10 Do’s and Don’ts of Being a Landlord

key passed from landlord to tenantDeciding to buy a rental property may not seem like a legal decision; however, one of the most important parts of being a landlord (besides building maintenance) is making sure your actions are legally sound.  From the signing of the rental agreement to the day you evict a tenant, every action of a landlord must be in line with local regulations.

DO vet a potential tenant before renting to them.

If you want to avoid missed rental payments, excessive property damage, and broken rental agreements, establish a legal vetting process for each tenant.  Note the first term: legal.  You’d be foolish not to vet your prospective tenants, but it’s essential to contact an attorney so you know what you can do during the vetting process and what questions you can ask applicants.  Improper execution of either process can lead to legal repercussions from denied applicants.

DON’T use a generic rental agreement.

Many a rental property owner has tried to save money by downloading a generic rental agreement they find on the internet.  Unfortunately, this is a case where frugality can get you financial trouble later; using a generic one-size-fits-all rental agreement can leave you vulnerable to problems because of the different regulations specific to each state. Contact a local attorney to make sure your rental agreement is updated and specific to your state, protects your rights and the tenant’s rights, doesn’t include prohibited terms, and doesn’t place any additional and unnecessary obligations on your shoulders.

DO document the condition of your rental property before tenants move in.

Before you rent out your property, take pictures of every room in the unit.  Make a complete list of flaws; this gives you a documented defense in several different situations.  Those pictures can be valuable if you need to prove your tenant did the damage, if your tenant claims there was an issue when they moved in, or in other legal issues that may arise.

DON’T rent to tenants without a signed rental agreement.

Don’t skip the vital step of having your tenant sign a rental agreement.  Meeting with your tenant to sign the rental agreement also gives you the opportunity to review the terms of the rental agreement.  You should also provide your tenant with a copy of the signed agreement, and document that you provided the tenant with the agreement.  Keep the signed copy in a file that you can easily reference if needed.

DO know when you can keep a security deposit.

Keeping a tenant’s security deposit can lead to legal ramifications later.  Make sure you know up front when you can keep the security deposit, how much you can keep, and what documentation is needed for the process.

DON’T assume you can legally walk in to your rental property at any time.

You may own the property, but according to Wisconsin laws you cannot enter a tenant’s unit unless you give 12 hours notice.  Landlords can only enter for three reasons: 1) to check out a problem; 2) to make repairs; 3) to show the unit to prospective buyers or renters.

DO enter if there is an emergency.

A landlord can legally enter a rented unit if there is an emergency, if entry would prevent an emergency, or if the tenant consents to entry.

DON’T forget to note the day your tenants give notice.

Depending on the terms of your rental agreement, you may be able to deduct the amount of unpaid rent from your security deposit.  Document the date your tenants give notice.  If the notice is delivered in person, let your tenants know what condition you expect of the unit after they move out.

DO take pictures when they move out.

Don’t ever underestimate the value of documenting as a landlord; if any problems turn into a legal proceeding, the landlord needs to have the original documentation. That’s why it’s important to take pictures of any damage that was done to the unit after the tenants moved out, and the condition of the unit in general.

DON’T forget to contact your attorney if you don’t know your legal rights (and your tenant’s).

Don’t assume that your actions are legal without contacting an attorney.  Even actions that seem common-sense can lead to legal issues.  For example, if you are not sure if it is legal to evict a tenant, contact an attorney BEFORE you evict—and ask about the steps you need to take when you evict.  Simply put, a few minutes of your time now can save you from the cost, time, and effort of landlord legal hassles later.

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.

Can I move with my child if we have a custody agreement?

Beautiful smiling woman and little boy openig cardboard box after filing relocation paperwork for child custody with court“I want to relocate out of state and we have joint custody. How do I go about it?” “What do I do if I want to move and am a custodial parent?” “How do I move if I am part of a custody agreement?” “My ex wants to relocate with our child. What can I do about it?” It’s a common question, and the answer can vary from state to state (the answer below is for parents in Wisconsin).  The answer can also depend on the terms spelled out in your specific custody agreement with the other parent.  It’s best to consult with an experienced local lawyer when you are considering moving with your child.

What you must do if you want to move with your child

If you would like to move with your child out-of-state or 150 miles away from your residence in Wisconsin, you must give written notice to the other parent 60 days before the move.  All written notices about the move (and possible opposition to) should be spelled out with required details and sent via certified mail with a copy sent to the court.

What you can do if the other parent files moving paperwork

The other parent has two options: 1) to agree to the move; or 2) to file the necessary paperwork to oppose the relocation with the court.  The second option typically needs to be done within 15-20 days of receiving the notice, so the parent needs to file the paperwork—or contact an attorney for assistance—promptly. The court may order mediation so the parents can reach an agreement.  Often no move can be made until an agreement is reached; ask your lawyer if you have the green light from the court before you make the move.

What the move may mean for your custody agreement

You may have to provide a burden of proof that the relocation is in the best interest of the child, by showing that the move is necessary to be closer to family or for a better living situation.  If you are opposing the move, you need to provide a burden of proof that the change is not in the best interest of your child(ren).  A move may trigger a change in your custody agreement, such as an adjustment to child support, visitation, or physical placement of the child.  The outcome is decided by the court who determines the best interest of the child(ren).

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.