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Renting out farmhouse can turn into a nightmare

Legal Matters: Here are some of the problems landlords can run into if they are not careful.

Tim Halbach

August 12, 2021

4 Min Read
Farm and farm land
LEASING OUT A HOME: Besides screening tenants carefully, landlords also need to make sure they understand landlord-tenant laws.David Henderson/GETTY IMAGES

Leasing out a home on a farm can produce extra income, or it can turn into a nightmare. This column will examine some of the biggest problems landlords can run into if they are not careful and aware of the law.

Prior to a 2012 law change, if a tenant vacated a rental property, leaving his personal property behind, the landlord had to go to great lengths to try to return the property to the tenant and could only dispose of it after providing certain notice to the tenant.

With the 2012 law change, as long as the landlord provides written notification to the tenant that the landlord will not be storing the tenant’s personal property that he leaves behind ahead of time (such as putting the notice in the lease), then the landlord is under no obligation to store the tenant’s property. One exception, however, is that the landlord does have to hold on to prescription medication or prescription medical equipment for at least seven days.

21-day rule

All landlords need to understand that when a tenant leaves the property, the landlord has 21 days from that date to return the security deposit to the tenant, or if the landlord is retaining all or part of the security deposit, the landlord must provide a statement to the tenant describing why. A landlord can keep a security deposit for only the following items:

  • property damage

  • unpaid rent

  • unpaid utilities

However, if the landlord had provided the tenant with something known as Nonstandard Rental Provisions at the time the lease was entered into, and the tenant initialed such provisions, then the landlord may retain the security deposit for other items noted therein, such as late fees and bank fees for a bounced check.

If a landlord fails to follow this 21-day rule, the landlord is responsible to the tenant for double the amount of the security deposit and all of the tenant’s attorney fees.

Eviction

When a tenant fails to pay rent or otherwise defaults under the lease, there are some very specific rules that the landlord must follow. In most instances, a landlord can give a five-day notice to the tenant to remedy the default or vacate. There are specific rules that require how this notice is to be given.

If the tenant has remedied the default (i.e., paid the unpaid rent), he can stay, and the lease continues. If the tenant has not remedied the default and remains on the property after the expiration of the five days, then the landlord must file an eviction action (i.e., a small-claims lawsuit) to obtain a court order from a judge to have the tenant evicted.

If the landlord is successful in court, the judge will usually set a final deadline for the tenant to move out, and if the tenant still has not moved out, the landlord can take the court order to the sheriff’s department and work with the sheriff’s department to have the tenant removed from the property.

Other types of notices also can be given to a tenant, such as a 14-day or 28-day notice, depending on the situation, but they all require a small-claims eviction action if the tenant remains on the property after the notice period expires.

Disclosures

Wisconsin law requires the landlord to give the tenant a check-in sheet at the time the tenant moves in so the tenant can make comments, if any, about the condition of the property at the time he moves in. The tenant has seven days to complete it and return it to the landlord.

If the house was built prior to 1978, the landlord is required to give the tenant a lead paint disclosure, reminding tenants that, for example, if small children eat paint chips that contain lead paint, it can lead to very severe health conditions.

Conclusion

Some of the horror stories I have heard from landlords regarding how tenants have treated the property make me wonder why anyone would ever want to be a landlord. (A recent one was using the basement of the house as the place to put garbage even though this farmhouse had garbage pickup once a week.)

Besides screening tenants carefully, landlords also need to make sure they understand landlord-tenant laws, as this column has only listed some of the pitfalls a landlord can fall into.

Tim Halbach

Halbach is a partner in the agricultural law firm of Twohig, Rietbrock, Schneider and Halbach. Call him at 920-849-4999.

About the Author(s)

Tim Halbach

Tim Halbach is a partner in Menn Law Firm, which merged with the agricultural law firm of Twohig, Rietbrock, Schneider and Halbach. Halbach practices in the Menn Law Firm’s farm and agribusiness practice group. Call him at 920-849-4999.

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