Blog | Tenant Resource Center



For Landlords: Screening Applicants Based on Criminal History

Hey Y'all! HUD put out some new guidelines about using criminal history in housing transactions, and it looks like a big departure from where Wisconsin's been headed, lately. I'm walking through it today, on behalf of landlords trying to sort out what's what.

On June 1, I did this for tenants! Here's the second part, for the landlords. 

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For Tenants: New HUD Rules About Criminal History

Hello, Best Internet Beloveds! Long time, no write. Let's change that, shall we? And how about we start it off with a good 'ole two-parter.

In April, HUD came out with some "guidance" (their word) about using criminal history to screen applicants. When landlords use criminal history when choosing tenants, HUD says that's likely not legal. HUD has a whole thought process about why that is, and since we're not attorneys, we'll break the logic down for you, and you can draw your own conclusions.

This post is about how these rules might impact tenants, who may be living in housing or searching for housing, and the next part in this series will be for landlords, and how they might navigate these new rules.

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You Blew Us Away!

Last week, we had an amazing fundraiser. In order to understand what these mean to us, you have to imagine the scene around here. Clients tell us such rough stories (sitting in the inbox right now: "we are a family of five and have no bathroom," "we've been given a non-renewal notice and can't find new housing," "we can't make it work," "we're about to be homeless"). Such sadness. Such inhumane conditions out there.

And our amazing staff and volunteers - we listen, we give available solutions, we help draft letters. We come up with strategies in impossible situations. We are sad, too. We fight, often off the clock, against these inhumane conditions. On a lot of days, it can feel like a losing battle.

But last Friday. Woah, you guys. Last Friday. So many people. Such joy in being a community together. I'm getting teary just writing about it. 

Our Iron Chef event on April 1 was the best we've ever had. The food was AH-MAY-ZING. The chefs and judges worked so hard, and besides that, are truly cool folks. We earned more than we've ever earned, and it made us feel like you guys want us to keep fighting. It felt really good to hear that. 

Here are the incredible people who made this event possible:

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New Tenant Landlord Laws Summarized (Eff. 3/2/16)

This is the 5th change to tenant landlord laws in Wisconsin in 4.5 years. We at the Tenant Resource Center are exhausted from trying to keep up . . . the governor passed the bill on 2/29, it was published on 3/1 and went into effect on 3/2. The laws became available electronically on 3/17 (last Thursday) and here's our latest and greatest summary.

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And Now For Something Completely Different

Hey Best Beloveds, we are doing something completely goofy this week. The Big Share is tomorrow, (Community Shares of Wisconsin's day of giving), and TRC staff (coughMEcough) has taken over our Facebook page (as well as our executive director's) to post bad photoshop photos, and it's pretty knee-slapping, I-might-have-peed-a-little-bit, funny.

We're carrying it through tomorrow, and we want you to be a part of it. Bonus points (and bonus prizes) if you donate $10+ during our Times of Most Need:

  • 5-6am: Are you an early bird? We need just one person to donate $10+ on our Big Share page in order to have an entry into that hour’s drawing. If your donation is selected, our non-profit would win $250! Donor Prize: $20 Marigold Kitchen Gift Certificate
  • 8-9am: We’re trying to get as many individuals as possible to donate on our Big Share page during this hour! If you donate $10+, and we have the most individual donors, we could win $500! Donor Prizes: 1 lb of Just Coffee, 1 private phone call with Brenda Konkel (this is your chance to ask our Executive Director your burning housing counseling question), a $25 gift certificate to Madison Sourdough.
  • 5-6pm: We’re trying to get as many individuals as possible to donate on our Big Share page  during this hour! If you donate $10+, and we have the most individual donors, we could win $500! Donor Prizes: a $20 gift certificate to One Barrel Brewing, 1 private phone call with Brenda Konkel (this is your chance to ask our Executive Director your burning housing counseling question).
  • 7-8pm: We need just one person to donate $10+ on our Big Share page in order to have an entry into that hour’s drawing. If your donation is selected, our non-profit would win $250! Donor Prize: a custom bad photo shop photo print based on your photos.
  • 9-10pm: We need just one person to donate $10+ on our Big Share page in in order to have an entry into that hour’s drawing. If your donation is selected, our non-profit would win $250! Donor Prize: a custom bad photo shop photo print based on your photos.
  • 11pm-midnight: Are you a night owl? We need just one person to donate $10+ on our Big Share page in order to have an entry into that hour’s drawing. If your donation is selected, our non-profit would win $250! Donor Prize: a custom bad photo shop photo print based on your photos.

Pretty please, let us know when you plan to donate? We'll send you a letter mooning over your finer qualities.

Some examples from the last week, and a teaser about what's to come tomorrow! March 1 is the Big Share! And March 1 is also:

BK_attends_feast_of_st_david.jpg
Chopin's birthday! (Brenda was there, 
and brought a cake)
The Feast of St. David! (Brenda was there)
The Day that Nebraska was signed into
statehood in 1867! (Brenda was 
there)
National Pig Day! (Brenda was there)
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Rent To Own

You know that one great-uncle, who's out of sync enough with your family culture as to be almost completely irrelevant? For us, in the world of tenant-landlord law, Rent-To-Own contracts are like that. 

We often say that Rent-To-Own contract are not covered under tenant-landlord law, but really, the "Rent" part often does fall under tenant-landlord law, even while the "to-Own" part doesn'tWis. Stat. 704 explicitly says, "An agreement for transfer of possession of only personal property is not a lease" and ATCP 134 excludes a "contract of sale" from applying their administrative code. 

