Wisconsin Foreclosure Laws and Procedures

Learn how a Wisconsin foreclosure works, including preforeclosure steps, foreclosure procedures, and homeowners’ rights under both state and federal laws.

Before the foreclosure crisis, which peaked in 2010, federal and state laws regulating mortgage servicers and foreclosure procedures were relatively limited and tended to favor foreclosing lenders. Now, however, federal and state laws heavily regulate loan servicing and foreclosure processes. And most of the laws give protections to borrowers.

Servicers generally have to provide borrowers with loss mitigation opportunities, account for each foreclosure step, and strictly comply with foreclosure laws. Also, most people who take out a loan to buy a residential property in Wisconsin sign a promissory note and mortgage. These documents give homeowners some contractual rights in addition to federal and state legal protections.

In a Wisconsin foreclosure, you'll most likely get the right to:

  • receive notice before the foreclosure in the form of a breach letter
  • apply for loss mitigation
  • get notice of the foreclosure and the chance to respond in court
  • get current on the loan and stop the foreclosure sale
  • receive special protections if you're in the military
  • pay off the loan to prevent a sale, and
  • get any excess money after a foreclosure sale.

So, don't get caught off guard if you're a Wisconsin homeowner who's behind in mortgage payments. Learn about each step in a Wisconsin foreclosure, from missing your first payment to a foreclosure sale. Once you understand the process, you can make the most of your situation and, hopefully, work out a way to save your home or at least get through the process with as little anxiety as possible.

What Is Preforeclosure?

The period after you fall behind in payments, but before a foreclosure officially starts, is generally called the "preforeclosure" stage. (Sometimes, people refer to the period before a foreclosure sale actually happens as "preforeclosure," too.) During this time, the servicer can charge you various fees, like late charges and inspection fees, and, in most cases, must inform you about ways to avoid foreclosure and send you a preforeclosure notice called a "breach letter."

Fees the Servicer Can Charge During Preforeclosure

If you miss a payment, most loans include a grace period of, say, ten or fifteen days, after which time the servicer will assess a late fee. Each month you miss a payment, the servicer will charge this fee. To find out the late charge amount and grace period for your loan, look at the promissory note you signed. You can also find this information on your monthly mortgage statement.

Also, many Wisconsin mortgages allow the lender (or the current loan holder, referred to as the "lender" in this article) to take necessary steps to protect its interest in the property. Property inspections are performed to ensure that the home is occupied and appropriately maintained. Inspections, which are generally drive-by, are usually ordered automatically once the loan goes into default and typically cost around $10 or $15.

Additional types of fees the servicer might charge include, among others, fees for broker's price opinions, which are like appraisals, and property preservation costs, such as for yard maintenance or winterizing an abandoned home.

Federal Mortgage Servicing Laws and Foreclosure Protections

Under federal mortgage servicing laws, if the property is your principal residence, the servicer must contact, or attempt to contact, you by phone to discuss loss mitigation options, like a loan modification, forbearance, or repayment plan, no later than 36 days after you miss a payment and again within 36 days after each following delinquency. No later than 45 days after missing a payment, the servicer has to inform you in writing about loss mitigation options that might be available and appoint personnel to help you try to work out a way to avoid foreclosure. A few exceptions are in place for some of these requirements, though, like if you've filed for bankruptcy or asked the servicer not to contact you pursuant to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. (12 C.F.R. § 1024.30, 12 C.F.R. § 1024.39, 12 C.F.R. § 1024.40).

Federal mortgage servicing laws also prohibit dual tracking (pursuing a foreclosure while a complete loss mitigation application is pending).

What Is a Breach Letter?

Many Wisconsin mortgages have a provision that requires the lender to send a notice, commonly called a "breach letter," informing you that the loan is in default before the lender can accelerate the loan. The breach letter gives you a chance to cure the default and avoid foreclosure.

When Can Foreclosure Start?

Under federal law, the servicer usually can't officially begin a foreclosure until you're more than 120 days past due on payments, subject to a few exceptions. (12 C.F.R. § 1024.41). This 120-day period provides most homeowners with ample opportunity to submit a loss mitigation application to the servicer.

What Is the Foreclosure Process in Wisconsin?

If you default on your mortgage payments for your home in Wisconsin, the foreclosure will be judicial.

How Judicial Foreclosures Work

A judicial foreclosure begins when the lender files a lawsuit asking a court for an order allowing a foreclosure sale. The lender gives notice of the suit by serving you a summons and complaint. Most people get 20 days to file an answer to the complaint. Along with the summons and complaint, you might receive notice about foreclosure mediation. Wisconsin's Department of Justice and Attorney General have established a Wisconsin Foreclosure Mediation Network, and foreclosure mediation is available in participating counties. Also, several counties in Wisconsin have their own mediation programs. For many of these programs, the lender has to attach a notice about mediation to the complaint, along with an application to participate.

If you don't respond to the suit, the lender will ask the court for, and probably receive, a default judgment, which will allow it to hold a foreclosure sale. But if you choose to defend the foreclosure lawsuit, the case will go through the litigation process. The lender might then ask the court to grant summary judgment. A summary judgment motion asks that the court grant judgment in favor of the lender because there's no dispute about the critical aspects of the case. If the court grants summary judgment for the lender—or you lose at trial—the judge will enter a judgment and order your home sold at auction.

