November 13, 2023

Landlord Tenant Laws In Wisconsin

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Have you ever found yourself in a tricky situation with a tenant or as a landlord yourself, unsure about your rights and responsibilities? As landlords and real estate investors, understanding landlord-tenant laws is not just a matter of compliance, but also a way to foster good relationships with your tenants and protect your investment. In the state of Wisconsin, these laws play a crucial role in regulating rental properties and defining the rights and responsibilities of both parties. This blog post aims to provide you with a comprehensive guide on landlord-tenant laws in Wisconsin, equipping you with vital knowledge to navigate the rental landscape confidently and legally. After all, wouldn't it be great to enhance your understanding of these laws and ensure a smoother rental process for all involved? Let's delve into the specifics.


Landlord-tenant laws in Wisconsin govern the rental of commercial and residential property, establishing a legal framework that balances the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. These laws cover a wide range of areas, including:

  • Security Deposits: The maximum amount landlords can charge, when and how they must return the deposit, and what deductions can be made.
  • Rent: When it's due, how much notice landlords must give before raising it, and how to handle late payments.
  • Property Maintenance: Landlords' duty to provide habitable housing and tenants' responsibility to avoid damaging the property.
  • Lease Agreements: The legal standing of written and oral agreements, what terms and conditions they can include, and how they can be changed or terminated.
  • Evictions: The legal reasons for eviction, due process requirements, and tenants' rights during the eviction process.

By having a firm grasp on these laws, landlords and real estate investors can effectively manage their properties, avoid legal disputes, and maintain a positive relationship with their tenants. Read on as we dissect these laws and explain their implications in detail.

Tenant Rights and Responsibilities in Wisconsin

Wisconsin landlord-tenant laws serve to protect not only the landlords but also the tenants. These laws ensure that tenants live in a safe and habitable environment while also requiring them to uphold their end of the lease agreement. Let's delve into a few key aspects of tenant rights and responsibilities in Wisconsin:

Right to a Habitable Property

In Wisconsin, tenants have the right to a habitable property. This means that landlords are legally obligated to provide rental properties that meet basic health and safety standards. These include functional plumbing, electricity, heating, and clean water. The property should also be free from any health hazards, such as lead or asbestos. If a property fails to meet these standards, tenants have the right to seek necessary repairs or, in some cases, break the lease without penalty.

Right to Privacy

Tenants in Wisconsin also enjoy the right to privacy. Landlords cannot enter a tenant's property without providing at least 12 hours of notice, except in emergencies. This notice should specify the date, time, and reason for entry. Violation of this right can be considered as harassment, giving tenants grounds for legal action.

Responsibility to Pay Rent on Time

One of the fundamental responsibilities of a tenant in Wisconsin is to pay rent on time. Rent is typically due on the first day of every month, unless otherwise specified in the lease agreement. Late payment could lead to late fees, and consistent failure to pay rent could result in eviction.

Obligation to Maintain the Rental Property

Beyond paying rent, tenants are also responsible for maintaining the rental property. This includes keeping the property clean, disposing of garbage properly, and avoiding any damage beyond normal wear and tear. If damage occurs, tenants are expected to notify the landlord and may be responsible for the cost of repairs.

Understanding these rights and responsibilities is essential for maintaining a harmonious landlord-tenant relationship. As landlords and real estate investors, being aware of these laws not only helps in ensuring compliance but also in fostering a positive rental experience for your tenants. After all, a well-informed tenant is more likely to respect their lease agreement, take care of the property, and maintain a good relationship with their landlord.

Landlord Rights and Responsibilities in Wisconsin

As a landlord in Wisconsin, you have certain rights and responsibilities as outlined by the state's landlord-tenant laws. Understanding these elements is crucial to running a successful rental business and maintaining a good relationship with your tenants.

Right to Receive Rent on Time

As a landlord, you have the legal right to receive rent payments on time according to the terms outlined in the lease agreement. If a tenant fails to make these payments, you have the right to take legal action, which could potentially lead to eviction. However, as per Wisconsin law, eviction is a court-supervised process and cannot be carried out without a court order.

