Both landlords and tenants should be able to deal with many legal questions and problems without a lawyer, once they understand the basics of state law. This overview of key landlord-tenant laws in Wisconsin will get you started.
Under Wisconsin law, landlords must disclose specific information to tenants (usually in the lease or rental agreement), such as any major problems that affect the rental's habitability and the identity of anyone authorized to act on the landlord's behalf. For a full list, see Wisconsin Required Landlord Disclosures.
Wisconsin state law does not limit how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit. However, it does limit when it must be returned (within 21 days after a tenant moves), and sets other restrictions on deposits. SeeWisconsin Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines for more on the subject.
Tenants can sue landlords in small claims court for the return of their deposit, up to a dollar amount of $10,000. There is no limit in eviction cases. See Filing a Security Deposit Lawsuit in Wisconsin Small Claims Court for advice for tenants filing suit. Landlords defending a security deposit lawsuit should check out Wisconsin Landlord's Guide to Security Deposit Disputes in Small Claims Court.
State law regulates several rent-related issues, including how and when landlords can use an Unconditional Quit notice to file for eviction when a tenant has failed to pay the rent on time. For details, see Wisconsin Termination for Nonpayment of Rent and Other Rent Rules.
Tenants may withhold rent if a landlord fails to take care of important repairs, such as a broken heater. For specifics, see Wisconsin Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent.
State laws specify when and how a landlord may terminate a tenancy. For example, a landlord may give Wisconsin tenants with a leases of less than one year or that are year-to-year who have failed to pay rent on time an unconditional quit notice that gives the tenant 14 days to move out before the landlord can file for eviction. SeeState Laws on Unconditional Quit Terminations and State Laws on Termination for Violation of Lease for details on these types of termination notices in Wisconsin.
Several other landlord-tenant laws in Wisconsin affect both property owners and renters, including:
If you want to read the text of a law itself, such as state security deposit rules, you'll find citations in many of the articles and charts included in the State Landlord-Tenant Laws section of the Nolo site. To access the statutes, go to the Wisconsin Laws and Legal Information section of the Nolo site and find the link to your state laws.
If you just want to browse through the Wisconsin landlord-tenant law, you can find state statutes at Wis. Stat. Ann. § § 704.01 to 704.95; Wis. Admin. Code § §134.01 to 134.10. You can search the table of contents for the landlord-tenant statutes. Or, if you don't know the exact statute number, you can enter a keyword that is likely to be in it, such as "nonpayment of rent."
In addition to accessing state laws via Nolo's website, Wisconsin statutes are available in many public libraries and in most law libraries that are open to the public (typically found in a county courthouse or at the state capitol or in a publicly-funded law school).
Cities and counties often pass local ordinances, such as health and safety standards, noise and nuisance regulations, and antidiscrimination rules that affect landlords and tenants. Many municipalities have websites —just search for the name of a particular city in Wisconsin and then do a search when you're on the site.
State and Local Government on the Net and Municode are good sources for finding local governments online. Also, your local public library or office of the city attorney, mayor, or city or county manager can provide information on local ordinances that affect landlords and tenants in Wisconsin.
While most landlords and tenants will primarily be concerned with state law in Wisconsin, several federal laws come into play. Congress has enacted laws, and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have adopted regulations, covering discrimination and landlord responsibilities to disclose environmental health hazards, such as lead-based paint.
The U.S. Code is the starting place for most federal statutory research. It consists of 50 separate numbered titles, each covering a specific subject matter. Most federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR"), also organized by subject into 50 separate titles.
To access the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations online, see Nolo's Federal Law Resources page. Also, the Cornell Legal Information Institute provides the entire U.S. Code as well as the Code of Federal Regulations. Finally, check USA.gov, the official U.S. website for government information.
Nolo's Laws and Legal Research page includes links to state and federal laws, explains how to research and understand statutes, and provides advice on finding local ordinances and court cases, including Supreme Court cases. To go further, check out Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, by Stephen Elias and the Editors of Nolo (Nolo). This nontechnical book gives easy-to-use, step-by-step instructions on how to find legal information.