Archive for category Late Fees

You Will Not Want To Miss AASEW’s Fourth Annual Landlord Boot Camp on Saturday Feb. 25th

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 of dollars.

The Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin’s Fourth Annual Landlord Boot Camp can help you navigate these treacherous waters and teach you how to run your properties with greater profit and less hassles.

I have given similar landlord-tenant law seminars to fellow attorneys, landlords, and property manager organizations throughout the state for other state-wide semianr companies that charge attendees $300-$400.  This is your opportunity to learn all of the same information at a huge discount through the Apartment Association.

 

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

When:    Saturday, February 25th, 2012. 8:30 am – 5 pm

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

Included:  100 plus page manual/outline to help you put what you learn into practice plus helpful forms.

Cost:  $159 for AASEW members and $249 for non-members.  If you are not a member of AASEW but are a member of another landlord/apartment association the cost to attend will be $199.

Specials: Not a member?  Pay just a dollar more and enjoy a 2012 AASEW membership.

Wisconsin landlord-tenant laws are constantly changing.  To help keep you up to date we offer prior attendees a $50 discount.

Sign up by going to the AASEW’s Landlord Boot Camp landing page where you can sign up online and pay via PayPal.

 

What you will learn at the Apartment Association’s 2012 Landlord Boot Camp

Landlord Boot Camp covers everything that you need to know about residential Landlord Tenant law in Wisconsin, including:

  1. How to properly screen prospective tenants.
  2. How to draft written screening criteria to assist you in the selection process and protect you from discrimination complaints.
  3. How to comply with both federal and state Fair Housing laws including how to handle 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 from dismissing your eviction suit.
  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).

. . .  and much more.  There will also be time for questions and answers.

You get all this for less than you would pay for an hour of an attorney’s time.

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

Call the Association at (414) 276-7378, email membership@apartmentassoc.org or go to our Landlord Boot Camp landing page to sign up online and reserve your spot.

Remember that “landlording” is a business — so take the time to educate yourself on how to better manage your business and avoid costly errors!

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SMALL CLAIMS BENCH/BAR MEETING: Milwaukee County Gives Clarification Regarding Including Late Fees In 5 Day Notices and Other Issues

The Milwaukee County Small Claims court has reinstituted its monthly Bench/Bar meetings.  These meetings allow the Milwaukee County Small Claims Court, including Judge Jane Carroll (presiding small claims judge) and the court commissioners, to come together with attorneys that appear regularly in small claims court, to discuss issues and concerns.

The most recent small claims bench/bar meeting was held on Monday, December 6, 2010.  I was able to attend the meeting and found it to be very insightful.  The meeting was attended by attorneys for tenants (Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc.), attorneys for landlords (myself and a few others), the attorney for the AASEW, court commissioners, small claims judge, and other court staff.  The overall response to the meeting was very good and Judge Carroll indicated that another meeting would be scheduled in January. 

It was very enlightening — and helpful — to hear everyone discuss issues of concern and to learn the thought process behind certain rules and procedures in small claims court.

For those of you that could not attend the meeting, I have attempted to provide a summary of the discussion, below:

-  Judge Carroll explained that she felt that nothing was wrong with a landlord including a late fee in a 5 day notice as long as the tenant was under a lease for a term as opposed to a month to month or other periodic tenancy.

Back in March of 2009 or so, when Judge Siefert was still the small claims judge, evictions were being dismissed if the landlord included late fees in the 5 day notice which was served on the tenant.  Here is a post on that topic that I previously wrote.

It was origianlly explained to me several months ago, that the reason for this new policy was that the court was now reading the statute very strictly, and sec. 704.17(1), Wis. Stats. (regarding notices in month to month situations and other periodic tenancies) and sec. 704.17(2), Wis. Stats. (regarding notices in leases for a specific term) said that a 5 day notice could be given to a tenant for failure to pay “rent.”  “Rent” was strictly interpreted to include rent — not late fees, security deposit amounts not paid, damages owed etc.

