This article summarizes some key Wisconsin Landlord-Tenant laws applicable to residential rental units.
We’ve used the Official State Statutes and other online sources cited below to research this information and it should be a good starting point in learning about the law.
With that said, our summary is not intended to be exhaustive or a substitute for qualified legal advice. Laws and statutes are always subject to change, and may even vary from county to county or city to city.
You are responsible for performing your own research and complying with all laws applicable to your unique situation.
If you have legal questions or concerns, we recommend consulting with the appropriate government agencies and/or a qualified lawyer in your area. Your local or state bar association may have a referral service that can help you find a lawyer with experience in landlord-tenant law.
Official Rules and Regulations
- Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.01 – 704.50 – Chapter 704 – Landlord and Tenant Statutes
- Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.01 – 134.10 – Chapter ATCP 134 – Residential Rental Practices (or download the PDF)
- LAW GUIDE: Important Numbers to Remember with Rental Agreements (PDF)
- “The Wisconsin Way” – A Guide for Landlords and Tenants (PDF)
- 2011 Assembly Bill 561
- There are various other Bills relating to Landlord-Tenant
- City of Madison:
- Security Deposit Maximum: No Limit! (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.06)
- Security Deposit Interest: No (source)
- Separate Security Deposit Bank Account: No
- Pet Deposits and Additional Fees: No separate pet deposit needed since there is no limit on what you can charge for a security deposit. Landlords can charge up to $20 to a tenant to perform a background/credit check (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.05(4))
- Deadline for Returning Security Deposit: 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. (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.06(2))
- Receipt of Deposit: Written Receipt is required if the deposit is paid for in cash, or if requested by the tenant. (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.03(2a))
- Require Written Description / Itemized List of Damages and Charges: Yes (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.06(4))
- Record Keeping of Deposit Withholdings: No Statute
Lease, Rent & Fees:
- Rent Increase Notice: 28 days notice for a Month-to-Month lease (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.19(3))
- Late Fees: Allowed, but all fees must be disclosed in the lease. (source)
- Prepaid Rent: Any rent payment that is more than one month’s prepaid rent is considered to be a security deposit. Nothing in the rules prevents a landlord from collecting more than one month’s rent as security. (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.02(11))
- Returned Check Fees: No Statute
- Receipt of Rent: Written receipt is required if tenant pays rent with cash. (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.03(2b))
- Pre-examination and Copies of Lease: Rental agreements and rules and regulations established by the landlord, if in writing, shall be furnished to prospective tenants for their inspection before a rental agreement is entered into, and before any earnest money or security deposit is accepted from the prospective tenant. Copies shall be given to the tenant at the time of agreement. (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.03(1))
- Automatic Lease Renewal: Tenants with a yearly lease must be reminded at least 15 to 30 days in advance of the landlord automatically renewing or extending the lease – assuming there is a provision in the lease. (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.15)
- Tenant Allowed to Withhold Rent for Failure to Provide Essential Services (Shelter, Water, Heat, etc.): Yes, if the property is severely damaged or uninhabitable (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.07(4))
- Tenant Allowed to Repair and Deduct Rent: No Statute
- Self-Help Evictions: No (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.09(7))
- Landlord Allowed to Recover Court and Attorney’s Fees: Yes (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 799.25(10))
- Landlord Must Make a Reasonable Attempt to Mitigate Damages to Lessee, including an Attempt to Rerent: Yes (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.29(2)(b))
Notices and Entry:
- SUMMARY: A tenant has 5 extra days to pay after it is due, then you can give them a Notice to Terminate (pay or vacate) which varies slightly depended on the type of the lease.
- Notice to Terminate a Month-to-Month Lease: 28 days (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.19(3))
- Notice to Terminate for Non-Payment or Breach of Lease – Week-to-week: 5 days (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.17(1))
- Notice to Terminate for Non-Payment or Breach of Lease – Month-to-Month: 14 days (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.17(1)) (PDF Guide)
- Notice to Terminate for Non-Payment or Breach of Lease – Yearly Lease: 14 days (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.17(2)(b))
- Notice to Terminate for Non-Payment or Breach of Lease – Lease longer than a Year: 30 days (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.17(3))
- Notice of date/time of Move-Out Inspection: No Statute
- Required Notice before Entry: 12 hours, but can be shorter if tenant agrees (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.05(2)) (PDF guide)
- Entry Allowed with Notice for Maintenance and Repairs: 12 hours, but can be shorter if tenant agrees (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.05(2)) (PDF guide)
- Emergency Entry Allowed without Notice: Yes (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.05(2)) (PDF guide)
- Entry Allowed During Tenant’s Extended Absence: Yes (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.05(2)) (PDF guide)
- Notice to Tenants before Pesticide Use: 12 hours, except in Madison which is 24 hours (source)
- Lockouts Allowed: No (source)
- Utility Shut-offs Allowed: No (source)
Disclosures and Miscellaneous Rules:
- Information Check-in Sheet: Landlord must provide a new residential tenant a check-in inspection sheet at the beginning of occupancy. Tenant has 7 days to complete and return it to the Landlord (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.04(8))
- Check-in Procedures: Tenants who pay a security deposit have 7 days from the start-date of the rental agreement to inspect the property for previous damages. Tenants should provide a written list of damages to their landlords, and keep a copy of the list for their personal records. Photos are also recommended. A tenant may also request a list of physical damages or defects, if any, charged to the previous tenant’s security deposit. The landlord may require the tenant to make this request, if any, in writing (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.06(1)(a)).