However, we live to give here at the TRC, and we think folks should understand the components of Doing This Properly. So today, I'm attempting to explain what people typically mean when they say they "Rent-to-Own," how to do it well, and what to look for when the schnitzel hits the fan.

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The Human Cost

The year is coming to a close, and all of us here at the TRC have done a lot of thinking about why we do what we do. It's been quite the year: we had a big funding cut (from Dane County, requested by an agency we though was an ally); Tony Robinson Jr was killed less than 500 feet away from where we sat closing up our offices for the day and the community rose up to protest his death. A new set of bills are being put forth in the Assembly that will significantly muddle tenant-landlord laws for all involved.

We get a lot of questions, mostly by folks who don't access our services, about why we are important. After all, we just sit around talking and writing, right? What do we DO? What is the value of this service that we provide? What is the value in even having these laws in the first place?

Which brings me to a November homicide here in Madison. The article in the news says there was a man, who was buying a commercial property through a rent-to-own situation (about which there are very few regulatory laws). The person he was buying it from claimed the buyer hadn't paid, and the original owner filed for foreclosure against the buyer (many laws about foreclosure have recently expired). It was a barren landscape, in terms of applicable laws. 

According to the article, the moment that the renter/buyer realized that he was out of legal options, where he was being thrown from the property, not by the sheriff (see more law changes), but by the original owner, who had failed to give him notice (notice is not required under the law). That moment, when he was out of options, out of ways to make his voice heard, out of ways to sustain his livelihood... The article explains that under these circumstances, the buyer shot the original owner, and killed him

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Changes to ATCP 134, Effective Now

Deep breaths. 

ATCP 134, one of the main codes that we rely on to guide us in understanding tenant-landlord law, has changed. Effective November 1 of this year. There are a lot of changes. Some of those changes were made in order to make ATCP 134 consistent with the changes to Wis. Stat. 704 over the last several years. 

We were told that the changes were going to be purely technical (making it so the administrative code and the governing statutes are consistent), but upon reading the changes, it seems like there are some pretty substantial changes, not just technical ones. We wish we'd noticed sooner and there were lots of agencies looking out for this, but it's only us - and we missed it this time!

So, this is our first pass at what this may mean for our readers out there - the tenants, the landlords, those in helping professions who need to keep an eye on these things. Please read through, look at the different versions, and let us know if you think we've got it right.  Or . . . not.

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Donate Through Amazon Smile!

Here at the TRC, we use our words. We talk to people, we listen to their stories. We know that things are hard - housing is such a huge part of feeling safe and happy. We write and write, so that you can read what we know, and come back to it in the middle of the night, when you're trying to figure out how to solve a problem.

Have we helped you? Have you learned something from us, so that you can work through things that are important to your well-being? We hope so! That's why we do this, to make peoples' lives better. And now, there's an easy way for you to help us, too.  

If you buy things regularly from Amazon, you can choose to shop from smile.amazon.com, and choose us as the charity that you're donating to. We get 0.5% of the cost of your purchases, and your purchases don't change price at all. All you have to do is start shopping each time from smile.amazon.com and make sure to pick us, the Tenant Resource Center, that first time. (If you have a choice, buy local! But if you're buying through Amazon anyhow, pick us!)

We know that most of you guys aren't super wealthy, but this is an easy way to make your purchases count. Make a vote towards the world you want to be living in! We hope it's one with us in it, where we're still helping you, your friends, and your kids.

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Proposed December 2015 Law Changes

On December 4 and December 7, new legislation designed to impact tenant-landlord laws was introduced to the State Assembly. We're doing our best to stay on top of this rapidly evolving situation, and here are the basics.

There are 2 new bills: 2015 Assembly Bill 568 (watch out - the summary at the beginning doesn't seem accurate) and 2015 Assembly Bill 583.

The Assembly Committee hearing on both bills will be Thursday, December 10 at 10am in room 412E. This is the agenda for that hearing

In the past, these bills changing tenant-landlord laws have been pushed through quickly and without a thoughtful process. They've made it harder to be both a landlord and a tenant, and so we're not looking forward to the outcome of this current round of changes. Here is a summary of the impact of the current bill (subject to change as things get added and removed and the debate or discussion reveals the intent).

No More Local Tenant-Landlord Laws:

1. AB 583 seems to remove all limits/regulations on residential dwelling rentals. 

  • Why do we think this? Section 2 of AB 583 says that "A political subdivision may not enact or enforce an ordinance that prohibits, regulates the duration or frequency of, or unreasonably restricts the rental of a residential dwelling for 7 consecutive days or longer." 

Eviction Notice Changes:

2. Eliminates written eviction notices and the process to deliver them. AB 568 seems to take out the requirement that 5- and 14- day notices from landlords to tenants be written, or follow the "manner of giving notice" rules that are in Wis. Stat. 704.21.

  • Why do we think this? Section 24 changes Wis. Stat. 704.17(5), the section of the law that says initial written eviction notices are required, and how they have to be delivered. This bill changes the language to say, "Provisions in the lease or rental agreement for termination contrary to this section sub. (1), (2), or (3) are invalid except in leases for more than
    one year." This change in language only includes subsections 1-3 of Wis. Stat. 704.17, and does not include subsection 4 (which is where current law specifies that landlords have to write out 5- and 14- day notices in order evict a tenant, and have to deliver those eviction notices the way that Wis. Stat. 704.21 says). Because the bill does not include Wis. Stat. 704.17(4) on the list of things which cannot be altered by different language in the lease, we presume that if this bill were adopted into law, landlords would be able to write alternate, legally enforceable, eviction procedures into their leases going forward.
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