THE FINE PRINT — How to get landlord to make repairs

July 1, 2014

janpierceIn a previous column about resolving conflicts with one’s landlord, I cautioned against withholding rent as a means to resolve a conflict with a landlord. Doing so usually leads to an eviction notice. I also advocated communicating in good faith to resolve problems, and for keeping accurate, written records of any such communication. Voicemails and text messages just don’t cut it. Finally, but only as a last resort, I suggested that you should contact the Department of Neighborhood Services.

Apparently my column landed on the desk of someone in the Department of Neighborhood Services because I received some feedback and supplemental information from one of its inspectors. It turns out that the City of Milwaukee has a program that allows renters to have the city hold your rent money (escrow), if your landlord has uncorrected building violations. Before withholding any rent in anticipation of escrowing it with the city, make sure your situation is appropriate.

The City will allow you to escrow your rent if:

The owner is in noncompliance with an order issued by the Department of Neighborhood Services or the Health Department; and

A city inspector has authorized the initiation of rent withholding by providing the tenant with a signed and dated application; and

The tenant has not received an eviction notice and is current with their rent payments.

I cannot emphasize enough that you must be current on your rent. This is not a remedy that you can use when you’re at the end of your financial rope or at wit’s end. You need to allow time for the Department of Neighborhood Services to make an inspection, to cite the owner for the violation, and for the violation to become past due.

The city may release money from the escrow account: 

To the landlord if the violations have been corrected and certified by the Department of Neighborhood Services;

To the landlord to make the repairs necessary to correct the violations;

To the landlord upon presentation of approved and itemized receipts related to repairs necessary to correct the violations;

To the Department of Neighborhood Services so that it may hire a private contractor to make the repairs necessary to correct the violations

To the utilities company of the tenant if they are included in the rent;

To a receiver if one is appointed by the court;

To the tenant to pay for relocation costs if evicted for reasons unrelated to the violations and escrow of rent; and

To city for administrative fees related to the account.

The ability to withhold rent from one’s landlord, through the use of the city of Milwaukee’s escrow program, is a powerful tool. It provides a tenant with the leverage to force corrections of code violations without fear of retaliatory eviction. For more information, contact the Department of Neighborhood Services at (414) 286-3645.

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Jan Pierce, S.C. is a law firm In Milwaukee that was founded with the belief that people can make a positive difference in the world and make a profit. The firm’s emphasis is on assisting small businesses and social entrepreneurs in all aspects of launching and managing their ventures.

Disclaimer: Advice in this column is general legal information and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be, legal advice.


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