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Fees and Liquidated Damages

This may come as no surprise to you, dear reader, but we are pretty nerdy here at the TRC. We do a lot of jobs here, but when we dive into tenant-landlord law, we go deep, because the details are crucial for the folks who come in to talk to us. This is one of those deep dives. 

Generally speaking, when a landlord charges a fee in a lease, then that fee needs to reflect actual damages that a landlord experiences.* For example: a tenant gets locked out of his apartment, and he asks the maintenance person to let him in. The cost of the maintenance person swinging by and unlocking a door with a master key during work hours, is pretty low. Perhaps $15 of someone's time? It might be higher if the call came after work hours, and more if the whole lock needed to be re-keyed. In the end, the tenant could only be charged the actual costs that the landlord experiences in dealing with this issue - in this case, the cost of the maintenance person's time, the cost of the new key. But what happens if the lease holds a weird escalating fee clause - the first time a key is lost, it's $15 to replace. The second? $50. The third? $200. And so on.

Sometimes, fees in a lease are written in as a penalty, which are not reflective of the amount of monetary damage that a landlord faces as a result of a problem, and are simply put in the lease as a way to deter behavior. And punitive fees, my friends, are not allowed.

And in order to explain why, we get to jump into contract case law. Whee!

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When It Rains, It Pours, and When It Pours, It Floods

So, there's been a lot of water around Wisconsin lately. And, as they say, when it rains, it floods. (Or something like that). Flooding is technically a repair issue, so for more information on the overarching laws about repairs, see our repairs page for Wisconsin, or for Madison & Fitchburg.

We've been flooded with calls about this issue (pun totally intended), and we have answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. 

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Emotional Support Animals

Hi Everyone!

We are just done with Seminar Season (TM), which is the time of year when our staff head out into the wilds of Wisconsin to talk to folks about tenant-landlord law. During this season, we get more up close and personal with the kinds of concerns that landlords bring to us (many of our seminar participants are landlords, as well as service providers, government folk, and attorneys). I have to say, I love them. It gives us a chance to stay in tune with what's happening around Wisconsin, and we feel like we can really make a difference - we work hard to give folks the best information possible.

One of the Very Big Questions that people, especially landlords, have is about Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). There are new laws that define ESAs in Wisconsin, and establish rules about what landlords have to do, and what they don't have to do (2017 Wis. Act 317, and you can find the summary here). 

But there's a problem: We see some really big clashes between the new Wisconsin laws and federal Fair Housing laws. Generally, states can't take away rights given by federal mandates. And so, it looks like some of these new laws might be giant traps for landlords to fall into - even if landlords carefully follow the new Wisconsin laws about ESAs, they might find themselves in violation of federal law, which is a huge, expensive, problem.

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Foreclosure Laws Are Back!

Hello world! It is rare that I get to sit down and write something that feels like good news, but TODAY IS THAT DAY

But first, a flashback: it's the last day of the year of 2014, and even though it is a holiday, we at the TRC are mourning the loss of a protective law. December 31, 2014 was the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act's last day of life, and it sunsetted into the great beyond. And we were sad - without that law, tenants whose landlords are in foreclosures have no rights to: 1. know about the foreclosure, and 2., stay in the property once the rental unit officially ceases to belong to the landlord. Many tenants over the years, after faithfully paying their rent, have woken to discover that the sheriff is removing them, with no notice, due to no fault of their own. It was rough. 

BUT. THAT CHANGES NOW. THE PROTECTING TENANTS AT FORECLOSURE ACT IS BACK. AND IT'S HERE TO STAY.

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Volunteer For Us!

The TRC is a unique agency. We do a ton of amazing work on a shoestring budget, we have an incredibly committed and empathetic staff, but our ace card is, for sure, our volunteers. 

Volunteering for our agency is not an easy thing to do. But. It is worthwhile. Many of our volunteers go on to use their skills in their careers and everyday lives, to the betterment of everyone around them. 

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New Laws, Round 6

Hey Friends -

Big changes are afoot! On Tuesday, April 17, 2018, Gov. Walker signed 2017 Wis. Act 371 into law. Therefore, the effective date is today, April 18, 2018. 

The most important things you should know:

  • All the changes tenant-landlord law changes are available here in our summary
  • The changes are not reflected in the statutes (the legislative reference bureau says it'll be up next week). They are legally enforceable, though. So, for example: Wis. Stat. 704.07(3)a is supposed to have subsections 1 and 2, under the new law. But, as of this writing, there are no subsections. So, to everyone citing things in the laws: please be careful!

Below is our list of things that we think will be most impactful to tenants and landlords.

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Happy Dance

You guys are the best! Our Iron Chef event last Friday was a massive success, full of WONDERFUL people, DELICIOUS food, and sparkling conversation. We feel so lucky to be surrounded by our wonderful community. 

