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Lease Application Process & Rental Agreements (Leases) Rights

Application Process & Discrimination
  • A landlord may not deny you housing because of your




Arrest or conviction record*

National origin or ancestry



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 survivor of domestic violence

Genetic identity

Citizenship status

*Exception: convictions 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 housing provider (HP) may not deny you housing based on

    • income if you can show that you have previously paid a similar amount. Or, if you can show your current ability to pay. MGO 32.12(7)

  • Section 8 status. They cannot terminate your lease for receiving Section 8 funds in the middle of your tenancy. MGO 32.12(14), (15) & 39.03(4)

  • If you pay a fee and the landlord rejects the application, they must refund you by the end of the next business day. If you withdraw the application before approval, the same timeframe applies. The landlord cannot hold your funds for more than three business days. The exception is if you agree in writing to a longer period, not to exceed 21 days. If the owner approves the application, they should return the money. Otherwise, they can apply the money it to rent or to the security deposit. If they approve your application but you do not move in, then they may keep part of the fee to pay for 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 change a written lease agreement, all parties must agree to the changes in writing.

  • Some leases have a joint and several liability clause. Be careful in your roommate choices. Your housing provider can hold you responsible for others' lease violations.

  • Oral agreements are legal if they last for one year or less. You may have trouble enforcing the terms of an oral agreement unless you have proof of the agreement. Ask your housing provider (HP) for a written account. If your HP is not responsive, write them an email with your understanding of the agreement. Make sure to keep a copy of the email. Wis. Stats. 704.03(1)

  • "Month-to-month" leases do not specify beginning or end dates. If you pay monthly, this is the period of your agreement. The lease can change after any period if your HP gives you enough written notice before rent is due. For month to month tenants, the notice period is at least 28 days. If you intend to move out, you must provide at least 28 days written notice to end 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 represent you in court. MGO 32.11(4), ATCP 134.08(4)

  • Admit your guilt in the landlord's dispute with you. MGO 32.11(4), ATCP 134.08(4)

  • Require you to pay rent early. MGO 32.11(2), ATCP 134.08(2)

  • Waive the housing provider's duty to deliver the rental unit in a fit or habitable condition. MGO 32.11(7), ATCP 134.08(7)

  • Waive their duty to maintain the premises during the tenancy. MGO 32.11(7), ATCP 134.08(7)

  • Allow eviction other than by a judicial eviction procedure. MGO 32.11(1), ATCP 134.08(1)

  • Relieve the HP from liability for damage or injury caused by negligence or omissions. MGO 32.11(5), ATCP 134.08(5)


Copies of Rental Agreements & Receipts

  • Your HP must allow you to inspect the lease and any rules that apply before you sign or pay fees. Your HP must give you a copy at the time of agreement. MGO 32.06(1), ATCP 134.03(1)

  • The owner must give you receipts for rent, security deposits, and earnest money paid in cash. If you pay a security deposit or earnest money by check with a notation of the purpose, the landlord does not need to provide a receipt. The exception is if the tenant requests a receipt. MGO 32.06(3), ATCP 134.03(2)

  • Any promise to clean, repair or make improvements must be in writing. It must have a 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 before subletting. If you sublet part of your apartment, or the entire apartment, you are still liable for all lease terms. The exception is if all parties (even the landlord) agree in writing to end the lease or change other terms. Always put sublet agreements into writing. Wis. Stat. 704.09(1)

  • If you need to break your lease, and do not sublet, the landlord must find 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 unit. However, you are responsible for the rent until a new tenant is found. Wis. Stat. 704.29

  • If the landlord fails to do so, the lease may be voidable, or fees may apply. In certain circumstances, you may be able to stay until the end of your lease. Wis. Stat. 704.35(1)&(2) and 846.35


  • A housing provider 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

    • joined a tenant's union, neighborhood watch or neighborhood association

  • Actions by the HP are presumed retaliatory if within six months of a tenant doing any of the above. The HP must prove otherwise. MGO 32.15, 32.12(4), Wis. Stats. 704.45, ATCP 134.09(5)

  • To report retaliation, please visit the Department of Civil Rights' portal. Your protected class is Retaliation (others may apply). Choose, "I made a building code complaint." If you have questions, contact the Department of Civil Rights at (608) 266-4910 or If you need help filling out the form, find a community partner.


  • The first step in an eviction is for the landlord to give you written notice of the lease violation. The notices will vary based on your type of lease, type of violation, and other notices you have received. Usually, a tenant with a year-long lease will have the right to fix the problem the first time and stay in the unit. 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 a judge or a default judgment evicts you, 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. Forced removal can be very costly. The Sheriff can hold you responsible for the costs of moving and storing your property. You can also be held to the costs of unpaid rent if you get evicted. The landlord has the duty to reduce these costs by trying to re-rent the apartment. Wis. Stats. 704.29, 799.44

  • Owner actions other than the eviction process outlined by state law are illegal. Madison Ordinances also prohibit a landlord from threatening any of these actions. These actions include:

    • turning off heat, electricity or water

    • removing doors or windows

    • other actions that make it impossible to live in the unit. 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 renewal

    • they send the notice at least 15 days, but not more than 30 days, before the start date. ATCP 134.09(3), Wis. Stats. 704.15, MGO 32.12(2)

  • If you stay beyond the end date of a valid termination notice or end of a lease, the landlord may sue you in court. A judge may order you to pay at least double the daily rent to the landlord for each extra day you stay in the unit. Wis. Stats. 704.25(1), 704.27

  • Require you to accept liability for personal injury from causes beyond your control. 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 unless there is damage beyond normal wear and tear. MGO 32.11(9)

Last Updated: 12/04/2023

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