About the Author

tristan-pettit-blogTristan R. Pettit is a shareholder with the Milwaukee law firm of Petrie & Stocking S.C. which has been in existence for over 115 years assisting individuals, families, and businesses throughout the state.

He focuses his practice in the area of general civil and business litigation with an emphasis on landlord-tenant law.

Mr. Pettit handles both commercial and residential evictions and the accompanying damages claims for his clients throughout the state.  He has also been involved in litigation dealing with lead-based paint issues, Fair Housing (discrimination) claims, bedbugs, building code orders, public nuisance lawsuits, and both the prosecution and defense of Wisconsin Administrative Code – ATCP 134 – violations.

He assists clients with the drafting and interpretation of commercial leases and residential rental agreements and other rental documents and is the author of the landlord-tenant legal forms sold at Wisconsin Legal Blank Co., Inc., which are used throughout the state.

Mr. Pettit presents seminars on landlord-tenant law and related matters throughout the state and is a current board member and past-president of the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, Inc.

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97 Comments (and 2 trackbacks)

  • #1 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on March 29th, 2011

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    Julie — I’m glad that youu found the seminar helpful. Your question requires the giving of legal advice which I cannot do via this blog. there are several issues that would need to be analyzed before an answer could be arrived at. I would suggest that you consider retaining an attorney to help you decide how to handle this — if done properly, and you can prove that the damage was caused by the tenant then there is always the possibility that you could retain the tenant’s security deposit — but since an improper deduction would open you up to paying double damages and atty. fees I would reccomend you spend the time and money make sure you understand any potential consequences of making a deduction from the tenant’s security deposit.

    Hope that helps

    T

  • #2 by Jeffrey Schwark on April 19th, 2011

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    Last April I contacted you per this blog to say thanks for all your help and information when it comes to being a landlord. I without fail read your email updates the moment I see them and they are always helpful and informative so keep up the good work. I do however have a question which hopefully you can help with or point me in the right direction. The question is this For the first time in ten years I have decided to become pro active, I currently have a first time tennant who has entered into a one year lease with me. The lease is coming to an end this July and I contacted them 90 days prior to see if they wanted to renew. I got the run around so I drafted up a 90 day notice stating I will not be renewing the lease. So can I with a 12 hr notice show the place with in reasonable hours to potential renters prior to them moving out ? Thank You Jeff

  • #3 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on April 19th, 2011

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    Hi Jeff – Yes, I recall your earlier comment — thanks again fo your kind words.

    Yes, you can certainly show the unit to a prospective renter after giving the current tenant 12 hours notice. The ability to do so is even set forth in the statutes and ATCP 134.

    A practical question that you may encounter is how does the current tenant react. If they are difficult and say disparaging remarks to the potential new tenant, then you may not want to show the unit until they have left, but legally you are certainly allowed to do so.

    T

  • #4 by Brian on June 9th, 2011

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    Tristan Hello!

    I wanted to Thank you for the wealth of information you provide regularly on your blog! Using your recommendations I filled my first rental unit last week with a great tenant.

    I’m wondering if you have any information regarding selling a home on a land contract vs renting it out as an active landlord? Pros vs Cons. Or would you have a link to information you would recommend on this topic?

    Thanks again!

    Brian

  • #5 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on June 9th, 2011

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    Brian — thanks for the kind words. Possibly I can draft a future post on that topic. In the interim if you want to give me a call I can discuss some of the main differences.

    T

  • #6 by Crystal on June 23rd, 2011

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    Do you, or will you sometime in the future, have a blog post about the requirements of a rental agreement, such as rental unit and lease start date vs. TBD date?

    You have such informative posts, I think an all inclusive post of what is required in a lease would be very helpful.