Responsibility to Maintain the Rental Property

Landlords are also responsible for maintaining their rental properties. This means ensuring the property meets health and safety standards and carrying out necessary repairs in a timely manner. According to Wisconsin statutes, failure to do so can lead to legal repercussions, such as the tenant withholding rent or taking legal action for breach of contract.

Respect for Tenant's Privacy

Wisconsin law also mandates landlords to respect their tenant's privacy. This includes providing at least 12 hours' notice before entering the property, except in the case of emergencies. Violating this right can be considered harassment and can lead to legal action by the tenant.

Process for Increasing Rent or Evicting a Tenant

If you wish to increase the rent, you must provide your tenants with adequate notice. The specific notice period can vary depending on the terms of your lease agreement and local regulations.

In the event of eviction, landlords must adhere to a strict legal process. This involves providing the tenant with a written notice that clearly explains the reason for eviction and giving them a chance to rectify the issue. If the tenant fails to do so, you can then file a lawsuit with the court.

Being a landlord in Wisconsin comes with its own set of rights and responsibilities. By understanding these, you can ensure a smooth and harmonious relationship with your tenants, while also protecting your rights and interests as a landlord.

The Significance of Lease Agreements in Wisconsin

Lease agreements are the backbone of any rental business. They lay the groundwork for the landlord-tenant relationship and provide a legal framework that protects the rights and interests of both parties. In Wisconsin, understanding the intricacies of lease agreements is a must for landlords and real estate investors.

A lease agreement, in its essence, is a legally binding contract between a landlord and a tenant. It outlines the terms and conditions of the rental arrangement, such as the length of the lease, the amount of rent, the payment schedule, and the obligations of both parties. It also stipulates the rules for using the property and the procedures for handling disputes.

Why are lease agreements so crucial? Here's why:

  • They provide legal protection: If disputes arise, lease agreements serve as a legal reference that courts can use to resolve the issue.
  • They set clear expectations: Lease agreements clarify what is expected from both parties, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings and conflicts.
  • They ensure financial stability: By laying out the terms of rent payment, lease agreements help ensure a steady income for landlords.

While written lease agreements are the norm, verbal agreements are also legal in Wisconsin. However, they can be risky. Without a written record, it can be challenging to prove the terms of the rental agreement if disputes arise. Therefore, it's advisable for landlords to always opt for written lease agreements.

In a nutshell, a well-drafted lease agreement is a landlord's best friend. It fosters a positive landlord-tenant relationship, provides legal protection, and ensures the smooth operation of your rental business. As a landlord in Wisconsin, it's worth investing time and effort in understanding and crafting comprehensive lease agreements. Remember, the more clearly you define the terms of the lease, the better protected you are.

The Intricacies of Security Deposits in Wisconsin

The security deposit serves as a safety net for landlords, cushioning them against potential financial losses that might stem from unpaid rent or property damage. However, Wisconsin's laws surrounding security deposits are specific and landlords must adhere to them to avoid legal complications.

In Wisconsin, there is no statutory limit on how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit. This means landlords have the flexibility to determine the amount based on factors such as the rental property's value and the tenant's creditworthiness. However, it's a common practice to charge the equivalent of one month's rent.

It's important to note that the landlord is obligated to return the security deposit, or a part thereof, within 21 days after the tenant vacates the property. This timeline begins either from the date the tenant provides a forwarding address for the return of the security deposit or one day after the lease ends, whichever occurs last.

Deductions can be made from the security deposit for several reasons, including:

  • Unpaid rent
  • Unpaid utilities
  • Damage beyond normal wear and tear
  • Costs associated with breaching the lease

However, Wisconsin law requires landlords to provide an itemized list of any deductions made from the security deposit. This list should detail the reasons for each deduction and the amount deducted for each.

From the tenant's perspective, understanding their rights regarding security deposits is crucial. Tenants have the right to a written receipt for their security deposit. They also have the right to contest any deductions made from the security deposit that they deem unfair. If a landlord fails to return the security deposit within the stipulated 21 days, or if the tenant disagrees with the deductions, the tenant can take the matter to small claims court.

