Absconding without paying rent is a Class A misdemeanor in Wisconsin.  Contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. at (414) 270-0202 for help

Absconding without paying rent might seem harmless.  The landlord has your security deposit, and they can just have that, right?  Unfortunately, frequently security deposits on their own are not enough, and what seems like a harmless action quickly turns into a criminal charge.  This article describes absconding without paying rent, potential defenses, and the penalties associated with a conviction.

Absconding without paying rent is not frequently charged in Wisconsin, but that doesn’t make it any less serious.  If the government decides to pursue this charge against you, it is a Class A misdemeanor.  Class A misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of 9 months in jail, $10,000.00 in fines, or both.  These serious penalties are a certainly lot to pay just to avoid rent.

At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., our criminal defense attorneys regularly defend individuals facing serious criminal charges.  That’s why all of our attorneys and staff focus 100% of their time on criminal law and its constant developments.  We regularly defend property crimes and are familiar with the issues that regularly apply in these situations.  Finally, if you face this, or any other criminal charges, contact us immediately at (414) 270-0202.

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What is absconding without paying rent?

Section 943.215 of the Wisconsin Statutes defines absconding without paying rent.  The law says:

(1)  Whoever having obtained the tenancy, as defined in s. 704.01 (4), of residential property he or she is entitled to occupy, intentionally absconds without paying all current and past rent due is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
Afterward, the statute goes on to describe certain defenses that apply to this criminal charge:
(2) A person has a defense to prosecution under sub. (1) if he or she has provided the landlord with a security deposit that equals or exceeds the amount that the person owes the landlord regarding rent and damage to property.
(3) A person has a defense to prosecution under sub. (1) if, within 5 days after the day he or she vacates the rental premises, he or she pays all current and past rent due or provides to the landlord, in writing, a complete and accurate forwarding address.
(5) Subsection (1) does not apply to any tenant against whom a civil judgment has been entered for punitive damages because the tenant left the premises with unpaid rent.
Overall, the statute is relatively straightforward.  Leaving a property you’ve signed a lease for exposes you to criminal liability for this charge.  Regarding defenses: firstly, if your security deposit covers all rent owed and damages, the government cannot charge you with this offense.  Similarly, it is not a defense if you pay your landlord for all damages and rent within 5 days of leaving the property.  And finally, a civil lawsuit award does not count towards the calculation of damages in this statute.

Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 1462

Most crimes in Wisconsin are accompanied by jury instructions.  Jury instructions provide elements for offenses.  Elements are parts of a crime, and the government must prove each of those parts beyond a reasonable doubt.  The elements of absconding without paying rent are:

  • Firstly, the defendant obtained tenancy of residential property; and
  • Secondly, the defendant intentionally absconded; and
  • Finally, the defendant owes current or past due rent.

The jury instructions also certainly provide important definitions.  For example, this instruction defines “intentionally abscond” as the fact that the defendant left with the mental purpose to avoid paying all current and past due rent.  While showing the mental purpose of the defendant might sound like a challenge, the government will frequently point to objective data to prove this.  For example, let’s assume the renter moved all of his property out of the rental unit.  That renter fails to respond to text messages, emails, and calls from the owner of the property.  Does that show the mental purpose to avoid paying current and past due rent?

Finally, the jury instruction defines the tenancy required to be charged under this statute.  Specifically, tenancy includes a tenancy under a lease, a periodic tenancy, or a tenancy at will.”  This definition is consistent with section 704.01(4) of the Wisconsin Statues.  

How do we defend my absconding from paying rent charges?

Fortunately for a defendant in an action such as this, the government does not frequently charge this crime in Wisconsin.  But when they do, it’s still about one thing: money.  Certain facts could calm the government down in their prosecution.  For example, did you lose your job?  Did you move from the property to go take care of a sick family member?  And do you have the money to pay back the landlord?  If the last fact, and any of the other ones are true, it’s hard to think that the government would stick a defendant with a criminal conviction for this.  That’s especially the case if you have no criminal record.

But probably more relevant to what you’re wondering, you always maintain a constitutional right to jury trial.  At that jury trial the government must prove that you committed this offense beyond a reasonable doubt.  And importantly, we’ll do our very best to show that they cannot do that.  If we are successful, and the government fails, you must be found not guilty.

All scenarios, like all crimes, are certainly different.  This is one of the reasons our criminal defense law firm offers free one-hour consultation to potential clients.  At your initial consultation, you’ll sit down with one of our criminal defense attorneys to discuss your case.  At that meeting we’ll discuss defenses that apply to your case and will begin planning your defense.

Absconding without paying rent
While leaving without paying rent might seem like a “civil law” thing, it can quickly lead to serious criminal charges. Contact us at (414) 270-0202 for help.

Finally, contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. for help

If you’re at this point, it’s time to get serious about representation.  Before getting that call from police, you (and most other people) probably assumed that leaving without paying rent would result in simply being sued.  Certainly the cops can’t get involved, can they?  Unfortunately, they can.  And now it’s time for you to get someone on your side.

At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., we have a few of those someones who can help.  Our peers, clients, judges, and opponents regularly recognize our criminal defense attorneys as some of the best in Wisconsin.  We’re known as attorneys who can win cases.  And we’d like to convert that success into something that helps you.

Contact us immediately at (414) 270-0202 and let’s set up a free consultation.  Then, let’s start fighting your case!

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