Tips for New Residential Landlords in Wisconsin

Becoming a landlord sounds like a great plan – you have a nice house you can rent out, the monthly rent payments will cover your mortgage, and you will be free to buy a new house, retire early, or all of the above!

But, as with many things, it probably won’t work out quite as you planned – Tenants sometimes destroy property, pay late, crank up the heat, and leave without paying their utility bills. Before you take the plunge into the residential landlord business, here are a few very important things to keep in mind! Landlording can be great – but only if you enter the fray with your eyes wide open!

Tip #1: You Need a Lease that Complies with Wisconsin Law – This is the most important step you can take to protect your interests as a landlord.  Not having a lease will cause issues for a number of reasons, specifically: 1) your agreement will be in your minds only – and hard to remember as the tenancy goes on and; 2) if there is an issue, it will be a “he said\she said” type of scenario, and the onus will be on youthe landlord, to prove non-compliance with the (nonexistent) lease (a hard proposition when there is no document to show the Court).

Having a lease is important – but having one that is legal under Wisconsin Law is even more important. Specifically, 1) your lease cannot deduct from the security deposit for disallowed damage like carpet cleaning; 2) your lease should advise the tenant what will be done with their property if they are evicted (will you store it or throw it away?); and 3) your lease should specifically state when the Landlord can enter the property, and who will be responsible for paying for each individual utility. This is just a short list of what your Lease should cover, so you should use a trusted Wisconsin Lease or speak to an attorney to have one drafted for your specific circumstances.

Tip #2: You Need to Provide Additional Documentation To Tenants When They Move In  – In addition to a written lease, you must always provide residential tenants with: 1) A Check-In Sheet where they can mark any pre-existing damage to your property; 2) A smoke detector notice certifying that smoke detectors are installed and working; 3) a carbon-monoxide notice certifying that CO detectors are installed and working; 4) A Lead Based Paint Notice if your home is older; and 5) Information on how to access the Sex Offender Registry. Failure to do so prior to the start of the tenancy will result in mandatory fines and penalties to the Landlord.

Tip #3 – Take A Security Deposit and Don’t Use it as Rent – Make sure you get a Security Deposit – this is your best way of protecting your property against damages. A Security Deposit cannot be wildly large, but is usually equal to 1 to 2 months rent. It should be collected from the Tenant prior to move in, and it should NEVER be used as rent. If you allow a Tenant to use the security deposit as rent, your insurance against damage will be gone (often before the you get a chance to inspect the property) and, more importantly, you could open yourself up to fines and possible lawsuits for mis-using a Tenant’s security deposit and\or not providing an accurate itemization of the amounts withheld 21 days after termination of the tenancy.

These are just a few things to keep in mind when becoming a residential landlord. If you have any additional questions, or want more information, please feel free to reach out OG +S!

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