In conclusion, the laws surrounding security deposits in Wisconsin balance the need to protect landlords from financial loss with the rights of tenants. Adherence to these laws is not just a legal requirement — it's a crucial factor in fostering a harmonious landlord-tenant relationship.

Fair Housing and Anti-Discrimination Laws in Wisconsin

A cornerstone of ethical property management is the commitment to fair housing and non-discrimination. In Wisconsin, landlords and real estate investors must adhere to both federal and state laws that promote equal housing opportunities. Violating these laws can lead to severe legal consequences, underscoring the importance of understanding and abiding by them.

At the federal level, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. Wisconsin's Open Housing Law extends these protections to include age, sexual orientation, marital status, lawful source of income, military discharge status, and domestic abuse victim status.

These are known as protected classes, and it's illegal for landlords to treat tenants or prospective tenants differently based on their membership in any of these classes. For example, refusing to rent to someone because of their race or religion, charging higher rent to families with children, or declining to make reasonable accommodations for a tenant with a disability all constitute illegal discrimination.

Landlords must also avoid discriminatory advertising. Stating a preference for or against a certain group in a rental listing, such as "ideal for singles" or "no kids," can be deemed discriminatory and is illegal.

The consequences for violating fair housing and anti-discrimination laws can be severe. Landlords might face lawsuits, hefty fines, or even criminal charges. Additionally, landlords may be ordered to pay damages to the person who was discriminated against, which can include compensatory damages, punitive damages, and the plaintiff's legal fees.

In addition to legal repercussions, discriminatory practices can harm a landlord's reputation, affecting their ability to attract and retain tenants. It's therefore in every landlord's best interest to treat all tenants and prospective tenants equally, fairly, and with respect.

Understanding and abiding by fair housing and anti-discrimination laws is not just about avoiding legal trouble; it's about fostering a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all tenants. After all, providing quality housing is about more than property and profits — it's about people.

Rental Property Conditions in Wisconsin

The condition of a rental property is not just about aesthetics or tenant comfort; it's a legal matter. In Wisconsin, landlords are legally obligated to provide a habitable property. This term "habitable" implies that the property must be safe, clean, and fit for living.

The Wisconsin Administrative Code outlines specific habitability requirements. These include:

  • Maintain structural components, such as roofs, floors, and walls, in good repair.
  • Ensure that the property has operational plumbing, heating, and electrical systems.
  • Provide a reasonable amount of hot and cold running water.
  • Make sure the property is free from pest infestations.
  • Ensure that all doors and windows are secure and in good repair.

Tenants also have a role to play in keeping the property habitable. They are responsible for maintaining cleanliness within their unit, notifying the landlord about necessary repairs, and not deliberately or negligently damaging the property.

The law gives tenants the right to request repairs. If a landlord is unresponsive, tenants may have the option to withhold rent, repair the issue themselves and deduct the cost from their rent, or even terminate the lease without penalty.

However, tenants should tread carefully and consult with a legal expert before taking such actions. For instance, rent withholding can only be done under specific circumstances, and the correct procedure must be followed to avoid potential legal issues.

Landlords who fail to maintain their properties face potential consequences. In addition to tenant actions, landlords may find themselves in legal hot water, facing fines, or even lawsuits. In severe cases, a court may deem a property uninhabitable and order it vacated, significantly impacting the landlord's income.

In essence, maintaining a rental property is not just good business practice for Wisconsin landlords—it's a legal imperative. By understanding and meeting their obligations, landlords can foster positive relationships with tenants, avoid legal issues, and ensure their investment remains profitable.

Rent and Fees: The Monetary Aspect of Wisconsin's Landlord-Tenant Laws

Moving on from habitability, let's delve into the financial aspects of landlord-tenant relationships in Wisconsin, namely rent and fees. Understanding these elements is essential for landlords to ensure they are in compliance with the law and for tenants to protect their rights.

When is the Rent Due?

In Wisconsin, the rent due date is typically specified in the lease agreement. Most often, rent is due on the first day of the month. However, landlords and tenants can agree on a different due date. If the lease does not specify a due date, rent is payable at the beginning of the month or week, depending on whether the tenancy is monthly or weekly.

What About Late Fees?

