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Frequently asked Questions for Residential Rental Inspection (RRI) Program

Q. When did the RRI program go into effect?
A. The RRI program took effect on January 1, 2010 in two districts of the city. The program was expanded to add a 3rd district on January 1, 2015. 
In 2015 there is also a new provision that can apply the RRI certificate requirement to any Nuisance or Chronic Nuisance property as defined of MCO. 80-10. See the Nuisance Property and Chronic Nuisance Code information at for a description of those triggering nuisances.

Q. Does RRI program apply to all rental properties in the City of Milwaukee?
A. No, the RRI program applies to three small target areas, one on the city’s east side another in the Lindsay Heights area and new area in the Lindsey Park area (RRI district 3). The eastside area is bounded by Edgewood Ave. to Newberry Blvd. and Cambridge Ave. to Hackett Ave. The Lindsay Heights area is defined by census tracts 99-102,117-120 and the western portion of census tracts 103 and 116, with the eastern boundary defined by interstate I-43. RRI district 3 is defined by the area bounded by W. Congress St- W. Marion St. and N.91st St- N. 87th St.)
See below for maps of the areas impacted by boundary and by street.

Q. My rental property is located in one of the RRI target areas. What steps do I need to take to comply with the new requirements?
A. DNS will send out initial notifications in January 2015 to rental property owners in the new RRI district 3 advising them of the ordinance requirements and providing the property owner with a pre-selected RRI inspection date and time. The notification will include an application form and other information about the program. If you own rental property in one of the three target areas and have not received a notification, you should contact DNS at 286-8824 to request an application for the Residential Rental Inspection Program.

Q. I own and occupy a duplex in the RRI target area. I rent the upper unit. Will my tenant unit be included in the RRI program?
A. No, owner occupied two-family residential properties are exempt from the RRI requirements.

Q. I own and occupy a 3-family property. I know my building is in the RRI area and will be inspected. Will DNS inspect my unit and the two other rental units?
A. No, DNS doesn’t need to inspect units that are owner occupied. However, DNS will inspect the two rental units. As long as the owner occupies a unit it is not required to be inspected.

Q. What happens if I purchase a rental property within one of the RRI target areas?
A. Persons acquiring an ownership interest as the result of a sale, transfer or conveyance of a dwelling within the designated residential area shall within 30 days of sale, transfer or conveyance, apply for a residential rental certificate. Any person selling, transferring or conveying an ownership interest in a dwelling shall expressly inform any person acquiring or receiving an ownership interest in a property that a residential rental certificate is required by the city. The RRI application forms are available at The application shall be signed by the owner, and shall state the street address of the dwelling to be inspected, the owner's legal name, the owner's phone number and date of birth. In the event of a sale, transfer or conveyance of a property within 3 months of the initial issuance of the certificate, the certificate may be transferred to the new owner until the end of a certificate valid for one year, or one year from the date of issuance of the certificate in the case of a 4-year certificate, provided the new owner submits an application.

Q. What will this program cost me?
A. The base fee for the Residential Rental Inspection is $86.19* per unit. The cost for the program for properties found to be safe, sanitary and code compliant and receiving a 4-year certificate will amount to just under 6 cents per unit per day. Units found with a life/safety or disqualifying violations will only be granted a one-year certificate after corrections are made. That cost amounts to 23 cents per unit per day.

Q. Does the $86.19* per unit inspection fee apply to all of the units in the building?
A. Yes, if the building has 9 or fewer residential rental units. In that case, DNS will be inspecting all 9 of the units. If the building has 10 or more units DNS will inspect a 10% sampling of the total units with a minimum of two. If systemic habitability issues are found in the first sample, up to 100% of the units may be inspected and inspection fees will be applied. The $86.19* per unit inspection fee will only be charged for the actual number of units inspected by DNS. DNS will determine the units to be inspected.

Q. When do I have to pay the $86.19 per unit inspection fee?
A. You may pay the fee at the time of registration. If you choose to defer the cost until the end of the year, DNS will automatically place the inspection fees on the property tax bill.

Q. How long is the Residential Rental Inspection certificate good for?
A. This will depend on the condition of the building and the buildings rental units at the time of inspection. Well maintained buildings without any units having disqualifying violations will receive a 4-year RRI certificate. If any units within the building are found to have disqualifying violations, the building cannot receive a 4-year certificate. Instead a one year RRI certificate will be issued after the violations have been corrected.

Q. What happens when my RRI certificate expires?
A. An application for renewal shall be filed with the department within 30 days of the certificate expiration. DNS will schedule an inspection of the property.

Q. What will the inspectors be looking for?
A. The inspectors will be enforcing the existing housing maintenance code, the building fire code, and the zoning code. DNS has provided an RRI checklist which can be used by property owners as a guide to prepare for the inspection. The checklist is a detailed list of items the inspector will be looking at. Click here for the RRI CHECKLIST.

