Wisconsin Court of Appeals Affirms Summary Judgment Order in Alleged Landlord – Tenant Dispute and Recommends its Decision for Publication

Aug 2, 2021

Since the 1980s DeWitt has represented The District Council in Madison, Inc., Society of St. Vincent De Paul (“SVDP”) on a pro bono basis.  In a recent District IV Court of Appeals Decision argued by Anthony “Tony” Varda of DeWitt’s Madison office, the court affirmed an order of the circuit court for Dane County granting SVDP’s motion for summary judgment.

At issue in Dane County Case Number 2019CV001986 Kimesha Williams vs. District Council of Madison Inc., was whether the services provided by the SVDP to her, which included temporary housing at Seton House, constituted a landlord-tenant relationship.  

Williams and SVDP entered into a contract where she agreed to participate on a “day-to-day basis” in a program that provided homeless women and children temporary shelter and case management services to help families move from homelessness to permanent housing, while also abiding by the rules set forth in the contract.  The Seton House Program provides “life coaching” designed to develop the skills that will allow the participants to living independently. 

The contract expressly stated, “Seton House is not bound by the usual landlord/tenant laws nor required to go through the eviction process of the usual landlord/tenant relationship.”  However, when SVDP terminated her from the program for rule violations and required her to vacate the temporary housing unit she occupied, she claimed SVDP violated the landlord-tenant relationship. 

Before the Trial Court, SVDP successfully proved its Seton House Program was a charitable assistance program, and not a Landlord-tenant relationship.  On appeal, SVDP again successfully argued it was not required to follow landlord-tenant eviction procedures through Small Claims Court because it was primarily a charitable assistance provider, not of a landlord.  When published, the case will shield numerous other charitable assistance providers with similar programs from court claims based on Landlord-Tenant rules.