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New Landlord-Tenant Law Legislation - Wisconsin's Affordable Rental Housing Act of 2017

Posted by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. in Legislation / Comments

There are currently two bills in Madison that will significantly impact Landlord-Tenant Law in Wisconsin. 2017 Senate Bill 639 (SB 639) and 2017 Assembly Bill 771 (AB 771) ("bill") are referred to as the Wisconsin's Affordable Rental Housing Act of 2017 and are sponsored by Senator Frank Lasee and Representative Robert Brooks.

The 20-page bill address many issues including historic preservation, rental inspections, rental inspection fees, notice of eviction requirements, background and credit checks, emotional support animals, landlord's charging for personal time when making repairs, rent abatement, local fees, dwelling inspections, public utility service, levy limits, court records, municipal administrative review and the rental weatherization program.

It is important to understand that a bill is a work in progress. I attended a public hearing in Madison on SB 639 back on December 13th and based on the testimony presented at that hearing it is clear that there will be some modifications to the bill. Additionally the public hearing on the Assembly companion bill, AB 771, was only held earlier today. Additionally, in the past few days I have read several proposed changes to the bill, so there will definitely be some changes to the bill.

This blog post will only focus on the sections of the bill related to landlord-tenant law.

Emotional Support Animals

The bill will separate assistance animals animals into 2 separate categories. The first category will be "animals that do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities" and second category will be "emotional support animals." An emotional support animal ("ESA") is defined in the bill as an animal that provides emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship for an individual but that is not trained to perform tasks for the benefit of the person with a disability.

Under the bill a landlord is able to request that the individual who wants to keep an ESA submit reliable documentation from a licensed health professional verifying that the individual requesting the reasonable accommodation has both a disability and a disability-related need for the ESA. A "licensed health professional" is defined as a physician, psychologist, social worker, or other health professional who is licensed or certified in the state of Wisconsin and is acting within the scope of his or her license or certification.

A person that keeps an ESA shall accept liability for sanitation and damage to the premises caused by the ESA. Further the person requesting an ESA shall forfeit not less than $500 if he or she, for the purpose of obtaining housing or living in housing, misrepresents a disability or misrepresents the need for an ESA to assist with the disability. The bill also states that a licensed health professional that misrepresents the above for a person requesting an ESA will also be subject to the same forfeitures.

Landlords Are Able To Charge For Their Time

The bill clarifies that if a tenant causes damage to the rental property, a landlord is able to charge the tenant his/her "reasonable costs," at a reasonable hourly rate, which may include (a) the cost of materials and (b) the landlord's time spent purchasing materials, providing labor, supervising, or hiring a third-party contractor to make the repairs.

Abatement

A tenant can abate rent only if the tenant remains in possession of the rental property and the condition of the property materially affects the health or safety of the tenant or substantially affects the use and occupancy of the rental property. Further, any municipal ordinance that is currently in effect or is created in the future, may only allow abatement for conditions that materially affect the health or safety of a tenant or substantially affect the use and occupancy of the rental property.

Consumer Credit Reports and Background Checks

The bill allows a landlord to charge a rental applicant for the cost, up to $25, to purchase a consumer credit report or the actual cost to the landlord, whichever is less. This is a $5 increase from the current amount that can be charged. The bill also allows a landlord to charge a rental applicant that is not a resident of Wisconsin up to $25 to obtain a background check.

E-Delivery

A landlord will be allowed to provide the following information and/or documentation to a tenant by electric means: (1) rental documents, (2) security deposit documents related to the accounting and disposition of the security deposit or refund, (3) any promises made before the rental agreement was entered into relating to cleaning, repairing, or otherwise improving the rental property.

Rent Includes Late Fees

The bill would define rent to include any past due rent and accompanying late fees.

Incorrect Amount Listed In Notice

If a Notice for failure to pay rent or for failure to pay any other amount due under the rental agreement contains an incorrect dollar amount, the notice will still be valid unless the tenant has paid or tendered payment of money that the tenant admits is actually due. I expect to see some changes to this section as the purpose of this section of the bill was to prevent courts from dismissing evictions based on notices with mathematical errors but as written this section could be abused by some.

CCAP

The Director or State Courts may not remove any case management information from CCAP related to a civil case, which includes evictions, for a period of at least 10 years after the date that a final judgment was entered. I suspect this section will be modified before it becomes law.

Notarization

Eviction Summons will no longer need to be notarized.

Tenant Must Present Valid Legal Grounds To Contest An Eviciton

Currently in order to have an eviction action scheduled for a contested hearing a tenant merely has to "claim that a contest exists." Under the bill a tenant would be required to provide valid legal grounds to contest the eviction before he or she would be entitled to an eviction hearing.

Notices Terminating Tenancy

If a landlord serves a Notice via certified or registered mail and provides the court with a certified or registered mail receipt a court may not require the landlord to also complete and Affidavit of Service.

No Waiver

It shall not be a defense to an eviction lawsuit or a claim for damages that the landlord has previously waived any violation or breach of any of the terms of the rental agreement so as to waive or lesson the landlord's right to insist upon strict performance under the rental agreement in the future.

Emergency Assistance Stays

An Emergency Assistance stay cannot be ordered after the landlord has been granted a writ of restitution. If a writ has not yet been granted, the Court may only stay the eviction for no more than 5 working days. The time period of the stay in this section will most likely be enlarged due to testimony from the public hearing.


There are many other provisions in bill that I have not touched but which will affect landlords and property managers even though the sections are not lanldord-tenant related. f you are interested in reading the other provisions provisions which while they are not landlord-tenant related, will affect property owners and manager you should do so at SB 639 or AB 771.

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Tristan is a shareholder with the law firm of Petrie+Pettit and focuses his practice in the area of landlord-tenant law representing landlords and property management companies throughout Wisconsin.

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