My question involves landlord-tenant law in the State of: Wisconsin
My landlord and I have recently parted ways, after 3 consecutive yearly leases. The lease end date was July 31st. I along with my wife and 3 kids were staying in a two bedroom apartment, 1 bath, living room and half kitchen. I am in no way trying to invoke pity here, we liked it small and it was an easy place to live. Rent was around $500 per month and included all utilities such as heat, water, sewer, trash, satellite TV. We only paid electric.
Over the course of the three years, management never bothered us much and I would say we got along fairly well. There were yearly inspections, and the occasional visit from maintenance which included clog drain, broken window (really old windows and the wood frame let go, the sheet glass fell and broke... this happened on two occasions) and pushed out screens. The screens were not damaged, but the little rubber gasket would push out and the screen would flap in the wind. As I mentioned these apartment buildings are really old, the gaskets weren't even tight and the slightest pressure on the screen would undo them. As far as the windows go, they didn't seal tight and were quite drafty. However, heat was included in our rent so I didn't worry about the cost, it was steam heat via register throughout the building. In the summer we didn't run a/c.
After the first yearly inspection they noted that the carpets were stained and would likely need to be replaced. This was from various spills, most notably red juice spills. We agreed that even though we tried to clean them the stains would likely not come out and agreed to monthly payments on an estimated $500. The entire apartment was carpeted except the bathroom and the 4' x 6' patch of the kitchen. This seemed reasonable to us, made the payments and the carpets were paid for in advance.
The second yearly inspection yielded no large damages except the carpets which were already paid for.
My wife and I both work, I two jobs (full and part time) and her one full time. I won't say there wasn't some neglect on our part at times for watching the children, we worked opposite shifts to offset the cost of child care. There were some markings done to the walls, crayon marker and pencil. The walls were washed with magic erasers as well as we touched up a few spots with paint that I had purchased to try to match. The walls were not white, they were a skin color, light tan with a texture swirl.
Our landlord had decided after the third year they were no longer going to renew our lease. They sent us a letter 45 days before our lease end stating such. We missed the letter and actually had no idea until about July 22nd when there was a note on our door that they would be showing our apartment the following Monday, the 24th. The note was left around COB so I went in first thing Monday and asked what was going on. I found out we had a week to find a place, pack and move. Previously all communication was via phone calls or notes on our door, except the yearly lease renewal so this caught us completely by surprise. I asked why they were not renewing our lease and they said they have the right to not tell us why. So I'm unable to describe why we are no longer with them.
Luckily a good friend of ours still had their house on the market for over a year and they let us move in with almost no notice. We are in the process of applying for a loan to buy it.
We started moving out Saturday the 30th, and finished nearly everything that day. Sunday the 31st we spent cleaning after moving the last few boxes. Monday (August 1st) after running an errand I stopped at the office about 10 o'clock and dropped off the keys and asked for a quick look over of the apartment. A member walked with me through and she pointed out some areas that were left worse than we had gotten them. I agreed and understood there were some minor repairs to be done to some woodwork, heating vents and some cleaning. I asked for an estimate and she said it was impossible to give one without a thorough inspection, but estimated it to be between $400 and $600 in repairs/cleaning, including paint for the walls. I was informed then that due to the 'special' paint and texture they use we were not allowed to do any painting. She said this was in our lease. (I have since reviewed the lease and cannot find where that is stated).
This past week we received the post inspection invoice for a grand total of over $1500. We were left to pay $1300 after our $250 deposit was deducted. Reviewing the invoice some of the costs appear high, including cleaning labor which was figured at $15 per hour. In comparison I make $12 per hour in an IT field (remember this is Wisconsin). Also for example, the stove hood fan for $36 (I donít even know how we can abuse that, its on or off) screen repair at $15 per room (again, they just have to be pushed back in... a strong wind will practically blow them out) and $50 for wood work around a bedroom door because we added a privacy lock. They even went as far as to charge for 1 extra day of rent for $30 because the 31st was a Sunday and we couldn't turn our keys in until the following day. They do not have a night drop box (used to but it was removed) and the office is not opened on Sundays.
I am willing to accept all this however, and understand that its minor in comparison to the repainting the walls. It is listed as such on the invoice:
Entire paint / primer & 2 full coats
Material = 110
Labor = 900
This seems a little high, but I am not really a painter by trade so cannot accurately dispute this. Perhaps for a new apartment, I can see where the cost for painting might fully be loaded on our shoulders. I do not know how long before we moved in they had painted it last, but we were there for 3 years and the walls were cleaned in the dirtiest areas. I would objectively say that the walls would need some touch up or 1 coat of paint, however this seems excessive.
I have called my insurance company to see if I can file a claim on the cost associated with this as we do have renter's insurance. They said it would only be covered if it had to do with neglect on our part and not for normal wear and tear.
Overall I would have rated this Landlord with a 4 out of 5 stars until this. Now I am not very happy at all.
Sorry for rambling on, here are some of my questions.
- I read some other threads saying that in California, 3 years is acceptable length for the landlord to absorb the cost of painting. Not sure about Wisconsin, is there a length or precedent set?
- Can I expect pro-rated cost for painting? If this was the actual cost, after 3 years of living can it get pro-rated to 1/3rd?
- What kind of luck would I have seeking legal assistance such as disputing how much we owe because of the time we lived there?
- Would it be better if I went to my insurance company and stated it was neglect on our part that caused the damages to have them review it and reimburse us? I'm sure I could be reimbursed for the carpets as well.
- If we do seek legal assistance, is it possible to just ask a local lawyer this to see if we have a case, or would just talking to someone cost us?
- At the bottom of the invoice it states "please pay this amount by Sept. 10, 2011 to prevent legal or collection actions" What kind of legal actions can they take if we're not able to pay it all in full by that date?
I really appreciate any information/help anyone is able to provide. We are kinda ignorant when it comes to legal matters and usually just pay what is asked of us. We probably would this time too but are really in a tight squeeze with trying to put together a down payment for this house.