The discussion on this issue at the bench/bar meeting clarified that the court considered a tenant’s failure to pay a late fee to be a “breach of a covenant or condition of the tenant’s agreement” rather than a failure to pay rent and therefore a landlord would need to use a different 5 day notice — one for breach other than failure to pay rent — as opposed to a 5 day notice for failure to pay rent, in that particular cotext.

Judge Carroll said that she saw no problem with a landlord combining the two notices, as long as the tenant was under a lease for term, thus allowing a landlord to include a late fee in a 5 day notice for failure to pay rent. 

The combining of notices (to include a late fee and the past due rent amount) would NOT be allowed (and could result in the dismissal of an eviction) if the tenant was under a periodic tenancy, such as a month to month tenancy.  The reason for this distinction is that the Wisconsin Statutes do not allow a landlord to serve a tenant with a 5 day notice for the breach of lease for other than non-payment of rent.  If there is a breach of the lease for anything other than the non-payment of rent, in a month to month or other periodic tenancy, the Wisconsin Statutes require that a 14 day notice be used.

The court further explained that if a tenant was under a month to month or other periodic tenancy, that a landlord could combine the notices (failure to pay rent and breach of agreement other than failure to pay rent) into a 14 day notice if the landlord wanted to include a late fee along with the rent owed.  It should be noted however that 14 day notices do not allow a tenant the opportunity to cure the breach.

If this sounds confusing to you, you are not alone – IT IS CONFUSING!!  This is an example of the minutia of the law.

A quick summary:

1.  It is OK to include a late fee in a 5 day notice for failure to pay rent as long as the tenant is under a lease for term (as opposed to a periodic tenancy like a month to month).

2.  It is NOT OK to include a late fee in a 5 day notice for failure to pay rent if the tenant is a month to month tenant.  In that case the 5 day can only list rent owed OR the landlord should use a 14 day notice if the landlord wants to include a late fee.

Truthfully, I think the above will cause more confusion for landlords that are representing themselves (pro se) and for attorneys who do not specialize in landlord-tenant law.  To keep things simple I am still going to reccomend that my Milwaukee County landlord clients not include late fees in their 5 day notices.

-  Small claims court will NOT be splitting up the 2 pm (initial appearance on evictions) court calandar as it did last year. 

Many of you may recall the attempt by the courts to reduce the amount of people sitting in room 400 during the flu season last year.  The goal was to prevent people from spreading the flu and so the court split the eviction calandar in half and made some landlords appear at 2 pm and others appear at 3 pm. 

If you were a landord or attorney with multiple properties having multiple owners (some with names in the beginning of the alphabet and some toward the end of the alphabet), this often met you were stuck in small claims court even longer than usual.  Even with the splitting of the court’s calandar there were still a lot of people sitting in room 400 at one time - so I’m not sure that the transmission of the flu was really reduced.  I was happy to learn that the court would be forgoing this splitting of the calandar this season.

- The court asked for everyone’s thoughts regarding requiring a landlord to provide written notice to a tenant that defaults on a stipulated dismissal, in all circumstances.

Currently, if a tenant enters into a stipulated dismissal of an eviction action and agrees to either vacate by a date certain or remain in the unit and pay past due rent under a payment plan, and the tenant defaults on the stipulation, a landlord may come to court and file an Affidavit of Default and obtain a judgment of eviction and a writ of restitution WITHOUT having to provide the tenant with any notice.

Under a slightly different scenario, it is the policy of small claims court currently, that if the tenant enters into such a stipulated dismissal outside of court (i.e. signs the stipulation at the office of the landlord) and therefore neither the court nor the landlord’s attorney explains the stipulation to the tenant, and should the tenant default, the landlord MUST provide written notice to the tenant of the default and provide the tenant with the date and time that the landlord will be coming to court to request the judgment of eviction and writ.

