New Changes to Landlord/Tenant Law Benefit Owners of Residential and Commercial Property
By Tom Larson
During the past legislative session, Governor Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature enacted many laws that will help bolster the commercial real estate industry. One of those laws is 2013 Wis. Act 76 (Act 76), which is aimed at improving the regulatory environment for owners of both residential and commercial rental property. The new law was passed in response to a growing number of municipalities enacting local ordinances to be more restrictive than state law and to override various provisions in rental agreements that some local officials believed treated tenants unfairly. NAIOP-WI worked closed with other organizations to enact these changes into law.
Prior to 2011, it had been decades since the legislature enacted a law to benefit landlords. However, since 2011, the legislature has enacted four legislative initiatives dealing with various aspects of landlord/tenant law.
The most recent enactment, Act 76, makes changes in several areas including limits on a tenant’s responsibility for damages, the towing of illegally parked vehicles, and disposal of a tenant’s abandoned property. Some of the specific changes in Act 76 include the following:
1. Prohibit Municipalities from Placing Limits on a Tenant’s Responsibility for Damages to the Premises. Under the Act, municipalities are prohibited from enacting local ordinances that limit a landlord’s right to recover damages or a tenant’s responsibility for neglect, damages or waste to the premises, or a tenant’s responsibility or a landlord’s right to recover for any other costs, expenses, fees, payments, or damages for which the tenant is responsible under the rental agreement or applicable law.
2. Prohibit Municipalities from Requiring Landlords to Distribute Materials to Tenants. Landlords are not required to distribute materials or information (like voter registration materials) unless required by state or federal law for all residential tenants or unless the ordinance regulates the manufacturing of drugs.
3. Limits the Ability of Municipalities to Require Landlords to Provide Contact Information. Landlords not required to provide municipalities with information concerning the landlord unless required under federal or state law, required of all residential real property owners, or solely landlord or agent contact information (landlord registry).
4. Towing Vehicles Illegally Parked in Posted Area. Allows landlords to tow vehicles illegally parked on private property that is properly posted. Posting must be clearly visible and warn that non-authorized vehicles will be immediately towed. The towing service must notify law enforcement and cannot remove vehicle if stolen. A vehicle owner responsible for towing fees not to exceed $35. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation will be promulgating rules regarding posting requirements, notice to law enforcement procedure and reasonable charges for removal and storage of vehicles.
5. Notice for Disposal of Tenant Personal Property at Inception or Renewal. Landlords may dispose of abandoned property left behind by a tenant who leaves in the manner the landlord deems appropriate provided advance notice given to tenant. Current law says the notice must be in the original rental agreement and all renewals; the amendment provides the notice may be given in the original rental agreement or a renewal.
6. Notice for Disposal of Tenant Personal Property When Tenant Evicted. Landlords may dispose of abandoned property left behind by tenant who is evicted in any manner that the landlord determines is appropriate provided advance notice given to tenant when the tenant enters into or renews the rental agreement. The landlord is not required to store the property.
7. Check-In Sheet. The landlord no longer has an obligation to complete the check-in sheet and describe the property condition. The terminology is modified to remove the words “information” and “standardized” as modifiers of “check-in sheet.” The amendment better captures the intended purpose of allowing tenants to point out existing conditions in the premises.
8. 21-Day Trigger for Return of Security Deposit (Wis. Stat. § 704.28(4)). Provides that 21 days begins when rental agreement ends or landlord rerents premises if tenant vacates or is evicted before rental agreement termination date; 21 days begins when landlord learns tenant has vacated or has been evicted if tenant vacates or is evicted after rental agreement termination date. Also, it clarifies that this section regarding security deposits (Wis. Sta. § 704.28) only applies to residential tenancies.
9. Acceptance of Rent or Other Payments. Clarifies that the landlord’s acceptance of past due rent or other payments after serving a notice of default or after commencing the eviction action is not a reason to dismiss eviction action.
10. Liability Protection for Landlords Giving Good Faith References Regarding Tenants. Similar to Wis. Stat. § 895.487 regarding employment references, this provision would provide civil immunity for landlords giving truthful references regarding tenants’ past rental performances.