Move-out Inspection with hostile tenant Wisconsin

34 Replies

I'm in Wisconsin and I have a tenant that will be moving out of apartment in a few days.  As we get closer to them leaving they are getting more hostile and keep threating legal action unless they get 100% of security deposit refunded.  They damaged a window total coast was $100 so not a lot.  At first accepted responsibility but no longer feel that way now (see number 2 below).  The topic of discussion that seemed to push the relationship to a higher level of hostility was getting the carpet cleaned.  They refuse to do so and in the lease I have a non-standard rental provision that I read with them before they signed asking for tenant to clean carpet so they are aware of this provision.  I have read ATCP 134 and WI 704 for guidance and I'm interested in this boards opinions / interpretations of some points below.

1. Tenant is requesting to be present during inspection.  I do not want this because they are hostile and do not feel comfortable with them and would prefer to avoid a conflict verbally or physically.  I do not see anything that requires them to be present.

2. They broke a window on a door and have now refuse to pay for damage because they feel the door was not installed correctly allowing them to damage it.  Their toddler slammed the door into a coat hanger that is installed in the wall behind the door causing glass to break.  They felt the door stopper should have prevented the child from doing this and since it didn't they are not liable.

3. They are requesting 100% payment to them on the day of inspection.  In WI landlord has 21 days post inspection to refund deposit and need to itemize any deductions if any with refund.  I do not plan to honor this request (as far as payment timing) but once new tenant gives deposit (schedule for 5 days after they move out) I will refund their deposit.

Part of me wants to give them the deposit to get them out of my life and move on but on the other hand I don't like being walked on.  Please let me know your thoughts thanks!

My thought is, "why was a coat hanger hung right behind a window that could be opened into it?"

I would probably agree with them that it should either not be installed there our there should have been a door stop.  

Unless the rugs are abused and unreasonably horrible, I would consider rug cleaning to be my responsibility in between tenants.   Abuse of property is different than normal cleaning and repair.  Only you can determine where that line is.  I would think you should first find out if you would have a case before you determine that just in case you have to go to court.  If a judge would not agree with you, it's because you are being unreasonable.  If he would, you're probably being fair.

Kevin Forsythe Agreed with the other poster - standard rental expectations would put any damage beyond normal wear and tear on the tenant ... I don't and haven't seen others expect tenants to clean the carpet when they leave. Ditto for the window break, as you described it - that goes on the list of things you should do to harden your property. That said, I always offer tenants a pre-move out inspection and offer them to be present for the move out inspection as well. I take pictures / video at both, and simply say: "I'll compare the pics / video to the ones I have from our move in walk through and give you an itemized list of any new damage within 5 days." No arguing during the inspection. Good luck.
If you have to meet them for the move out inspection take a witness with you. Also keep your camera on your phone going entire time. Or use a voice recorder. I would agree that the coat hook should not have been installed where it is. I put a provision in my leases a number of years back telling the tenant they have to have the carpet professionally cleaned and provide me a paid receipt. I'd enforce that and subtract from deposit if they don't.

@Kevin Forsythe I think where you've gone wrong is to be discussing things with them before they've even vacated.  Once they are out and have relinquished the keys, you go in and inspect...documenting  all potential deductions.  Then you have  a few weeks to make your determinations.  You can give grace if you like...or not.

If they are unhappy with your decision, they can appeal to the court. 

I agree with the others: I ask that tenants vacuum but see carpet cleaning as my responsibility. 


I had a similar situation with long term tenants (5+years) moving out.

It's not worth it to fight with them.  There are hungry lawyers everywhere who will twist what a tenant says to show that you are liable in every situation.  

As far as the inspection, the tenant should be present, because if he/she is not, they could say that you did things at the check-out and are now charging them.  Take a witness (some one bigger than you and male) as a second set of eyes and ears.  Don't even tell them who the person is.  It is none of their business.  The whole time, they may be thinking that this person is your lawyer, etc.  

Check them out as quickly as possible.  They will try to escalate a verbal confrontation, so be ready to use your diffusing skills.  Self-control will be key.

Mail them the security deposit within the 21 day rule and BE SURE to send it requiring a signature.  

I don't know what happened to make your tenant this hostile towards you, but sometimes it is just do to the fact that you are a landlord.  Best wishes.  

