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Can I Withhold Rent for Repairs in Wisconsin?

When a tenant rents an apartment or other premises, they have the right to expect full use of it. A rental unit does not have to be in perfect condition, but it does have to provide a place that is livable. A tenant has the right to request repairs to items that are included in the lease. The landlord has to keep the place habitable. Wisconsin law requires landlords to provide a tenable rental space. The law applies to all residential rentals as well as to commercial rental spaces unless otherwise waived in a lease.

What Makes a Rental Unit Untenable?

There are some types of problems that can render a rental unit untenable. Untenable simply means that it is not fit for tenancy. Some repairs that make a unit unlivable are things such as no hot water or no heat. In these cases, the landlord has the requirement to promptly fix the problem. If the unit is not livable, the landlord must provide temporary living arrangements, such as moving you to another unit until the repairs are complete. A tenant must have full normal use of the premises. However, if the landlord provides alternative living arrangements and you do not use them, you cannot then withhold rent.

Check Your Lease

The lease is a legal document that provides details regarding tenancy. The lease should provide you with information about what is included in the premises and how to report a problem. It is always important to ensure that the lease contains the protections that you need as a tenant. Although a landlord may tell you something verbally, it is not considered legally binding unless it is included in the lease or a written addendum. Your lease may state specifically that you are not allowed to withhold rent; however, that may depend on the severity of the problem.

Request Repairs in Writing

It is always best to put repair requests in writing to your landlord. This not only documents the request but also ensures that the repair is timely. If you speak to the landlord via phone call, always back it up with a quick email that summarizes the conversation. A landlord must fix a problem with the unit in a reasonable length of time. Some types of repairs require immediate attention, such as when the heat is not working in the winter.

What to Do if the Landlord Will Not Make Timely Repairs

If you have properly notified the landlord of a problem and they have not taken steps to resolve it in a timely manner, there are some things you can do. In some cases, you may be able to get the issue repaired and deduct the expense from your next rent payment. If you plan to do this, first let your landlord know and then keep a copy of the invoice so you can give it to your landlord as proof of the payment. Often, just letting the landlord know of your plans will spur them into action. You may be able to move and end your lease due to inhabitability. Withholding rent is likely a last resort. In some cases, you may need to take legal action. To learn more about your options, contact our lawyers at Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd. at (608) 784-8310 or online.

Published July 8, 2024
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