Landlords have the right to charge a late fee if the rent is not paid on time. However, Wisconsin law states that the late fee must be "reasonable." While the law does not define what constitutes a "reasonable" late fee, courts have generally interpreted it to mean a fee that is proportionate to the inconvenience or extra costs the landlord incurs due to the late payment. It's advisable for landlords to clearly set out the amount and conditions of late fees in the lease agreement to avoid misunderstandings.

Can Landlords Increase the Rent?

Yes, landlords can increase the rent, but with certain limitations. In a periodic tenancy, such as a month-to-month lease, landlords must give tenants at least 28 days' notice before increasing the rent. For fixed-term leases, landlords cannot increase the rent during the lease term unless the lease agreement specifically allows for it.

Tenant Rights Regarding Rent and Fees

Tenants have several rights regarding rent and fees in Wisconsin. These include the right to:

  • Be provided with a written receipt for any rent payment made in cash.
  • Withhold rent if the landlord fails to make necessary repairs that affect health or safety, after giving the landlord written notice and a reasonable time to make the repairs.
  • Challenge an unreasonable late fee or rent increase in court.

In the financial dance of landlord-tenant relationships, understanding the rhythm of rent and fees is vital. By being aware of their rights and responsibilities, landlords can ensure they stay within the law, and tenants can protect themselves from being overcharged or unfairly treated. But remember, when in doubt, seek expert legal advice.

Tenant Privacy and Landlord Entry: Balancing Rights and Responsibilities in Wisconsin

As we journey through the complex landscape of landlord-tenant laws in Wisconsin, a topic of considerable importance is the delicate balance between a tenant's right to privacy and a landlord's right to access the rental property. The law aims to protect both parties, but understanding the nuances can be challenging.

When Can Landlords Legally Enter a Tenant's Property?

In Wisconsin, landlords may enter a tenant's property under specific circumstances:

  1. Emergencies: In urgent situations, like a fire or a major leak, landlords can enter a tenant's property without notice.
  2. Repairs: Landlords have the right to enter the property to make repairs, but they must provide at least 12 hours' notice to the tenant.
  3. Inspections: For routine property inspections, landlords must again provide at least 12 hours' notice.
  4. Showings: If the property is being shown to prospective tenants or buyers, landlords must give at least 12 hours' notice.

The Rights of Tenants to Privacy

While landlords have certain rights to access the property, tenants also have considerable rights to privacy. These include:

  • Reasonable Notice: Unless it's an emergency, landlords must give at least 12 hours' notice before entering the property.
  • Reasonable Hours: Landlords can only enter the property at reasonable times, typically between 8 am and 8 pm, and not more than once per month for routine inspections.
  • Respect for Personal Space: Landlords can't abuse their right to access to harass tenants.

It's important to note that these rights apply unless the tenant has abandoned the property.

In the dance of landlord-tenant relationships, the issue of property access and privacy is a delicate minuet. Both landlords and tenants have rights and responsibilities. Understanding these can lead to a harmonious relationship where both parties feel respected and protected. But as always, when in doubt, seek expert legal advice. It's the best way to ensure you're stepping to the right legal beat.

Eviction Process and Tenant Protections in Wisconsin

Navigating the eviction process in Wisconsin can be a challenging endeavor for both landlords and tenants. It's a legal dance that requires a clear understanding of the steps involved, each party's rights, and the potential pitfalls to avoid. So, let's take a closer look at this process.

Firstly, it's crucial to understand that eviction is not a whimsical decision. There must be a legal reason for eviction. The most common reasons include non-payment of rent, violation of lease terms, or involvement in illegal activities on the property. Less commonly, a landlord might choose not to renew a lease for reasons such as intending to use the property for personal reasons.

However, eviction is not an immediate action. A critical element in the eviction process is the eviction notice period. In Wisconsin, landlords must provide tenants with a written notice. The duration of this notice varies depending on the cause of eviction:

  • For non-payment of rent, a 5-day notice is required
  • For any lease violation, a 14-day notice is issued
  • For month-to-month tenancies without cause, a 28-day notice is standard

Notably, these notices must include specific information, such as the reason for eviction and the date by which the tenant must vacate the property.

