Impact of Wisconsin “Safer at Home” Order on Landlords and Tenants

On March 24, 2020, Wisconsin’s Governor, Tony Evers, issued Emergency Order # 12- "Safer At Home Order"”. The Order is intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID19) by requiring Wisconsin residents to practice certain forms of social distancing and quarantining. The Order will become effective statewide at 8:00 a.m. on March 25, and unless extended will continue until 8:00 am on April 24, 2020.

A number of the provisions in the Order are anticipated to impact landlords and tenants. First and foremost, the Order states that, "All for-profit and non-profit businesses with a facility in Wisconsin, except Essential Businesses and Operations as defined, are required to cease all activities at facilities located within Wisconsin, except . . . [for] minimum basic operations [], and any operations consisting exclusively of employees or contractors performing activities at their own home or residences.”

"Minimum basic operations" is defined as: a) minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of the business's inventory, preserve the condition of the business's physical plant, and equipment, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, or for related functions, including where these functions are outsourced to other entities, and; b) the minimum necessary activities to facilitate employees of the business being able to continue to work remotely from their residences.

As related to rental property, two issues commonly come to mind: maintenance and rent payments. As it relates to maintenance, the Order prohibits landlords from certain activities. Specifically, it provides that landlords and rental property managers must avoid entering leased residential premises unless emergency maintenance is required. 

As it relates to rental obligations, the Order does not exempt tenants from rent payments during its effective dates; however, limited access to courts during the term of the Order is expected to hamper any eviction efforts. Additionally, some counties have suspended the eviction process in whole or in part. An order issued on March 18, 2020, in Milwaukee County suspended the enforcement of all pending writs of restitution (evictions) in the county. Similarly, an order issued in Dane County on March 17, 2020, suspended all evictions. Further, on March 22, 2020, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued an order suspending in-person hearings in civil cases, effectively preventing any new eviction actions from being heard until at least May 1, 2020.

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