Archive for category Rental Agreements

Revised Wisconsin Legal Blank Forms Will Be Available on Monday, February 17th

As I hope most of you are aware, Wisconsin passed a new law that will great affect landlord-tenant law – Act 76.  Whenever the law is changed, there is usually a need to revise and/or update your rental documents to comply with the law.  That is definitely the case with the changes from Act 76.

As such, I have had to update many of the rental documents that are sold at Wisconsin Legal Blank.

The new law becomes effective March 1, 2014.  So for those of you that use the WLB forms you will want to use these revised forms for any new tenancies that commence on or after March 1, 2014.

The following Wisconsin Legal Blank forms have been revised:

 

1.   Residential Rental Agreement (#19)

The changes made to this form are very important.  As of March 1, 2014, it will be required that all residential rental agreements include certain language that provides notice of domestic abuse protections.  Act 76 states that a rental agreement will be void and unenforceable if it allows a landlord to terminate a tenancy for a crime and the rental agreement fails to include the domestic violence notice language.  As a result of having to add this additional language verbatim the Residential Rental Agreement form will be much longer.

Several other changes and modifications were made to this form as well including:

a.   Revision of the “Extermination Costs” section

b.  Addition of a “Non-Waiver” section

c.  Addition of a “Criminal Activity Prohibited” section

d.  The “Notice to Vacate” section was modified to clarify the law better regarding terminating a lease for term.  The 30 day notice required to terminate a month to month tenancy was changed to 28 days to coincide with Wisconsin statutes.

e.  The “Abandoned Property” section was modified to comply with the law changes in Act 76

f.  Additional language was added to clarify that operating a business or providing child care services are not allowed in the rental unit.

g.  Additional language was added in the section entitled “Security Deposit” to state that if the repair costs for tenant damages are not known in time for the sending of the security deposit transmittal letter that a ”good faith” estimate may be used.

f.  Clarifying language was added to the “Breach and Termination” section.

 

2.   Residential Lease Renewal or Notice To Vacate (#970) — Was updated to comply with Act 76′s changes regarding abandoned property.

 

3.  Notice of Rent Increase (for Month to Month Tenant) (#332) – Was updated to comply with Act 76′s changes regarding abandoned property.

 

4.  Check-In / Check-Out Sheet (#997 and #993) — Was updated to to comply with Act 76 with regards to the title and the “When To Use” explanation as well as some stylistic changes.

 

5.  Rental Application (#996) – Eliminated some sections that were not needed and could possibly cause problems for landlords, added some additional instructions for applicant, restructured the layout of the form, and reworded much of the language at the bottom of the signature page.

 

6.  Nonstandard Rental Provisions (#984) — Rewrote the “When To Use” section to better explain the purpose of a NSRP document, removed the “Miscellaneous Matters” section of the form, revised the statutory references, and fixed some grammatical issue.

 

I can’t stress enough how important it is to use updated/revised forms when they become available.  I still see landlords using the Residential Rental Agreement that was drafted over 10 years ago.  There are important reasons that rental documents are updated: (1)  To comply with law changes, (2) To eliminate problem language that has caused landlords problems.  Each new version of these forms are supposed to make your life easier.  Using old forms is just an invitation for problems.  Effective, March 1, 2014, failing to use the revised Residential Rental Agreement may result in your Agreement being declared void and unenforceable.

T

 

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Top 10 Pitfalls That Landlords Should Avoid

Those of you that missed the last AASEW membership meeting on Monday, April 15, 2013, missed a great meeting and a great presentation.  The featured presenter was John “Dr. Rent” Fischer, a Wausau-area landlord and rental property manager, who spoke to a packed house that Monday.  John’s presentation was dynamic, educational and at times pretty darn funny.

With John’s permission, I am providing you with a link to John’s handout from the meeting which was entitled “Top Ten Pitfalls That Landlords Should Avoid.”

Like any good Top 10 list (a la David Letterman), John presented these pitfalls in reverse oreder based on importance.  The pitfalls to avoid included:

10.  Mailing the 5 Day Notice

9.  Digging The Hole Too Deep

8.  Incomplete Applications

7.  Not Asking The Right People (about your rental applicant)

6.  Auto-Renewing A Lease

5.  14 Day Notice (or NOT)

4.  “Do-It-Yourself” Leases or Rental Forms

3.  Misuse of CCAP

2.  Carpet Cleaning

1.  That Lease is HOW LONG?

As John stated during his presentation, there are a lot of things that are beyond our control that make life as a landlord very difficult at times.  As such, we certainly do not want to make life more difficult for ourselves based on a lack of knowledge of landlord-tenant laws . . . unless we are masochists, that is.

