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TERMINATION OF LEASES
As was explained earlier, there are general requirements that all written leases must meet. These statutory requirements greatly influence how leases are terminated. However, in all actions where the lease is prematurely terminated, the landlord is required to make reasonable efforts to re-rent the premises, pursuant to Section 704.29 Wisconsin Statutes, this is known as mitigating damages. This means that oftentimes the tenant cannot be held liable for the future rent that would have been paid had the lease been fulfilled.
The four most common reasons for the termination of a lease are: one, breach by landlord; two, breach by tenant; three, unfit living conditions; and four, voluntary termination.
1. Breach by Landlord
If the provisions of one's lease do not specify anything that the landlord is required to provide, then it is difficult to prove that the landlord has any obligation to the tenant, but it has been done. In the Wisconsin case of Bruckner v. Helfaer, the court decided that the landlord could not sue the tenant for the remainder of the rent due, when the tenant was forced to move out before the lease was up, because of the loud neighboring tenants. The tenant had previously complained to the landlord several times, and nothing was done. The basis for this argument is Section 704.05(3) Wisconsin Statutes, which provides that tenants cannot unreasonably interfere with the use of the building by other occupants. Notice that this statute also gives the landlord the authority to control this "unreasonably interference."
Oftentimes leases contain provisions that require the landlord to provide certain things for the tenant, such as heat, water, air conditioning, or making certain repairs. Such provisions can create an obligation upon the landlord that should not be ignored. Courts have upheld the award of damages to tenants and allowed tenants to move out before the end of the lease, when the breach by the landlord seriously interfered with the enjoyment of the property.
2. Breach by Tenant
A. Failure to Pay Rent. The most common breach by a tenant is the failure to pay the required rent on time. If the tenant is a month-to-month or a week-to-week periodic tenant does not pay rent on time, usually as provided for in a oral or written agreement, then the landlord can give the tenant what is known as a pay-or-vacate notice. This notice provides at least a 5-day period in which the tenant can pay the rent or move out. Once the time stated in the notice has past, the lease is considered terminated and a proper eviction will be upheld. A month-to-month tenant's lease can be terminated if the landlord gives the tenant a 14-day notice to vacate before the tenant pays the rent. See Section 704.17(1)(a) Wisconsin Statutes.
If the tenant is a year-to-year periodic tenant or has a lease for a year or less, then Section 704.17(2)(a) Wisconsin Statutes applies. The provisions are similar as above, and also provide that if a second default occurs within a year of the first, then the landlord can give the tenant a 14-day notice to vacate, if the tenant is still in default.
If the tenant has signed a lease for more than one year, then the landlord must give the tenant a 30-day pay-or-vacate notice.
Notice: Tenants and landlords alike should keep in mind that the seizure of property for the failure to pay rent is strictly prohibited by the Wisconsin Statutes, unless expressly provided for. See Section 704.11 Wisconsin Statutes.
B. Failure to Obey Lease. Another common breach by the tenant, occurs when specific provisions of a lease are violated. These violations, of course, depend upon the specific lease agreement that has been signed. If the tenant is a week-to-week or a month-to-month periodic tenant, then the landlord can give a 14-day termination notice, and the tenant must vacate. If, however, the tenant is a year-to-year tenant or under a lease for a year or less, then the landlord is required to give the tenant a 5-day notice to remedy the problem. The tenant must take reasonable steps to remedy the problem within the 5 days, or the lease may be terminated. A tenant under a lease for more than one year is given a 30-day notice to remedy the fault.
Notice: Tenants may be held liable for future rent after eviction for failure to obey the lease provisions, if the lease agreement specifically states this.
C. Tenant Nuisances Related to Drugs.
Landlords are now allowed to evict tenants for nuisances related to drugs. The tenant is given a 5-days notice to vacate. If the tenant contests the eviction, then the landlord must have a written notice from a law enforcement agency, stating that the nuisance exists.
3. Unfit Living Conditions
Sometimes the rental premises may be damaged during the tenancy, by no fault of the tenants. The lease may contain certain provisions relating to just such an incident. The Wisconsin Realtors Association (WRA) standard form Rental Agreement, which is used by many landlords, contains just such a provision:
The word untenantable is used to describe the conditions that allow a tenant to voluntarily vacate. Wisconsin courts have interpreted this word in a variety of ways. Section 704.07(4) Wisconsin Statutes does help to define this word. In some cases it may be necessary to look to the Wisconsin case law, or an attorney, to determine whether a particular type of damage results in the premises being untenantable.
4. Voluntary Termination
Sometimes both the landlord and the tenant may agree to end the lease prior to the date specified in the lease. If this is the case, then this agreement should always be made in writing. While oral agreements can be upheld, the courts will look to the length of the lease and the actions of the landlord and tenant after the alleged oral agreement was made. Section 704.03(4) Wisconsin Statutes deals with voluntary terminations, also known as surrenders.
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