Tag Archives: Attorney

Say Goodbye to Wisconsin’s Rental Weatherization Program

Wisconsin’s Rental Weatherization Program has been in effect since 1985. The program was the result of State legislation passed at that time which directed the Department of Safety and Professional Services to develop energy conservation standards for rental properties. If you are a landlord or own a residential rental property in Wisconsin, chances are that you’ve had to deal with the legal requirements of this program.  However, due to recent legislation, the program will sunset on January 1, 2018.

What was the Purpose of the Program?

The original intention of the Rental Weatherization Program was to ensure that residential rental properties met certain minimum energy conservation standards at the time such a property was transferred to a new owner. The intended benefits of the program included: reducing the overall demand for heating fuels, shifting the costs of weatherization and energy-related repairs from the tenant to the landlord, and decreasing the state’s dependence on imported fuels, just to name a few. Certain types of properties and transfers were exempt from the program requirements, but many rental units fell within the program’s guidelines. Continue reading

Selling Your Home? Be Aware of Your Legal Duty to Disclose Defects

Real estate prices are up again, and you are considering selling your home. It’s a great home and you feel that you’ve done an admirable job maintaining it, but it does have its flaws and defects. Do you need to disclose these defects to your buyer? In Wisconsin the answer is “Yes”. The law requires persons who transfer real property located in this state to furnish a completed Real Estate Condition Report to the prospective buyer no later than 10 days after accepting a sales contract.  Whether you are represented by a realtor or selling your home as a For Sale By Owner, you must comply with these legal requirements.

What is a Defect?

Under the Wisconsin disclosure law a “defect” is defined as any condition that would have a significant adverse effect on the value of the property; that would significantly impair the health or safety of the future occupants of the property; or that if not repaired, removed or replaced would significantly shorten or adversely affect the expected normal life of the premises.

What Defects Must You Disclose to Your Buyer?

The Real Estate Condition Report required under Wisconsin law lists several defects and conditions that could potentially apply to a property. When completing the report a seller must honestly identify the applicable defects or conditions of which the seller is aware (of which he or she has notice or knowledge). Such defects or conditions include things such as: defects in the roof, electrical system, plumbing, heating and cooling system, cracks or seepage in the basement walls, boundary line disputes, unsafe levels of radon, along with a long list of other possible defects. The report also has a catch-all question that asks the seller to identify any “other” defects affecting the property of which the seller is aware. Continue reading

Here Lies Wisconsin’s Deadman’s Statute: 1858-2016

Wisconsin has become the 37th state to do away with the so-called “Deadman’s Statute” after a November ruling by the State Supreme Court repealed the 158-year-old law. The intent of the statute was to prevent “interested parties”—anyone with a stake in the outcome of estate litigation—from testifying about conversations they had with a deceased or incompetent person.

The law (Wis. Stat. §§ 885.16 and 885.17) was considered by many to be an outdated relic, confusing, often unfair and sporadically enforced. The motivation behind the law was the idea that a witness who stood to gain a piece of a decedent’s estate could easily make fraudulent claims about conversations had with the now-dead person, who was of course unable to respond or contradict anything the witness said. Continue reading

Drones Are Taking Off, and So Are Laws Regulating Them

droneblogThe growing popularity of drones in the U.S. and around the world has regulators, businesses and every day enthusiasts all scrambling to understand what these unmanned vehicles are capable of and the roles they may play in our daily lives. With corporations openly stating their intent to use drones for everything from delivering packages to supplying internet connectivity, and private citizens buying them for recreational use, the law is having a difficult time trying to keep up with these fast-moving devices.

Near-Misses on the Rise

As drone usage has surged over the last half decade, so has the frequency of dangerous incidents in which they have been involved. On November 14, in the skies above Toronto, a Canadian airliner with 54 people aboard had to use evasive maneuvers to avoid a drone, injuring two crew members in the process. In April, a British Airways aircraft collided with a drone as it prepared to land at London’s Heathrow Airport; fortunately no one was hurt. The FAA indicates there are 3.5 near-misses between drones and aircraft every day in U.S. airspace alone. Continue reading

Lending Money to Family Members? Be Mindful of These Common Pitfalls.

loanWhen one family member lends money to another, both parties often believe that the deal they make is just between the two of them. But in the eyes of legal and tax authorities, the lending business is just that—a business. These seemingly private activities can come with some very business-like strings attached.

Here you’ll learn a few items that you should keep in mind if and when you decide to make a loan to a family member, friend or some other individual in your life.

Think About How the IRS Treats Interest

In a deal between relatives or friends, the “lender” sometimes decides not to charge interest on the loan. Perhaps the loan amount is small, or perhaps there is a feeling of ill will that parties tie to the thought of interest.

