While this blog primarily focuses on residential landlord-tenant law, on occasion I also touch on issues applicable to commercial landlord-tenant law. This is one such instance.
Commercial landlord-tenant is more straightforward than residential in my opinion because commercial tenancies are less regulated than residential. Typically what a commercial landlord and tenant agreed to and placed into their lease agreement is what governs. The Wisconsin Administrative Code’s ATCP 134 does not apply to commercial leases and most of Chapter 704 of the Wisconsin Statutes does not apply to commercial leases unless (1) the parties had no written lease, or (2) the lease was silent as to certain issues (see sec. 704.03 and 704.05 respectively).
Well, that has all changed now with the passage of 2011 Wisconsin Act 143 which was signed into law last week and will take effect on March 31, 2012.
While almost all of the attention paid to the new law surrounded its effects on residential landlord-tenant law, the law also impacts the commercial arena as well. I too was caught up in the effect Act 143 would have on residential landlords and missed the applicability of this new law to commercial landlords initially — thanks to Bob Anderson of Legal Aid of Wisconsin for redirecting me : )
As I have mentioned in prior posts, this legislation was fast-tracked for some reason and rushing new laws through the legislative process is never a good thing. In fact it is a recipe for disaster.
It appears that the legislators did not realize that Senate Bill 466 — the precursor to Act 143 — was written in such a way as to encompass commercial landlord-tenant law. When it was brought to their attention, a quick amendment was made to exclude one portion of the new law (the section that makes a rental agreement void if it contains certain prohibited language) from the commercial arena, but apparently there was not enough time to deal with the other sections of the new law, which now will apply to both commercial and residential tenancies.
So what do we have?
The following provisions of Act 143 apply to both commercial landlord-tenant law as well as residential:
1. Moratorium on evictions
2. Severability of rental agreement provisions
3. Disposition of abandoned property
4. Requirement that landlords receive an award of holdover damages when appropriate
5. Acceptance of past due rents
6. Withholding from and return of security deposits
7. Making any violation of chapter 704 a possible unfair trade practice
If you are unfamiliar with the above sections of the new law you should read my prior post summarizing the new law.
Number 1-5 above actually benefit commercial landlords. However numbers 6 and 7 are problematic
By adding ATCP 134.06, which focuses on the withholding from and the return of security deposits, to chapter 704, the new law has now made these requirements applicable to commercial landlords as well. Prior to Act 143 being passed, there was no law addressing what a commercial landlord could withhold from a commercial tenant’s security deposit, nor was there any law regarding when that security deposit (or an itemization as to how the security deposit was applied) had to be returned to the commercial tenant. Well thanks to Act 143, now there is.
Act 143 allows a commercial landlord to only make deductions for the following items from a commercial tenant’s security deposit:
704.28 Withholding from and return of security deposits. (1) Standard withholding provisions. When a landlord returns a security deposit to a tenant after the tenant vacates the premises, the landlord may withhold from the full amount of the security deposit only amounts reasonably necessary to pay for any of the following:
(a) Except as provided in sub. (3), tenant damage, waste, or neglect of the premises.
(b) Unpaid rent for which the tenant is legally responsible, subject to s. 704.29.
(c) Payment that the tenant owes under the rental agreement for utility service provided by the landlord but not included in the rent.
(d) Payment that the tenant owes for direct utility service provided by a government-owned utility, to the extent that the landlord becomes liable for the tenant’s nonpayment.
(e) Unpaid monthly municipal permit fees assessed against the tenant by a local unit of government under s. 66.0435 (3), to the extent that the landlord becomes liable for the tenant’s nonpayment.
(f) Any other payment for a reason provided in a nonstandard rental provision document described in sub. (2).
So if a commercial landlord would now like to deduct anything other then the items listed in (a) – (e) above, then that landlord needs to start using a separate written document entitled “Nonstandard Rental Provisions” which must list the additional fees/costs that can be deducted from a commercial tenant’s security deposit.
Additionally, Act 143 now requires a commercial landlord to either (1) return the tenant’s security deposit to them, or (2) send them an itemization explaining how that security deposit was applied, within 21 days of the following:
(4) Timing for return. A landlord shall deliver or mail to a tenant the full amount of any security deposit paid by the tenant, less any amounts that may be withheld under subs. (1) and (2), within 21 days after any of the following:
(a) If the tenant vacates the premises on the termination date of the rental agreement, the date on which the rental agreement terminates.
(b) If the tenant vacates the premises before the termination date of the rental agreement, the date on which the tenant’s rental agreement terminates or, if the landlord rerents the premises before the tenant’s rental agreement terminates, the date on which the new tenant’s tenancy begins.
(c) If the tenant vacates the premises after the termination date of the rental agreement, the date on which the landlord learns that the tenant has vacated the premises.
(d) If the tenant is evicted, the date on which a writ of restitution is executed or the date on which the landlord learns that the tenant has vacated the premises, whichever occurs first.
Commercial landlords never had to worry about that 21 day time frame before — now they do. Needless to say it is much more difficult and time consuming to do a walkthrough of a giant commercial space and itemize any damages or cleaning charges than it is for a 500 square foot residential rental unit. I’m not exactly sure how commercial landlords will be able to comply with this time frame, but they will need to find a way, or else they may have to to their tenant double damages and attorney’s fees. Which leads me to the next concern . . .
Act 143 now makes any violation of chapter 704 a possible violation of unfair trade practices, which pursuant to sec. 100.20, Wis. Stats. allows a tenant to sue a landlord for double damages and attorney’s fees. Prior to Act 143 a commercial landlord was not in this predicament because unfair trade practices were set forth in ATCP 134 which only applied to residential tenancies. But now that Act 143 incorporates some provisions of ATCP 134 into chapter 704 — and chapter 704 applies to commercial landlord-tenant relations — things are different.
Here is the language of the new law:
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 under this chapter.
I guess the only positive is that the new law says “may constitute” instead of “shall constitute” however to a commercial landlord that never had to worry about anything they did constituting an unfair trade practice and subjecting themselves to being sued for double damages and attorney’s fees, I’m sure this will be of little consolation.
So not only will Act 143 require commercial landlords to make some modifications to the language in their leases, but it will require them to completely change how they run their commercial proeprty management businesses starting March 31, 2012 —- 2 DAYS FROM NOW!!!!!