Stripping Away Tenant Rights

While many states continue to push for more stringent tenant protections, from rent control to eviction protections, Wisconsin is setting a very different trend, with lawmakers there on a path that may lead to the country’s most landlord-friendly laws.

Recent changes to the state’s landlord-tenant laws already have drawn the ire of tenant advocates and student renters. Now, an Assembly Bill just proposed will strip away even more tenant rights:

Abandoned Property

The law closes a loophole that covers how landlords must process abandoned property under forced eviction proceedings, making it easier for landlords to dispose of the property. The bill specifically targets counties that attempted to carved out exceptions to current state law.

Immunity for References

The bill provides a landlord with an exemption from civil liability for
providing a reference about a tenant’s rental performance to a prospective landlord. As under current law for employers, there is a presumption that the landlord is acting in good faith. The presumption may be overcome only by clear and convincing evidence that the landlord knowingly provided false information in the reference or made the reference maliciously.

Pest Control

An infestation of insects or other pests could constitute “damage” to the premises which would invoke the right of the landlord to elect whether to allow the tenant to remediate or repair the damage, or to remediate or repair the damage himself or herself, in which case the tenant must reimburse the landlord.


Under current law, a landlord must disclose to a prospective tenant certain housing code violations, including that the landlord has actual knowledge of the violation. The bill changes that criterion from the landlord having actual knowledge to the landlord having received written notice of the violation from a local housing code enforcement agency.

Local Laws

Under current law, municipalities are prohibited from enacting or enforcing certain ordinances relating to landlords and tenants, such as an ordinance imposing a moratorium on eviction actions or an ordinance that places certain limitations on what information a landlord may obtain and use concerning a prospective tenant. The bill additionally prohibits a municipality from enacting or enforcing an ordinance that limits a tenant’s responsibility, or a landlord’s right to recover, for any damage to, or neglect of, the premises; that requires a landlord to communicate to tenants any information that is not required to be communicated to tenants under federal or state law; or that requires a landlord to communicate to the municipality any information concerning the landlord unless the information is required under federal or state law or is required of all residential real property owners.

Security Deposits

Current law specifies what costs may be withheld from a security deposit and the timing for the return of a security deposit after a tenant removes from the premises. The bill limits these provisions to residential tenancies.

In addition, the bill provides that if a tenant is evicted from the premises, his or her security deposit must be returned within 21 days after either the date on which the tenant’s rental agreement terminates or the date on which a new tenant’s tenancy begins if the landlord re-rents the premises before the tenant’s rental agreement terminates.

Grounds for Eviction

Current law provides that a residential rental agreement is void and unenforceable if it contains a provision that does any of a number of certain specified things, including allowing the landlord to terminate the tenancy of a tenant if a crime is committed in or on the rental property, even if the tenant could not have prevented the crime.

The bill removes that item from the list of provisions that, if contained in a residential rental agreement, make it void and unenforceable.

Consumer Protections

Current law provides that any violation of the chapter of the statutes that contains the landlord-tenant provisions may constitute unfair methods of competition or unfair trade practices. The bill limits the landlord-tenant provisions that, if violated, may constitute unfair methods of competition or unfair trade practices to the provisions relating to withholding from and returning security deposits and the provisions that, if contained in a residential rental agreement, make it void and unenforceable.

Representation During Eviction

Current law provides that a person who is entitled to possession of real property may commence an eviction action. The bill adds that an agent of such a person, authorized in writing, may also commence the eviction action.

Under current law, a person who commences an eviction action may appear in his, her, or its own proper person or by an attorney. A person is considered to be appearing in its own proper person if it appears by a full-time authorized employee. The bill adds that a person may appear in its own proper person by a member, or an agent of a member or authorized employee, of the person.

Accepting Partial Rent Payments

Current law provides that an eviction action based on failure to pay rent may not be dismissed solely because the landlord accepts past due rent from the tenant after the termination of the tenant’s tenancy. The bill provides that an eviction action based on failure to pay rent or for any other reason may not be dismissed because the landlord accepts past due rent or any other payment from the tenant after serving notice of default or commencing the eviction action.

Check In Sheets

Under current law, a landlord must provide to a tenant when the tenant commences his or her occupancy of the premises a standardized information check-in sheet that contains an itemized description of the condition of the premises.

The bill changes this requirement so that the landlord must provide to the tenant a check-in sheet that the tenant may use to make comments about the condition of the premises.


Current law prohibits towing a vehicle trespass parking on a private parking lot or facility without the permission of the vehicle owner, unless a parking citation is issued by a traffic officer or a repossession judgment is issued.

Under this bill, if a vehicle is parked without authorization on private property, the vehicle may be towed immediately, at the vehicle owner’s expense and without the owner’s permission.

Eviction Procedures

The proposal makes changes to certain court procedures for eviction actions.

It would allow a court, by rule, to authorize that the summons in an eviction may be served by mail. The bill also shortens the time during which a defendant in an eviction must appear from 30 days to 20 days and requires the court to set the matter for a hearing within 20 days of the date of the initial appearance.

A writ of restitution would have to be issued within five days after the court enters judgment in the eviction action.

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