  • #7 by c on June 23rd, 2011

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    Hi,

    Thank you so much for all of the great info on this website.
    It has been an invaluable help to us as we have learned the ropes. We now have a question about selling our rental property while there is a good tenant living in the property with a current lease through the end of March 2011 and who looking to be a long-term tenant at this time. We really like the tenant who just moved in, but we are getting a divorce and may need to sell the property. 1) is it possible to sell with a tenant 2) Do we have to sell it to someone who is willing to take over the existing lease 3) what happens if we can’t find anyone to buy with a current tenant? 4) what else should we be aware of/know about in this situation?

    Thanks in advance!

  • #8 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on June 24th, 2011

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    Hi Crytal – thanks for your suggestion. I will consider that. The reason I haven’t done that yet is I am a strong proponent of landlords using the lease at Wisconsin LEgal Blank which I have drafted. Landlords only get themselves into trouble when they try to draft their own rental agreements.

    I review the WLB lease regularly and therefore there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

    T

  • #9 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on June 24th, 2011

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    While I am sorry to hear about your divorce, you needn’t worry about your tenant. All leases travel with the property not the owner. So if your current tenant has an existing lease that will have to be honored by the new purchasor.

    Yes, having a tenant in the property might scare off someone who wants to buy the property to live in it, but to rental property owners — as long as it is a good tenant — that can actually be a benefit to a purchasing landlord.

    T

  • #10 by Tony Clark on July 5th, 2011

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    Can a landlord put in a “nonstandard rental provision” that the tenant must have the carpets cleaned? Or is that a violation of ATCP134.06 6(c)?

  • #11 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on July 6th, 2011

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    Such a NSRP would violate ATCP 134. You should NOT include that as a NSRP.

  • #12 by Mary Suminski on July 16th, 2011

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    Hello Tristan,

    Thank you for providing this resource! The question I have is simple, but I’m having a little difficulty finding the answer online. Does Wisconsin allow a 3-day right of recission for rental agreements? From what I understand, it’s binding as soon as the tenant signs it; however if they want out of the lease I need to make a reasonable effort to re-rent the unit.

    Thank you for your time and expertise!
    Mary

  • #13 by mark on July 16th, 2011

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    I ran across your blog – will be saving it in my favorites. Also have a very unique situation question-

    A tenant called me on June 8th stating that they would be moving out at the end of the month. I reminded her of the 30 day notice and she offered to forfeit her security depsoit in exchange for waving the 30 day notice – she was looking to rent a bigger place and have to give the new landlord an answer within a day. We made a verbal agreement. She moved out on June 28th and I sent her a letter regarding the security desposit on July 11th. She call and demanded her security deposit back and stated she never agreed to such a thing and called my a lier and has threatened to sue me. On July 12th she sent a text stating she was giving my a seven day notice to return the security deposit or she was going to seek legal action. I have nothing in writing – it is a he said she said. The lease agreement does state she must give a 30 day notice. Does she have to give me a seven day notice in writing vs. a text?? Please share your thoughts.

    Mark

  • #14 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on July 18th, 2011

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    Mary – There is no right to rescind a residential rental agreement. No threed ays grace period as in other contexts. The tenant is bound by the lease subject to your duty to mitigate the tenant’s damages by making attempts to re-rent the unit.

  • #15 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on July 18th, 2011

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    Mark — Your situation requires the giving of legal advice which I cannot do via this blog. As I am sure you are already aware you should never make an agreement verbally — everything should be followed up in writing. More facts must be learned – i.e. what was the agreement you made for instance – that is not clear from your comment. But yes, you will have a she said-he said situation. She is not required to give you a 7 day notice at all — not sure what that is regarding — so I dont think it matters if that is in writing or via text.

    T

  • #16 by Andrea on August 25th, 2011

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    Great blog. I am a renter but I want to be informed on the landlord’s responsibilities, which I think makes me a better tenant. And I have a shady landlord (there’s currently water damage from an upstairs leak that the prop mgr looked at but has yet to take action; they want me to be the one to let in contractors even though my lease does not call for it) so it’s really good to know the legalities of what’s going on, via an informed voice. State docs are great, but examples (like how you define reasonable times for entry) are great education. Thank you!

