You will recall from my earlier post that I had some concerns about the new Landlord’s Omnibus Law (Act 134). One of my main concerns was that it was unclear from the wording of Act 143 whether or not a violation of chapter 704 would give rise to a claim by a tenant that would entitle the tenant to double damages and attorney’s fees if successful.
The portion of Act 143 that concerned me was Section 36, which creates Wis. Stats. sec 704.95, and reads as follows:
704.95 Practices regulated by the department of agriculture, trade and consumer protection. Practices in violation of this chapter may also constitute unfair methods of competition or unfair trade practices under s. 100.20. However, the department of agriculture, trade and consumer protection may not issue an order or promulgate a rule under s. 100.20 that changes any right or duty arising under this chatper.
My concern was that tenants might start filing suits against landlords alleging that they were entitled to double damages and attorny’s fees if a landlord violated any portion of chapter 704. Could a landlord be on the hook for double damages and attorney’s fees if he drafted a 5 day notice improperly or served the notice incorrectly?
Because of this concern, the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin (AASEW) attorney wrote to the State of Wisconsin’s Joint Legislative Council which authored the earlier memo summarizing the new Act 143. Specifically the AASEW asked staff attorney Margit Kelley to clarify section 36 of her Act Memo dated March 26, 2012.
I have good news to report. Attorney Kelly in her letter to the AASEW’s attorney, indicated that any violation of Chapter 704 does not automatically lead to a cause of action for double damages and attorney’s fees.
Her verbatim response — referring to section 36 (now Wis. Stats. section 704.95) – was as follows:
This means that DATCP may promulgate and enforce any administrative rules that are in line with ch. 704, Stats., including the provisions of the Act that affect that chapter, under DATCP’s authority to regulate unfair methods of competition or unfair trade practices in s. 1002.0, Stats. Section 100.20(5), Stats., then, in turn allows an individual right of action for a violation of any rules promulgated under s. 100.20, Stats., and allows for recovery of costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, and twice the amount of any pecuniary loss.
Translation: DATCP can create rules to add to ATCP 134 that are line with chapter 704, but a violation of ch. 704 alone does not give rise to a cause of action that entitles a tenant to double damages and attorney’s fees, unless that section of the statute is also contained in ATCP 134.
So for instance, if a landlord was found to have violated Wis. Stats. section 704.28, entitled withholding from and return of security deposits, a tenant would be entitled to receive an award of double damages and attorney’s fees because the language of sec. 704.28 is ALSO contained in ATCP 134 – specifically ATCP 134.06(2).
Along those same lines, if a landlord was found to have violated Wis. Stats., sec. 704.44, entitled residential rental agreement that contains certain provisions is void, a tenant would als be able to recover double damages and attorney’s fees as the language of sec. 704.44 is ALSO contained in ATCP 134 – specifically ATCP 134.08.
As long as the courts are made aware of this, it now appears that landlords can breathe a sigh of relief as they will no longer have to worry about being ordered to pay double damages and attorney’s fees to a tenant for improperly drafting or serving a 5 day notice, or any other portion of ch. 704 that is not also included in ATCP 134.
Now we just have to worry — as we have always had to — about having the court dismiss our evictions because of an improperly drafted or served 5 day notice : )