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Dealing With Unwelcome Guests

Here at the TRC, we see a lot of folks who are down on their luck. Nationwide, long-term unemployed (those who have been searching for work for longer than 6 months) account for more than 1/3 of the folks who are unemployed, which means that some folks just can't catch a break.  We see tenants and landlords in this position, struggling to get their head, finally, above water. 

Sometimes, those folks have kind friends or family who are willing to help them; people who let those down-on-their-luck folks stay for a while till they start to make things work on their own.  Those folks are wonderful people, but not all charitable residencies end on friendly terms. Today, I'm writing about how to get that long-term person, that used-to-be-friend, out of the house. 

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Landlord References

An older couple came into our office today. They'd left a home they owned in Chicago, because the neighborhood was getting rough.  They wanted to be near their grandchildren, in Madison. So, they moved to Wisconsin, and rented an apartment in Madison.  But they're older, and their 2nd floor unit made it hard to get in and out.  The trouble begins when they try to find another place to live. 

Read on for tips for both tenants and landlords!

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Apartment Searches in the Spring

Throughout my life, I've lived in a number of different places, but Wisconsin is the one where spring has the most joyful arrival.  This year, after a brutal winter, spring has erupted! I see my neighbors outside, with smiles, faces turned up towards the sunshine.  Kids shout gleefully in the neighborhoods through which I drive. Trees drop their buds and sprout eye-searingly-green leaves.  It's a delight.  

Spring is one of the most common times to look for apartments, though, and it can be tough to remember the steps to take to make sure that you'll be comfortable in the winter to come.  Some tips for apartment searching in the spring:

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Tips for Landlords

One of the things that I'm lucky to do here at the TRC is give seminars around Wisconsin on tenant-landlord law.  I'm not the only one - we always go in pairs - and so, if you were to sign up for one of our seminars, you'd probably see me or Anders or Brenda.  When we go out into the urban and rural areas of Wisconsin, we get to meet the neatest people! 

Right now, it's hard to be a well-informed landlord in Wisconsin.  The laws are complicated, and they're not getting easier.  But, while we're talking about how tricky it is, it's always really lovely to hear tips from landlords themselves who are dealing with the complicated rental environment with grace.  Here are a couple tips that I heard from landlords (for other landlords), from our most recent seminar in Tomah:

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How to Write a Letter

A tenant recently contacted us, saying that every time she asked her landlord to do a repair on the property that she was renting, the landlord raised the rent. All of those raises in rent were theoretically legal, since it was around the time for the lease to be renewed, but it seemed in direct consequence of her asking for repairs to be done. If you look at the laws on retaliation, they say that if a tenant makes "a good faith complaint about a defect in the premises," then a landlord "may not increase rent" (see Wis. Stat. 704.45 for the full set of rules). However, in order to show the timeline, and that the acts of the landlord would not have occurred "but for" the acts of the tenant, that tenant will be in the best possible position if she has her repair complaints in writing. (Then, if she's not able to work it out with the landlord, she can make a complaint to DATCP or sue in small claims court).

In this example, and in so many others, we see that one of the most important tools in tenant-landlord disputes is writing, on a piece of paper.  And even though it's so important, it can be wildly overwhelming for tenants and landlords to put together a letter that makes sense to the other party, much less gets results.  

Writing a letter is a process, and it doesn't have to be a stressful one!  Here are some steps to take:

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Springtime Heat Concerns

Can we say it? Is it spring yet? Or do we still have to whisper so spring doesn't get shy because we're all talking about it?  With spring seemingly on its way, many of us across Wisconsin are experiencing the confusing weather changes. It's warm! It's snowing! It's hot! It's raining!  Sometimes within the span of the day.  

Among us, there are optimists ("it's fine to turn off the heat! It's already a hundred degrees warmer than it was this winter!"), and there are pessimists ("you call this warm?? I'm from Texas!"), but there are still tenant-landlord laws that come into play when we're discussing when it's okay to turn off the heat.

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Assert the Rights You Have

A couple of years ago, a tenant came into our office in the spring.  She and her husband were young professionals with a stellar rental history, renting a small single family home.  They'd just moved into the house that winter, and the tenant was eager to plant flowers along the driveway they'd so recently been shoveling. Their idyllic flower-and-bird-twittering spring came to a screeching halt, though, when they received an eviction notice for the kind of flowers they had chosen.

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"Online Rent Payment" Scam Targeting Downtown Madison Renters

There is a new scam targeting downtown Madison tenants, many of them students and first-time renters. Many residents have received paper notices in their doors advertising a $215 rent credit if they start making online payments to a new management company called H&H Apartments at 7473 Ellington Court in Middleton. This fake and predatory offer requests the tenant's name, date of birth, social security number, and credit card information (including the CVV code and expiration date). This is a scam, and puts tenants at risk for identity theft as well as financial damages. Tenants should ignore the notice and alert their neighbors and their landlord if they receive one.

Many of the larger management companies do offer online rent payments through their websites, but tenants enter their own information through a secure, third-party payment system. Other landlords offer direct deposits from the tenant's banking account, but this requires a cancelled check given to the landlord as listed on their lease, often when they first sign the lease. Usually there is a small fee for online payments -- not a rent credit! Some landlords may chose to offer an "early rent payment" option instead of a late fee, but this is generally around 5% of the tenant's rent -- not hundreds of dollars!

Any time there is a change in management the law requires the new landlord to tell the tenant(s) in writing within 10 business days of the person who collects rent and can receive legal papers, the person who manages the building, and the person to contact for repairs. ATCP 134.04(1)(c) and MGO 32.08(1)(d) If tenants have any doubts about a notice of new management, they should contact their landlord and get confirmation in writing.

If a tenant falls prey to this (or any other) credit scam, they should immediately cancel their credit card(s) and contact their financial institutions for advice. They may also want to place an identity fraud alert with the national credit bureaus. Unfortunately, there is no protection against eviction for tenants who cannot pay their rent because of theft. Low-income tenants may be able to get assistance paying rent, and all tenants should communicate with their landlords as soon as they know they'll be late or short on rent, explain what happened, and ask for a payment plan.

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Thanks for coming!

Thanks so much to those who made it out to the TRC's Iron Chef Event this past Friday the 4th!  We had a bunch of fun!  We successfully made our goal, because of the enthusiastic support of our guests, our cooks, our sponsors and our staff. 

See below for our candid photos!

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See you on Friday!

Hey, there internet folks!  The TRC has a fundraiser coming up, and yours truly is one of the participating chefs!  I've been writing blog posts here for about a month, and I'd love to meet the people for whom I write.  

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