The Eviction Process in Wisconsin: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers

An overview of Wisconsin eviction rules, forms, and procedures.

When evicting a tenant in Wisconsin, a landlord must carefully follow the rules and procedures set forth by Wisconsin law. If the landlord does not follow all the legal rules, the eviction may not be valid. This article will explain the basic rules and procedures the landlord or property manager must follow when evicting a tenant in Wisconsin.

Notice for Termination With Cause

A landlord must have legal cause to evict a tenant early, that is, before the term of the tenancy has expired. In Wisconsin, the most common legal causes are tenant failure to pay rent or violation of the lease or rental agreement. Before the landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the court, the landlord must terminate the tenancy. This is done by giving the tenant notice. The type of notice required will depend on the type of tenancy and the reason for the eviction.

Month-to-Month Tenancy:

  • Notice for Failure to Pay Rent: If the tenant is a month-to-month tenant and fails to pay rent, the landlord has two options when giving the tenant notice. The landlord can give the tenant a five-day notice to pay or vacate. This notice informs the tenant that the tenant has five days to either pay rent or move out of the rental unit, or the landlord will file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. The other option is for the landlord to give the tenant a 14-day notice to vacate. This notice informs the tenant that the tenant must move out of the rental unit by the end of 14 days (without giving the tenant the option to pay rent), or the landlord will file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant (see Wis. Stat. Ann. § 704.17(1)(a)).
  • Notice for Lease Violations: If the month-to-month tenant violates the lease or seriously damages the rental unit, the landlord can give the tenant a 14-day notice to vacate. This notice must inform the tenant that the tenant must move out of the rental unit within 14 days or the landlord will file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant (see Wis. Stat. Ann. § 704.17(1)(b)).
  • Notice for Drug- or Gang-Related Activity: If the month-to-month tenant is involved with drug- or gang-related activity and the police notifies the landlord of such, then the landlord can give the tenant a five-day notice to vacate. This notice must inform the tenant that the tenant has five days to move out of the rental unit, or the landlord will file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant (see Wis. Stat. Ann. § 704.17(1)(c)).

Fixed-Term Tenancy:

  • Notice for Failure to Pay Rent: If the tenant is in a fixed-term tenancy, such as for one year or less, and the tenant fails to pay rent, then the landlord can give the tenant a five-day notice to pay or vacate. This notice must inform the tenant that the tenant has five days to either pay rent or move out of the rental unit. If the landlord has already given the tenant this notice within one year, then the landlord can give the tenant a 14-day notice to vacate. This time, the tenant will not have the right to pay rent. Instead, the tenant will need to move by the end of the 14-day timeframe, or the landlord will file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant (see Wis. Stat. Ann. § 704.17(2)(a)). Eviction Notices for Nonpayment of Rent in Wisconsin has more information on this topic.
  • Notice for Lease Violations: If the tenant in a fixed-term tenancy violates the lease or seriously damages the rental unit, the landlord can give the tenant a five-day notice to remedy or vacate. This notice will inform the tenant that the tenant will have five days to either remedy the violation or move out of the rental unit. If the landlord has already given the tenant this notice within one year, then the landlord can give the tenant a 14-day notice to vacate. Under this notice, the tenant will not have the right to fix the violation. Instead, the tenant will be expected to move by the end of the 14-day period, or the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant (see Wis. Stat. Ann. § 704.17(2)(b)).
  • Notice for Drug- or Gang-Related Activity: If the fixed-term tenant is involved with drug- or gang-related activity and a law enforcement officer notifies the landlord of this, then the landlord can give the tenant a five-day notice to vacate. Under this notice, the tenant must move out of the rental unit within five days, or the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit against the tenant (see Wis. Stat. Ann. § 704.17(2)(c)).

Notice for Termination Without Cause

If a landlord does not have cause to evict a tenant, then the landlord must wait until the end of the tenancy before expecting the tenant to move out of the rental unit. In some cases, the landlord may still need to give the tenant written notice to move before the tenancy terminates.

Month-to-Month Tenancy

If the landlord wishes to end a month-to-month tenancy but does not have legal cause to do so, then the landlord must give the tenant a 28-day notice to vacate. This notice will inform the tenant that the tenancy will terminate in 28 days and the tenant must move out of the rental unit by that time (see Wis. Stat. Ann. § 704.19). Wisconsin Notice Requirements to Terminate a Month-to-Month Tenancy has more information on this topic.

Fixed-Term Lease

If the tenant has a fixed-term lease and the landlord wishes to end the tenancy but does not have cause, the landlord must wait until the end of the term before expecting the tenant to move. The landlord does not need to give the tenant written notice to move unless the lease requires it.

Tenant Eviction Defenses

Even though a landlord may have valid legal cause to evict a tenant, the tenant may have a valid legal defense and could choose to fight the eviction. Tenant defenses include the landlord discriminating against the tenant or failing to maintain the rental unit. The tenant’s decision to fight the eviction could mean that the cost of the eviction lawsuit increases or that the tenant will be able to remain in the rental unit for longer. Tenant Defenses to Evictions in Wisconsin has more information on this subject.

Removal of the Tenant

A tenant can only be removed from the rental unit after a landlord has won an eviction lawsuit against the tenant. At that point, the only person authorized to remove the tenant is a law enforcement officer. It is illegal for the landlord to ever attempt to force the tenant to move out of the rental unit, and the tenant could sue the landlord for trying. Illegal Eviction Procedures in Wisconsin has more information.

After an eviction has occurred, the landlord may find that the tenant has left behind personal property. If the landlord and the tenant had a written lease or rental agreement with a clause stating that the landlord will not store the tenant’s abandoned property, then the landlord can dispose of the property in any way that is legal (see Wis. Stat. Ann. § 704.05(5)(a); there is an exception for medications. The landlord must keep medications for seven days after the tenant has moved out before disposing of them).

If the landlord and the tenant did not have a written lease or rental agreement with a clause concerning abandoned property, then the tenant must follow an older statute (see Wis. Stat. Ann. § 704.05(bf)). Under this statute, the landlord must store the tenant’s abandoned property. The landlord must notify the tenant within ten days of storing the property. The tenant will then have 30 days to claim the property. If the tenant does not claim the property within 30 days, then the landlord can dispose of the property (see Wis. Stat. Ann. § 704.05(5), 2009 stats.)

Rationale for the Rules

Landlords must carefully follow all the rules and procedures required by Wisconsin law when evicting a tenant; otherwise, the eviction may not be valid. Although these rules and procedures may seem burdensome to the landlord, they are there for a reason. Evictions often occur very quickly, and the end result is serious: the tenant has lost a place to live. The rules help ensure the eviction is justified and that the tenant has enough time to find a new home.

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