Wisconsin law (and federal law) protects tenants from discrimination based on their sex or gender. This covers everything from offering lower rent for sexual favors to advertising men or women only apartments. Wisconsin also protects tenants from discrimination for their sexual orientation. The law offers some indirect protections for tenants who were discriminated against for their gender identity.
Wisconsin law and federal law protect tenants from discrimination based on their sex (e.g., male, female). This protects tenants from most kinds of sexist acts, including pressuring a tenant to rent or not rent based on people of a certain sex in the neighborhood, refusing to make reasonable accommodations based on a tenant’s sex, refusing to allow the tenant to make to make reasonable modifications to suit their sex, denying an apartment or application based on their sex, denying a loan based on their sex, denying an applicant the opportunity to inspect the apartment based on their sex, interfering with a tenant’s use and enjoyment of the property based on their sex, charging different rent or offering different amenities based on sex, building a place that is inaccessible, evicting a tenant based on their sex, advertising an apartment that’s for or not for a person based on their sex, and falsely stating an apartment is not available because of the tenant’s sex. Most commonly, setting different guest policies for women, advertising an apartment for men or women only, and offering a reduction in rent for sexual favors all constitute discrimination based on one’s sex or gender. Typically, apartments with shared common areas (e.g., apartment with roommates or suitemates) are exempt. Wis. Stat. 106.50 , Wis. Stat. Sec. 106.50 .
Additionally, Wisconsin protects tenants from discrimination based on their marital status. A landlord who only accepts single people violates the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The protections also apply inversely – if a landlord treats married tenants as “less risky” and offers them a lower rent, it constitutes discrimination. Wis. Stat. 106.50 , Wis. Stat. Sec. 106.50 .
Wisconsin explicitly protects tenants from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. This means that denying housing, charging different rent, or otherwise treating such tenants differently because they are gay or lesbian is illegal under this state’s laws. The full list of prohibited actions include denying an applicant the opportunity to inspect the apartment based on their sexual orientation, building a place that is inaccessible, interfering with a tenant’s use and enjoyment of the property based on their sexual orientation, charging different rent or offering different amenities based on sexual orientation, evicting a tenant based on their sexual orientation, advertising an apartment that’s for or not for a person based on their sexual orientation, falsely stating an apartment is not available because of the tenant’s sexual orientation, pressuring a tenant to rent or not rent based on people of a certain sexual orientation in the neighborhood, refusing to make reasonable accommodations based on a tenant’s sexual orientation, denying an apartment or application based on their sexual orientation, denying a loan based on their sexual orientation, and refusing to allow the tenant to make to make reasonable modifications to suit their sexual orientation. Wis. Stat. 106.50 , Wis. Stat. Sec. 106.50 .
Wisconsin offers no direct protection from discrimination against tenants who identify as a different gender than their biological sex. However, tenants may be able to rely on federal or state protections that prohibit landlords from discriminating against one’s sex. As stated on the Housing and Urban Development website : “The Fair Housing Act does not specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited bases. However, discrimination against a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) person may be covered by the Fair Housing Act if it is based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes. For example, if a housing provider refuses to rent to an LGBT person because he believes the person acts in a manner that does not conform to his notion of how a person of a particular sex should act, the person may pursue the matter as a violation of the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition of sex.” HUD Website. For this reason, landlords should be very cautious about denying housing or otherwise providing unequal treatment towards tenants with varying gender identities.
Sex to Pay Rent
Federal and state law protects tenants from discrimination based on their sex. Offers or propositions to pay rent (or a part of the rent) through sexual favors qualify as a form of sexual discrimination. PTLA.
Tenants may report sexual discrimination 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 authorities. If the issue is LGBT-related, it’s better for tenants to report the problem to the state if they have strong protections for that LGBT issue and to the federal government if they don’t.
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. 1 out of the 51 discrimination complaints from Wisconsin were about sexist discriminatory practices. 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.