  • #17 by Jan on August 27th, 2011

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    I have a tenant that I have a 5 day to and she only responds by text messages.That she would be out by Friday the 26th. But I don’t know where she is, and she no longer answers the text messages. Do I still need to go through the courts to clean out the apartment?
    Thank you.

  • #18 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on August 29th, 2011

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    Unless you cna confirm that the tenant has vacated the property it is safer to go forward with the eviction so that the tenant can not come back and sue you for an illegal self-help eviction.

  • #19 by Lee on September 2nd, 2011

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    I have a tenant who has told me she is witholding september rent because she is tired of dealing cleaning up water leaks in the basement. And has threatened to sue us if we push her to pay september rent.
    She is m2m. If she tries to sue for damages and claim we didn’t do anything or didn’t do enough, where is the burden of proof, and how much of her pain and suffering are we really responsible for??

  • #20 by Otha Barnes on September 3rd, 2011

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    I am in a tenant in a property that has been going through foreclosure. The landlord never told me this. I found out end of June that he had been in foreclosure since 11/2010. The bank did take the property back on 8/29 of this year. After finding out the landlord was in foreclosure I did not make a payment to him in July or August. A process server came and gave me a summons and complaint on 8/22. I told the process server my name was Otha Barnes because the complaint said Malcolm Barnes which is my son name and he is 14. He left the summons with me anyways. We went to the 1st court date yesterday to see if there could be a settlement reached or agreement and I said to the commissioner to much is going on here and its need to be a trial. The landlord admitting to the commissoner he got my name mistaken with my son’s and she told him the judge may dismiss the case due to this. My question is will the judge dismiss based on wrong name on the complaint? Also the landlord did not issue a 5 day notice to me he is saying he gave it to me on 6/7/2011 but I did not get it, plus I gave him a payment a week after this date of 526 when my rent is 600 so this was a partial payment. If I had known about and eviction notice I would think I would have borrowed the difference. Since he took partial payment does this void the 5 day notice he saying he issued? Any advice would be appreciated.

  • #21 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on September 6th, 2011

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    Lee — In order to effectively advise you one would need to learn all of the facts and the extent to the water leaks, duration etc. You should take the time to retain and consult an attorney to adequately evaluate your exposure and to evaluate how to proceed since she is refusing to pay rent. A landlord cannot just allow a tenant to remain in a unit rent-free regardless of what the tenant might counterclaim for. There also is a statute that specifically says that a tenant cannot abate 100% of their rent and remain living in the unit.

    With regard to pain and sufferring – I have yet to see a court award those types of damages to a tenant in a eviction context, although they have awarded other damages such as the abatement of rent. The burden of proof is the ordinary civil burden – “to a reasonable certainty by the greater weight of the credible evidence.”

    Good Luck

  • #22 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on September 6th, 2011

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    Ms. Barnes — I cannot give legal advice via this blog. There are certain requirements that a lender must follow with regard to giving notice to a tenant during a foreclosure process. There are also certain disclosures that a landord must give to a tenant that he is renting to if the foreclosure process has conmmenced and the landlord is renting out the unit. You should consult with an attorney that represents residential tenants as this is an important issue for you.

  • #23 by Scott on December 10th, 2011

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    Would the 3-day right to recession apply to a rental agreement that has no begun yet?
    A friend signed a rental agreement and realized she could not afford all the bills and asked the landlord to rescind the agreement the next day…

  • #24 by Kim on December 22nd, 2011

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    I recently learned of your blog and I appreciate all the info you have shared. It’s very helpful.

    If a writ of restitution for eviction (in Washington County) expires, can the landlord legally change the locks while the tenant is still living there? The tenant is in the process of moving out but the landlord has threatened and attempted to change the locks. The Sheriff has not executed the writ.

