July 3, 2013 – Lawyers are still dealing with recent changes in state laws governing the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants. In this video, Briane Pagel, discusses how lawyers can interpret these changes, noting pending legislation that further impacts landlord-tenant law.
Act 143, effective April 1, 2012, substantially amended Landlord Tenant law in the state of Wisconsin. According to Pagel, “Perhaps the real focus is on whether Act 143 made enough changes in landlord-tenant laws to drastically affect how cases are litigated.”
After reading the legislation, Pagel believes Act 143 was primarily intended to smooth out some of the wrinkles – such as clarifying when a lease might be void or when provisions are severable – to make it easier for landlords to understand what provisions they could put in.
Act 143 Smoothed Out Some Wrinkles but Created New Ones
Act 143 elaborates on tenant rights. While that may have been the intended goal, Pagel believes that goal was superseded because it opened up not just residential litigation, but expanded to apply to commercial litigation. Act 143 didn’t address some areas where there is the potential for additional litigation, such as whether attorney fees can be charged in a commercial context and whether landlords have to provide specific itemizations when they move in.
What’s a Lawyer to Do? Read the Statutes.
Pagel urges lawyers to look at some of the landlord tenant cases they have handled in the past. “It’s always easier to read a statute with respect to specific facts,” he says. “Then look at some of the bigger cases that lawyers are aware of, and read through the statute to see how those cases would have been affected. Would the lease still be void? Would the landlord still automatically get or not get those deductions?” Pagel recommends reading the statutes and thinking about it in the context of the big cases, because then it becomes easier to see the new law’s impacts.
“AB 183 is pending before the Legislature, which would correct some of the issues, including a requirement that landlords provide an itemized description of the premises to tenants,” says Pagel. “The assembly bill would make it clear that landlords do not need to do that. It would also speed up eviction deadlines, and would open the doors for landlords to use agents rather than full-time employees to represent them in court, which would reduce the cost of attorneys and make it faster for eviction.”
Pagell is a shareholder Krekeler Strother S.C. in Madison. Pagel, who practices consumer litigation primarily from a debtor’s standpoint, presented “Close a Door, Open a Window: The Good and the Bad in the New Landlord Tenant Laws” at the June State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE® Real Estate and Business Law Institute. This session, and select other sessions, was recorded and will be presented as a webcast this fall.