Double Trouble

It has been a busy week, and it will continue to be. Tuesday afternoon I was in Sun Prairie, yesterday was Madison, starting tomorrow and for the next week I am flying solo as my property manager is going on vacation to Florida (lucky her), and on Saturday I have a meeting in Baraboo in the late morning that goes through the afternoon, and an evening meeting in Janesville.

Of course tonight, is the Dr Rent show on WNRB-LP. You can tune in from 5 to 6 PM on 93.3 FM in the greater Wausau area, or tune in from anywhere online at

Last week’s show was dedicated to questions that had come up since my last show before the holidays.

I had a landlord contact me doing some research looking for a law that doesn’t allow a landlord change a utility into the tenants’ name. I know that Public Service won’t let you do it. I also know that bad things can happen if you could do this. I actually had a bad thing happen to me when it didn’t occur to me that a duplex that I have has separate utilities, but the pump for the well is in one half. That never occurred to me to be a problem until this last summer, the tenant in that half didn’t pay their electric bill, and when the power was shut off, the well pump now didn’t have power and knocked out water going to both sides of the duplex. I couldn’t find the law, but when I get a question I can’t answer, I find people smarter than me to ask. So, I posed the question to two other people, one an attorney and one an employee of a utility company. Both agreed it is bad policy, but neither were aware of the law. However, the person who originally posed the question did find it yesterday, WI SS 196.643 (2).

We also had a question about what happens when a tenant dies. Basically, the lease is binding on the estate. Now, whether the landlord is going to pursue a claim against the estate is a personal/business decision. However, the landlord does not have a claim on the family, unless there were other people who were signed onto the lease. Actually, this was the subject of AB-543, the Assembly Bill I went to Madison yesterday to testify on.

We then covered a question that was actually my question, that I had to contact my attorney friend for a clarification that had to do with the doubling of security deposits. When looking at case law, there are cases where the entire deposit gets doubled, and then there are cases where only the amount of the deposit that is wrongfully withheld gets doubled. So my question to Attorney Schmidt was… which is it?

For example, if there is a $500 deposit and a $250 water bill. Does the entire $500 get doubled to $1,000 and then you file a counter claim for $250, for a net $750 to the tenant… or since only $250 was “wrongfully withheld”, do you double that for $500 back to the tenant? Basically, it depends.

If the 21 day deadline is missed completely, the tenant is entitled to double the entire deposit if they pursue this in court (and the landlord is entitled to counterclaim for their damages). However, if the deposit or statement was returned within the proper deadline, but some of the charges that were deducted were improper (say that $250 was not a water bill, but was instead a charge for routine carpet cleaning), then the tenant is only entitled to double the amount that was wrongfully withheld, not double the entire amount. Of course in either case, the law also allows the tenant to collect attorney fees and court costs, which could easily be exponentially higher than the original claim.

A question I often get at this time of year is whether or not there are any protections for tenants against eviction actions during the winter months. In Wisconsin, that answer is no. Tenants will often believe that you cannot evict in winter, and I am guessing that belief comes from restrictions placed on the termination of certain utilities in winter.

Finally, a question came up on what can a landlord do if, after they move or are evicted, they have left behind some vehicles in the yard. Often when you call the police, the police will tell you that they are on private property, and therefore not their problem. However, you will not get this answer from the Wausau PD or Everest Metro, because they have both been made aware of WI SS 342.40 which does indicate that an “abandoned vehicle” is a police problem if it is in the public view, even if it is located on private property.

On tonight’s show, we will cover the question we didn’t get to last week that discusses the messy situation of when tenant’s break up but both of them are on the lease. I will also summarize what happened in Madison yesterday at the hearing for AB 543. Our main topic will be very timely, as we discuss the Wisconsin Homestead Tax Credit, and the Rent Certificates.

A quick reminder that the Rent Smart program is coming up on January 26th. See last weeks blog post for more information, you can also check out the website of Attorney Schimdt for more info.

So until later this evening, HAPPY RENTING!


About drrent

Wausau, Wisconsin Landlord, past president of the Wisconsin Apartment Association, Host of the Dr Rent Radio Show on WNRB-LP, 93.3 FM, Wausau, WI
This entry was posted in AB 543, Death, Double Damages, Homestead Credit, Questions, Rent Certificate, Rent Smart, Security Deposit, Water Bills, Winter, WNRB and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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