Is Your Lease Enforceable?


Author: Attorney Adam Sorrentino

Can tenants be evicted in the winter? Are landlords allowed to turn off utilities to a unit a tenant has not paid rent on? Can tenants stop paying rent entirely because of damage caused to the property they are renting? The short answers to all those questions are yes, no, and no. If you are a landlord, or tenant, having issues with renting, chances are these questions have crossed your mind. That is understandable. Difficulties with a rental or living situation create extreme amounts of stress for both parties. However, understanding the terms of your tenancy are key to more than just securing a safe place to stay for a week, month, or year. These terms can provide instructions, and protections, for both parties in the event a dispute arises, or an eviction becomes necessary. Therefore, a critical question that every landlord and tenant should ask themselves is: “Is my lease enforceable?”

While the first hypotheticals I posed tend to occur later in the rental process, the enforceability of a lease should be considered before entering into any of these agreements. For landlords and tenants who are not aware, Landlord/Tenant law in Wisconsin is a complicated and elaborate system. The applicable laws spread over several chapters in the Wisconsin Statutes and into the Wisconsin Administrative Code. It is crucial to review these laws and apply them to your leases and rental practices. Violating these provisions could cause an eviction case to be dismissed, and even double damages and attorney’s fees awarded to the other party.

The Administrative Code details provisions that automatically invalidate a lease and are as follows:

1. The Landlord may increase rent, decrease services, refuse to renew, or threaten to do so because the tenant has contacted law enforcement, health services, or safety services.
2. The Landlord may evict the tenant other than by the eviction process outlined in Wisconsin Statutes.
3. The Landlord may accelerate rent payments to mitigate the Tenant’s default in rent.
4. The Tenant is required to pay the Landlord’s attorney’s fees or costs in any legal action or dispute arising out of the lease.
5. The Tenant is required to agree with any lease violation claimed by the Landlord.
6. The Landlord is not liable for any damage or personal injury caused by their negligent acts or omissions.
7. The Tenant is liable for damages from causes outside their control.
8. The Tenant waives the legal obligation of the Landlord to maintain the premises in a fit or habitable condition.
9. The Landlord may terminate the tenancy based solely on the commission of a crime in or on the rental property if the Tenant is a victim of that crime.
10. The Landlord may terminate the tenancy based on a crime committed in relation to the rental property without the notice required by Wisconsin Statutes.

Make sure to review any new lease you are planning on entering for these provisions, whether you are a Landlord or a Tenant.