Thank you for the feedback.  I appreciate your questions and advise this will help me decide what direction to take and what to do with future tenants.

@James R. I'm not sure why they are acting so defensive.  I agree there are hungry lawyers looking for a case and that is in my mind often.  This is the first time having to deal with someone that seems hungry to pick a fight.  I think this will be a learning experience for myself.  In the past my way to respond to someone picking a fight was to give it to them and win at all cost.  Don't have the energy to do things like that anymore!

@Account Closed The tenant would call / text asking me what my expectations of them were for move out.  At first it seemed cooperative and professional but as of late been the opposite.  I have a document that details vacating procedures (the document mention above that I read with them) and I would point them to that.  I told them several times my goal was to have all our rules documented so they were clear and no one felt like they were taken advantage of.  At the time I felt if I didn't give them any feedback / instruction it would be taken as if I was setting them up to fail to keep their deposit.

"Normal wear and tear" does not include breaking a window or a door.  Abuse or neglect of your property by a toddler is the responsibility of the tenants, as it would be if one of their guests broke a window or a door.  I don't see a problem with having them at the final "walk through", just take a camera and take pictures/video.  Let them know you'll send the security deposit transmittal within 21 days per state law. I never give a check on move out day.  I send it out within 21 days via certified mail to their last known address if they haven't given me a forwarding address.

Let's get a proper door stop set up behind that door or remove those hooks before the next tenants move in.


I agree with Dawn that the broken window is not normal wear and tear, but rather negligence on the part of the tenant, however, he/she may have already spoken to a lawyer (contacting tenant rights in Madison is free).  Given they mentioned the fact that a door stop is missing, has "lawyer" written all over it.  The long term tenants that I mentioned also spoke with a lawyer (tenant rights in Madison) and said that "a lawyer told them that although there is a door stop, it fell off resulting in the door knob going through the wall." 

That's why I say, it's just not worth the headache.  I did not show up with another person at check-out and this couple tag-teamed me on every bit of damage that was not normal wear and tear.  The good thing about me is, I am a seasoned landlord, so I went all 12 rounds with them and ended up deducting about $200.00 off their security deposit.  Never heard from them again!  You need to pick and choose your battles wisely and again, sometimes tenants turn on you just due to the fact that you are a landlord.   Don't ever take it personally!  Best wishes.  

Just follow whats in the law , I would let them be there , but you set the time and date , have a witness . Have a copy of the law and hand it to them .  

I would let them be present at the inspection and try to get a witness to be there as well.  In any case, when you first encounter them, get your phone out and say, "This inspection is being recorded and streamed to the cloud."  

I've found that crazy people will often quiet down the psycho if they know the world is watching.

Absolutely follow state law on returning their deposit.  Don't ever let a tenant dictate those terms to you.  If you do, you have no business being a landord.

Good luck sir!

The law here in CA is also that the landlord has 21 days to give an accounting of the security deposit. Since you have no obligation to let them be present for the inspection, just do it after they move; they are evidently not going to fix anything before then anyway. With regards to the carpet cleaning, I would tell them you will have it cleaned; I prefer it that way anyway after some experiences with tenants doing it themselves with one of those machines that can be rented at the supermarket, which resulted in my having to get it professionally cleaned afterward anyway. You have their deposit so can deduct that cost from it along with whatever else. I never return a security deposit up front as you never really see what the damages are until they are gone, which is why the law gives us the 21 days. My advice is: Don't let them hold you hostage and take LOTS of pictures.

As far as carpet cleaning my lease states they must clean the carpet before they leave. I don't k ow why in the world anyone would expect the landlord to pay for carpet cleaning. If they left the bathroom dirty would you expect them to clean THEIR dirt? Who's dirt and grime is in the carpet? If one of my tenants leaves and does not have carpet shampooed by my approved cleaner it is deducted from the deposit.

i go by the above. i am in wiscosnin too. i haven't had an issue yet with a vacating tenant refusing to have their carpet cleaned. good luck!

and one more thing. i would not give them their SD back on the spot. make them wait the allotted tome you are allowed. you never know what you'll find later, and, they are trying to dictate to you how to run your operation. Just make sure you have pictures and document everything. not saying you have to ding them for anything, but follow the law, and don't cave in to their demands.  