Following the notice period, if the tenant has not remedied the situation or vacated the premises, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. The court process is the next step. The tenant will receive a summons to attend a court hearing, where both parties can present their case. If the court rules in favor of the landlord, a writ of eviction will be issued, and the local sheriff's office will oversee the eviction.

Throughout this process, tenants have specific rights. For instance, they have the right to receive proper notice, to defend themselves in court, and to be evicted only by a legal process. Importantly, landlords cannot forcefully remove tenants or their belongings, shut off utilities to force the tenant out, or change the locks without going through the correct legal process.

The eviction process in Wisconsin is indeed a complex one, but understanding its intricacies is crucial for landlords and real estate investors. Each stage of the process carries its own responsibilities and potential pitfalls, and understanding these can help ensure a smoother, more predictable outcome.

Handling Abandoned Property in Wisconsin

Handling left-behind belongings can be a tricky aspect of rental property management. If a tenant vacates a property and leaves personal items behind, landlords may find themselves in a quandary. What should they do with these items? How long should they wait before disposing of them? Let's delve into the specifics of Wisconsin's laws about handling abandoned property.

Wisconsin law is quite clear on this matter. According to Wisconsin Statutes Section 704.05(5), if a tenant leaves personal property behind after moving out, the landlord must provide a notice to the tenant. This notice should specify the items left behind and inform the tenant that the property will be disposed of after a certain date if not claimed.

However, there are some important things to note here. First, landlords should be careful not to dispose of any items prematurely. According to the statute, the notice period should be at least 30 days for a tenant to claim their property. It's crucial to honor this notice period to avoid any potential legal issues.

Second, landlords must make a reasonable effort to contact the tenant. This may involve sending the notice to the tenant's last known address, even if it is the rental property itself. If the tenant can't be located, landlords may need to reach out through other means, such as email or phone.

Third, when a tenant comes to claim their property, the landlord has the right to require payment for reasonable storage costs. This means that if you, as the landlord, have incurred expenses for storing the tenant's property, you can ask the tenant to compensate you.

Finally, if the property remains unclaimed after the notice period, landlords can sell, donate, or dispose of the items. However, if the property is sold, landlords must hold any proceeds for the tenant for up to 60 days. If the tenant doesn’t claim the proceeds within this period, the money may be kept by the landlord.

In summary, when handling abandoned property, landlords in Wisconsin need to tread carefully. By observing the specified notice period, making reasonable efforts to contact the tenant, charging reasonable storage fees, and properly dealing with unclaimed items, landlords can effectively navigate this potentially tricky aspect of property management.

Legal Resources and Support in Wisconsin

Navigating the complex landscape of landlord-tenant laws can feel like walking through a labyrinth. With multiple legalities to consider, both landlords and tenants may find themselves needing expert advice and support. Fortunately, in Wisconsin, there are numerous resources available to help you stay on the right side of the law and maintain a positive rental relationship.

Legal Aid Services: Legal aid services offer free or low-cost legal advice to those who need it, including landlords and tenants. These services can help answer your questions about rental laws, provide guidance on disputes, and even offer representation in court cases. Examples of such services in Wisconsin include Legal Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Judicare.

Tenant Rights Organizations: Tenant rights organizations focus on advocating for tenants and helping them understand their rights. They provide resources such as educational materials, workshops, and legal assistance. In Wisconsin, the Tenant Resource Center is a well-known organization offering a wide range of resources for tenants.

Landlord Associations: Just as tenants have organizations to support them, so do landlords. Landlord associations provide invaluable resources such as legal advice, support with lease agreements, and opportunities for networking with other landlords. The Apartment Association of South Central Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Apartment Association are two examples of such associations in the state.

Small Claims Court: If a dispute arises between a landlord and tenant that cannot be resolved through communication or mediation, the case may end up in small claims court. The Wisconsin Court System provides helpful resources to guide both landlords and tenants through the small claims process.

State and Local Housing Authorities: Housing authorities provide information and resources related to rental housing in their specific areas. This can include information about landlord-tenant laws, fair housing regulations, and rental assistance programs. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is an example of a state-level authority, while the City of Madison Community Development Authority is a local example.