Judge Carroll expressed concern that some of these stipulations, notably those that involve payments that will occur several months into the future, should possibly require written notice to the tenant.  Judge Carroll indicated that in some of the stipulated dismissals that she approves in her court (as opposed to those approved by the court commissioners in room 400) she requires the landlord to provide written notice to the tenant of the default, if the default occurs 5 months or more after the stipulation was entered into.  Judge Carroll’s concern was that some tenants would default on the stipulation and think they were working things out with the landlord to remedy the default, only to be surprised when the Sheriff was at the door ready to evict the tenant, thus leaving the tenant little time to move.

Many suggestions and opinions were offerred during the discussion.  I indicated that requiring another level of notice to the tenant would just cause further delay to the landlord in getting possession of his/her rental property and would allow the tenant another opportunity to argue that they didnt receive the “notice” and therefore should have additional time to vacate.  One suggestion was to require landlords to send a letter via regular U.S. mail to the tenant within 48 hours after going into court to file the Affidavit of Default and obtaining the eviction judgment and the writ.  Another suggestion was to require such notice only in situations in which the landlord and tenant modified (orally or in writing) the terms of the stipulated dismissal.  Yet another suggestion was to require such a notice only when the default occurred X number of months after the stipulation was entered into. 

No decision was made to modfify the notice requirements in defaults of stipulated dismissals but the court appreciated everyone’s thoughts and input and indicated that the topic may be addressed again in the future.

- Judge Carroll expressed concern with “proving up” modifications to stipulated dismissals or other agreements.

Judge Carroll indicated that she has witnessed many instances in which a landlord, who has already received a judgment of eviction and a writ, would then attempt to work with a tenant so that they could remain in the unit, rather than executing that writ with the Sheriff.  Nothing is wrong with attempting to work to keep the tenant in the unit in, Judge Carroll explained,but what is a problemis that these agreements are not being put in writing.  To avoid confusion, and possibly additional litigation, she emphasized that any agreement resulting from such negotiations should ber put in writing. Modifications to previosuly enetered into agreements are not being put in writing and this is resulting in the Court seeing a lot of “he said, she said” sitautions.

The practical effect of failing to memorialize such agreements or modifications often results in the scenario below:

At some point in time the landlord decides to stop working with the tenant to keep them in the rental unit, and tenders the writ to the Sheriff.  The Sheriff gives the tenant a 24 hour notice before executing the writ which causes the tenant to run into court and file a motion to reopen the judgment of eviction. The tenant argues that while a writ was granted to the landlord, since that time the landlord began to work with the tenant to allow them to remain in the unit.  The landlord told the tenant that they could stay if they did X and Y (or at least that is what the tenant “heard”) and the tenant has done X and Y, so the landlord should not be allowed to have the writ executed becasue of the new agreement.  The court then schedules a hearing on the tenant’s motion to reopen the eviction judgment — which results in a stay of the execution of the writ.  The landlord now has to appear in court again and both the tenant and the landlord have differernt versions of their discussions and the court has to sort through all of this — with nothing in writing to support either side’s argument.

The court understands that landlords would often like keep a tenant if possible, and that is the reason for a landlord attempting to “work with”  a tenant even after a writ has been obtained.  But as Judge Carroll pointed out, because these modification are not put in writing there is often disagreements as to what was agreed to between the parties.

My thoughts on this issue are simple: (1) If you have a writ, execute it and remove the tenant from your rental property — the time for trying to work with the tenant so that they can remain in the unit is long past if you have filed an eviction action against them, in my opinion, or (2) if you still want to work with the tenant so that they can remain in the unit at this late date  —– put the agreement in writing, using  clear and simple terms tht the tenant, the landlord, and the court, can understand and interpret.

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LATE FEES – PART 2: ATCP 134 REQUIREMENTS

Late fees are a necessary evil for landlords aw we often need some type of “hammer” to hold over the heads of tenants who pay rent late. With this post I want to provide you with some additional information on the requirements that must be met with regard to late fees as specified in ATCP 134 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code.

A Bit of History:

In the past – prior to ATCP 134 and when the administrative rules pertaining to residential rental housing were called Ag 134 — late fees were not allowed. Because of this creative landlords came up with the idea of offering discounts for the prompt payment of rent. For example, if the tenant pays rent by the 1st of the month the rent will be discounted to $650, however if rent is not received by the 1st of the month then the rental amount will remain at the regular rate of $700. By doing this landlords still were able to obtain a form of late fee without calling it a late fee.

