Wisconsin Ruling Could Make It Harder To Evict Tenants

A unique case involving a family living in storage units was recently thrown out of small claims court because the charging party did not own the units, which …

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A unique case involving a family living in storage units was recently thrown out of small claims court because the charging party did not own the units, which made it impossible to evict the tenants for nonpayment. Legal experts say the case will not set precedent, but that it can serve as a reminder to landlords to have their ducks in a row before initiating an eviction. Many landlords are inexperienced or use leases off the Internet, all of which can lead to difficulty in serving a successful notice of eviction. For more on this continue reading the following article from JDSupra.

A recent Wisconsin court ruling could make it harder for some landlords to evict their tenants. But renters shouldn’t pop the champagne corks in celebration just yet, warns a lawyer familiar with the decision.

A Dane County, Wisc., judge ruled that Wisconsin Management Co. did not have the right to kick Sean Burke and his family out of the storage units they were renting, because of a state law that says evictions must be filed by “a person entitled to the possession of real property.” Wisconsin Management oversaw the property for a fee, and Judge Frank Remington ruled that as a non-owner the company did not have the right to kick Burke out.

The tenants had fallen behind in payments on the storage units. This ruling could affect how future evictions are handled in Madison, Wisc., but it’s not likely to have much more reach than that, said attorney Tristan Pettit, president of the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin.

That’s because Wisconsin eviction cases are handled in small claims court. Whereas higher court rulings set district-wide precedents for how the law must be applied, small claims rulings are limited to the case at hand. “The law is interpreted differently from one small claims court to the next,” Pettit said.

Still, the Wisconsin ruling offers some helpful reminders for landlords and renters alike.

If You Own Rental Property

Experienced landlords who rent out multiple properties generally learn the nuances of the law through experience. But those who rent out a single house, or who have not been at it for long, should talk to a lawyer before trying to evict a tenant for missed rent or criminal activity.

Many landlords write up their own lease documents, or download rental agreements from the Internet, and this could backfire when they initiate an eviction, Pettit said.

“I’ve never seen an online lease that did not include clauses that were illegal,” he said, and a single bad clause could invalidate the entire lease — and make it harder to legally evict a renter.

Inexperienced landlords often don’t understand how to draft late rent notices, which must be sent a certain number of days after rent was missed — the days vary by jurisdiction. In some areas, these notices can include late charges, and in some areas they can’t. An experienced attorney can help you comply with the state and local laws that govern your property.

If You’re a Renter

If you’re a renter facing eviction, deciding whether to hire a lawyer should depend on what you’re hoping to accomplish, Pettit said.”Tons of tenants show up in small claims court without a lawyer, work out a payment plan with the landlord, and avoid an eviction,” he said. “Landlords want to be paid, want an end to crime on their property. If you can resolve that, there may be no eviction.”But if you’re worried about being able to negotiate successfully, a lawyer can help you work with your landlord. Hiring a lawyer is likely to draw out the eviction process as well, Pettit said, which might appeal to renters who need time to prepare before they move. Read more about landlord and tenant law on Lawyers.com.

This article was republished with permission from JDSupra.

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