Summer Heat

When I talk to people that have moved to Wisconsin from other places, they often tell me that they are surprised with the intensity of the seasons here. Last winter was brutally cold (winter 2013-2014 was pretty cold for Wisconsin and comparatively mild for Alaska. Sigh). Springs often have floods. Summers have periods of intense heat and drought. Autumn is glorious. While we are free from hurricanes and earthquakes, we have tornadoes, hail, ice storms and snow.

Rental housing in Wisconsin isn't always successful in dealing with the extremes. As we let go of the tough winter, and look towards the summer, one question that we regularly get here at the TRC is: "My house is extremely hot. Is there an upper limit to how hot it can be?  

And the answer is, generally, no.  Here are some things to be aware of:

  • While the law establishes a lower limit on heat, there is no upper limitOne of the main Wisconsin laws to deal with heat in rentals is ATCP 134.04(2)(b)2.  This law says that before a tenant moves in, or before a landlord accepts any money from a tenant, that landlord has to disclose if the heat is not capable of maintaining at least 67°F in all living areas of the apartment, year round ("during all seasons of the year in which the dwelling unit may be occupied"). But while there is a lower limit (at least 67°F), there is no upper limit. The laws don't identify a point where it would be too hot to be livable. (Note: if you have a disability that requires an apartment not get too hot, then you could ask for a reasonable accommodation for a disability. More on that here.)
  • If air conditioning came with the rental, the landlord is probably required to maintain it.  Wis. Stat. 704.07(2)(a)2 says that it's the landlord's duty to maintain and repair "all equipment under the landlord's control necessary to supply services that the landlord has expressly or impliedly agreed to furnish to the tenant, such as... air conditioning." It means that even if the landlord were to pass along the window unit left by the previous tenant, then they probably need to keep it working. (Tenant strategies for dealing with Repairs, which a broken air conditioner would be, is on our Repairs page).
  • A tenant can always break their lease. However, they could use the heat as a reason that they shouldn't be responsible for rent after leaving. Leaving because of a condition that is "materially affecting the health or safety of the tenant" is allowed under Wis. Stat. 704.07(4), but is tricky one to prove, and is best saved as a last resort. This is how a tenant might put together this argument:*
    1. Have a strong paper trail documenting the heat. Include evidence that it is an extreme "health or safety" hazard, and makes the unit "untenantable." Try and figure out a way to work with the landlord to resolve the problem. If all else fails, write a letter explaining that the problem hasn't been fixed, and that you plan to move out as a result of the heat.
    2. Move out based on the time frame you've put in the letter.
    3. Keep track of the landlord's efforts to repair or re-rent the unit.
    4. Wait until the landlord sues you in small claims court for rent that the landlord feels is owed. Make your case to the judge, that you "constructively evicted." Small Claims Court tips are available here.


* 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.