@Kevin Forsythe , you got a lot of great advice here. I was going to chime in with "just because you put it in the lease doesn't mean it is legal or enforceable" but then @Remmy Vernon shared that great link to a story that has the AG in WI saying tenants can be charged for carpet cleaning.

If they don't clean the carpet, I would have it done professionally, and attach a receipt for the cleaning bill, along with a copy of the portion of the lease they signed that said they would clean it. 

@Dawn Anastasi came in, and I was going to tag her if she didn't. She's pretty good with WI stuff. :)

I didn't see @Jenkins Ramon , so I'll tag him, too.

The door stop probably should have been in place, and @Max T. 's suggestion that you get one in there before the next tenant is a good one. But they broke it, and they need to repair or replace.

Your best protection in a case like this is documentation. Document everything you can think of! Anything you see. Take 1000 photos, and then sit down and write up a property condition report room by room. Should they take you to court, having pounds of documents shows you didn't just make stuff up.

Come back in a couple of days and update us!

I think it is this a strong arm tactic that tenants use on part-time landlords. I would make reasonable deductions and include pictures in the letter.  Make sure you send it out a few days before the 21st day just so you don't get busy and rush to do it last minute.  I have had tenants complain about deductions in email or text and I tell them to call me to discuss and most times I never here from them again.  I would include them in the walk thru and document the damage but you don't have to tell them what you are deducting at that time.

I personally don't send it certified because I know as soon as they get the check they will cash it or complain so delivery is not a problem.  The only time a send a certified letter is when I keep the whole deposit.  

Originally posted by @Ralph R. :

I personally don't send it certified because I know as soon as they get the check they will cash it or complain so delivery is not a problem.  The only time a send a certified letter is when I keep the whole deposit.  

Scenario: tenant receives it but then sues you for triple security deposit because they "claim" that they didn't get it within the 21 days and you have no proof that you sent it.

I was told by a Milwaukee-area attorney to ALWAYS send security deposit transmittals via certified mail.

@Kevin Forsythe

Do the inspection after they deliver you possession of the property. Explain to them that you will inspect and send them their deposit less any deductions within the required 21 days.

I would not do an inspection with them present nor would I give them back their deposit the day of. Tenants threaten to sue or call their lawyer on landlords daily. Don't panic. This is actually one of the 5 things your tenants will do that will drive you crazy. Sounds like you have a solid grasp on your legal duties. You do not have to let them push you around here.

Everyone has given good advice. The only other thing I can recommend is that if you are not comfortable, reach out to a local property manager. Ask them if they'll pick up the move-out portion for $50. Explain the situation. A seasoned landlord will be much better equipped to either tell them flat out "no" to having them on-site, or ignoring their protests because "Hey, it's not my house. You'll get the list and any amount due to you within the legal timelines."

The other thing to do to document the security deposit is sent is to do an online pay where the bank shows it was sent to them  and/or send an email copy. I have had trouble with certified mail when they use a p.o. box.

A day of inspection deposit return is dangerous, my sister had a tenant deliberately plug the toilets and she did not know until after they left.  That being said pushing it to the limit on timing of the return does nothing but antagonize so I try to do about a two week return.  If it is great I have been know to write a check the next day.  

One thing with a tenant like this is to be less verbal with a walk through.  So don't argue just be clear about what is broke not what it is going to cost if they are there.

When a tenant gives me notice of their intent to move, I provide them with a Move-Out packet that basically tells them what needs to be cleaned, with each page being a different room (Kitchen, Front Room, Bath Room, etc). This is an item by item list what needs to be cleaned in each room (Steam cleaning included). My leases also have a "Move Out Charges Agreement" which lists how much I charge per item if not done (i.e. clean refrigerator $30, etc).  That way, the tenant knows how much of their security deposit will be withheld if they don't clean/ repair certain things (That they broke). I bring a copy of this same exact packet on move out day and go through it with them and have them sign each page as we go through the property. That way there are no surprises. If the tenant is hostile, I bring someone along with me.

I also don't provide on the spot security deposit returns since there is always something that may come up later. Follow you state's laws regarding this, but I also try to get it back to the former tenants within 2 weeks (my State allows 45 days).