    Thank you.

  • #25 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on December 22nd, 2011

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    Kim — If a tenant has not vacated — even if a court has ordered him to — the only legal way for a landlord to regain possession of his property is to execute the writ with the Sheriff and have the Sheriff remove the tenant. Changing locks is never legal until the unit has been legally returned to the landlord via either tenant leaving the unit or the Sheriff evicting the tenant. If you were to change the locks, a tenant could sue you for illegal eviction.

  • #26 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on December 22nd, 2011

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    Scott — No, the 3 day right to rescind a contract does not apply to rental agreements.

  • #27 by Kim on December 22nd, 2011

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    Hi Tristan,

    Thank you very much for answering my question. I have read many blogs and online legal resources, but yours is one of the most concise and well-written that I’ve come across.

    The information that you provide is invaluable and greatly appreciated.

    Thanks again for your help.

    Kim

  • #28 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on December 23rd, 2011

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    Kim – Thanks for your kind words. I am glad to hear that my blog is helpful. Happy Holidays.

    T

  • #29 by Kim on January 19th, 2012

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    Hi Tristan,

    If a writ of restitution expires, is it possible to file a motion to have it re-issued? If yes, how many days notice is required to inform the tenant of the hearing?

    I have learned so much from your blog and I appreciate the wealth of information you provide. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

    Kim

  • #30 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on January 20th, 2012

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    Kim — Thanks for the kind words.

    The answer to your question is unfortunately “no.”

    A writ expires after 30 days. If you have not tendered the writ with the Sheriff within 30 days of it being issued it becomes void. You would be forced to start the entire eviction process over again. An argument could even be made that you could not even use the prior 5 day notice (or 14 day notice . . .) as the basis for your second eviction based on the legal theories of claim preclusion and/or issue preclusion — so potentially you might even be required to issue a new 5 day notice.

    At my seminars I always caution landlords that are attempting to work with tenants to stay in the unit (even after a writ has been issued) to be very careful about allowing the tenant to keep promising to pay and promising to pay and next thing you know the writ has expired . . . as that is the typical context in which I see writs expire.

  • #31 by Kim on January 20th, 2012

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    Tristan,

    Once again, you have answered my questions in words that us non-lawyers can understand! I didn’t even have to look up any of the words you use. :) You truly are a great help. Thank you very much.

    I will continue to read your blog and am looking forward to attending your seminars. There are several people I know (in the rental business) could benefit from your seminars. I will pass along the information to them. Thanks again.

    Have a nice night.

    Kim

  • #32 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on January 20th, 2012

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    Hi Kim — Thank you so much for your kind words. I am glad to know my explanation was understandable . . . sometimes us lawyers forget how to talk “normal.” : )

    If you are looking for the best Landlord Tenant law seminar to attend, I would highly reccomend the Landlord Boot Camp coming up on Feb. 25th. It is th emost inclusive seminar I give at the best price. If you can make it, please be sure and introduce yourself.

    T

  • #33 by Kim on January 23rd, 2012

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    Hi Tristan,

    You’re most welcome. Thanks for the recommendation! I will try to arrange my schedule so I can attend the one in February. When I am able to attend, I will be sure to intoduce myself and thank you in person.

    Thanks again for providing all the information that you do.

    Enjoy your day. :)

    Kim

  • #34 by Delphi on March 8th, 2012

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    Hi Tristan,

    Could you please tell me if there are any legal or moral obligations for a landlord in terms of disclosure to potential tenants regarding other tenants in the building and their criminal backgrounds?

    We just found out that one of the other tenants (who threatened to kill me and my family) has a long string of issues with violence and sexual assault of a child though the charges were altered to a conviction of child abuse instead. We feel violated in terms of had it been disclosed to us that people in our building had convictions and served jail time for violent crimes sexual or not-we obviously would not have moved into the building.

