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Broken Leases: Mitigation for Landlords

In the land of the small-time landlord, a broken lease is a difficult thing. The small-time guys are the ones who rent out a room in their home (so they can afford a mortgage); the ones who work full-time jobs besides landlording, so they can build equity for retirement; the ones who accidentally become managers of a deceased parents' home they aren't able to sell. This post is for the small time landlords out there.

There's a cost to being a landlord, right? You know that you need to do the repairs to make the place livable, and that's expensive. Taking the time out of your regular job to show the place to prospective tenants, that's expensive, too. Sometimes it turns out that a tenant is unable to pay rent, and that's a process, to figure out if there's a way forward or not. But what about those times when a tenant, after a finally-successful-but-wearying application process, moves in and realizes that for some reason, this isn't going to work? What about when the tenant breaks their lease?

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Party Time!

Recently, we had a staff meeting here at the TRC. And, weirdly (based on my experience at other offices), we laughed much of the way through. We actually laugh a lot here. Not because the stuff we handle is trivial (it's not! So many clients see their housing problems compounding as laws get more complicated, financial help becomes more scarce, and their poverty rates increase). 

I think it's because we get to spend time with some pretty incredible folks. We maintain 3 separate offices, field tens of thousands of calls per year, answer so many questions. We get to hear people's most personal stories, and we carry their pain forward, finding meaning in what we do and, hopefully, making things a little better. We are surrounded by astounding volunteers (thousands of hours of dedicated time each year). 

So, we're making the obvious choice: We're throwing a party. And you're invited. 

Party info is here! The basics are: Friday, October 24, from 5-7pm at the Brink Lounge, in Madison. We are going to have an amazing silent auction focused on pieces of art, so you can shop for your family's holiday presents while also helping us continue our mission to find housing justice in Wisconsin.

If you can't make it, please donate! Everyone is welcome to come celebrate (regardless of ability to donate).

Also: stay tuned! We'll be posting photos of some of the amazing silent auctions on our Facebook page.

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Application Fees & Earnest Money

I'm lucky enough to be able to help teach the seminars, along with Brenda and Anders, and it's really a neat thing to do. We get to talk with people around the state, hear the questions, the concerns, the funny parts and the difficulties. It's nice. You should come.

But one of the difficulties of the seminars (and our jobs more generally here) is explaining a concept where the laws don't match the common practice. Brenda and I regularly rock-paper-scissors (it's a verb!) over who has to teach our section on Earnest Money, which isn't all that complicated, but infrequently followed in common practice. So, I'd like to explain how application fees work (where does all that money go when you put in an application?), what folks are supposed to do, and what they aren't, but keep in mind, everyone understands this differently, even though the law is on your side if you do it right. And you get a gold star. 

You've been warned.

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Security Deposit Roundup

I've written a lot about security deposits lately, and since we're still getting questions ('tis the season, after all, for rancorous debate about what, exactly, required cleaning), I think this is the moment to put All Security Deposit Links in One Place. And this is the One Place.

Click through for all possible linky-links that we have on Security Deposits. 

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Non-Standard Rental Provisions

There's a shouty bit in tenant-landlord the law, did you know? In ATCP 134, and Wis. Stat. 704.28, the laws talk about NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISIONS, which are a tail on the end of the lease, where the landlord has to explain about the rights that they are taking away from the tenant. 

It sounds like a situation where people should be all up in arms (they did WHAT?? NOW I'M SHOUTY, TOO), but most Wisconsin leases feature NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISIONS. The main things they are used for is: taking extra things out of security deposits, and saying that landlords can come into an apartment without giving all the notice they're supposed to. Below is an explanation to help you read them more carefully.

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Is Your Heat On?

We're hearing from a lot of tenants right now - not everyone has their heat on yet. And it's chilly out there. Summer seems to be ending with a frosty whimper, and for the tenants living in units where the heat hasn't yet been turned on... It's like the ice bucket challenge, without the ice, the bucket, and the positive social impact. Just tenants in their apartments, feeling cold.

So, what's to be done? Lots. Apartment temperatures are not supposed to sink below 67 degrees, whether or not it's still technically summer.  Steps for tenants and landlords, below.

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A Coupla Contract Law Issues

A while back, a tenant brought in a lease saying that if they had a keg party in their home, that they would be fined $500. Now, it makes sense to us why a landlord might want to discourage keggers, (there are actually more effective ways to do so), but this taps into a complex contract law issue: this kind of charge isn't really legal. It's called liquidated damages.

We are in a season where folks are finding unexpected things on their list of security deposit deductions, but this sort of thing can happen year-round. Below, we dive into 2 hand-slappy no-nos, where landlords aren't allowed to charge in the way they think they might be able to. For the folks who read on, tenants will learn to read into parts of your lease that aren't really legal, and landlords will learn more effective ways to get what is reasonable.

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Security Deposit Myths Debunked!

Around Wisconsin, many leases end during the warm months - the months in which it's not too likely to be snowing, icing or raining.  Which means that autumn, along with the beginning of school, is security deposit season.

For the thousands of Madison renters who left their previous rental on August 15, security deposits (or the explanation of how they have been used) are supposed to get to former tenants on September 6. For many tenants, receipt of this letter is an unhappy surprise. 

For the tenants out there, we are debunking the myths that many people have about security deposits - click through to make sure you are as well informed as possible.

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Landlord Regulations Upheld

Before 2013 Wisconsin Act 76 went into effect on 3/1/14, there was an ordinance on the books for the City of LaCrosse. This ordinance said that rental units needed to be inspected every 3 years by building inspection, in order to weed out absentee landlords / slumlords. 

A group of landlords challenged the ordinance, saying that the inspection ordinance violates 2013 Wisconsin Act 76's position against landlord registration. 

On August 27, the local ordinance was upheld! We're interested to see where this takes us, as a state. More information below:

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Renting with Disabilities

Being a tenant with disabilities can be an enormous challenge. Untreated mental illness can lead to homelessness. Lack of ability to earn income can lead to homelessness. Asking for accommodations for a disability can (illegally) lead to homelessness. Being a person with obvious disabilities can (illegally) lead to "nothing being available." It's a tough crowd out there.

Here's are some of the tips we give to tenants with disabilities - things to help, things to think about, things to watch out for. 

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