Aug. 1, 2018 – In April, Gov. Scott Walker signed into law the Landlord’s Omnibus Bill (Act 317). From provisions on reasonable costs for repairs to notice requirements, from waiver defenses to abatement, lawyers should understand these changes.
For instance, the law places limitations on a tenant’s ability to contest an eviction without a valid legal defense, explains landlord-tenant lawyer Tristan Pettit of Petrie + Pettit S.C., in Milwaukee, who goes into more detail in an hour-long State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE webcast on the new law, with upcoming dates in August and September.
“The old law said that if the tenant claims a contest exists, if they say 'I want a trial in front of the judge,' the court commissioner had to grant that request and it always went to the judge. The new law says … the tenant must raise a valid legal defense first.”
Thus, under the new law, court commissioners will decide whether the tenant has raised a valid legal defense before scheduling a trial before a circuit judge.
The new law also addresses abatement, which involves situations in which a property becomes untenantable, such as if the bathroom is not in working order. In such cases, the tenant is entitled to abatement of rent if they still reside in the unit.
“What was happening is, some tenants were arguing abatement for very small things. Act 317 clarifies that you can only abate if the untenantable situation is a life, health, or safety issue or causes a dangerous condition – a larger issue,” Pettit said.
Other Major Provisions
Prior to Act 317, the law said that if a unit is damaged because of the actions of a tenant, or their guests or family members, the landlord can let the tenant do the repairs or the landlord can do the repairs and charge the cost to the tenant.
Pettit said some courts did not allow the landlord to charge the tenant for labor time, if the landlord personally did the work. That changes under Act 317.
“Act 317 – as part of the definition of a reasonable cost – includes the landlord’s time, the materials that the landlord buys. And it includes the time purchasing the materials or calling a third-party vendor or contractor to do the work,” Pettit said.
Pettit said a new section restricts waiver defenses by landlords or tenants. “It applies to both landlords and tenants in that their prior actions cannot waive any requirements under the rental agreement or any other rental documents,” he said.
Pettit said Act 317 also deals with notices, and what kind of proof you have if you are going to send a notice via certified mail. That has changed, Pettit said. Or, if your notice states an inaccurate amount due, the new law says it still may be a valid notice.
“Emergency assistance law was changed,” he said. “It used to say that a stay had to be in place immediately. Now, in certain situations, a stay cannot be in place and if it is, it is for a limited time period. There’s also a large section dealing with assistance animals.”
Interested in Learning More?
Check out State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE’s one-hour webcast, “Cleaning House: Changes to Landlord-Tenant Law Under WI Act 317,” with presenter Tristan Pettit. Upcoming air dates and times include:
Also, don’t miss Pettit’s “Landlord-Tenant Update,” forthcoming in the September issue of Wisconsin Lawyer.
And look out for PINNACLE’s Wisconsin Landlord-Tenant Law Manual, set for release sometime this fall. Pettit and other landlord-tenant lawyers are collaborating to provide insight and information on in this fast-changing area of the law.