Q. What are disqualifying violations?
A. Disqualifying violations are conditions which effect the safe, decent and sanitary living conditions of persons occupying a residential unit, or other conditions that violate the provisions of the building code, building maintenance code or zoning code that indicate in their totality that the rental unit is not being properly maintained.

Q. What is a Habitability violation?
A. Habitability relates to the definition in the State of Wisconsin Department of Agriculture’s Consumer Protection ATCP 134.04 (2) b under disclosure requirements.  It reads:

The following conditions affecting habitability, the existence of which the landlord knows or could know on basis of reasonable inspection, whether or not notice has been received from code enforcement authorities:
1. The dwelling unit lacks hot or cold running water.
2. Heating facilities serving the dwelling unit are not in safe operating condition, or are not capable of maintaining a temperature, in all living areas of the dwelling unit, of at least 67° F (19° C) during all seasons of the year in which the dwelling unit may be occupied. Temperatures in living areas shall be measured at the approximate center of the room, midway between floor and ceiling.
3. The dwelling unit is not served by electricity, or the electrical wiring, outlets, fixtures or other components of the electrical system are not in safe operating condition.
4. Any structural or other conditions in the dwelling unit or premises which constitute a substantial hazard to the health or safety of the tenant, or create an unreasonable risk of personal injury as a result of any reasonably foreseeable use of the premises other than negligent use or abuse of the premises by the tenant.
5. The dwelling unit is not served by plumbing facilities in good operating condition.
6. The dwelling unit is not served by sewage disposal facilities in good operating condition.

Q. What happens if the inspector finds disqualifying violations?
A. If the inspector finds disqualifying violations, an order to correct the conditions which includes a compliance deadline will be issued. The property owner will be given a temporary RRI certificate during the compliance timeframe. If the property owner corrects the violations within the allotted timeframe, a one year certificate will be issued.

Q. What happens if I don’t correct violations within the allotted timeframe?
A. The department will enforce all orders in the same way the department enforces other orders. Failure to comply with an order will subject the property owner to further enforcement action such as reinspection fees, citations, court action, etc. Additionally, the department reserves the right to revoke the temporary RRI certificate that was issued during the order’s compliance timeframe.

Q. When will DNS conduct the RRI inspections?
A. The building inspection will be scheduled in about 30 days after notice is given to a property owner of the inspection requirement.

Q. Can I request a different inspection date?
A. Yes, as long as your request is made no later than 5 days prior to the pre-selected inspection date. You’ll need to contact DNS at 286-8824 to request an alternative inspection date. Alternative inspection dates are limited based on availability.

Q. What happens if I forget and miss the inspection appointment?
A. If the owner fails to provide access to all units within the building on the agreed upon time, DNS may charge a no entry fee of $50.70* per unit fee. A new inspection date shall be scheduled.  If ignored or no entry again, an order may be written and escalating reinspection fees may be applied if no entry continues.

Q. How can I notify my tenants that the DNS inspector is coming to inspect their unit?
A. The owner shall inform the tenants and place a posting on each unit door stating the date and time of the inspection at least 2 days prior to the inspection.

Q. What if the tenant doesn’t want their unit inspected?
A. Owners will know the inspection date and time 30 days in advance. This provides owners with plenty of time to notify tenants of the inspection. Under Wisconsin law property owners can inspect occupied rental units as long as the tenant receives 12 hours advanced notice. The RRI ordinance requires property owners to post an inspection notice on each unit door at least 2 days before the inspections is to occur.

Q. Can my Certificate be revoked?
A. A residential rental certificate may be revoked at the discretion of the commissioner if violations which are considered to be an unfit or unsafe condition pursuant to the code are observed during an inspection. If after issuance of a 4-year certificate the department subsequently finds that the dwelling or unit is found in violation of the building maintenance or zoning codes, the department may revoke the 4-year certificate and in lieu thereof issue a one-year certificate. The dwelling or unit shall again be eligible for a 4-year certificate only upon the expiration of the annual certificate, and as of the first subsequent annual inspection, no disqualifying violations are found. The commissioner may also revoke either a 4-year or one-year certificate if he or she determines that violations are of a critical nature that constitute an unsafe or unfit condition.

Q. If I disagree with the inspector and the department about the condition of the unit. Can I appeal?
A. The owner may request review of decisions regarding Residential Rental Inspection violations or regulations imposed by the department. The request shall be made in writing on forms provided by the department and shall specify the grounds for administrative review. The request for administrative review shall be filed within 10 days of the issuance of the order. The administrative review hearing shall occur within 10 days after receipt of the request. The commissioner, or the person appointed as the commissioner's designee, shall conduct the administrative review hearing. At the hearing, owner and staff shall present all relevant information to the case. Within 7 days of completion of the hearing conducted under this subsection, the commissioner shall mail or deliver to the owner his or her written determination stating the reasons therefore.

Q. If I’m not satisfied with the DNS Commissioner’s ruling, where else can I appeal?
A. If an owner is not satisfied with the decision reached by the commissioner, he or she may make further appeal to the standards and appeal commission pursuant to s. 200-17. This is a citizen’s review board not affiliated with DNS.

