Screening Prospective Tenants Is a Must — That Includes Commercial Tenants

Those of you that have attended my seminars or read prior blog posts of mine are well aware that in my opinion screening prospective tenants is the single most important part of landlording.

These sentiments apply to commercial tenants as well as residential tenants.  Just because your tenant is a corporation, LLC or some other business entity does not make make them legitimate.

A corporate tenant can also fail to pay rent, damage your property, and otherwise be a nightmare.  In fact some tenants can hide behind an empty shell of a corporation (or partnership or LLC) and actually turn out to be a commercial tenant from hell.

I was recently interviewed by Colleen Henry of Ch. 12 News about one such “professional” tenant from hell.  This tenant moved her business into her landlord’s rental unit and refused to move out even though she had not paid rent for months.  She bounced her check for the security deposit.  She bounced her check for the 1st month’s rent.  She refused to make any other rental payments.  She ignored her landlord’s pleas to pay rent or move.  Once her landlord began the process to evict her, she filed bankruptcy.  By doing so all creditors, including her landlord, were precluded from attempting to collect from her (including the filing of an eviction action against her) until they received permission from the bankruptcy court.  And this wasn’t the first landlord that this tenant did this to.  She had done this to landlords before.

Tenants such as this one make good landlords want to get out of the business.

My recommendation to landlords who are or have been in this difficult situation is not to give up and get out of the business but rather take the time to educate yourself about landlord tenant law so that you are better equipped to handle such a situation in the future.  Chances are the better educated you are the better chance that you will not rent to the tenant from hell because you will have learned enough to know that you ALWAYS, ALWAYS must screen your tenants before signing a lease and/or handing them the keys to your property.


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City of Milwaukee Looking to Expand Its Residential Rental Inspection Program (a.k.a Landlord Licensing)

The Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) of the city of Milwaukee is looking to expand its Residential Rental Inspection (RRI) program to additional parts of Milwaukee.  Simply put the RRI program is “landlord licensing” at its heart and it may very well be coming to your neighborhood.

As background, the RRI program was created in December of 2009 as a so-called “pilot” program.  It allowed the city to enter a landlord’s rental unit (without a warrant and without requiring a tenant to make a complaint) and inspect it.  If a rental unit did not pass muster it would not receive a certificate (license) from the city and could not be rented out.  If the rental did pass inspection then the landlord was either issued a 4 year certificate or a 1 year certificate.  Landlords were charged $85 per inspection.  It was only implemented in the Lindsay Heights area and the eastside of Milwaukee near UWM.

DNS is now requesting that those two pilot areas become permanent.  DNS is also requesting to expand the program.  The proposed expansion would involve two phases.  Phase One of the expansion would include the neighborhood around the Basilica of St. Josaphat.  Phase Two of the expansion would include Washington Park, Metcalf Park, Amani, Triangle, and Clarke Square neighborhoods.

Back in 2009 the RRI program was downplayed by DNS as a short-term “pilot” program just to help those two areas.  DNS also told us that the RRI program was only concerned with serious safety issues like attic bedrooms, decrepit 2nd floor porches, and extension cord wiring.  Ask the owners of rental properties in Lindsay Heights and the UWM area how many building code orders they received for non-serious safety issues.

I hope that all Milwaukee landlords have now come to the realization that the plan all along has been for this to be a city wide program.  Many landlords who didn’t own properties in the two pilot areas chose to bury their heads in the sand because the program did not affect them.  That is no longer the case, the RRI program will encompass the entire city of Milwaukee if landlords allow it.

If you would like to read more about the plan to expand the RRI program read the Commissioner of DNS’ 9/24/14 memo to the Zoning and Development Committee and Milwaukee Common Council.

If you would like to learn more about the details of the RRI program please refer to my blog posts on this topic.

I urge all landlords in Milwaukee to contact their Alderman on this issue immediately.  Also if you are not a member of the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin (AASEW) you should consider joining.  For only $99 a year you will not only learn a lot about how to be a more effective and profitable landlord, but a portion of your dues will go to fight legislation like the RRI program.



Landlord Boot Camp Is Just Around The Corner – October 4, 2014.

The AASEW’s ever popular Landlord Boot Camp is just around the corner.  It will be held on Saturday, October 4, 2014 from 8:30 am – 5:30 pm at the Clarion Hotel located near the airport.

At this Fall’s Boot Camp I will be updating everyone on how the courts have been handling and interpreting all of the law changes since Act 76 was passed back in March of this year.

I will also address numerous other of topics that will help you navigate Wisconsin’s complex landlord - tenant laws.  Learn how to run your properties with greater profit while staying out of trouble.  Landlording can be pretty complex, with a seemingly never ending myriad of paperwork, rules, landlord-tenant laws and simple mistakes that can cost you thousands.


Some of the other topics that will be covered include:

1) How to properly screen prospective tenants

2) How to draft written screening criteria to assist you in the tenant selection process

3) How to comply with both federal and state Fair Housing laws including how to comply with “reasonable modifications” and “reasonable accommodations” requests

4) How to legally reject an applicant

5) What rental documents you should be using and why

6) When you should be using a 5-day notice versus a 14-day notice, 28-day notice, or 30-day notice and how to properly serve the notice on your tenant

7) Everything you wanted to know (and probably even more than you wanted to know) about the Residential Rental Practices (ATCP 134) and how to avoid having to pay double damages to your

tenant for breaching ATCP 134

8) When you are legally allowed to enter your tenant’s apartment

9) How to properly draft an eviction summons and complaint

10) What to do to keep the commissioner or judge from dismissing your eviction lawsuit

11) What you can legally deduct from a security deposit

12) How to properly draft a security deposit transmittal  (“21 day”) letter

13) How to handle pet damage

14) What to do with a tenant’s abandoned property and how this may affect whether or not you file an eviction suit

15) How to pursue your ex-tenant for damages to your rental property and past due rent (and whether it is even worth it to do so)

There will also be time for “Q&A” and Lunch is included!