I still see this “discount rent” option on a few of my client’s rental agreements but it has become rare as there is no need to disguise a late fee anymore since late fees are no longer prohibited.

ATCP 134.09(8) Rules Regarding Late Fees:

While late fees are no longer illegal, there are some rules that have been imposed regarding how and when late fees can be used. In the revised Ag Rules (now referred to as ATCP 134) the rules regarding late fees are as follows:

1.  You cannot charge a late fee or late penalty unless it is specifically stated in the rental agreement.

2.  You may not charge a late fee for the non-payment of a late fee.

3.  Before charging a late fee you must apply all rent prepayments received to offset the amount of rent owed by the tenant.

The first two rules are pretty straightforward. However the third rule is a bit confusing. In essence, the third rule is basically saying that you cannot apply a tenant’s rent payment to a past owed late fee so that the tenant would now be considered late in paying the current month’s rent thus allowing you to charge an additional late fee.

Here is an example: Joe Tenant fails to pay you rent for the month of June in the amount of $500. After the 6th of the month you charge Joe a $50 late fee. On or about June 10th Joe pays his rent of $500 for the month of June but fails to pay the $50 late fee. So while Joe has now paid June’s rent in full he still owes you a $50 late fee. When July 1st comes around Joe promptly pays you his July rent of $500. You are not allowed to take Joe’s July rent payment of $500 and apply $50 of that payment to the outstanding $50 late fee for June. This is not allowed because by doing so your actions would now make Joe responsible for paying a late fee for July as well because he would have only paid you $450. You cannot do this.

In the example above you would need to apply the $500 July rent payment to July’s rent and then continue to keep the $50 late fee from June “on the books” and either collect it from Joe in the future or at the end of Joe’s rental term or tenancy deduct the June $50 late fee from Joe’s security deposit (assuming your nonstandard rental provisions allow you to do so).

While it may be tempting to ignore this administrative rule you must remember that by ignoring the rule you will be in violation of ATCP 134 which would allow Joe Tenant, under §100.20(5) Wis Stats., to recover twice the amount of the loss (in this case $100) plus his costs in filing the lawsuit and his attorney’s fees (and trust me these will be more than the $100 ; )

The three rules mentioned above are administrative rules and apply statewide. You must also be aware that many municipalities have created additional rules regarding late fees. An example would be the City of Madison which specifies that a late fee cannot exceed more than 5% of the rent amount. So be sure and check the local administrative ordinances where you own your rental property.

If you have not already done so, please read Part 1 of my post on the issue of late fees here.

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LATE FEES – PART 1: WHAT AMOUNT CAN YOU CHARGE?

Many of my clients ask me what amount they should charge a tenant who is late in paying rent. Many also wonder if there is a maximum amount beyond which they would not be allowed to charge as a late fee.

The only legal guidance we have as to what amount is acceptable as a late fee is the case of Three & One Co. v. Geilfuss, 178 Wis.2d 400, 504 N.W. 2d 393 (Ct. App. 1993). This 1993 Court of Appeal decision is not even specifically about the issue of late fees but rather addresses the issue of “waste” (when a tenant intentionally damages the rental property) and what amount of damages a landlord may recover against a tenant that commits waste on the landlord’s property. Nonetheless the Court in Geilfuss does state in its opinion that the late fee of $50 per month charged by the landlord was properly assessed against the tenant. Thus, we as landlords know that at least the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has upheld a late fee of $50 per month.

There is no other guidance in Wisconsin law as to the amount of late fee that is acceptable. No Wisconsin Statute addresses the issue nor does any administrative rule in Chapter ATCP 134 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code.

