Archive for category Security Deposit

Court of Appeals Decision Reminds Landlords To Review Their Nonstandard Rental Provisions Before Making Deductions from A Tenant’s Security Deposit

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals, in an unpublished decision dated May 9, 2013, held that a landlord wrongfully withheld a portion of his tenants’ security deposit for costs incurred when attempting to re-rent the rental unit.

As I have mentioned in a prior post, Wisconsin law essentially allows a landlord to deduct only three things from a tenant’s security deposit: (1) damage, waste, or neglect, (2) rent, (3) utilities.  Any other items that a landlord would like to deduct from a tenant’s security deposit must be included in a separate written document entitled “Nonstandard Rental Provisions” (NSRP), in order to be legally deducted.  So if what you want to deduct something from your tenant’s security deposit and it is not one of the 3 items listed above and not set forth in your NSRP, it will most likley be considered an illegal deduction.

In Keyes and Gruner v. Waldbillig et. al (2012AP1180), two tenants broke their lease with their landlord by moving out prior to the last day of the lease term.  The landlord wrote the tenants a letter explaining to them that there would be charges against the their security deposit to cover the cost of advertising and marketing the apartment and that his property management company charged him $100 per showing to show the unit to potential new tenants.

The landlord’s managment company showed the tenants’ vacated unit 6 times for a total of $600 in costs to the landlord prior to finding a new tenant for the unit.  The landlord sent the tenants their security deposit itemization letter explaining that he witheld $600 of their security deposit to cover the costs to re-rent the unit.

Under Wisconsin law, specifically Wis. Stats. 704.29, if a tenant breaks their lease or is evicted, a landlord is required to make reasonable efforts to mitigate the tenant’s damages by trying to re-rent the unit.  The same statute also says that a tenant who has broken his/her lease or is evicted can be held responsible for all lost rent and all reasonable expenses of listing and advertising the vacant unit which were incurred by the landlord while trying to re-rent the unit.

But this landlord failed to have a NSRP that allowed him to deduct for the re-rental costs.  As an aside, if the landlord had just opted to withhold the lost rent incurred while trying to re-rent the unit from the tenants’ security deposit instead of the re-rental costs, he also most likley would have prevailed even without having the NSRP regarding re-rental costs since rent owed is an allowable security deposit deduction.  Instead, the landlord deducted $600 in showing fees from the tenants’ security deposit even though he did not have a NSRP in place that allowed him to do so.

Had the landlord had such a NSRP in place, it is my opinion that his deductions from the tenants’ security deposit would have been proper (assuming that the court would agree that $100 per showing is reasonable) and he would not have lost the case and been required to pay double damages and the tenants’ attorney’s fees.

The moral of the case is that just because the law allows a landlord to hold tenants responsible for the costs to re-rent if they break their lease, does not mean that the landlord can legally withhold those costs from the tenants’ security deposit.  In order to be able to legally do that, the landlord must have a NSRP in place which allows for the deduction of re-rental costs allowed under Wis. Stats. 704.29.

Does your NSRP contain such a clause?  Do you even have a NSRP docuement?  If not you may want to contact Wisconsin Legal Blank, which sells a very good Nonstandard Rental Provisions document which I have drafted, that will protect you.

 

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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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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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Landlords Should Treat Tenant Roommates As One Person To Better Understand Joint and Several Liability and Resolve Tenant Disputes

I receive many calls from landlords who have questions and concerns involving issues involving their tenant roommates.  While the problems are often factually different the proper way to analyze the situation and arrive at a resolution to the problem, often depends on the same thing —  something called “joint and several liability.”

Joint and several liability is a legal concept that, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, is defined as “the liability of co-promisors of the same performance when each of them, individually, has the duty of fully performing the obligation.  A liability is said to be joint and several when the creditor may demand payment or sue one or more of the parties to such liability separately, or all of them together at his option.”

Confused yet? Let me try and explain joint and several liability more clearly than Mr. Black did.

Essentially joint and several liability means that each individual tenant is responsible for the full amount of the rent as well as any and all other obligations under the rental agreement.

I think it would be easier for landlords to comprehend the concept of joint and several liability if they would just think of and treat roommates as one person.

Here is an example:

A Landlord enters into a 12 month lease with Tenant A, Tenant B, and Tenant C.  The monthly rent is $750.  The security deposit is also $750.

The Landlord needs to remember that he has one lease with three tenants NOT three separate leases with one tenant.  As such all three tenants are responsible for the full amount of rent.  All three tenants are responsible for abiding by the rules and regulations.  All three tenants are responsible for paying the security deposit.  All three tenants are responsible for paying the full amount of any damages to the rental unit.

