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Beginning June 8, 2020 the Building Inspection plan review and zoning review counters will be open to the public by appointment only.

For information about scheduling an appointment and other Building Inspection services please see the Building Inspection Coronavirus (COVID-19) page.

View all impacts to City service on the City's COVID-19 website.

Lease Application Process & Rental Agreements (Leases) Rights

Application Process & Discrimination
  • If the landlord denies an application, they must give the tenant written reasons for the denial by the end of the third day after the denial, unless the tenant has indicated on the application that they do not wish to receive a written explanation. MGO 32.08(5)
  • A landlord may not deny you housing because of your sex, race, religion, color, national origin or ancestry, age, handicap/disability, marital status, source of income (including Section 8), less than honorable discharge, physical appearance, sexual orientation, political beliefs, familial status, student status, refusal to disclose your social security number to the landlord, inclusion in a domestic partnership, status as a victim of domestic violence, genetic identity, citizenship status or arrest or conviction record (exceptions: convictions for offenses requiring sex offender registration and convictions for offenses related to tenancy, some time limits may apply, check the ordinance for further explanation). MGO 39.03(4) 
  • A landlord may not deny you housing based solely on your income if you can provide evidence that you have paid a similar amount in the past or of your current ability to pay, MGO 32.12(7)
  • You cannot be denied housing because you have applied for or currently receive Section 8, and your lease cannot be terminated early because you start receiving Section 8 assistance in the middle of your tenancy. MGO 32.12(14), (15) & 39.03(4)
  • If you pay an application fee (deposit, or earnest money) and your application is rejected or you withdraw the application before approval, the landlord must return the money at the end of the next business day. The landlord cannot hold your earnest money for more than three business days unless you agree in writing to a longer time period not to exceed 21 days. If the application is approved, the money should be returned or applied to rent or the security deposit. If your application is approved but you do not move in, then the landlord may keep part of the fee to pay for actual costs incurred; however, the landlord must mitigate their costs. ATCP 134.05, MGO 32.10, Wis. Stats. 704.29.
Rental Agreements (Leases)
  • Once signed, the lease binds all parties. There is no "back-out period". To modify a written lease agreement, all parties must agree to the changes in writing.
  • Many written leases require that each resident is responsible for meeting all the terms of the rental agreement even if the other residents do not do so. This is called "joint and several liability".
  • Be careful in your roommate choices, you can be held responsible for their lease violations.
  • Oral agreements are legal if for one year or less, but you may have trouble enforcing the terms of an oral agreement unless you have proof of the agreement. Write a letter to the landlord with your understanding of the agreement if you have trouble getting it in writing. Make sure to keep a copy. Wis. Stats. 704.03(1)
  • Periodic tenancies commonly referred to as "month-to-month" leases) are those where the rental agreement doesn't specify beginning or end dates and with the "period" being the time interval between the rent payments. i.e. If you pay monthly, this is the period of your agreement. The lease can change after any period if you are given sufficient written notice (for month to month tenants at least 28 days) prior to the next time rent is due. If you intend to move out and have a month-to-month lease, you must provide at least 28 days written notice to terminate the agreement. Wis. Stats. 704.01(2), 704.19(3), 704.21(2)
Illegal Rental Agreement Clauses

The lease cannot:

