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Wisconsin Renters Beware: New Law Gives Landlords an Upper Hand

posted Mar 29, 2012, 12:39 PM by Alex Wainberg

A bill recently signed into law by current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker ( disproportionately targets low income residents and students.  The following table illustrates some of the major changes to Wisconsin law:

Wisconsin Statute

Old Law

New Law


If a tenant’s personal property is left in the apartment, the landlord must but it in storage and notify the tenants.  The landlord can charge the tenant storage costs and only has to store property for 30 days.

If a tenant’s personal property is left in the apartment, the landlord can presume it is abandoned and dispose of it or sell it immediately without notice to the tenant.  The exception is a seven day hold period for medicine and medical supplies.


New statute

Landlord’s get increased discretion to withhold repaying security deposits.  Specifically, they can  deduct unpaid utility and rental payments from security deposits. A landlord can also deduct any other payment it wants as long as it is marked “nonstandard rental provisions” in the written document.


New statute

Tenants must pay landlord’s attorney fees in any lawsuit involving a rental agreement (lease) unless a court order specifically states otherwise (as justified under another statute).


New statute

Limits the ability of the Wisconsin Justice Department division in charge consumer protection to issue orders and rules to protect consumers from predatory landlords.


New statute

Makes Rental Agreements severable. In other words, a landlord can now include illegal/unenforceable sections in a lease, and even if that section is challenged and struck by a court, the rest of the lease can still be upheld, not constituting a break of the lease by the landlord.

 There is no need for such legislation; it is claiming to solve a problem—a problem which does not exist—while it is clearly a power grab by a special interest group (landlords) who are better organized and have more funds for influencing politicians than the group marginalized by these inane laws (low to medium income families and students). 

 Walker stated that the law will help local governments operate more effectively.  What the law does is limit the power of local officials by constructing a notice requirement that tenants must provide written notification to landlords before they can complain to the local government, and the local governments cannot stop evictions (Wisconsin Stat. s. 66.1010).

 These changes are not “reasonable” as the Walker camp calls them, but an unfortunately unsurprising power grab aimed at weakening the middle class.

Citations/Reference Material

Wisconsin Legislature

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Wisconsin Public Radio

Pierce County Herald