Q. What are the penalties if I fail to obtain the required Residential Rental Certificate?
A. An owner failing to apply for a residential rental certificate of compliance shall be subject to a forfeiture of $100 for the first failure to apply. The owner shall be subject to a forfeiture of $150 for failure to respond to each subsequent notice to apply which shall be sent by the department. A fee of $50.70* shall be imposed if the department is unable to gain access to the unit for the inspection at the agreed upon time. Delinquent residential rental inspection fees shall be charged against the real estate and shall be assessed and collected as a special charge. (See s. 200-53.) An owner failing to comply with any other provisions of this section shall be subject to the penalties provided in s. 200-19.

Q. Why is this program needed?
A. The three areas where this program is being implemented include a portion of the City that has a higher than average rate of building code complaints. These areas also have a higher level of rental units than owner-occupied and thus these neighborhoods are more at risk from the problems related to absentee landlords. The target areas also have a higher history of illegal units. The higher rental rates encourage the practice of over renting property at the expense of occupant safety. Over renting a property also has negative impacts on a neighborhood. Finally, the city’s dependence on a “complaints only” system has been less effective since some tenants may be conspiring with the landlord to exceed the building capacity to lower their rent. This program levels the playing field for all property owners and tenants in the area of the program.

Q. Why not use the existing codes to go after the bad landlords?
A. DNS operates on a complaint basis, meaning we rely on a person to call in a complaint for us to start investigating. In the target area, students have been known to invite others to move in together to save rent, hence they may be unwilling to file a complaint. Secondly, the above average profits that can be made illegally by over-renting provide bad landlords a competitive financial edge as they outbid legal operators buying rental property or by offering below market rents. This will put all the property on an equal footing. Thirdly, the rental properties in these target areas are typically rented by students and/or low income renters who may fear retaliation if they call in a complaint. This removes the retaliation opportunity as all units will be inspected. The existing codes will be used and the same standards that are used across the City will apply. There are no new “thresholds of compliance” or standards. Just the minimum life/safety and building maintenance that the rest of the City uses.

Q. When a Nuisance Property or Chronic Nuisance Property Violation triggers an RRI Certificate, what is different?
A. All of the above procedures will be followed for the RRI with the exception that only one-year certificates are issued.  Any property designated as a nuisance or chronic nuisance will remain in the RRI program until the property is no longer designated a nuisance.

Q. Is this just a way for the City to increase revenue and raise taxes?
A. The cost of this program is designed to equal the cost of its implementation. The collected fees will offset the cost of the additional staff needed.

Q. Where can I read the entire RRI Ordinance in the Milwaukee Code of Ordinances?
A. Look at Milwaukee Code of Ordinances Chapter 200-53 for the program details. It is listed on the City’s web page at: under 200 Administration and Enforcement (Table of Contents) Subchapters: 8 Occupancy and Use.  Fees information can be found under 200-33-49.5-D or 200 Subchapter 5 as Fees.

(*)=Fee includes a 1.4% training and technology surcharge.

Residential Rental Inspection Ordinance- Read the code that details the Residential Rental Inspection (RRI) Ordinance Chapter 200-53. The RRI begins on Page 61 of the document or Page 11 of the pdf.

Residential Rental Inspection Ordinance Brochure DNS-134 This is the link to the brochure for the RRI program. It explains what areas of the City need the inspection, what rental units are inspected, what the related fees are and the FAQ's that owners and tenants need to know about the program.  Once on the DNS BROCHURE page, look in the CODE ENFORCEMENT section of brochures. It will be listed under Residential Rental Inspection program. (Warning: document is a LEGAL size 8.5 x 14 brochure in case you decide to print it.)

Residential Rental Inspection Check List.pdf  This is the list the building inspector will use to verify that inspected units meet the minimum code requirements for health and safety. A great list to do your own inspection before the inspector arrives. Tenants can make sure their maintenance responsibilities are met as well as verify that these are the items that impact health and safety.

MAP of area that requires an RRI inspection and certificate by exact street. Click here for RRI street MAP Areas 1 & 2

MAP of new area as of 2015 Lindsay Park.  Click here for Lindsay Park Map.

MAP of all 3 areas as defined by street boundaries. Click here for RRI boundary outline Map.

Links to Review

Residential Rental Inspection Application Form (DNS-04)

Property Recording Program 

City of Milwaukee Code Compliance Program

Brochures you can download from the DNS Brochure page

DNS-119 So you want to be a landlord brochure

DNS-105 Contacts for Building Owners

DNS-130 Common Fire Code Violations

DNS-105 Contacts for Building Owners

DNS-130 Milwaukee's Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance

Brochures of interest to Tenants

DNS-113 Don't Rent Trouble

DNS-100 Apartment Life-Keeping it legal

DNS-192 Tenant Responsibility Guide


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