Blog | Tenant Resource Center



Should I Stay or Should I Go? (Notice to End a Term Lease?)

One of the reasons that I'm so excited to be writing this blog series is that I get to answer Those Questions. Those Questions are the ones that our housing counselors get that are so wearily complicated, and clients get so lost in the twists and turns, the if-this-then-thats.  Here, I have the luxury of writing it down so that the complications can be explored.

This is one of Those Questions, sampled from many we've received: Dear TRC, I am a tenant living in an apartment. I have a year long lease going from August 1, 2013 - July 31, 2014, but my lease also says that 60 days' notice is required to end the lease. I want to leave on July 31, but my landlord says I had to give 60 days' notice to end the lease when it says, on July 31. What should I do?

Here are the components of this question:

  • a lease with a term (ie, a year long lease, a 9 month lease, any defined period of time), where beginning dates and end dates on the lease are written down, AND
  • a requirement to give notice to end the lease (could be 60 days, 1 month, 30 days, 45 days, 90 days)

What's the deal? Are those legal? If the lease a defined period of time, doesn't it end when it says it ends? For everyone involved, this can get pretty confusing.  Explanations, with tips for landlords and tenants, below.

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Repairs and Reimbursement

We're getting to the time of year where many tenants in Madison are moving into new rental housing - many changes occur over August 15 of each year here in the city.  The rest of Wisconsin is wise enough to make leases end on all of the days of the year instead of just one incredibly frantic day, but either way, one of the big questions we get from tenants, as they are moving into a new place, is:

"My landlord didn't _____ (clean, paint, repair), can I do it myself and get paid back?"

If you read this blog regularly, the answer shouldn't be a surprise to you: it's complicated.  But there are some ways everyone involved can make it more obvious.

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Lapsed Leases

We had a call from a tenant recently, who believed that because her signed lease had lapsed (she was still residing in the unit), that none of the lease terms applied to her.  Alas for her, this isn't true.  In fact, this is something that many clients come in and find confusing - a housing counselor will ask the tenant if they have a lease, and the tenant will say no, even if he/she has a lease that was signed years ago and that everyone is still following.

So, in the interest of de-confusifying the masses, here's how lapsed leases work:

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Constructive Eviction

One of my more memorable encounters with an individual client occurred when I first started working at the Tenant Resource Center.  It takes a while for counselors to get their sea legs, and I was no different.  The client had a big impact on me.

The client was a tenant, a mother with a husband and young children in the household, with health problems due to the mold in her rental housing. She was ill - her hair had fallen off in chunks and her skin was discolored. Her children were sick - asthma and pnuemonia. The building inspector who came to inspect the unit felt it wasn't safe enough to go into.  

Sometimes the lack of options for a client can be breathtaking.  Sometimes, the options just take chutzpah. Constructive eviction is a little bit of both.

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Reading Your Lease

One of the most frequent pieces of advice that we give at the TRC is to tell someone to read their lease. Tenants, landlords, cosigners, subletters... everyone should know what's in the legal contract that they are signing.  

We see this with different faces: occasionally, landlords come into our office hoping to evict a tenant for a clause that isn't in their lease; tenants are startled to find they are being held to a rule that they didn't know about; cosigners are shocked to discover that they can end up with a bill due to the damages of all the tenants. Here are some tips for making sure you don't miss the important parts:

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New Parking Laws: The Sequel

Hi, Everyone!  Did you read yesterday's post about the new parking laws?  Here's some follow-up information.  

It turns out that Wisconsin's Department of Transportation hasn't passed the new regulations that give instructions for the new laws (it was supposed to, by July 1), which means that, as far as we know, these new parking laws aren't exactly in effect yet.  Here's why:

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New Parking Laws Go Into Effect July 1

Hello Best Beloveds! This is your reward for your faithful readership - you are about to have information that NOBODY else has. The new parking laws from 2013 Wisconsin Act 76 go into effect TOMORROW, so this is your chance to know your stuff before the schnauzer hits the fan.  

The new laws give the landlord new rights to tow cars on the rental property, without having the permission of the vehicle's owner.  If you are a tenant who parks on the rental property, or if you're a landlord who includes parking with rental units, then this post is for you. Also, if you're a well-informed person who likes to keep an eye on how we here in Wisconsin are experiencing shifts in tenant-landlord law, then this post is also for you.

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Summer Heat

When I talk to people that have moved to Wisconsin from other places, they often tell me that they are surprised with the intensity of the seasons here. Last winter was brutally cold (winter 2013-2014 was pretty cold for Wisconsin and comparatively mild for Alaska. Sigh). Springs often have floods. Summers have periods of intense heat and drought. Autumn is glorious. While we are free from hurricanes and earthquakes, we have tornadoes, hail, ice storms and snow.

Rental housing in Wisconsin isn't always successful in dealing with the extremes. As we let go of the tough winter, and look towards the summer, one question that we regularly get here at the TRC is: "My house is extremely hot. Is there an upper limit to how hot it can be?  

And the answer is, generally, no.  Here are some things to be aware of:

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Joint and Several Liability

When a tenant walks in and says that they're having trouble with someone else named on their lease (a roommate, an ex, an ex-friend), most of the housing counselors here at the TRC will hold their breath, because they're about to tell that person something they won't want to hear. Me, I like a good story, and most of these have great stories, but either way, it doesn't usually end up so that we get to tell the client good news.  And the reason for that bad news is joint and several liability. 

Joint and several liability is a confusingly legal term that means that all the tenants on a lease (on one lease, not separate leases) and each of the tenants on the lease, can be held responsible for all money damages. For example:  Housemate A punches a hole in the wall and then leaves for an overseas job. Housemate B, with the major that didn't translate into international job opportunities, stays put. Housemate B is easier to find when the bill for the damages come due. Housemate B ends up on the hook. 

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CCAP: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Do you know about CCAP?  If you're in this business of rental housing (as a tenant or landlord), I bet you do.  It's this magical land on the interwebs where you can find court records (the public parts) for people who have records in Wisconsin. (Click here for your digital portal into wonderland).

There's a lot that people don't understand about CCAP, though.  CCAP has limitations, and it's important to be aware of them in order to use it most effectively, both in order to protect yourself, and in order to understand the people whom you may be screening.

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