Landlords: Tips for a Successful (& Legal) Income Rental (From Beginning to End)

rental agreement documentOwning and renting out a rental property is more than just an investment; it’s a process. From your search for renters to the day of an unfortunate eviction or when they move out, renting out your rental property is a legal process that should be followed to the letter of the law—unless you want to face legal repercussions.

Finding renters

  • Vet potential tenant before renting to them. It is legal to screen your prospective tenants, if you do it legally. Consult an attorney to ensure that your vetting process is legal and sound so you can avoid rental payments, property damage, and broken rental agreements.
  • Get a legal rental agreement. Downloading a generic rental agreement off the computer can seem like a cheaper option, but can cause problems later. Instead, contact a local lawyer to get a legal rental agreement that follows the specific regulations of your state and area. Generic rental agreements can also place additional (and unnecessary) tasks on your to-do list.
  • While you are screening potential renters, document the condition of your rental property. Take pictures of every room, as well as the exterior of the building. Make notes about any flaws (i.e. drywall damage, holes in flooring, etc.). Retain a file of the photos and notes for later reference in case of complaints or property damage issues.

After you find renters

  • Don’t rent without a signed rental agreement. Meet with potential tenants and have them sign your rental agreement. Go over the terms of the agreement with the tenant, and provide the tenant with a copy of the signed agreement. Keep your copy of the signed rental agreement with the photos and notes.
  • Be cautious about entering the rental unit. According to Wisconsin law, you cannot enter a rental unit without giving 12-hour notice. You may only enter the unit to inspect any problems and make repairs or to show the rental unit to prospective buyers or renters. The only exception to giving 12-hour notice is if there is an emergency or if the tenant gives permission for landlord entry.

When the renters give notice

  • Know how much of a security deposit you can keep, and when. There are situations where landlords can keep the security deposit, or at least a portion of it. It’s important to know when you can retain a portion and how much so you don’t have to devote time and funds to legal problems later.
  • Document dates. 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.

When the renters move out 

  • Take photos of the unit after they move out. Once the unit is empty, take photos of the premises again. Those photos can be helpful in a legal proceeding later; file away your photos and documentation for easy reference later.

When the renters aren’t paying rent

  • Don’t take any action without knowledge of the eviction process. If the renter gets behind on rental payments, don’t take any action (verbal or written) until you know your rights as a landlord. 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.

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.

All Your Divorce Questions Answered

typewriter typing divorce agreement after collaborative divorceHow long does it take to get a divorce in Wisconsin?

The exact length of the divorce is different for every couple. There is a required 120 day waiting period in Wisconsin before the divorce is granted. In general, a divorce usually takes six months to a year to be finalized.

What do I do if I want a divorce?

A petition must be filed in the county of residency. After, the spouse is served with divorce papers. If you want a divorce from your spouse, it’s best to consult with an attorney to determine what option is right for your situation, what the next step is, and what documentation is needed to finalize the divorce.

Is everything I tell my lawyer during a divorce on the record?

This is one of the most common myths about divorce: that the spouse is going to know about your visits and the information you give during your meeting with your lawyer.  The truth is that all of your visits to your lawyer—and everything you say at the meetings—is confidential. Everything said is between you and your lawyer.

Can I get an annulment instead of a divorce?

An annulment is a decree that makes it seem like there never was a marriage, whereas a divorce is a legal end to a marriage. To be granted an annulment, the couple must have solid legal standing to ask for an annulment, such as fraud, incapability to consent (impairment, etc.), underage, coercion, bigamy, impotence, incense, etc. (More information about the difference between an annulment and a divorce can be found here, but the best way to find out if your marriage can be annulled is to contact a lawyer.)

Do I have to go to court for my divorce?

Typically, there are court appearances required during a divorce. However, the amount of time needed varies depending on whether you choose mediation, a collaborative divorce, or a litigated divorce.

What are my divorce options?

You don’t have to have a highly-contested divorce like you commonly see on TV. There are other options for divorce in Wisconsin, including mediation, collaborative divorce, or litigation. (More information on divorce options here. Contact a local lawyer to discuss and decide which option for divorce is right for your situation.)

During mediation, the couple meets with the mediator to come to a mutual agreement in all important areas, such as finances and property. For the process to work, the couple needs to be able to agree without a significant amount of dispute (which may mean this is not right for all couples).

When a collaborative divorce is chosen, each spouse hires a lawyer to represent them. The lawyers and spouses set the meetings to discuss important areas, and may bring in experts to resolve issues (such as an accountant or child custody specialist). In a collaborative divorce, there is some time spent in a courtroom but that time is minimal because major issues have been decided.

The third option for divorce in Wisconsin involves more court dates, and is the typical process for a couple who cannot decide on key issues. A divorce cannot be finalized until all key issues (i.e. financial, child custody, etc.) are resolved.

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.

16 Questions You Should Ask Your Lawyer (BEFORE You Hire Them!)

Business handshake on grey backgroundHiring a lawyer is not as simple as opening up the phone book and pointing. No matter what kind of legal issue you’re dealing with—rental property, child custody, divorce, car accident, business issues—you want a lawyer who has experience in your area and can resolve your issue (efficiently). You can find the right lawyer by interviewing (either by phone or email) them and asking these questions:

  • How long have you practiced law?
  • Do you have experience handling my kind of case? How many other cases of this type have you handled?
  • Have you handled cases within the local court system?
  • In your experience, what outcomes could happen in my case?
  • Do you offer a free consultation? (If not, what is the cost of the initial visit?) What information should I bring to the consultation?
  • What is the cost of your services? Do I need to pay a retainer? Are there any expenses I need to cover as part of the cost?
  • Will anyone else from your firm be handling aspects of my case?
  • Do you offer alternatives other than going to court? (This can be especially true if you are going through a divorce. Ask if they offer these divorce alternatives.)
  • How will you communicate with me? When should I expect the next communication?
  • What do you need from me to proceed?

After you ask these questions, make sure you are clear about what the next step is and any financial arrangements that need to be made. Prepare for your initial consultation with your lawyer with these tips, and understand that your lawyer cannot see into the future. However, vetting lawyers and choosing the right lawyer with the right experience can make the future (at least your legal future) better.

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.