- Pre-existing Damages: If a tenant makes a request, the landlord shall provide the tenant with a list of all physical damages or defects charged to the previous tenant’s security deposit, regardless of whether those damages or defects have been repaired. The landlord shall provide the list within 30 days after the landlord receives the request, or within 7 days after the landlord notifies the previous tenant of the security deposit deductions, whichever occurs later. The landlord may explain that some or all of the listed damages or defects have been repaired, if that is the case. The landlord need not disclose the previous tenant’s identity, or the amounts withheld from the previous tenant’s security deposit. (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.06(1)(b))
- Special Treatment: A landlord cannot end or refuse to renew your tenancy based upon the fact that you or a member of your household is a victim of a documented act of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 106.50(5m)). A landlord may not evict a tenant solely because of their status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 106.50(5m)(dm)). Landlords are still allowed to evict anyone because of non-payment or a lease violation.
- Termination of Tenancy for Imminent Threat: Landlord and Tenant may terminate a tenancy if a tenant or a child of the tenant faces an imminent threat of serious physical harm from another person if the tenant remains on the premises. (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.16)
- Locks: Landlord must change the locks within 48 hours of tenant providing a certified copy of an injunction or criminal complaint in which the tenant is in jeopardy. The tenant is responsible for the cost of changing the locks. (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.16)
- Abandoned Personal Property: If a tenant leaves behind personal property, the landlord may presume, in the absence of a written agreement between the landlord and the tenant to the contrary, that the tenant has abandoned the personal property and may dispose of the abandoned personal property in any manner that the landlord, in his/her sole discretion, determines is appropriate (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.05(5)(a)). If landlord sells or auctions any of the tenant’s personal property, the proceeds must be given to the Wisconsin Department of Administration, which uses the money to help feed the homeless (Wis. Stat Ann. §§ 704.05(5)(2)). The specific time required between giving notice and selling the property are outlined in the 2011 Assembly Bill 561.
- Pesticide Use: Wisconsin’s pesticide law also requires that pesticide applicators provide residents with certain information at the time of the application. The information must be in writing and it should be left with an adult at the residence or placed near the entrance to the dwelling. (source)
Residents must be told:
- The applicator’s name, address and license number.
- A phone number that the resident can call for more information on the application.
- The brand name, product name or common chemical name of the pesticide applied.
- Amount of pesticide used and area treated or the concentration and total quantity of each pesticide applied.
- Any needed precautions such as how long to stay out of the treated area. If residents cannot enter the treated area, the applicator must also post a warning sign.
- The date and approximate starting and ending time of the application.
- Notice that a copy of the label is available upon request.
- Retaliation: A residential landlord may not increase rent, decrease services, bring an action for possession of the premises, refuse to renew a lease or threaten any of the foregoing, if there is evidence that the action or inaction would not occur but for the landlord’s retaliation against the tenant for doing any of the following (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.45):
- Making a good faith complaint about a defect in the premises to an elected public official or a local housing code enforcement agency.
- Complaining to the landlord about a violation of s. 704.07 or a local housing code applicable to the premises.
- Exercising a legal right relating to residential tenancies.
- Note: A landlord may bring an action for possession of the premises if the tenant has not paid rent (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.44(2))
- Code Violations and Conditions Affecting Habitability. Before entering into a rental agreement or accepting any earnest money or security deposit from the prospective tenant, the landlord shall disclose any code violations and conditions affecting habitability. (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.04(2))
- Identification of Landlord or Authorized Agents: Landlord shall disclose the names and addresses of all persons authorized to receive rent, manage the property, or have ownership in the property. (Wis. Admin. Code §§ 134.04(1))
- Small Claims Court Limits: 10,000 (Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 799.01(2))
- Eviction Cases Allowed: Yes ((Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 799.40)
- Wisconsin Small Claims Court
- Forms Library for Small Claims Court
- Basic Guide to Wisconsin Small Claims Actions (PDF)
- Basic Steps for Handling a Small Claims Case for Eviction (PDF)
- Business License required: No state-wide statute, but local cities and counties may have regulations and requirements. Check with your local (city or county) governing authority.
- City of Wausau: Rental Registration is Required
- City of La Crosse: Rental Inspections are Required
- Real Estate License: Property Management Companies must have a Real Estate Broker’s License; however the Property Owner does not. (source)
- City of Madison: Rental Property Emergency Contact Registration is Required
- FREE DOWNLOAD: Lease Addendum to Residential Lease (Rider) (Courtesy of the WRA)
- Wisconsin Small Claims Court
- Wisconsin State Courts
- Wisconsin Attorney General
- Wisconsin Tenant Resource Center
- State Bar of Wisconsin
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Wisconsin
- Wisconsin REALTORS® Association
- Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance
- Wisconsin Consumer’s Guide to Home Owners Insurance (PDF)
- Wisconsin Tenant Sourcebook (PDF)