As such, a landlord should be able to charge a late fee of any amount as long as it is reasonable. Legally, a landlord should also be allowed to charge a daily late fee as well if they so choose. For those of you who choose to charge a daily late fee you should be aware the Model Lease for Subsidized Programs (which is drafted by HUD) specifically allow a landlord renting subsidized property to charge a late fee of $5 on the 6th day of the month and to charge $1 per day late fee each day thereafter for that month until the rent is paid.

On a practical level however – at least in Milwaukee County – there are some restrictions to the amount of the late fee that a landlord may charge. Milwaukee County has an unwritten rule that it does not allow daily late fees to be charged. I have had both court commissioners and judges in Milwaukee County eviction court toss out daily late fees that I have tried to obtain for my clients. The reason that I was provided is that daily late fees are “not fair.”

I have even had a past court commissioner in Milwaukee County (several years ago) tell me that he would not allow my client to collect a monthly late fee of $50 as he thought that was “unconscionable.” When I provided the commissioner with a copy of the Geilfuss case mentioned above where the Court of Appeals held that a $50 late fee was appropriate, the commissioner relented.

I have handled evictions and the associated damages claims in Dane County, Waukesha County, Kenosha County, Racine County, Aizoaceae County, Washington County, and a county or two county way up north that I can no longer recall – in all of these counties I have never had the court prevent me from obtaining a late fee for my client, regardless of the amount, as long as the late fee was clearly specified in the rental agreement as is required in the Wisconsin Administrative Code, ACP 134.09(8).

So as the law currently stands you should be able to charge any amount for a late fee that you wish, including daily late fees, if you are so inclined. However if you want to have actual legal support for the amount of the late fee you are charging then you may want to cap your late fees at $50 per month and carry a copy of the Geilfuss decision with you when you go to small claims court at least in Milwaukee County).

Please be aware however that individual municipalities can create ordinances regarding late fees that might be more restrictive than the state law.  For example the City of Madison’s local ordinances which you can review here prevent a landlord from charging a late fee that is more than 5% of the month rent.

A note of caution for Milwaukee County landlords – do not place the late fee amount in your 5 day notice or you might have your eviction case dismissed. See my prior post on this topic here.

Please share with me your experience with what amount of late fees you charge your tenants and if you have had any problems with the courts doing so.

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5 DAY NOTICES AND LATE FEES IN MILWAUKEE COUNTY

Around March 1, 2009 or so, Milwaukee County court commissioners began dismissing eviction lawsuits that were based on 5 day notices that included any amounts other than “rent.”

The statute regarding 5 day notices, §704.17, Wis. Stats., states that if a tenant “fails to pay any installment of rent when due” the landlord may issue them a 5 day notice to pay rent or vacate the unit.

In the past landlords often listed other amounts that the tenant owed in their 5 day notices such as: late fees, remaining portions of security deposits, unpaid utility fees, or amounts owed for damage to the unit. Those days appear to be gone.

Milwaukee County is now taking a very narrow view of the definition of “rent.” As such, if a landlord includes any amounts other than pure rent in his/her 5 day notice they risk having their eviction lawsuit dismissed.

As such, landlords will need to pursue these other amounts that the tenant owes during the 2nd and 3rd causes of action for money damages. If the tenant should cure the 5 day notice by paying the rent amounts within the 5 day notice then the landlord will need to keep track of these other amounts owed and deduct them from the tenant’s security deposit at the end of the tenancy or rental term (assuming that those amounts are included in the Nonstandard Rental Provisions and thus can properly be deducted from the tenant’s security deposit).

To date I am not aware of any landlord appealing a court commissioner’s decision to the small claims judge on this issue. While there is a chance that the judge could rule differently I believe that the safest thing to do is for the landlord to eliminate the inclusion of any amounts owed by the tenant other than straight rent from his/her 5 day notice.

It does not appear that Milwaukee County is applying the same reasoning to 14 day notices at this time. That most likely is because the statute pertaining to 14 day notices does not limit itself to just “rent.”

This is just another example of the many technical pitfalls that can cause a landlord’s eviction action to fail. The need to stay on top of the various L-T laws and the many permutations of that law as determined in Milwaukee County is obvious.