Instead of taking $250 from Tenant A, B, and C for rent (or the security deposit), the landlord should insist that rent be paid via one payment for the full amount.  When landlords accept $250 from each tenant, the landlord is inadvertently telling the three tenants that each of them is only responsible for 1/3 of the rent — that is wrong.  Remember treat the roommates as one person – one person pays his entire rent not 1/3 of it.

I know many of you that have tenant roommates are thinking that there is nothing wrong with accepting three separate checks for $250 from your three tenants.  You are correct, nothing is wrong, there is nothing wrong with doing that . . .  AS LONG AS ALL OF THE TENANTS PAY RENT ALL OF THE TIME.  But problems arise is when one tenant falls on hard times and doesn’t have the money to pay rent.  It is at this point that the other two tenants start telling the landlord, “well  we paid my portion of the rent so you can’t evict us.”  WRONG.

Once again, think of roommates as one person.  When you have one tenant (no roommates), that tenant is responsible for paying the entire amount of the rent – not just a portion of it.  The same goes with roommates.  One roommate is not just responsible for paying 1/3 of the rent.  Under joint and several liability, that one tenant roommate is responsible for paying all of the rent if the other tenants don’t pay any rent.  If Tenant A and Tenant B have no money to pay rent, then Tenant C better rise to the occasion and pay the full rent amount or else all three roommates can be evicted.

Tenant roommates do not understand the concept of joint and several liability.  I believe it is in the landlord’s best interest to take the time to teach his tenant roommates about joint and several liability and how it specifically applies to them and their roommate situation.  The best way to do demonstrate joint and several liability to your tenant roommates, after you have had the discussion with them, is to make them write one check for rent.  I tell my roommate tenants that they must pay rent with one check.  I don’t care who pays it but I will only accept one check for the full amount of rent.  The tenants can fight amongst themselves as to how they divide up the rent amount or who owes what to whom.  How they do that should not be the landlord’s concern.  The landlord wants to impress upon his tenant roommates that he expects the full amount of rent each month and if they do that then they can remain as tenants.  If not, then they will be evicted.

So while it may seem a bit much to refuse to take more than one rent check from tenant roommates, I believe by making the tenants understand that they are not responsible for just a “portion” of the rent, a landlord can avoid a lot of problems in the future.

Let’s turn our focus to tenant roommates and the security deposit.  If a landlord makes the mistake of accepting $250 from each of his three tenant roommates to apply to the $750 total security deposit, I believe that the landlord is sending his new tenants the wrong message again.  Whether he is aware of it or not, the landlord has unintentionally informed his tenants that each of them are only responsible for 1/3 of the security deposit and therefore only responsible for 1/3 of any damage to the unit.

How many times have you heard one tenant say that the hole in the wall was caused by the other roommate who came home drunk one night and put his fist through the drywall?  And then the next comment out of that tenant’s mouth was, “so you should take the cost to repair that wall out of his portion of the security deposit.”

Each tenant is jointly and severally liable for paying the total amount of the security deposit and for the total amount of any damage caused to a rental property regardless of which tenant caused the damage.  A tenant roommate is not just responsible for “his portion” of any damage.  Under joint and several liability, if the cost to repair the wall is $500 then the landlord can keep $500 of the security deposit and the three roommates can fight over how to split up the remaining $250.

What if your tenant roommates cause major damage to the rental unit that goes well beyond the security deposit on hand.  Let’s say the damages total $5,000.  Under the concept of joint and several liability, a landlord can choose to sue all three of the tenants for the $5,000 or the landlord can choose to sue only two of them for the $5,000 (the two that are gainfully employed, for example) or the landlord could even opt to sue just one of the three roommates for the entire $5,000.

Assuming the landlord could prove his damages and meet his burden of proof, the court could rightfully enter a judgment of $5,000 against only Tenant A, if that is the only tenant that the landlord sued.  This is true even if it was Tenant C that caused the actual damage.  The landlord could then pursue and collect the entire $5,000 from Tenant A.  It would then be up to Tenant A to sue either Tenant B or Tenant C, or both, if he so chooses.

Please note that joint and several liability does not allow a landlord to obtain a double or triple “windfall.”  A landlord can’t sue each tenant individually for the full $5,000 and end up with three judgments totaling $15,000.  This is why the most practical course of action is typically for the landlord to sue all three tenants for the entire $5,000 and then decide which tenant is more “collectible” (and often more responsible) and pursue the collection of the judgment against only that one tenant.

