Wisconsin protects tenants from discriminatory practices by their landlord based on their religion. Tenants also have similar protections under federal law.
Discrimination covers quite a bit more than just landlords who refuse to rent to certain religions. Discrimination includes:
- denying an apartment or application based on their religion
- refusing to make reasonable accommodations based on a tenant’s religion
- denying an applicant the opportunity to inspect the apartment based on their religion
- denying a loan based on their religion
- falsely stating an apartment is not available because of the tenant’s religion
- evicting a tenant based on their religion
- interfering with a tenant’s use and enjoyment of the property based on their religion
- advertising an apartment that’s for or not for a person based on their religion
- pressuring a tenant to rent or not rent based on people of a certain religion in the neighborhood
- charging different rent or offering different amenities based on religion
Some religions are related to a tenant’s race or nationality, such as Judaism and Hinduism. 1987 Supreme Court case , Recent lower-level case . Both race and nationality are also protected from discrimination under Wisconsin and federal laws offering additional protection to landlords who discriminate against such tenants. Wis. Stat. 106.50 , Wis. Stat. Sec. 106.50 .
Discussing Neighborhood Demographics
In Wisconsin, landlords violate state law if they discuss the religious demographics of the neighborhood with prospective tenants. For example, describing a neighborhood as having increasingly more Christians would violate the state’s law as a way to sell an apartment is considered religious discrimination. Inversely, it’s also discrimination for a landlord to say that a tenant may be interested in a more expensive apartment because the alternative is in a “bad” neighborhood due to the religious demographics in the area. To be safe, landlords should not discuss the racial or religious demographics of a neighborhood, even if asked directly by the tenant. Wis. Stat. 106.50 , Wis. Stat. Sec. 106.50 .
Tenants may report discrimination regarding their religion to the federal government directly. They also have the option in Wisconsin to report it to state authorities. Tenants may choose to report the problem to both.
What happens when a tenant reports a problem to the federal government? The most recent year we have data is from 2016. In 2016, 63.4% (41.2% from Wisconsin) of discrimination cases were resolved in the year they were filed. 7 out of the 51 discrimination complaints from Wisconsin were about discriminatory acts based on the tenant’s religion. Landlords that violate the federal Fair Housing Act can face civil penalties up to $16,000 for a first violation and $65,000 for future violations (each act of discrimination is a separate violation). In cases where the Justice Department is involved, civil penalties may rise to $100,000 per violation and federal courts can add additional damages. Landlords should also keep in mind the time and costs involved in defending against an action by the federal government. About 36% of complaints end up with a charge or settlement, based on 2016 data. Data.gov
What happens when a tenant reports a problem to the authorities of Wisconsin or a local government? They may ask the tenant for information to help bring the case, including any evidence (e.g., emails and pictures). If the government finds there’s sufficient information between the tenant’s complaint (as well as complaints from other tenants), the landlord may be charged and taken to court to defend themselves. Landlords will likely receive fines if they lose. The amount of the fines will be determined in part by the severity of the issue. Fines increase significantly for repeat offenders. Wis. Stat. Sec. 106.50 . Wis. Stat. 106.50 , Wis. Stat. Sec. 106.50 .
Reporting a Violation
Tenants may report violations of federal laws (i.e., discrimination against children and families) through the HUD website – it can be done online or via phone. Tenants can report issues to their state government by looking at the state website. A google search for “report fair housing violation in Wisconsin” will likely provide applicable information. In either case, tenants may be able to call the number on the page to ask whether their situation legally qualifies as rental discrimination.
Retaliation by the Landlord
Federal law (the https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/online-complaintFair Housing Act ) makes it illegal for landlords to harass a tenant in retaliation for reporting a problem. Examples of such harassment may include raising the rent or threatening to evict the tenant. Each such attempt is an additional violation. These protections do not apply if the tenant complained about something that they don’t have right to, so tenants should know whether it’s a violation. Dept of Housing and Urban Development.
State and Local Laws
Laws differ heavily by state, county, and city. Use RenterPeace to see more specific laws for to a given apartment and to see comments from people in your area.
Documenting the Problem
For most problems, tenants should document their issues, notify their landlord (document this too!), and stay informed about their rights. Renterpeace is a free website that helps with each step of this process. Tenants use RenterPeace to more easily see applicable laws, track their problems, and much more. There's a reason RenterPeace was selected "Best of" legal apps for both Android and iOS. It also includes household management tools, like a chore manager and bill tracker. Try it - you don't even to login first.
Using Property Management
To stay updated and organized about the problems in their apartments, landlords should use a property management system. Many are expensive or have high setup fees, but using RenterPeace for landlords is free. It's complete with legal compliance tips targeted to their problems, maintenance tracking, tenant screening, money-saving grant information, and tenant chat. It makes managing properties easier and staying updated about status of rental properties a breeze. Try it today.