Wisconsin Rental Application Form

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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.

  • Application Fee – In Wisconsin, there is no limit to what a landlord may charge as an application fee, known within state law as an “earnest money deposit.” However, landlords may charge up to $20 for a credit check.
  • Discrimination Laws – Wisconsin offers specific state protections against discrimination like marital or victim status in addition to federal law which makes discrimination against classes based on race, religion, sex, and more illegal, with some exceptions.
  • Consent for Credit Checks – the Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires a prospective tenant to give written consent to check their credit history during the screening process.

Wisconsin Rental Application Laws

The following laws apply to the application and tenant screening process in the state of Wisconsin.

Collecting an Application Fee in Wisconsin

Wisconsin does not limit how much can be charged as an application fee.

If the landlord denies the application, the tenant withdraws the application, or the landlord does not accept/deny the application within 3 days of receiving the application fee, the fee must be returned. (ATCP 134.05(2))

The landlord may only charge up to $20 for a credit check. However, if the tenant has a credit report less than 30 days old, the landlord must accept it without charge. (ATCP 134.05(4))

Illegal Housing Discrimination in Wisconsin

Federal and state laws are in effect in Wisconsin to protect potential renters from unfair discrimination during the application process.

Fair Housing Act

The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against the following protected classes:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National Origin (Nationality)
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial Status (having or not having children)
  • Disability (Physical or Mental)

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 not allowed.

Wisconsin Fair Housing Laws

Additionally, Wisconsin state law adds additional protections for the following classes:

  • Age
  • Ancestry
  • Marital Status
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Source of Income (Public/Rental Assistance)
  • Victim Status (Domestic Abuse, Sexual Assault, or Stalking)

Considering any of this criteria when making a decision about whether to rent to the applicant is not allowed, unless there is an existing exemption.

Exemptions to Fair Housing Laws

Exemptions from Fair Housing laws do exist. In Wisconsin, the following exemptions are allowed:

  • Age/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 of the below cases:
    • Two-family owner-occupied dwellings.
    • Housing for Older Persons Exemption – landlords may ask for an applicant’s age in the case of age-restricted communities such as senior housing. This federal exemption, known as the “Housing for Older Persons” exemption, can apply to 55+ or even 62+ communities that meet the requirements.
  • 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

Federally, race is a non-exemption criteria that cannot have an influence on the choice of whether to rent to an applicant or not regardless of existing exemptions.

Wisconsin does not recognize the Mrs. Murphy Exemption.

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 (example template).

Wisconsin Security Deposit Law

If an applicant is approved, the following laws apply to the collection of security deposits in Wisconsin:

  • Standard Limit / Maximum Amount: There is no limitation in place to dictate what Wisconsin landlords may charge as a security deposit.
  • Receipt Requirements: The landlord must provide a receipt for the security deposit if the payment is made in cash or at the tenant’s request.
  • Financial Holdings: There are no specified holding requirements for Wisconsin security deposits.

Sending Rental Application Forms

Landlords can send rental application forms to tenants in one of two ways:

  1. Manually – using the PDF and Word templates available for free on our website (see the top right of this webpage), landlords can send a rental application form to tenants via a physical copy or email.
  2. With Software – most popular property management software services include an online rental application form that can automate the collection and screening process for landlords.

For reviews of popular property management software, click here.

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 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.

Responding to Rental Applications

If an applicant meets all of your tenant screening criteria, then there’s nothing you need to do beyond notifying them and moving forward with the normal leasing process.

However, if you acquire a consumer report for an applicant (i.e. credit, eviction or criminal history) and you make an “adverse action” against them (EVEN IF the report’s information wasn’t the primary reason for doing so), you are required to provide the tenant with a notice letter that includes certain details, known as an “adverse action notice”.

An adverse action is defined as either rejecting the applicant or instituting additional/higher requirements than you have for another applicant (i.e. requiring a co-signer, larger security deposit, higher rent or an additional deposit).

In these cases, an adverse action notice is required to be sent to the applicant, and must include the following:

  • The agency’s name, address and phone number that supplied the report.
  • A statement explaining that the CRA didn’t make the decision for the adverse action themselves, and as a result, that they can’t explain why the decision was made.
  • A statement explaining the applicant’s right to dispute such information and their right to a copy of the report in question within 60 days.

To learn more about requirements surrounding adverse action notices, see this article from the Federal Trade Commission. To get an idea of what an adverse action notice might look like, see this example letter.

Additionally, to protect against accusations of illegal discrimination, it is always recommended to include the exact reason why the application was not approved in the rejection letter.