If that is not enough you will also receive a manual that is over 100 pages that includes all of Tristan’s outlines on the various topics and various forms.


Who:         Taught by Attorney Tristan Pettit, who drafts the landlord tenant forms for Wisconsin Legal Blank.

When:       Saturday, October 4, 2014  from8:30 AM – 5:30 PM —- Registration opens at 7:00 AM

Where:     Clarion Hotel 5311 S. Howell Avenue, Milwaukee [Map]

Price:        AASEW Members only $159 .  Non AASEW Members  – $249

Register:    Go to and you can register online and read prior attendees testimonials.


Last year’s AASEW Landlord Boot Camp was filled to capacity.  So much so we even had to turn a few people away.  So register early to reserve your spot

I hope to see everyone there.


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Landlords Lose Lawsuit Against City of LaCrosse

On August 27, 2014, a LaCrosse County judge ruled against several LaCrosse landlords that had sued the city over its local rental registry and inspection ordinance.

The plaintiffs included 34 landlords with rental property in the city of LaCrosse and attacked the cities ordinance on both constitutional grounds as well as arguing that the ordinance violated state law, specifically Act 76, which became law on March 1, 2014.  To learn a more about the specifics of Act 76 with regard to local municipalities see my prior blog post.

Prior to the court’s ruling, the city unilaterally eliminated a section of the ordinance that said that a landlords could be denied a rental certificate (i.e. the ability to rent out their rental units) if they did not grant access to the rental unit by city inspectors even if the tenant refuses.  The judge had earlier advised the city that he would rule against it on that aspect of the ordinance as being a violation of a person’s constitutional right against unreasonable searches.  As such the city eliminate that part of the ordinance prior to the judge making a ruling.

According to the judge, the remainder of the ordinance does not violate Act 76.

To learn more about the ruling read this article from the LaCrosse Tribune.



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AASEW MEETING: “Companion Animals – When A Landlord Must Accept Them” on August 18, 2014

I will be speaking at the AASEW’s monthly meeting on the issue of companion/comfort animals and when a landlord must accept them in their rental properties.

Disability-related complaints, including those that involve assistance animals, are the most common complaint filed with HUD over the past few years.  While the definition of a “service animal” under the ADA is very limited and requires that the animal be specifically trained (and excludes emotional support animals) that is not the case with the Fair Housing Act or Wisconsin’s Open Housing Law.  A tenant has the right to request a “reasonable accommodation” to a landlord’s “no pet” or “limited pet” policy and a landlord may be legally required to allow them to have a comfort/companion animal to accommodate their disability.

I have seen a surge in tenant’s requesting such accommodations as evidenced by a increase in angry telephone calls from clients upset about this issue.

Attend the AASEW’s next meeting on August 18, 2014 at 7 pm at the Best Western Hotel located at 1005 S. Moorland Road in Brookfield, and learn about this important and timely topic.

The cost is free to AASEW members and $25 for non-members of expired members.

Hope to see many of you there.




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Second Lawsuit Filed Alleging Local Ordinance Violates Wisconsin’s New Landlord Tenant Law (Act 76)

I just read in the Wausau Daily Herald today that a second legal challenge has been filed based on Wisconsin’s new landlord-tenant law (Act 76).  The city of Wausau is getting sued by several local landlords over its Residential Rental Licensing Ordinance which requires that rentals be inspected every three years for compliance with the city’s local building codes.

One of the arguments in the lawsuit is that the ordinance is contrary to sec 66.0104, Wis. Stats (which was created by Act 76) and prohibits municipalities from enacting or enforcing certain ordinances that affect landlords and tenants.  I have covered this aspect in great detail in a prior blog post.

The first lawsuit was filed in La Crosse by the same attorney that is representing the Wausau landlords.

The Wausau landlords are seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the city from enforcing their Residential Rental Licensing Ordinance.


Free Bed Bug Seminar On July 10, 2014

Batzner Bed Bug Services, Inc. will be hosting their 4th Annual Bed Bug Seminar at the Sheraton Milwaukee Brookfield Hotel at 375 S. Moorland Road in Brookfield on Thursday, July 10, 2014.  The seminar will run from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm.

The seminar is FREE and includes lunch.

Topics will include basic bed bug information, bed bug history, bed bug monitoring, challenges, and trends and legal issues pertaining to bed bug.  The seminar will also include a panel discussion and a demonstration by Batzner’s bed bug scent detection canine team. 

A copy of the detailed brochure can be viewed by clicking here.

I will be presenting on the topic of “Legal Issues Pertaining to Bed Bugs and How Landlords Can Protect Themselves” and will be speaking at approximately 1:15 pm

Pre-registration is required. 

So far there are 100 attendees pre-registered.  This should be a great event and well worth the cost . . . . oh wait, there is no cost – it is FREE!

Hope to see many of you there.



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