The AASEW has another great meeting scheduled for May 20, 2013 at 7 pm at the Best Western Midway in Brookfield about “How To Finance Real Estate Transactions In The Current Economy.”

 

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Are Wisconsin Residential Leases Worth The Paper They Are Written On?

In my personal opinion the answer is often “no.”  The reason being is due to Wisconsin’s requirement that a landlord make reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit if a tenant is evicted or decides to vacate early, and if this is not done, the landlord is not entitled to further rent from the breaching tenant.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that leases in Wisconsin are worthless and that you should never use them.  What I am saying however is that they are not as wonderful as some people think they are and landlords need to understand there limitations.

Let me digress to provide some additional background.

First, you should always have a written rental agreement in place with your tenant.  The days of verbal agreements over a handshake are long gone.

Second, a “rental agreement” is a general term that includes both leases and periodic tenancies (such as a month to month tenancy.  A lease is an agreement for a specific term.  It has a beginning date and an end date.  Periodic tenancies — like a month to month —  are not leases as there is no end date and they continue until they are terminated by either the landlord or the tenant.

So when I talk about a “lease” in this blog post I am only referring to those rental agreements that are for a specific term.  By signing a lease, a tenant is agreeing to reside in a specified rental unit until the end of the lease term and to pay rent during the entire lease term.  So what happens when a tenant decides not to fulfill the term of his or her lease?

Well, according to sec. 704.29 of the Wisconsin Statutes, if this happens, a landlord may only purse the breaching tenant for the remainder of the rent owed under the lease if that landlord has made reasonable efforts to reduce the amount of rent that the tenant is responsible for by attempting to re-rent the unit for the tenant.  Translation – if a tenant breaks the lease, a landlord is required to spend time and energy to limit the damage to the tenant for his/her own action of breaking the lease, if landlord does not do this, landlord is entitled to nothing.  Seems fair . . . . NOT.

Sec. 704.29 (1) specifically states:

“If a tenant unjustifiably removes from the premises prior to the effective date for termination of the tenant’s tenancy and defaults in the payment of rent, or if the tenant is removed for failure to pay rent or any other breach of a lease, the landlord can recover rent and damages except amounts which the landlord could mitigate in accordance with this section . . .”

The statute continues as follows:

“In any claim against a tenant for rent and damages, or for either, the amount of recovery is reduced by the the net rent obtainable by reasonable efforts to rerent the premises.

“Reasonable efforts” means those steps that the landlord would have taken to rent the premises if they had been vacated in due course, provided that those steps are in accordance with local rental practice for similar properties.”

So even though the tenant is in the predicament s/he is in due to their own actions, a landlord is not legally entitled to collect rent for the remainder of the lease from the tenant unless the landlord tries to re-rent the unit for the tenant.

If the landlord is able to re-rent the unit for the same amount or more, then the breaching tenant is officially “off of the hook” and not responsible for any further rent because the landlord now found a new paying tenant.

Yes, it is true that a landlord is entitled to recoup from a breaching tenant the costs incurred by the landlord to re-rent the unit.  So the breaching tenant is responsible for the advertising costs and maybe the costs of a “for rent” sign, or the costs of running a credit report for the new tenant.  Not very much of a payback in my opinion.

Additionally, the courts that I encounter will not reimburse a landlord for the lost time and energy spent getting the unit into shape for re-renting (unless it is damaged), showing the unit to prospective tenants, or reviewing new applications.  That non-reimbursable work  is considered to be the “cost of doing business” for the landlord.  OUCH.

So essentially, a landlord is required to do all this work to fix a problem created by a tenant, and if the landlord doesn’t do that extra work, the landlord is not even entitled to attempt to recover rent for the remainder of the lease term from the departing tenant.  If the landlord does that extra work and re-rents the unit, then the landlord is still not entitled to recovery of rent for the remainder of the lease term from the breaching tenant, because now the landlord is getting rent from someone else.  So essentially the breaching tenant, despite being the person that created the problem in the first place, gets off scot-free.

Only when the landlord does the extra work involved in re-renting the unit, and is unable to do so, is the breaching tenant legally responsible for the rent for the remainder of the lease (or until it eventually is re-rented, whichever comes first).  From a practical standpoint, that is a hollow victory as by this time the tenant is long gone, the security deposit most likely does not cover more than 1 month of the rent, and even if you can locate the tenant they may not be “”collectible.”

