Becoming a Landlord 101: Code & Licensing, and the Lease

There are many types of landlords out there. Some enter into being a landlord as a business decision, while others become accidental landlords when they rent out a property where they used to reside but were forced to move, or a property that they inherited. Either way, it pays to have your ducks in a row from the start, to ensure that you are protected legally.

I have managed properties in Wisconsin and Minnesota and have dealt with legal issues for both tenants and landlords. Here is a brief rundown of things to consider before becoming a landlord, from a legal perspective.

Code and Licensing

These rules vary from municipality to municipality, so you will want to check your city’s specific rules. These can range from no requirement for a rental license to requiring an inspection and a fee of $1,000 before a unit is allowed to be given a rental license. In some municipalities, operating without a license is a criminal offense and could subject you to fines and jail time. That is why it is important to ensure that you know your municipality’s rules.

Additionally, you will be responsible for maintenance and ensuring the property complies with local building codes. Some cities do not have a local code, while others have very strict local codes. It pays to be aware of what you are getting yourself into from a code-compliance perspective before you start renting. Even if you don’t have a notice of any violations, or you bought the property in the condition it was, the city can still come by and do an inspection that could result in costly repairs due to unknown violations.


Make sure your lease is enforceable and state specific. No lease will be effective in every state. Some provisions in a lease could invalidate the entire lease, leaving you in the lurch if you try to enforce it against a tenant. This is clearly not an area to try to cut corners. Some states, like Minnesota, have leases available for free, that comply with all state statutes. Other states, like Wisconsin, have leases available at very reasonable prices. A small investment in a good lease is well worth the potential cost of having an unenforceable lease. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Coming soon: Becoming a Landlord 101: Screening Tenants

Attorney Andrew W.R. Nielsen