    We live in Madison and I know our laws are different to Milwaukee, but if you could give me any information in terms of whether there is any state or federal law that mandates disclosure by the landlord when asked about other tenants in the building to reveal that there are people with violent histories,etc. I would hope that there would be given that if landlord’s do not screen properly it puts all the other tenants at risk-but I am not sure where to look. I don’t mind doing any leg work in terms of research here, just not sure where to start looking.

    Kindest Regards-and thanks for the very informative site.
    Delphi

  • #35 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on March 9th, 2012

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    Delphi — thanks for your question. I am not very familiar with Madison’s local ordinances – so there may be some requirement to disclose there that I am unaware of – but based on what is below, I would doubt it.

    In terms of state law, the only law that even touches on that issue would be. sec. 704.50 re: individuals on the sexual offender registry. The law essentially says that the landlord has no duty to disclose to an applicant or tenant that a person is listed on the sex offender registry unless the applicant or tenant specifically asks the landlord and then only if the landlord has actual knowledge of the information.

    Additionally, a landlord is immune from liability if the landlord, upon being asked, provides the requester with npotice as to how the requester can obtain information re: who is on the sex offender registry — i.e. phone number or website. Most good rental agreements or rental applications contain this information so that applicants or tenants can look it up themselves.

    This state statute only applies to those listed on the sex offender registry and does not apply to individuals charged or convicted of other crimes that do not require registry as a sex offender.

    I am not aware of any WI law or case whereby a landlord was required to disclose a current tenat’s criminal background to applicatns or new renters and based on the drafting of the above statute it seems pretty clear that a landlord would not be required to disclose that info unless they were specifically asked and had actual knowledge.

    WHile this may seem unfair to you, and I understand your concern and alarm, there would most likely be a lot of privacy issues at play which would allow a tenant who was convicted or charged with a crime to sue a landlord that disclosed that information to any tenant or applicant that asks.

    Landlords are not even supposed to give out the names of their tenants to applicants or new tenants.

  • #36 by Lor on April 25th, 2012

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    I’m wondering why the rental application you drafted doesn’t include questions for the applicant to answer about previous lockouts by sheriff, bankruptcy, sued for bills, guilty of felony, broken a lease, taken to court by another landlord, moved owing rent or damaged an apt, and if the rent & sec dep are available now ?

  • #37 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on April 26th, 2012

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    Lor — You could choose to ask those questions in the application if you wish as well as many more. It is a matter of finding a balannce between obtaining the pertinent info and not having the retal application become too long. I wouldnt reccomend that a landlord trust the answers to your questions anyhow. By using the information on the rental application you can find out that infirmation you want form a more verifiable source than the applicant — ie. Use CCAP to check for prior money judgments or evictions, call prior landlords re: evictions, judgments, damage etc.

  • #38 by Concerned Parent on May 22nd, 2012

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    My daughter is a UWM student along with 5 other girls they signed a lease with landlord X one of the girls had extenuating circumstances and could no longer rent. They signed the lease in March paid $3200 in security deposit. The lease was to begin in August. They contacted the landlord and they found people to “lease” the unit in full as of May. The landlord is now withholding $1600 from security deposit because they had to “show” the property 10 times. How can they withold money from a deposit they a)never moved in b) they rented the unit out 3 mos prior to lease starting. PLEASE HELP!

  • #39 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on May 24th, 2012

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    Dear Concerned Parent — Please understand that I cannot give legal advice via this blog. Even if I could (and would) there are many important facts missing from your comment that a lawyer would need to know in order to assist you.

    If a tenant signs a lease (even if they haven’t moved in) they are still bound by the terms of the lease. there is no right to recission in residential rental agreements. So tenants in such a situation are still responsible for paying rent subject to the landlord’s duty to make reasonable attempts to re-rent the unit. The tenants will also be responsible for the landlord’s re-rental costs and for any rent lost until new tenants (that meet the landlord’s screening criteria) are found and they pay rent. If new tenants are not found that meet the landlord’s screening criteria are not found then the defaulting tenants remain responsible for rent.

