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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.

Important Update on Removing Cases from CCAP!

As of 4/18/18, the laws make it much easier for tenants to remove eviction cases from their CCAP record (as well as removing all other small claims court cases, such as money cases). If the eviction case was dismissed, and there is no docketed money judgement, it will be removed after 2 years. If there was a writ of restitution (the tenant was evicted by court order) it will be removed after 10 years. Wis. Stat. 758.20(2)(a), 2017 Wis. Act 317, Sec. 46, Eff. 4/18/18. Other types of cases (including some criminal cases) also have new, shorter time periods for staying on CCAP. Click here for more information.

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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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