Thanks so much to our SPECTACULAR chefs, judges and sponsors! If you couldn't make it, we hope you join us next year. 

Here's a few photos, if you'd like to see: 

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Adventurous Spirits and Stomachs Unite!

My friends. Oh my goodness. We CANNOT WAIT to see you all THIS FRIDAY, April 6th for THE IRON CHEF.

This is our tastiest of all fundraisers, wherein daring volunteer amateur chefs create a tasting menu around their mystery ingredient. For this amazing event, we the attendees are the real winners with this delightful food. The food this year will center around Cherries, Basil, Shiitake Mushrooms, Beets or Black Garlic. Join us to eat incredible food, drink delicious drinks and socialize with people who are passionate about social justice and housing. Your taste buds will thank you! We can't wait to see you there.

Chefs and Ingredients! Announcing this year's Iron Chefs and battles:
  • Battle: Shiitake Mushrooms - Sarah Gilmore vs. Samantha Haack
  • Battle: Beets - Conner Wild vs. Matt Koz
  • Battle: Cherries - Christina Wen vs. Diane Brown
  • Battle: Basil - Andrew Walsh & Jennica Skoug vs. Gabriel Clemente
  • Battle: Black Garlic - Steph Tai & Steve Vig

As a side note (and I know that you guys read all the things I have to say for THESE DELIGHTFUL TANGENTIAL MOMENTS), this is a really special event for us. For one, it's fun. It's fulfilling on a lot of levels. For another, the work we do is really tough - we navigate highly imperfect systems with our clients, for whom we care deeply. This event is one of the few things we do that doesn't have substantial cognitive dissonance for us. And you know what? That's cause for celebration. JOIN US! Let's eat delicious things and enjoy one another's company and have a great time!

xo

Laura & the rest of the TRC staff

PS. Don't forget to vote today! 

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Big Share 2018

Hello, Friends! Tomorrow is the The Big Share,* an online day of giving through the Community Shares of Wisconsin. The TRC is so lucky to be a member of Community Shares, and today, they are supporting all their member nonprofits with an amazing, all-out fundraiser, for one day only. 

This is an amazing chance to be part of the work that Community Shares supports. They disperse their funds to local nonprofits working towards environmental and social change, and make a profound impact in our Wisconsin communities.  Together, we can make a truly powerful statement about the work that we want to do here in Wisconsin, and the state we want it to be.

You can support the TRC on this page, or the entire Big Share right here.

One day. One community. Many ways to share. Be part of something bigger than you. 

Keep up with us! Our Facebook page will have updates throughout the day! We will be sharing stories about our work, our clients, our successes and our challenges all day on March 6. The truth is, that our daily lives at the TRC are not easy. We talk to our clients about harrowing moments in their lives. We treat them like people. We  witness their pain. We find solutions. But, it feels good for us all to take a moment, shake off the heavy, and talk about the wins. With your support, we do this to ensure another day doing this work that feels so right, in the midst of a world that doesn't always seem like it cares. 

And you could win, too! We will be giving away prize bags worth more than $300 each, to randomly selected TRC donors throughout the day! Any donation amount qualifies you to win, so give early and give often on March 6. 


Your mission, should you choose to accept it:
1. Follow the TRC on FacebookThat's where we'll be posting throughout the day. It's also where we'll post who the winners are once names have been drawn.
2. Donate to the TRC through the Big Share page. No donation is too small to help. Donate early and donate often.
3. Win big wins! See what we do! Know that you're part of a community which is doing something meaningful.

Tomorrow's going to be a great day. Hope to see you there. 
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Section 8: Terminations & Disputes

Best Beloveds. We are on the third, and last, part of my Section 8 series (exposé? dissertation? riveting journalistic foray? you decide). 

Even though the process for learning all this has been engaging and eye-opening for me, I understand that reading it may not have the page-turning quality that, say, a Harry Potter book might. But, despite the law references and dry subject matter, there's a heart in here. And, at the risk of becoming sentimental, that's exactly why we do this

Today, I'm diving into terminations from the Section 8 program - when someone receives a notice that their Section 8 voucher will be taken away from them. Inside every Section 8 termination is someone who is terrified that they are going lose their housing. Most likely (because they are low-enough-income to qualify for Section 8 in the first place), they are about to become homeless, if they are not able to successfully dispute the termination. 

So, for every quibbly sentence about definitions of criminal activity, and references to what, exactly, is good cause, there's someone whose stable housing lies in that balance; who may need an advocate to tell them: "I've read about this! It's worth fighting! Try to overturn this!" Many, many clients get their termination notices and think, "this is it. It's already decided. It's over." BUT IT'S NOT OVER. There's so many more questions to be asked, so many more possible outcomes.

I hope that when you read this, you see as I do, all the ways that we can work together to protect those who hold these vouchers, the tired, the poor, the wretched refuse, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. 

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