Wisconsin Security Deposit Returns & Deductions

Wisconsin Security Deposit Returns & Deductions

Last Updated: January 20, 2023 by Ashley Porter

Quick Facts Answer
Acceptable Deductions
  • Unpaid rent and utilities
  • Costs of damage
  • Monthly municipal permit fees
  • Other charges outlined in the lease
Return Deadline 21 Days
Itemized Deductions Required
Penalty for Late Return 2x Amount Due + Court Costs + Attorneys’ Fees

For laws on security deposit collections and holdings in Wisconsin, click here.

Security Deposit Deductions in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, the following things can be deducted from security deposits:

  • Unpaid rent and utilities
  • Costs of damage excluding normal wear and tear
  • Monthly municipal permit fees (e.g. mobile home parking fees)
  • Other charges outlined in a Nonstandard Rental Provisions form

If landlords want to make deductions from the security deposit that are not automatically granted by law, they must be disclosed to the tenant in a separate written document titled “NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISIONS” provided to the tenant before they sign the lease agreement.

For example, landlords can always deduct unpaid rent from the security deposit, among several other deductions granted by law. However, if landlords want to reserve the right to make a reasonable deduction for a lost key or unpaid late rent fee, it must be disclosed to the tenant in advance.

note

Landlords cannot use the Nonstandard Rental Provisions form to authorize deductions from the security deposit for routine painting or carpet cleaning or any other non-refundable charges or normal wear and tear.

If a landlord provides a Nonstandard Rental Provisions form, the tenant must sign or initial next to each provision for them to be valid.

Most states, such as Wisconsin, do not have a legal limit on how much a landlord can charge for damages except that the charges must be reasonable.

If the cost of the damages exceeds the amount of the security deposit, landlords are entitled to seek additional damages from the former tenant.

What is Considered Normal Wear & Tear vs Damage in Wisconsin?

Normal wear and tear is damage that is expected when a rental unit is used in a normal way, such as gently worn carpets and faded walls. Damage is the destruction caused by abusive or negligent use of a rental unit, like ripped carpets and heavily stained walls.

“Normal wear and tear” is deterioration that occurs naturally as a result of the tenant using the property as it was designed to be used.

Examples include:

  • Gently worn carpets
  • Lightly scratched glass
  • Faded paint and flooring
  • Lightly dirtied grout
  • Loose door handles
  • Stained bath fixtures

“Damage” means destruction to the rental unit that occurs because of abuse or negligence by a tenant during the course of the tenancy.

Examples include:

  • Heavily stained, burned, or torn carpets
  • Broken tiles or windows
  • Holes in the wall
  • Missing fixtures

Can the Landlord Charge for Replacing the Carpet in Wisconsin?

Yes, landlords can charge for replacing the carpet if it is damaged beyond normal wear and tear.

Some wear and tear on a rental unit’s carpet is expected after normal day-to-day use of the property. For example, carpets typically become discolored, indented, or gently worn, when used in a normal way. However, non-typical, abusive use of carpet results in rips, visible stains, or burns. Landlords have the right to charge the tenant for the replacement of the carpet in areas where serious damage has occurred.

Can the Landlord Charge for Nail Holes in Wisconsin?

Yes, landlords can charge a tenant for nail holes if they damage the walls in a way that is not a result of ordinary enjoyment of the rental unit.

Tenants have the right to use the walls within their unit in a reasonable way. This includes inserting small nails or thumbtacks to hang posters or pictures. However, large holes from drilling, multiple nail holes, large nail holes, and holes made for hanging heavier things may be considered damage and thus, chargeable to the tenant.

Can the Landlord Charge a Cleaning Fee in Wisconsin?

Landlords in Wisconsin can make deductions from the security deposit for cleaning, but only if the tenant causes damage that requires cleaning (e.g. wine stains on the carpet).

Can the Landlord Charge for Painting in Wisconsin?

Yes, in Wisconsin, landlords can charge for painting, except for normal wear and tear. For example, if the tenant:

  • Causes damage beyond normal wear and tear
  • Repaints the wall but is not permitted to do so under the lease agreement
  • Repaints the wall in an unprofessional way

Normal wear includes minor scrapes from daily use, fading due to sunlight, or minor cracks in the original paint. Landlords can charge for repainting if the damage is not the result of normal use. This includes stains, large or deep scratches, and water damage.

Can a Security Deposit Be Used for Last Month’s Rent in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin law does not forbid the security deposit from being used for any outstanding rent.

Landlords can include a provision in the lease agreement that the security deposit cannot be used for the last month’s rent until the tenant vacates the rental unit.

Security Deposit Returns in Wisconsin

Landlords must return any remaining portion of a security deposit and an itemized statement of deductions, if any, no later than 21 days after the tenant vacates or is evicted from the rental unit.

How Long Do Landlords Have to Return Security Deposits in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin landlords have 21 days after the tenant vacates the rental unit or is evicted to return any remaining portion of a security deposit.

Do Landlords Owe Interest on Security Deposits in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin law does not require landlords to provide interest on held security deposits and state law prohibits local governments from enacting rules that require landlords to provide interest.

note

Madison and Fitchburg laws (which predate the statewide preemption) require landlords to provide an annual “rent credit”. Madison’s City Attorney has stated that a rent credit provision violates state law and cannot be enforced.

How Do Landlords Give Notice / What Information Do They Have to Provide in Wisconsin?

Written notice must be mailed or hand-delivered to the tenant’s last known address and must include the amount of the security deposit due, if any, to the tenant, plus an itemized statement of deductions.

The notice can be emailed to the tenant if stated in the lease agreement.

Security Deposit Disputes in Wisconsin

If landlords do not return the security deposit or provide a written statement of deductions, if any, within the required time period, tenants can file for damages in court up to twice the amount wrongfully withheld plus court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Tenants can also take legal action against a landlord for:

  • Failure to provide a receipt including the required disclosures
  • Unreasonable deductions

How Can Tenants File a Dispute for a Security Deposit in Wisconsin?

If a landlord fails to perform their obligations regarding a security deposit, the tenant can file a dispute in the small claims division of Circuit Court if the amount of damages is less than $10,000. If the amount is greater, the tenant must file a civil case in the Circuit Court.

A small claims case regarding the return of a security deposit must be filed within 3 years.

Cases are filed in the Circuit Court where the rental property is located or where the defendant lives or works. An attorney is not required but permitted. The filing fee is $94.50 plus $20 if the case is filed electronically.

Our website provides more information about the process of filing a dispute in Small Claims Court.

Sources