Now, let’s assume there is no damage to the rental unit after the three tenants move out and therefore the entire security deposit will end up being returned.  How is the landlord to return the security deposit?  Under Wisconsin law, specifically Wisconsin Administrative Code, ATCP 134.06(2)(d), a landlord is required to refund the entire security deposit in one “check, draft or money order made payable to all tenants who are parties to the rental agreement unless the tenants designate a payee in writing.”  So under ATCP 134.06(2)(d), a landlord is required to treat the tenant roommates as one person – by sending them one check made payable to all three of them.  If a landlord ended up writing three separate checks to each of the tenants for 1/3 of the security deposit each, that landlord would be violating Wisconsin law.

So, if a landlord treats his tenant roommate as one person, he will not only be adhering to the concept of joint and several liability, he will make his life as a landlord more simple.  Landlords should not have to get involved in trying to determine which roommate did or didn’t pay “his portion of the rent” nor should a landlord be concerned with which roommate punched a hole in the drywall during a drunken rampage.  It is not our job as landlords to be social workers and resolve disputes amongst roommates.  Nor is it our job to be the judge or jury and determine which roommate was at fault.  Fortunately, the concept of joint and several liability allows a landlord the ability to avoid all of that unnecessary drama.

 

NOTE: If the rental agreement you are currently using does not indicate that all tenants are  ”jointly and severally liability” for all obligations under the rental agreement, then it is not a well-written rental agreement and is not worth the paper that it is written on.  If that is the case, you should tear it up at the first possible legal opportunity — i.e. once the term ends if it is a lease or with 28 day’s notice if it is a month to month tenancy.  You should then purchase and start using a rental agreement that states that all tenants are jointly and severally liable.  I hear that the Rental Agreement sold at Wisconsin Legal Blank Company, Inc. is a very good one — someone told me that the author of it is pretty knowledgeable about Landlord-Tenant Law.

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Must A Landlord Actually Repair Tenant-Caused Damage Before The Landlord Can Deduct The Cost From A Tenant’s Security Deposit?

This issue keeps raising its head over and over and over . . .  so I feel compelled to address it.  The question:  Must a landlord have completed the repair of tenant-caused damages to a rental unit before being legally able to deduct the repair costs from the tenant’s security deposit?

I personally believe the answer to that question is “No” – the repair work does not need to be completed prior to a landlord being able to deduct the repair cost from the tenant’s security deposit.

Wisconsin law does not provide landlords with a direct answer to this question.

The Wisconsin Administrative Code, ATCP 134, does not address this issue.  This is what ATCP 134 does say:

ATCP 134.06(2)(a), entitled Returning Security Deposit, states that within 21 days after a tenant surrenders the rental premises, the landlord shall deliver or mail to the tenant the full amount of the security deposit held by the landlord, less any amounts properly withheld by the landlord under sub (3).

ATCP 134.06(3), entitled Security Deposit Withholding; Restrictions, lists what items can be deducted from a tenant’s security deposit.  I wrote a blog post on this topic previously.

ATCP 134.06(4), entitled Security Deposit Withholding; Statement of Claims, states that if any portion of a security deposit is withheld by a landlord, the landlord shall, within the time period and manner specified under sub (2) deliver or mail to the tenant a written statement accounting for all amounts withheld.  The statement shall describe each item of physical damages or other claim made against the security deposit, and the amount withheld as a reasonable compensation for each item or claim.

Chapter 704 of the Wisconsin Statutes which deals with Landlord Tenant issues does address the issue.

I am also not aware of any Wisconsin case law that answers the question.

Here are my reasons for believing that it is legal for a landlord to deduct the costs to repair tenant-caused damage from the tenant’s security deposit prior to the repair work being completed.

1.   Nowhere in ATCP 134 does it state that the repair work must be completed prior to the landlord being able to deduct the costs of repair from the tenant’s security deposit.  If the drafters of ATCP 134 meant for repair work to have been completed prior to any deduction being made from a tenant’s security deposit then they had the opportunity to require that in the regulation.  For whatever reason, the drafters chose not to write that into the regulation.  As such, such a requirement should not be read into the regulation if it is not there.

2.   The repair of tenant-caused damage to a rental unit cannot always be completed within 21 days of a tenant surrendering the rental unit.  There are a multitude of legitimate reasons why repair work may not be able to be completed within 21 days, such as: contractor time constraints, financial constraints, or the simple fact that the sheer amount of repair work that needs to be completed is too large to allow it to be completed in 21 days.  Just because a contractor can’t complete the work within the 21 days, or the landlord does not have the money to make the repairs within 21 days, or the work cannot be completed within 21 days — such as in the case of fire and smoke damage, or water damage – does not absolve the tenant from responsibility for the cost of repairs. 