  • Require you to pay the landlord's attorney and legal fees. A judge may order you to pay these fees after a trial. MGO 32.11(3)/ATCP 134.08(3)
  • Allow your landlord to go to court as your representative and admit your guilt in the landlord's dispute with you. MGO 32.11(4), ATCP 134.08(4)
  • Require you to pay rent before the date it is regularly due. MGO 32.11(2), ATCP 134.08(2)
  • Waive the landlord's duty to deliver the rental unit in a fit or habitable condition and/or to maintain the premises during the tenancy. MGO 32.11(7), ATCP 134.08(7)
  • Authorize eviction other than by a judicial eviction procedure. MGO 32.11(1), ATCP 134.08(1)
  • Relieve the landlord from liability for property damage or personal injury caused by negligent acts or omissions of the landlord. MGO 32.11(5), ATCP 134.08(5)
  • Require you to accept liability for personal injury arising from causes clearly beyond your control as a tenant. MGO 32.11(6), ATCP 134.08(6)
  • Contain a provision that, if enforced, would violate the law. MGO 32.11(8)
  • Require you to pay the cost of carpet cleaning or shampooing unless there is damage beyond "normal wear and tear". MGO 32.11(9)
Copies of Rental Agreements & Receipts
  • You must be allowed to inspect the rental agreements and any rules and regulations that apply before you are asked to sign the agreement or pay any fees, and you must be given a copy at the time of agreement. MGO 32.06(1), ATCP 134.03(1)
  • The landlord is required to provide receipts for rent, security deposits and earnest money paid in cash. If a security deposit or earnest money is paid by check with a notation describing the purpose of the check, the landlord does not need to provide a receipt unless specifically requested by the tenant. MGO 32.06(3), ATCP 134.03(2)
  • Any promise to clean, repair or make improvements must be in writing with a specific date of completion with a copy given to the tenant. MGO 32.09(1), (2), ATCP 134.07(1)(2)
Subletting and Breaking a Lease
  • Most leases require the permission of the landlord prior to subletting. If you sublet part of your apartment, or the entire apartment, you are still responsible for all terms of the original agreement, unless all parties (including the landlord) agree in writing to terminate the lease or change any other terms. Sublet agreements should always be put in writing. Wis. Stat. 704.09(1)
  • If you need to break your lease, and choose not to sublet, the landlord is responsible for finding a new tenant if you stop paying your rent. The landlord must make a reasonable effort to find a new tenant. Reasonable effort means those steps that the landlord would have taken to rent the premises provided these are in accordance with local practice. However, you will be responsible for the rent owed until a new tenant is found. Wis. Stat. 704.29
  • The landlord must notify you if the property is in foreclosure. If the landlord fails to do so, the lease may be voidable, or monetary penalties may apply, depending on your situation. In certain circumstances, you may be able to stay until the end of your lease. Wis. Stat. 704.35(1)&(2) and 846.35 The federal "Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act", Public Law 111-22 sec. 701 – 704 (2009), applies to all foreclosure sales after the law was signed on May 20, 2009 until December 31, 2014.
  • A landlord cannot evict you or threaten to do so, because you have contacted the Building Inspection Division, asserted a right under state or local law, filed a complaint with Consumer Protection or Building Inspection, started a lawsuit or joined a tenant's union, neighborhood watch or neighborhood association. Actions by the landlord are presumed retaliatory if taken within 6 months of a tenant taking one or more of these actions, unless the landlord can prove otherwise. MGO 32.15, 32.12(4), Wis. Stats. 704.45, ATCP 134.09(5)
  • The first step in the eviction process is for the landlord to give you written notice of the lease violation. The notices will vary depending upon your type of lease, the type of violation and previous violation notices you have received. Generally, a tenant with a year-long lease will have the right to fix the problem the first time and stay in the apartment. If you get one of these notices contact the landlord right away and try to fix the problem. Wis. Stats. 704.17
  • Your landlord cannot force you to leave the apartment without an eviction order from a judge. ATCP 134.08(1), 134.09(7)

  • You have the right to appear in small claims court to contest the eviction notice. The landlord must prove to the court that you have violated the lease and that they are entitled to evict you.

  • If you are evicted by a judge, or if a default judgment is issued because you did not appear in court, the Sheriff is the only person who can remove you from the unit. The Sheriff will give you a date and time to be out by or they will remove. This forced removal can be very costly and you can be held responsible for all the costs of moving and storing your property as well as additional unpaid rent if you get evicted. The landlord has the duty to minimize these costs by trying to re-rent the apartment. Wis. Stats. 704.29, 799.44

  • Any actions taken by the landlord other than the eviction process required by state law might be an illegal eviction. Actions such as turning off heat, electricity or water, removing doors or windows or other actions that make it impossible to live in the unit are prohibited by Madison General Ordinances and Wisconsin law. Madison Ordinances also prohibit a landlord from threatening to take any of these actions. ATCP 134.09(5), (7), MGO 32.12(5)


Lease Expiration & Automatic Renewal
  • Your lease may have an automatic renewal clause; however, your landlord cannot enforce such a clause unless they give you a separate written notice of the pending automatic renewal or extension at least 15 days, but not more than 30 days before its stated effective date. ATCP 134.09(3), Wis. Stats. 704.15, MGO 32.12(2)
  • If you "hold over", or stay beyond the expiration date of a valid termination notice or expiration of a lease, the landlord may sue you in court for damages. A judge may order you to pay a minimum of double the daily rent to the landlord for each day you stay in the apartment after the notice to vacate or the expiration of your lease. Wis. Stats. 704.25(1), 704.27
Last Updated: 11/20/2020

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