I would like to reiterate that the goal of this blog post is not for all landlords to tear up your leases and only enter into month to month tenancies going forward.  There are still tenants out there (I think?) that if they sign a lease, will honor it.  They will either stay for the entire lease term or if for some reason they must vacate early – they will honor their lease commitment.  Although I am sad to say that I am seeing fewer and fewer of these type of tenants these days — most cannot afford to pay rent for two homes and opt to pay the landlord that is currently keeping a roof over their head rather than the landlord that used to provide them shelter.

My aim is to insure that landlords using leases understand the legal limitations and requirements involved when a tenant breaks that lease.  A landlord cannot just sit back and do nothing to re-rent the unit and expect to collect future rent from the exiting tenant.  A lease is not some panacea that guarantees you the right to collect future rent when a tenant ditches.  You are only entitled to that rent if you make reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit for the breaching tenant and then only if the tenant can be located and is collectible.

So you need to ask yourself, is my lease worth the paper that it is written on?  Only you can answer that question.

 

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So Are Illegal Provisions In Wisconsin Residential Rental Agreements Severable Or Not?

 

 

SHORT ANSWER:  Yes . . . and No.

LONG ANSWER:   The newly passed law referred to as the Landlord’s Omnibus Law (Act 143) adresses this issue but provides contradictory answers.

In newly created sec. 704.02 of the Wisconsin Statutes, the law states quite clearly that the provisions of a rental agreement or lease are severable.  Specifically, it states that if any provision of a rental agreement is rendered void or unenforceable by reason of any statute, rule, regulation or judicial order, the invalidity or unenforceability of that provision does not affect the other provisions of the rental agreement that can be given effect without the legal provision.

So according to sec. 704.02, the answer to question posed in the title of this blog post would be a resounding “Yes.”

BUT . .

In the very same law, the legislature also decided to create a new section 704.44 that copies a regulation from ATCP 134 entitled (Residential Rental Provisions), specifically ATCP 134.08 entitled “Prohibited Rental Agreement Provisions,” which sets forth 7 things that cannot be included in a Wisconsin residential rental agreement – which I affectionately refer to as the 7 Deadly Sins.

The legislature also decided to add an 8th and 9th provision that cannot be included in residential rental agreements in Wisconsin.  So now I have to refer to the outlawed provisions as “The 9 Deadly Sins” which just doesn’t have the same ring to it.  : (

The 9 provisions that if included in a residential rental agreement will render the agreement void are:

1.   Any provision that allows a landlord to do any of the following because a tenant has contacted an entity for law enforcement services, health services, or safety services: (a) increase rent, (b)  decrease services, (c)  Bring an action for possession of the premises, (d)  refuse to renew a rental agreement, (e)  threaten to take any action under pars. (a) to (d).  This is one of the new clauses added by the legislature is Act 143.

2.  A provision that authorizes the eviction or exclusion of a tenant from the premises, other than by judicial procedures as provided under ch. 799.

3.  A provision that provides for an acceleration of rent payments in the event of tenant default or breach of obligations under the rental agreement, or otherwise waives the landlord’s obligation to mitigate damages as provided in s. 704.29.

4.  A provision that requires payment by the tenant of attorney fees or costs incurred by the landlord in any legal action or dispute arising under the rental agreement.  This subsection does not prevent a landlord or tenant from recovering costs or attorney’s fees under a court order under ch. 799 or 814.

5.  A provision that authorizes the landlord or an agent of the landlord to confess judgment against the tenant in any action arising under the rental agreement.

6.  A provision that states that the landlord is not liable for property damage or personal injury caused by negligent acts or omissions of the landlord.  This subsection does not affect ordinary maintenance obligations of a tenant under s. 704.07 or assumed by a tenant under a rental agreement or other written agreement between the landlord and the tenant.

7.  A provision that imposes liability on a tenant for any of the following: (a) personal injury arising from causes clearly beyond the tenant’s control, (b) property damage caused by natural disasters or by persons other than the tenant or the tenant’s guests or invitees.  This paragraph does not affect ordinary maintenance obligations of a tenant under s. 704.07 or assumed by a tenant under a rental agreement or other written agreement between the landlord and the tenant.

8.  A provision that waives any statutory or other legal obligation on the part of the landlord to deliver the premises in a fit or habitable condition or to maintain the premises during the tenant’s tenancy.

9.  A provision that allows the landlord to terminate the tenancy of a tenant if a crime is committed in or on the rental property, even if the tenant could not reasonably have prevented the crime.  This is the other new clause added by the legislature in Act 143.

So according to sec. 704.44, the answer to question posed in the title of this blog post would be “yes  . . . unless it is one of the 9 deadly sins which if included in a Wisconsin residential rental agreement or lease would not be severable and in fact would render the entire agreement void.”

Why can’t the law be more simple and clear?

 

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Newly revised Landlord-Tenant Law Forms Available at Wisconsin Legal Blank on April 2 and April 3, 2012.