By leveraging these resources, landlords and real estate investors can ensure they are well-informed and prepared to handle any issues that may arise in their rental properties. Remember, knowledge is power, so take full advantage of these resources to stay ahead in the ever-evolving realm of landlord-tenant laws in Wisconsin.

Dispute Resolution in Wisconsin Landlord-Tenant Laws

At some point in the landlord-tenant relationship, disagreements may arise. It's almost inevitable, given the various issues that can surface, from late payments to property damage. But, how these disputes are resolved can make all the difference in the world. In Wisconsin, the process of dispute resolution is clearly outlined and encourages resolving matters legally and amicably.

One of the first steps to resolving disputes is through communication. Both parties should be willing to have open and honest discussions to understand each other's perspectives. Often, misunderstandings can be clarified, and issues can be resolved at this stage.

However, if communication fails to alleviate the situation, mediation can be a viable next step. Mediation involves a neutral third party who helps the landlord and tenant communicate and negotiate a resolution. The mediator doesn't make decisions but instead facilitates dialogue and assists in finding common ground. In Wisconsin, several organizations offer free or low-cost mediation services, such as the Mediation & Restorative Services and the Wisconsin Association of Mediators.

If mediation doesn't lead to a resolution, the dispute may escalate to the Small Claims Court. In Wisconsin, landlords and tenants can bring their disputes to this court if they involve issues such as unpaid rent, damage to the property, or security deposit disputes. The Wisconsin Court System provides useful resources for landlords and tenants to understand the procedures and requirements of Small Claims Court.

Remember, the goal is to resolve disputes in a way that maintains respect and understanding between landlords and tenants. Keeping the lines of communication open, seeking mediation when necessary, and using the judicial system as a last resort can lead to more effective dispute resolution.

Navigating these disputes can be challenging, but by understanding the options available and seeking appropriate legal guidance, landlords and real estate investors can better manage their rental properties and foster positive relationships with their tenants.


In the realm of property management and real estate investment, knowledge is power. Understanding the intricacies of landlord-tenant laws in Wisconsin is not just a legal obligation—it's a recipe for success. These laws, when understood and adhered to, safeguard the rights of both landlords and tenants, fostering a harmonious rental relationship.

The law provides a foundation for fair play. For instance, it dictates the rights and responsibilities of landlords, such as maintaining a habitable property, respecting the tenant's privacy, and following due process in case of evictions. On the flip side, it outlines tenants' obligations, like paying rent on time and maintaining the rental property. Ignorance of these legal stipulations can lead to disputes and strained landlord-tenant relations.

Lease agreements also play a critical role. These legal contracts serve as a roadmap for the rental relationship, outlining the rights, responsibilities, and expectations of both parties. A thorough understanding of the lease agreement by both parties can prevent misunderstandings and promote a successful landlord-tenant relationship.

Security deposits, often a contentious issue, are also regulated by law. Understanding the legalities surrounding security deposits can protect landlords from financial loss and protect tenants from unjust deductions.

Wisconsin's eviction laws are also crucial. Evictions must be carried out legally, following the right processes and for valid reasons. Navigating this process correctly is vital to avoid potential legal issues.

Wisconsin's fair housing and anti-discrimination laws ensure all tenants are treated equally, regardless of their race, religion, gender, or other protected classes. Violation of these laws can lead to severe legal consequences for landlords.

Understanding these laws and more is not just beneficial; it's essential. So, landlords and real estate investors, equip yourselves with this knowledge. Tenants, educate yourselves on your rights and obligations. Armed with this information, you can navigate the rental landscape in Wisconsin confidently, knowing you are fulfilling your legal responsibilities, protecting your rights, and fostering a positive rental relationship. After all, a harmonious rental relationship is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Table of Contents


Tenant Rights and Responsibilities

Landlord Rights and Responsibilities

The Significance of Lease Agreements

The Intricacies of Security Deposits

Fair Housing and Anti-Discrimination Laws

Rental Property Conditions

Rent and Fees

Tenant Privacy and Landlord Entry

Eviction Process and Tenant Protections

Handling Abandoned Property

Legal Resources and Support

Dispute Resolution


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