My hopes that this week would be a little less stressful and full than the last two have had merit. Although there have still been some very long days, I am catching up on things instead of falling behind. I think I am going to take Sunday off and just be a vegetable. Saturday will be spent in Kenosha helping their Police Department with a landlord training program they have been doing. Tomorrow is the Feingold-Johnson debate. I am REALLY hoping that my question for the candidates makes the cut. And, of course tonight is the Dr. Rent Radio Show on WNRB-LP, 93.3 FM, from 5 to 6 PM.
My schedule really didn’t allow me time to do a show last week, and I again apologize for that. We will make up for it by having a really good show today. As part of my landlord-tenant law class I am doing for UWMC, questions come up all the time. Questions recently have included if a tenant doesn’t pay their last month’s rent, can the landlord just not send the deposit back? If a lease ends, and the landlord doesn’t want to renew the lease, do they have to? And, if a lease is not renewed and the tenant doesn’t leave, then what? For our main topic, we will start on one of the classes that I had written for the WAA conference a few weekends ago, “De-Stressing Distressed Properties.” It is a course that provides basic background of what you need to know before diving into the world of distressed (i.e. foreclosed) properties.
Although no show last week, I did do a show two weeks ago. Before the main topic, we had two questions. The first question was what happens if a landlord misses that 21 day deadline for returning the security deposit. Well, if the tenant chooses to pursue this in court, the tenant will be entitled to double the amount of the full deposit, plus reasonable attorneys fees (and there have been cases where the attorneys fees actually end up being exponentially higher than the deposit doubled). What if the reason the tenant didn’t get the deposit back was because the legitimate deductions ate up the entire deposit? The tenant still gets a statement explaining how the deposit was applied. If no statement, double deposit back. However, if the tenant goes to court, the landlord will still be able to counter-sue for those amounts the tenant owed. Except now, they will be coming off twice the deposit. So, if the tenant owed the landlord $600, and there was a $500 deposit, and the landlord missed the 21 day deadline completely, instead of the tenant owing the landlord $100, the landlord would owe the tenant $400 ($500 deposit x 2 = $1,000, – $600 = $400) – not including attorneys fees.
If the itemized statement was returned within the 21 days, but something was taken out of the deposit that was not allowed to come out of a deposit (say $50 in unpaid late fees), then only the amount that was “wrongfully withheld” gets doubled. So in this case, the tenant could not sue to double the entire deposit back, but they could sue for double that $50 back (of course again, they are entitled to reasonable attorneys fees and this is where it can get really expensive).
In another question, we had a lease where there were multiple tenants. One tenant wanted out of the lease and the landlord verbally said okay. However, a few days later the landlord realized that none of the remaining tenants had any source of income and changed their mind. Can they do that? Well… to be brutally honest, although technically they can’t, because it was all verbal, there is probably no way to prove it, so the landlord could change their mind and get away with it. ALWAYS get it in writing – PERIOD!! If I put in writing I will release you and then realize you were the only one with income, that is my bad. Normally, if I am going to do something like that, I will not agree to it until AFTER I have made sure the remaining tenants are financially capable. At the very least, I will put in writing that releasing the tenant from the lease will be subject to confirming the other tenants still qualify without you.
The main topic of the show last week was the Landlord & Tenant Rights (& Wrongs) presentation that I wrote for the Lincoln County Housing Fair. Again, here in the blog I am only going to summarize or this post would be a book long.
Tenants have the Right to Exclusive Possession – If the landlord is going to enter, they have to give at least 12 hours advance notice and can only enter at “reasonable times.” There are exceptions to this in the case of an emergency or to protect the property. The landlord can also change the entry provisions through a properly executed “Non-Standard Rental Provisions” form.
Tenants have the Right to Safe & Code-Compliant Housing – Statutory requirements of landlords include that they must keep areas in repair that they have control over. Landlords must provide those things that they agreed to provide in the lease. Landlords are required to make structural repairs and are required to comply with local housing codes. Although tenants have these rights, tenants must also know that they also must comply with local housing codes.
Landlords have the Right to Collect Rent – There are two parts to a lease: there is the part where the tenant gets to occupy the property, and there is the right for the landlord to collect rent. These two parts can be separated. If a tenant vacates the property before the end of the lease, that does not end their obligation to pay rent. Even if the tenant is forced to leave by the landlord through an eviction action; the eviction only ends their right to be there, it does NOT end their obligation to pay rent. However, in both cases, the landlord must make a reasonable effort to try to find a new tenant. The only time a tenant can move out and not be responsible for the rent after they leave is when they vacate because the property is uninhabitable (or untenantable is the legal term).
Tenants have the Right to be Fairly Considered for Housing – Although landlords can discriminate based on bone fide issues (which could include things like pets, amount of income, housing history, etc.), landlords cannot discriminate on certain protected classes. There are 7 federally protected classes (race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status and handicap) and 6 more Wisconsin state protected classes (age, marital status, source of income, sexual orientation, ancestry, and status as a victim of domestic abuse). Cities and counties can also create additional protected classes.
Tenants have the Right to Details – Landlords must disclose the exact unit the tenant is being considered for before accepting any money. Landlords must also disclose any non-rent charges, how to contact the landlord, what utilities are not included in the rent, and whether or not the property is in foreclosure.
Tenants have the Right to Get Their Security Deposit Back – We have talked about this before, tenants have to get either the deposit in full, or statement of accounting indicating what was withheld from the deposit within 21 days of “surrender”. Only specific things can come out of a deposit, such as rents, utilities, and damages. Other things can come out of a deposit if it is part of the contract and found in the “Non-Standard Rental Provisions”.
Landlords have the Right to Double Down – I mentioned in a question that I answered that tenants are entitled to double damages if the landlord doesn’t return the deposit. Double damages go both ways. If a tenant is in the property after their right to be there ends, the landlord is entitled to double rent (WI SS 704.27). If the tenant causes damage to the property that could be considered “waste”, then the landlord can also go to court for double damages on that (WI SS 844.19).
Finally, both Landlords and Tenants have the Right to Know What’s Right – For more information on Wisconsin’s laws as they relate to rentals, you can look in WI SS 704, which covers all real estate rentals, and ATCP Rule Chapter 134, which is specific to residential rentals. There is also a booklet put out by the WI Dept. of Consumer Protection called “The Wisconsin Way” which includes this information as well as other valuable information.
Well… its 8 AM… time to get to work… so until this evening’s radio program hits the air… HAPPY RENTING!