Wisconsin Commercial Eviction Law

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An eviction occurs when a landlord forces a tenant to leave a rented property. Most evictions in Wisconsin are residential, not commercial, and evicting a tenant from a dwelling is usually a more regulated procedure than evicting a tenant from business property. The courts look to the commercial lease agreement between a commercial tenant and the landlord to determine the parties' rights and responsibilities under the contract, including the grounds and procedures for an eviction.

Certain COVID-19-related state laws protected commercial evictions as well as residential evictions in Wisconsin, but those protections ended some time ago. The CDC's moratorium on evictions applies only to residential evictions in Wisconsin, not commercial evictions.

What Are Commercial Evictions?

Most people know something about residential evictions, the process by which a landlord can oust a tenant from their rented unit. The tenant fails to pay rent when due or takes in another roommate or a pet in violation of the terms of the rental agreement, and the landlord serves them with papers about the breach. A simple notice terminating the tenancy with 30-days' notice is enough to get the ball rolling.

If the tenant doesn't leave when the time is up, the landlord can file an eviction lawsuit. In fact, under Wisconsin law, a landlord doesn't need a reason to evict someone who is not a party to a current lease agreement.

Commercial evictions are similar procedures. But the premises at issue are not being used as the tenant's home, but as a business center. The commercial tenant may rent a store front, a storage building, a factory or land used for agriculture. Since the intent of this type of rental is to secure a business property, any eviction from the property in Wisconsin is termed a commercial eviction.

Grounds for Commercial Eviction

Residential tenants often are afforded some protections from eviction. State or local laws can require "good cause" to evict, for example. It is rare for commercial tenants to be protected to the same degree since the arrangement is commercial and the parties are considered on a level playing field: two businesses contracting for a business property rental.

But that doesn't mean that the landlord can evict a business tenant whenever they wish, for whatever reason. Rather, it means that the state of Wisconsin looks to the commercial lease to spell out the contract terms, including setting out when the landlord has the right to evict.

Breaches under a commercial lease are mostly governed by the provisions and details of the commercial lease agreement. That makes it extremely important for the landlord to get legal assistance in drafting and reviewing the terms of the commercial lease. In case of disputes, a well-drafted agreement can protect both parties' interests.

Non-Payment of Rent

In Wisconsin, commercial tenant breaches, like residential breaches, often involve monetary breaches like failing to pay rent when due. Some commercial breaches are non-monetary breaches, like using the property for improper purposes, incurring mechanic's liens against the property or failing to open and operate the business. A landlord in Wisconsin usually attempts to resolve commercial lease disputes with the tenant before rushing into an eviction. The best course of action for a commercial landlord usually depends on the type of breach involved.

The Commercial Eviction Process

Wisconsin landlords cannot use self-help methods like entering the property and removing the tenant for residential tenant evictions. But no similar prohibition applies to commercial evictions. Rather, commercial evictions must follow the rules and procedures set out in the commercial lease.

That means that commercial landlords in Wisconsin may be able to use self-help techniques, but, before doing so, should have an experienced attorney review the lease terms to determine whether the language of the lease, when read with Wisconsin state laws, allows these types of measures. If a commercial landlord acts hastily and is found to have acted in violation of the lease provisions, the tenant may be able to collect damages.

Generally, for a Wisconsin landlord to evict a commercial tenant, the tenant must have failed to live up to their responsibilities under the lease. The landlord must give the tenant written notice of this default, usually with an opportunity to remedy the default. However, under state law, the landlord does not have to give the commercial tenant the chance to correct the default unless this is mandated in the commercial lease.

Eviction Court Hearings

When the notice period expires, the landlord can bring an eviction action in a Wisconsin court and have the summons and complaint served on the tenant by a disinterested party. The commercial tenant must appear and respond to the complaint within the time given in the summons. The court then schedules a hearing where both parties can present their positions.

At the end of the hearing, the court determines the eviction issue. If the landlord wins, the court issues a writ of restitution that the sheriff serves on the tenant. If the tenant still does not move out, the sheriff removes them from the premises within 10 days.

Moratorium on Commercial Evictions

Many states offered protections to residential tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is, they issued temporary bans on evictions for failure to pay rent if the failure was due to the tenant's having lost income or revenue because of the virus. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control also issued an eviction moratorium, which lasted through July 31, 2021.

The Wisconsin governor likewise issued a Temporary Ban on Evictions and Foreclosures due to COVID-19. This order applies to both residential and commercial evictions and foreclosures. The initial order was effective for 60 days, through May 26, 2020, and prevented landlords from serving a notice to terminate a tenancy for failure to pay rent, starting an eviction proceeding for failure to pay rent, or giving a sheriff a writ of restitution.

In September, 2020, the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a moratorium. It lasted through July 31, 2021, then was extended through October 3, 2021, for areas struggling with COVID issues, including much of Wisconsin. However, the CDC moratorium on evictions restricts only residential, not commercial, evictions.