Wisconsin’s Landlord Omnibus Law (Act 143) went into effect today – April 1, 2012.  As a result of the new law it was necessary for me to update many of the landlord-tenant law forms that are sold at Wisconisn Legal Blank.

 

As of Monday, April 2, 2012, the following revised forms will be available:

1.   Residential Rental Agreement  (Form #19)

-  Added language required in order for landlord to be able to dispose of tenant’s abandoned property immediately after they vacate.

-  Added language about any illegal clause in the rental agreement being severable from the n9on-illegal clauses.

-  Correction of some grammar and punctuation mistakes.

2.   Nonstandard Rental Provisions (Form #984)

-  Added langauge required in order for landlord to be able to dispose of tenant’s abandoned property immediately after they vacate.

-  Revised language as to when landlord must return security deposit or supply security deposit itemization letter when tenant vacates prior to end of lease term.

-  General revisions to the language of each nonstandard rental provision to comply better with the holding in the Tschantz case.

3.  Notice of Rent Increase in Month to Month Tenancies (Form #332)

-  Added langauge required in order for landlord to be able to dispose of tenant’s abandoned property immediately after they vacate.

4.  Residential Lease Renewal or Notice To Vacate (Form #970)

-  Added langauge required in order for landlord to be able to dispose of tenant’s abandoned property immediately after they vacate.

5.   Tenant Inspection Sheet (Check-In – Check-Out Form)

-   Revised the title of this form to comply with the title used in the new law.

NOTE:  It is now required that a landlord give this document to tenant’s upon occupancy.  So if you have not previously used this document you need to start doing so now.

 

As of Tuesday, April 3, 2012 the following revised forms will be available for purchase at Wisconsin Legal Blank

6.   5 Day Notice To Pay Rent or Vacate (Form #328)

-  Changed the word “may” to “shall” when advising the tenant that landlord is entitled to holdover damages of, at a minimum, double the daily rent for the holdover period.

-  Added a line for “Total Amount Due”

7.   5 Day Notice To Correct Breach or Vacate (Form #330)

-  Changed the word “may” to “shall” when advising the tenant that landlord is entitled toholdover damages of, at a minimum, double the daily rent for the holdover period.

8.  5 Day Notice To Vacate – Nuisance (Form #329)

-  Changed the word “may” to “shall” when advising the tenant that landlord is entitled toholdover damages of, at a minimum, double the daily rent for the holdover period.

9.   14 Day Notice To Vacate for Failure To Pay Rent (Form #768)

-  Changed the word “may” to “shall” when advising the tenant that landlord is entitled toholdover damages of, at a minimum, double the daily rent for the holdover period.

-  Added a line for “Total Amount Due”

10.   14 Day Notice To Vacate For Breach of Rental Agreement (Form #767)

-  Changed the word “may” to “shall” when advising the tenant that landlord is entitled toholdover damages of, at a minimum, double the daily rent for the holdover period.

11.   28 Day Notice Terminating Tenancy (Form #327)

-  Changed the word “may” to “shall” when advising the tenant that landlord is entitled toholdover damages of, at a minimum, double the daily rent for the holdover period.

12.  30 Day Notice To Correct Breach or Vacate (Form #325)

-  Changed the word “may” to “shall” when advising the tenant that landlord is entitled toholdover damages of, at a minimum, double the daily rent for the holdover period.

 

Sometime in the near future the following revised form will be available at Wisconsin Legal Blank:

13.   Rules & Regulations (Form #994)

-  Will inlcude major revisions including language, organization and format.

-  Will include revised language regarding a tenant’s responsibility for the actions of their guests, invitees and family members that will comply with the law and not run afoul of “Deadly Sin #8″ created by the new law.

 

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2011 Wisconsin Act 143 (Landlord Omnibus Law) Also Applies To Commercial Landlord-Tenant Law

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!!!!!

 

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Landlord’s Omnibus Bill Signed Into Law – Read It Now

Governor Walker did sign the Landlord’s Omnibus Bill into law.

I appreciate the effort of everyone that called the Governor’s office asking him to veto the bill due to its deficiencies.

Here is a link to the new law.  Much easier to read than having to go back and forth between the orginal bill, the Substitute bill and the two amendments.

The two main concerns that I have with the law and which caused me to ask that the bill be vetoed. They are section 35M and section 36.

The AASEW has already spoken with Sen. Lassee’s office regarding these two major problems and I will keep you informed if and when anything is done about them.

And yes, I will be reviewing all of Wisconsin Legal Blank’s forms in the near future and making the necessary revisions – if needed – and will let you know when they will be available : )