The Residential Landlord Tenant relationship is controlled by two main areas of law: (1) Chapter 704 of the Wisconsin Statutes, and (2) the Wisconsin Administrative Code, Chapter ATCP 134 entitled “Residential Rental Practices.”
ATCP 134 sets forth 21 regulations that a landlord must follow in a residential landlord tenant context. ATCP 134, under its orginal name “Agriculture 134,” was first introduced in May of 1980. “Ag 134″ was then renamed ATCP (Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection) 134 in 1993. In 1999 there was a complete overhaul of ATCP 134 which resulted in the 21 regulations that we have today.
If you are a landlord and are not familiar with ATCP 134 please take the time to read the chapter — it is only 5 pages long and is relatively easy to understand — it must have been drafted by someone other than a lawyer or government employee : )
The main remedy available to a tenant that is damaged by a landlord violating ATCP is what is referred to as the “private attorney general” provision. Essentially, the Wisconsin Statutes allow a party who is injured by a violation of ATCP 134 to “step into the shoes” of the State Attorney General to privately prosecute such violations.
This private attorney general provision, specifically sec. 100.20(5), allows an injured tenant to recover double damages and reimbursement of their actual attorney’s fees against a landlord that has violated ATCP 134.
The State has enumerated several public policy reasons for allowing the private attorney general provision in the residential landlord tenant context, such as:
1. It encourages an injured tenant to enforce his/her rights even if the amount of damage is small and the aggrieved tenant does not have the “means” to pay for their own attorney.
2. A tenant who sues for a violation of ATCP, while clearly enforcing his/her rights, will also be enforcing the public’s rights.
3. By allowing a tenant the ability to more easily pursue such claims against his/her landlord, it will deter impermissable conduct by landlords and thus strengthen the bargaining power of tenants.
4. It provides a necessary backup to the State, as the State does not have the time or resources to pursue lawsuits against all landlords who violate the regulations of ATCP 134.
Whatever your thoughts are about the above-reasoning, it is imperative that you become knowledgable about the 21 regulations contained in ATCP 134. During the course of consulting with landlords and property managers in my job as an attorney, I am always surprised by the number of landlords that have never heard of ATCP 134.