    Roommate situation are always difficult. If one roommate bows out or defautls – it affects all the roommates – this is referred to as joint and several liability and I have a post that you may want to read on roommates situations. I am sorry to hear of your daughter’s predicament. I would suggest that you consult with a lawyer to determine if the landlord’s retention of the tenant’s security deposit was appropriate in this case or not.

  • #40 by Nikki on January 25th, 2013

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    Is is customary practice to withold money from a tenant’s security deposit to re-key the unit? If so, is it regulated by any law?

  • #41 by Steve on January 29th, 2013

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    Tristan- your energy and enthusiasm to help others is amazing. you are a great person. I have an interesting situation that may intrigue you. To say it brief, I am a landlord in waukesha county and have a tenant suing me for being 8 days late on the 21 day rule. They are going for double ($1650.00 so far) however i have a signed “non-standard rental provision ” That extends that date to 30 days! ( Interesting Hey?) no where did I find that an extension is prohibited by Wisconsin state legislative law! Crazy! What do you think will happen in court

  • #42 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on January 31st, 2013

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    If the tenant didnt return the keys, yes. No, no Wisconsin law addresses that specific issuue.

  • #43 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on January 31st, 2013

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    Steve — Unfortunately you cannot change the time period in which to return the securtity deposit in my opinion, even if the tenat agrees to it.

  • #44 by Kelly on February 13th, 2013

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    Hi Mr. Pettit,

    Is a landlord held legally responsible if he or she knowingly rents to a registered sex offender, and that tenant re-offends on the premises or in the neighborhood?

  • #45 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on February 13th, 2013

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    Kelly – I cannot give legal advice via this blog. I would refer you to Wis. Stats. sec. 704.50 which addresses the subject you are asking about.

  • #46 by Rose Bogosian on February 19th, 2014

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    I am excited to attend your Boot Camp in March 2014.
    I have a question that I need some answers sooner and I am hoping you can assist-
    If a tenant enters into a residential 1yr lease on 1/25/14 with a lease to start on 3/15/14, paid security deposit. Has not moved in, and does not have keys to property. Tenant indicated by email she has medical problems and needs to go on disability (no longer working during treatment) Can we hold sec dep for losses until we find a qualified new tenant? Can we release her from lease if she forfeits her security deposit?

  • #47 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on February 24th, 2014

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    Hi Rose — Glad you will be at Boot Camp. I cannot give legal advice via this blog. In terms of general info however. A lease is a signed contract so a person that signs it is obligated to it. If they breach the contract by not moving in or not paying rent or some other breach, you are required to attempt to mitigate their damages by making reasonable attempts to re-rent the unit. If you are not able to do so, then a tenant remains liable for rent unti either the end of the lease or whenever you re-rent it.

    So as a matter of course, a security deposit cannot be kept becasue a tenant breaches their lease, but it may be kept if the landlord is damaged.

    We will address questions like this and much more at Boot Camp on March 8th.

    T

  • #48 by Rose Bogosian on March 27th, 2014

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    Is there form such as an amendment available for leases that will allow changes to the terms of a written lease? I could not find one in Wisconsin Legal Blank or any in the Wisconsin Realtors lease forms.
    Sometimes tenants and landlords would like to make changes to the terms.
    Any suggestions?

  • #49 by Tristan R. Pettit, Esq. on April 18th, 2014

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    Rose – Unless both sides are willing to amend the terms of the lease while it is still in effect you cannot change the terms of a lease during the lease period.

    No, there is not a form sold at WLB or REALTORS that allows you to do this that I am aware of, in part because so many terms could be modified that it is difficult to draft a form for that.

    Your options would be to enter into a new lease agreement with modified terms and void out the old lease or draft an amendment to the terms of the lease, state the changes and have both parties sign and date.

    Good Luck

    T

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