might notice a minor mold problem and choose not to tell their landlord about it. However, one outcome is that the mold spreads and creates a significant structural problem. In that case, the landlord may ask the tenant to pay for the mold treatment. In this case, the tenant's "inactions" would be not reporting the mold problem at its onset. 
  • Reasonable costs include: 
    • Materials provided or labor performed by the landlord.
    • Time the landlord spends purchasing or providing materials, supervising an agent of the landlord, or hiring a third-party contractor.
  • Tenants are also usually required to keep plumbing, electrical wiring, machinery, and equipment furnished with the premises in reasonable working order if a repair can be made at a minor cost related to the rent. (An example of this is changing lightbulbs). 
  • Tenants must comply with local housing codes. 
  • Keep working batteries in smoke detectors and give written notice to the landlord if the smoke detectors are not working correctly. Wis. Stat. 101.145

Under ATCP 134

Landlords must: 

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  • If a landlord promises repair, they must specify the date or time when the improvements will be completed. A landlord may not follow through on the promised deadline if circumstances arise that are out of their control. In that case, they must notify the tenant of the reasons and state a new deadline by which the repairs will be completed. 
  • Communicate to tenants before they sign a lease or the landlord accepts any money from them if any of the following situations apply to a tenant's unit: 
    • The unit doesn't have hot or cold water. 
    • The heat in living areas cannot be maintained at least 67 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.
    • The unit does not have electricity.
    • The unit has any other significant health or safety concerns.
    • The plumbing is not in good operating condition.
    • Sewage is not in good operating condition.
  • Give advance notice if they enter a tenant's unit to make repairs. Advance notice means at least 12 hours unless the tenant, upon being notified of the proposed entry, consents to a shorter period or waives the right to advance notice in a nonstandard rental provision.

Getting Repairs Done: Options for Tenants

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  1. Make a list
  2. Contact the landlord in writing. Typically, an email is an ideal way of doing this, but any written communication (such as a letter or text) can also work. Your written communication to the landlord should include the needed repairs and a reasonable time limit to do the work. You can base this on the issue's urgency and how long it might take to repair. If you speak in person, that's fine, but following up in writing is advisable. 
  3. Keep a written record of all communications. This record should include calls, emails, and in-person conversations. It should specify dates, times, and what was discussed. Having a record helps show that tenants made every effort to resolve the repair issues directly.
  4. Final written attempt. If the repair issues persist, write a letter, text, or email with a new deadline. Letters can even be sent by certified or registered mail. Inform the landlord that you can contact third-party agencies, such as your local building inspector or DATCP. 
  5. If the repair issues persist, you can contact your local building inspector. We have a list of contact information for local building inspectors below. 
    1. Suppose you live in an area where there is no building inspector. In that case, you can call a fire department (if the repair concern is something like faulty wiring, which poses a fire hazard), a public health inspector, or the Department of Safety and Professional Services.
    2. The City of Madison building inspector's process involves an initial inspection of the tenant's unit (and areas to which the tenant has access, such as a mailroom, laundry room, or fitness center). The building inspector has a checklist of items that must be up to code. If anything needs to be better, the landlord is given a written deadline by which the issues must be fixed, and a reinspection occurs. Suppose the necessary repairs must still be made by the inspector's deadline. In that case, you can initiate the process of claiming rent abatement through the City's rent abatement program. You can read more about rent abatement here.  
  6. Another option is contacting the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. The WI state government agency oversees many aspects of consumer-business law. The chapter of tenant-landlord law, ATCP 134, is under DATCP's jurisdiction, meaning that if you are a tenant with concerns related to the repair-focused section of this statute, you may file a complaint with DATCP
    1. ATCP 134 mainly deals with "promises to repair," so if your landlord made a promise to repair that they didn't follow through on, you may start the complaint process. 
    2. A note about the DATCP complaint process: 
      1. Their agency does not enforce anything in such a way that the building inspector could. 
      2. They follow up with both parties and offer mediation, which can result in a solution. 
      3. Complaints also go on file with the agency as a public record. 
      4. Finally, it may take up to 90 days to complete the complaint process, so it should not be seen as a solution to resolve repairs that significantly threaten a tenant's health and safety–that is a job for the building inspector. Think of it as another option for documenting and resolving the issue.

