The Wisconsin rental application form is a document that landlords and listing agents send out to a potential tenant to determine whether they are eligible to enter the leasing agreement. The information collected involves finances, rental history, and more which is used to screen the applicant.
Wisconsin Rental Application Laws
Wisconsin does not limit how much can be charged as an application fee, known within state law as an “earnest money deposit.” However, landlords may charge up to $20 for a credit check. If the tenant has a credit report less than 30 days old, the landlord must accept it without charge. (ATCP 134.05(4))
If the landlord denies the application, the prospective tenant withdraws the application, or the landlord does not accept/deny the application within three days of receiving the application fee, the fee must be returned. (ATCP 134.05(2))
If the landlord approves the application, they may ask the tenant for a security deposit. There is no limitation on security deposit fees. Additionally, landlords must provide the tenant with a receipt for the security deposit if it’s paid in cash or upon the tenant’s request. There are no specified holding requirements for Wisconsin security deposits.
What Wisconsin Rental Application Forms Can’t Ask About
Federal and state laws are in effect in Wisconsin to protect potential renters from unfair discrimination during the application process. The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against the following protected classes:
- National Origin (Nationality)
- Familial Status (Having or not having children)
- Disability (Physical or Mental)
Additionally, Wisconsin state law adds additional protections for the following classes:
- Marital Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Source of Income (Public/Rental Assistance)
- Victim Status (Domestic Abuse, Sexual Assault, or Stalking)
Considering any of these criteria when making a decision about whether to rent to the applicant is not allowed, unless there is an existing exemption. As a result, asking about any of these items on a rental application form (and/or using them to base an application decision on) is illegal.
Exemptions from Fair Housing laws do exist. In Wisconsin, the following exemptions are allowed:
- Familial Status – it is acceptable to ask about and base an application decision on applicant age and/or if children will occupy the rented premises in any two-family owner-occupied dwellings.
- Age – landlords may ask for an applicant’s age in the case of age-specific communities, such as senior housing or 55+ communities, due to the Housing for Older Persons exemption.
- Religious Organizations – religion can be used as a basis for giving preference to certain applicants for property that is owned, operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization that does not rent for commercial purposes. However, other protected classes may not be the basis for making a decision as a result of this exemption. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
- Private Clubs – private clubs that operate without public access or commercial intent may provide preferential treatment of applications for lodgings owned or operated by the club. 42 U.S. Code § 3607
Wisconsin does not recognize the Mrs. Murphy Exemption.
Consent for Background Checks
Before a landlord can run a credit check based on the prospective tenant’s information on the submitted rental application, the Federal Credit Reporting Act requires that written consent must be given by the applicant. This written consent can be given via a statement of such and signature on the rental application form itself, or via a separate consent form (such as this one).
Processing a Rental Application
The next step in the tenant screening process is to use the information on the rental application form to conduct a background check:
- Credit Check – subject to the tenant’s written consent, a credit check will either provide a simpler “pass/fail” report, or a full credit report including the tenant’s credit score and information about their income, employment, past addresses, credit inquiries and more.
- Eviction Check – an eviction check aims to show the tenant’s history of eviction filings or judgments against them at any point in the last 7 years.
- Criminal History Check – a criminal history check aims to show any records involving the tenant in state court criminal records or in databases such as the national sex offender public registry.
Wisconsin Eviction Record Search
Wisconsin provides free public access to their public records, which allows anyone to access eviction records online using the Wisconsin Courts’ case searching system.
To access the eviction records:
- Visit the Wisconsin Circuit Courts Access Advanced Case Search.
- Enter the applicant’s name, select ‘Small Claims (SC)’ from the Case Type dropdown menu, and any cases involving the applicant will pop up.
- Select the case number to be taken to the case summary.
Adverse Action Notices
If you acquire a consumer report for an applicant (i.e., credit, eviction or criminal history) and take an “adverse action” against them such as any of the following:
- Rejecting the applicant
- Requiring a co-signer (when they didn’t include one before)
- Requiring a larger security deposit
- Requiring higher rent
Then you are legally required to provide the tenant with a notice letter that includes certain details, known as an “adverse action notice”. This is required even if the consumer report’s information wasn’t the primary reason for the action.
The notice must include details about the consumer reporting agency, an explanation that they didn’t take the adverse action themselves (and can’t explain why it was made) and a statement on the applicant’s right to a copy of the report and to dispute its contents within 60 days. Additionally, when rejecting an applicant, it’s recommended to specify the reason (but not legally required).
For an example, see this tenant rejection letter template.