A notice of the sale must be published in a newspaper once a week for three weeks. The notice also has to be advertised in a public place and posted on the county website, if the county has one, at least three weeks before the foreclosure sale date. (Wis. Stat. § 815.31).

The Foreclosure Sale

At the sale, the lender usually makes a credit bid. The lender can bid up to the total amount owed, including fees and costs, or it may bid less. In some states, including Wisconsin, when the lender is the high bidder at the sale but bids less than the total debt, it can get a deficiency judgment against the borrower. If the lender is the highest bidder, the property becomes what's called "Real Estate Owned" (REO).

But if a bidder, say a third party, is the highest bidder and offers more than you owe, and the sale results in excess proceeds—that is, money over and above what's needed to pay off all the liens on your property—you're entitled to that surplus money.

How Long Do You Have to Move Out After Foreclosure in Wisconsin?

You can stay in the home through the redemption period (see below) up until the court confirms the foreclosure sale. The order confirming the sale might also include a writ of assistance, which is an order from the court directing the sheriff to remove you (the foreclosed homeowner) from the property.

How Can I Stop a Foreclosure in Wisconsin?

A few potential ways to stop a foreclosure include reinstating the loan, redeeming the property before the sale, or filing for bankruptcy. (Of course, if you're able to work out a loss mitigation option, like a loan modification, that will also stop a foreclosure.)

Reinstating the Loan

Wisconsin law gives you the right to reinstate the loan before the judgment. The court will then dismiss the foreclosure. You may also reinstate after the judgment (before the sale), which will stay (postpone) the foreclosure; but if you default on payments again, the foreclosure will go ahead. (Wis. Stat. § 846.05).

Redeeming the Property

In some states, homeowners who lose their home to a foreclosure get a specific amount of time, called a "redemption period," after a foreclosure to repurchase the property from person or entity that bought the home at the sale. In Wisconsin, though, the redemption period happens before the sale. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 846.13). In Wisconsin, the redemption period is the time between the judgment and the foreclosure sale.

Wisconsin's redemption period law complicated and, depending on the circumstances, like whether the bank is seeking a deficiency judgment and when you signed the mortgage, the redemption period will be between five weeks and one year. If you need specific information about Wisconsin's redemption period law, talk to a foreclosure lawyer.

Filing for Bankruptcy

If you're facing a foreclosure, filing for bankruptcy might help. In fact, if a foreclosure sale is scheduled to occur in the next day or so, the best way to stop the sale immediately is by filing for bankruptcy. Once you file for bankruptcy, something called an "automatic stay" goes into effect. The stay functions as an injunction that prohibits the lender from foreclosing on your home or otherwise trying to collect its debt, at least temporarily.

In many cases, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy can delay the foreclosure by a matter of months. Or, if you want to save your home, filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy might be the answer. To find out about the options available to you, speak with a local bankruptcy attorney.

Wisconsin Deficiency Judgment Laws

In a foreclosure, the borrower's total mortgage debt sometimes exceeds the foreclosure sale price. The difference between the total debt and the sale price is called a "deficiency." For example, say the total debt owed is $400,000, but the home sells for $350,000 at the foreclosure sale. The deficiency is $50,000. In some states, the lender can seek a personal judgment against the debtor to recover the deficiency. Generally, once the lender gets a deficiency judgment, the lender may collect this amount—in our example, $50,000—from the borrower.

Deficiency judgments are allowed under Wisconsin law if the lender requests the judgment in the complaint. (Wis. Stat. § 846.04). However, lenders often waive the right to the deficiency to reduce the length of the redemption period. (Wis. Stat. § 846.101).

Where to Find Your State's Statutes and More Foreclosure Resources

In this article, you'll find details on foreclosure laws in Wisconsin, with citations to statutes so you can learn more. Statutes change, so checking them is always a good idea.

How to Find Federal Foreclosure Laws

If you're looking for federal laws, you might want to visit the Library of Congress's legal research website, which provides links to federal regulations and federal statutes.

How to Find State Foreclosure Laws

To find Wisconsin's laws, search online for "Wisconsin statutes" or "Wisconsin laws." Make sure you're reading the most recent, official laws. Usually, the URL will end in ".gov" or the statutes will be on an official state legislature webpage.

More Foreclosure Resources

For more information on federal mortgage servicing laws, as well as foreclosure relief options, go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website.

Although the programs under the Making Home Affordable (MHA) initiative have expired, the MHA website still contains useful information for homeowners facing foreclosure.

Getting Help

How courts and agencies interpret and apply laws can change. And some rules can even vary within a state. These are just some of the reasons to consider consulting a lawyer if you're facing a foreclosure. If you have questions about Wisconsin's foreclosure process or want to learn about potential defenses to a foreclosure and possibly fight the foreclosure in court, consider talking to a foreclosure attorney.

It's also a good idea to talk to a HUD-approved housing counselor if you want to learn about different loss mitigation options. You can use the CFPB's Find a Counselor tool to get a list of HUD-approved housing counseling agencies in your area. You can also call the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HOPE) Hotline, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 888-995-HOPE (4673).

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