Are you considering withholding rent because of unaddressed repairs? 

Don't! We at the Tenant Resource Center never suggest tenants withhold rent, even when unaddressed repairs occur. Why?

  • Falling behind on rent, even if it is because of withholding rent due to unaddressed repair issues, could result in the landlord taking steps to pursue eviction for nonpayment of rent or issuing a nonrenewal notice. Other important things to keep in mind: 
    • A landlord beginning an eviction, in this case, is not retaliatory. 
    • Even if you only get a notice (such as a five-day notice to cure), the landlord will still have it on record that the notice was given. 
    • You could still be subject to any lawful late fees, thereby increasing the back-owed balance.
    • Even if an eviction is only filed and dismissed, it will remain on a tenant's record for several years. Having an eviction on your record on CCAP poses a significant barrier to housing. A default judgment of eviction (where a judge or court commissioner grants a Writ of Restitution, which authorizes the Dane County Sheriff to perform an eviction) can stay on a tenant's record for 20 years. 

Are you looking to move out instead?

Consider negotiating a mutual termination agreement first. You could mention that you will not take further action–such as contacting any third-party agencies such as DATCP or the building inspector–if the landlord agrees to let you out of your lease early. 


  • A mutual termination agreement gives a precise date by which a tenant is released from their obligation to their lease agreement. 
  • You may have to pay less overall than if you break your lease. 


  • A landlord is in no way required to offer a mutual termination agreement. 
  • It may require you to pay additional money or forfeit your security deposit. 

Break your lease. Breaking a lease is something tenants always have the right to do; if a lease has language that prohibits it, this renders the entire agreement void and unenforceable. In this case, you would let the landlord know when you are moving out and surrender the premises by turning the keys in. At that point, it becomes the landlord:


  • If you are a tenant and want out of your lease, this is the easiest way to go because it does not require a landlord's permission. 
  • The landlord is responsible for mitigating damages by finding a new tenant for the unit. The landlord may not legally let the unit sit vacant and make no effort to rent it. 


  • As the tenant, you do not know how long it will take for the landlord to find someone new. 
  • It also may be more challenging for the landlord to find a new tenant if the unit has significant repair issues. 

Suppose the repair issues are so severe that your unit is uninhabitable (common examples include extreme damage due to fire, flooding, or mold). In that case, you can move out under the argument of constructive eviction. 

Links to TRC's pages on common repair/repair adjacent issues

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Lead Paint 

Carpet Cleaning

Rent Abatement 

Constructive Eviction 

Ending a Lease

Renters Insurance


Useful Phone Numbers

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Emergency Utility Numbers

Madison Gas & Electric

(608) 252-7111 or (800) 245-1123

WE Energy

(800) 261-5325

Alliant Energy (Wisconsin Power & Light Co.)

(800) 255-4268

Wisconsin Public Service Corp.

(800) 450-7280 (Gas)

(800) 450-7240 (Electricity)

Xcel Energy

(800) 895-2999 (Gas)

(800) 895-1999 (Electricity)

Other Statewide Resources

Consumer Protection

(608) 224-4953

(800) 422-7128

Asbestos & Lead Section, Department of Health & Family Services

(608) 261-6876

Wisconsin Radon Information Centers

(888) 569-7236

Bat Conservation Corps of Wisconsin

(608) 837-BATS (2287)

Dane County Building Inspectors

Cottage Grove 


Cross Plains






City of Madison 

608-266-4551, (Spanish: 608-266-4216)


608-444-7510, 800-261-3898





Mount Horeb






Sun Prairie










* 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.