A new law passed earlier this year made several changes to Chapter 704 of the Wisconsin Statutes that impact the rights of residential landlords and tenants. The following is a brief summary of some of the most significant changes:

1. Disposing of Tenant’s Personal Property. Absent a written agreement to the contrary, a landlord may now presume that any property left behind by the tenant has been abandoned and may dispose of such property as the landlord deems appropriate (including by private or public sale). For this provision to apply, the landlord must provide the tenant with written notice prior executing the lease that landlord does not intend to store the tenant’s property.

2. Disclosures by Landlords. Landlords are now required to disclose to prospective tenants any building or housing code violations that the landlord is aware of that affect the lease space, or are a significant threat to health or safety and have not been corrected. This disclosure must be made prior to the execution of a lease or acceptance of any money by landlord.

3. Check-In Procedures. For all new tenants (not renewals) landlords must provide a standardized check-in sheet to the tenant with an itemized description of the condition of the premises at the time of check-in. The tenant has seven days to complete the check-in sheet and return it to the landlord.

4. Damages for Failure to Vacate. If a tenant remains in possession of the premises beyond the end of the lease term without the landlord’s consent, then the landlord is entitled to damages of at least twice the rental value for the space apportioned on a daily basis.

5. Security Deposit Requirements. If a landlord wants to have the ability to withhold any portion of the tenant’s security deposit for any reason other than those specifically stated in the statute, then those additional items must be contained in a separate document titled “NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISIONS” and signed by the tenant. The landlord must also discuss each of the additional items with the tenant.

6. Potential Remedies for Tenants. In what might be the most significant change, the new law also provides that a violation of Chapter 704 of Wisconsin Statutes “may also constitute unfair methods of competition or unfair trade practices under Wis. Stat. § 100.20. The effect of this language is to allow the tenant to seek the remedies available under Wis. Stat. § 100.20, which include double damages and the recovery of attorneys’ fees.

Landlords should review their form residential leases to ensure that they are in compliance with the new law. In addition, some aspects of the new law also apply to commercial landlords and tenants. The real estate attorneys at Anderson O’Brien can answer any questions you may have about the new law and how it may apply to your lease agreement.

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