But if you do not charge interest, or if you charge a rate lower than something called the Applicable Federal Rate (AFR), be prepared for tax consequences. The IRS will tax the maker of the loan on the amount of interest that the lender should have charged. Continue reading

Big Mistakes & Broken Cars: How Wisconsin Law Protects Car Buyers

lemonlawThe decision to buy a vehicle is one of the most significant purchase decisions a person makes. For most Wisconsin families, car payments make a big impact on family finances. Add unexpected problems with the car, and costs skyrocket due to repair costs and expenses associated with not having reliable transportation.

Does this sound all too familiar to you? Are you experiencing transportation and financial setbacks due to a troublesome car? Is the stress of this overwhelming you?

If you answered “yes,” you probably want to know if there is anything you can do to recoup all of your losses. Could your broken car, in fact, be a “lemon?” If it is, there is some good news. Wisconsin’s Lemon Laws protect you and others like you who buy or lease new vehicles from dealerships. Continue reading

Wisconsin Adverse Possession Law: Do Recent Changes Matter?

FenceThe legal doctrine of adverse possession allows a person or entity to assume ownership of another’s property if that person or entity adversely possessed the land and certain conditions have been met. One might think that this old common-law doctrine is no longer relevant. Yet, adverse possession claims continue to cause numerous real estate disputes in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

What Is Adverse Possession?

A typical adverse possession case involves a fence. Take this situation as an example: one farmer accidentally builds a fence 12 inches over the property line of his neighbor’s land. After a certain period, usually 20 years, the farmer who built the fence could obtain title to those 12 inches under the law of adverse possession. This 20-year period is shortened to 10 years if the claim is supported by a written instrument that transferred the property to the adverse possessor. It is shortened to 7 years if supported by a written instrument and the adverse possessor had been paying the real estate taxes during that period. Continue reading

No-Contest Clauses in Wills and Trusts: What You Need to Know

family picIt seems like challenges to wills and trusts have become increasingly common. We often hear news stories about celebrities whose families spend a great deal of time and money fighting high-profile battles over their inheritances.

Many people who contact our law office for estate planning services follow the news. They ask us how to prevent fighting in their own families, ensuring that matters run smoothly as intended. We talk with them about the strategies available to minimize infighting, and the topic of a no-contest clause is often raised.

What Is a No-Contest Clause, Exactly?

A no-contest clause (sometimes called a “penalty clause” or “in terrorem clause” in Latin) is a special provision that can be added to a will or trust. It says that any beneficiary who tries to challenge the document will be eliminated from distribution of assets. In short, if you try to challenge the will, you will be cut out of it. If you try to challenge the trust agreement or the administration of the trust, you won’t receive any funds. Continue reading

Employees vs. Independent Contractors: What About Taxes?

employee-contractorIf you own and operate a business, you must be mindful of the relationships you have with individuals who perform work for you. For instance, if you choose to hire employees, you take on the responsibility for withholding their taxes. You can avoid that withholding if you choose to instead purchase services from people who work independently.

Federal and state laws distinguishing independent contractors from employees are complex. Are you confident that you are on safe ground with the IRS when it comes to employment classification?

The Financial Pitfalls of Misclassification

Misclassification of an employee or independent contractor can lead to dire financial consequences for your business. For instance:

  • If you mistakenly categorize employees as independent contractors, you could face serious financial consequences. An audit or complaint may make you responsible for the income tax, Social Security, Medicare and unemployment withholding you did not withhold at the time the services were performed. Penalties may also apply.
  • Employees who believe they have been misclassified as independent contractors sometimes file lawsuits against their employers. Defending against an employment lawsuit is costly, even if you win.

Continue reading

DIY Business Formation: Are You Sure It’s Right for You?

startup-1018514_1920More Wisconsin-based entrepreneurs are taking the initiative to create their own business entities than ever before. And why shouldn’t they? Starting a business seems as easy as filing a form with Wisconsin’s Department of Financial Institutions (DFI).

The DFI is the filing office for creating Wisconsin corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships and other business types. And it’s true: Creating a business entity starts with filing a form there. There are many additional legal matters to consider when forming a business, however. Overlooking these matters can expose you to the risk of litigation, even putting your personal finances at risk.

Items to Consider When Starting a New Business

In addition to filing a form with the DFI, it’s a good idea to:

Properly prepare your operating documents. Depending on the type of business you create, you may be expected to prepare certain operating documents. These can include bylaws, operating agreements, partnership agreements or other important documents. The documents are critical. They define your organization’s operating terms and help protect your legal rights and responsibilities. Continue reading