3.   DATCP, in its own analysis of ATCP 134, has stated that the repair work need not be completed prior to the drafting of the security deposit transmittal letter to the tenant.  In 1999, after a major overhaul was completed to ATCP 134, DATCP published a document entitled a Summary of ATCP Chapter 134 Revisions.  In its summary, DATCP states on page 3:

  (Note: if repair costs are not known within 21 days, a written accounting must still be provided. In this case, a “good faith estimate” may be made.

So those are my three reasons for believing that a landlord is legally able to deduct the cost to repair tenant-caused damages from a tenant’s security deposit even if the repair work was not completed within 21 days. 

What are your thoughts on this question?  Do you have any additional reasons why you would answer the question as I did?

——-

I would like to thank Atty. Heiner Giese for providing me with a copy of the Summary of ATCP Chapter 134 Revisions published by the DATCP and for suggesting that I write a blog post on this issue many, many months ago.  I would also like to thank Atty. Evan Knupp for being the most recent person to ask me this question — within the last hour as a matter of fact – which finally caused me to write the post that you just read.

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The Ever Important Security Deposit Transmittal Letter (or “21 Day Letter”)

Aside from evictions, issues regarding the failure to properly return a tenant’s security deposit are, in my opinion, the single most litigated area in landlord-tenant law.

In Wisconsin, if a tenant has deposited a security deposit to his/her landlord as part of a residential tenancy, the  landlord must comply with one of two options within 21 days after the tenant “surrenders” the landlord’s rental unit:

1.   Return the tenant’s security deposit, or

2.   Send the tenant a security deposit transmittal letter (which I refer to as a “21 day letter”) explaining how the tenant’s security deposit was applied.

Unfortunately too many landlords have gotten themselves into trouble when it comes to the issue of returning a tenant’s security deposit.  While there are many ways to screw up, most of the mistakes that landlords make regarding this topic fall into one of three categories.

First, a landlord makes improper deductions from the tenant’s security deposit.

Second, the 21 day letter is sent late.

Third, the 21 day letter is not sent at all.

 Failure to abide by ATCP 134.06 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code – which deals with security deposits in residential tenancies — can result in the tenant being awarded double damages and attorneys fees. 

A little over a year ago I wrote a  post on the topic of how to draft a legal 21 day letter to your tenant.  Due to the continued popularity of that post I thought it would be helpful to include a video clip from a seminar that I presentedawhile back on this important topic.

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SECURITY DEPOSIT TRANSMITTAL LETTERS: How To Draft A Legal 21-Day Letter

Security deposit withholding issues are the second most litigated area in landlord tenant law after evictions.  If a landlord makes improper deduction from a tenant’s security deposit, pursuant to ATCP 134 and §100.20, Wis. Stats., the tenant may sue the landlord for double damages and attorney’s fees.  There are numerous published Court of Appeals decisions in Wisconsin dealing with this exact issue.  I would like to offer a few suggestions to landlords which will hopefully keep you from making any improper security deposit deductions.

First, we need to address some basics . . .

A security deposit is defined as “any payment that is given to a landlord as security for the performance of the tenants obligations under the rental agreement.” ATCP 134.01(11).

ATCP 134.06(2), states that within 21 days after a tenant surrenders the rental property, the landlord shall deliver or mail to the tenant the full amount of any security deposit held by the landlord, less any amounts properly withheld by the landlord.”

If you would like to know what a landlord may legally deduct from a tenant’s security deposit you will want to read my Jan. 17th post.

ATCP 134.06(4), states “If any portion of a security deposit is withheld by the landlord, the landlord shall, within the time period and manner prescribed in sub.(2) – 21 days — deliver or mail to the tenant a written statement accounting for all amounts withheld.  The statement shall describe each item of physical damages or other claim made against the security deposit, and the amount withheld as reasonable compensation for each item or claim.”

I will refer to this written statement interchangeably as either the “security deposit transmittal letter” or the “21-day letter.”

According to ATCP 134 all prepaid rent in excess of one month is legally considered to be a security deposit.  So if you require a new tenant to pay first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit, legally the security deposit will also include the last month’s rent

Essentially a landlord must either return a tenant’s security deposit or send the tenant an itemization of how the tenant’s security deposit was applied within 21 days after the tenant surrenders the premises.  This is mandatory.  No matter what the situation – even if you are legally entitled to keep all of the tenant’s security deposit – you must still send the tenant a letter explaining to them why you can legally keep it and how it was applied.  There is no situation in which you should not be sending the 21-day letter to a vacating residential tenant in Wisconsin.  Even if common sense tells you it is not necessary (i.e. the tenant told me to use his/her security deposit to pay for the last month’s rent) you should still send out the letter.  If you are wrong the ramification may be expensive.  Be safe – send the letter each and every time. Read the rest of this entry »

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