In a college town like La Crosse, Wisconsin, it is not surprising that one in two residents lives in a rental property. If you are one of those tenants or landlords, or are preparing to help your own son or daughter find a place to rent this fall, it is important that you understand your basic rights and responsibilities.
While the details vary with individual leases, Wisconsin requires these basics.
- You cannot be unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, age, religion, sex, family status, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, legal source of income, or status as a victim of domestic / sexual violence. abuse / stalking.
- Your landlord cannot enter the property without prior notice, except in an emergency.
- You have the right to property that is not dangerous or lacks basic necessities. That means you are entitled to heat in the winter, intact windows, deadbolt locks on doors, smoke alarms, and other basics to keep you safe on the property.
- You have the right to know if there is lead paint on your property.
- You can (and should) request a check-in / check-out sheet before you move in. That sheet can help you identify problems with the property and determine if you can expect the landlord to fix it. If it is a critical feature, you can request that it be fixed. If it is cosmetic, the landlord can choose to repair it and you can also choose not to rent it. In either case, reviewing the checklist before you move in will ensure that the landlord cannot hold you responsible for broken fixtures or problems that existed before you moved in.
- Once you have rented, if you are in trouble and a landlord does not respond, you have the right to file a complaint with the city inspection department without retaliation from the landlord. Inspectors can order landlords to fix problems.
- If there is an issue that requires you to vacate the property, you may be entitled to a rent reduction, which is essentially a pro-rated rent refund.
- If you pay a security deposit, you have the right to receive a 21-day notice of the landlord’s intention to press charges against you. You may not be charged for normal wear and tear, including routine cleaning and maintenance.
- When the lease ends, you are entitled to a full refund of your security deposit balance within 21 days of vacating.
- You have the right to receive the rent in full and on time according to the details of your lease.
- You have the right to inspect the property 12 hours in advance. It is always better to notify in writing.
- You have the right to enter the property without prior notice in the event of an emergency, such as a flood or gas leak.
- You have the right to a tenant who does not destroy or abuse the property in such a way that its value decreases.
- You have the right to evict the tenant if you are using the property for illegal purposes, e.g, drug trafficking.
- When the lease ends, you have the right to retrieve your keys or charge the tenant for the costs of changing the property key.
- You have the right to request a security deposit, generally equal to one month’s rent. If you need to change a lock key or make repairs beyond normal wear and tear, you can deduct those fees from the deposit. It is best to keep a written record of such expenses.
- If the damages exceed the amount provided by a security deposit, you have the right to file a lawsuit to collect the balance.
- In cases where tenants violate the terms of a lease (e.g, non-payment, property damage, etc.), you can end the lease. For month-to-month tenants, you can provide a five-day notice, giving the tenant five days to correct the violation before requiring them to vacate. Alternatively, you can provide a 14-day notice that does not offer any option to keep the lease, but instead advises the tenants that the lease has ended and they have two weeks to vacate it. The notification rule is different for annual tenants.
- If the tenants do not move out before the established deadline, you can initiate an eviction process in small claims court.
Generally speaking, reputable landlords will use written leases to detail the general rules and principles that will apply throughout the life of the lease. Leases work best when used in conjunction with a lead paint disclosure form, if applicable, check-in and check-out lists, and a security deposit slip. Written records tend to be much more accurate than memory and are generally viewed by courts as more reliable. Given the ease of use of digital cameras, landlords and tenants often take photos of the property before and after the lease.
Landlord-tenant law can be very complex. If you, as a tenant or landlord, have a dispute regarding a rental property or a lease, the best thing to do is consult a real estate attorney who is experienced in rental property matters.
For both tenants and landlords, the City of La Crosse offers a Residential Rental Inspection Brochure that outlines the rights and responsibilities of both parties. It can also provide basic guidelines for renting elsewhere in Wisconsin.