Blog | Tenant Resource Center

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, 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 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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Friends, there are changes afoot. Because of the Great Funding Battle of 2015 (see below for refresher), we are decreasing some of our services at the end of December, and shutting some of them down completely as of January 1, 2016.

End of December Decreasing of Services:

  • Housing Vacancy List: Each week, we publish a list of available housing (info here and here). Because the funding that we receive to publish this list is ending, our last housing vacancy list will be published the 23rd of December. As of January 1, 2016, the CAC is responsible for publishing the housing vacancy list.
  • Housing Help Desk: December 28, 29, 30 are the last three days that we are staffing the Help Desk. During those final days, we will be packing up our office, so please send clients directly to our main office December 28-30. As of January 1, 2016, the CAC is responsible for staffing that office, so you may direct your clients to Room 2 at the Dane County Job Center to seek the services that the Help Desk offers.

As of January 1, 2016:

  • Housing Vacancy List: In 2016, the CAC is responsible for publishing the Housing Vacancy List.
  • Housing Help Desk: Currently, the funds that we receive to run the Housing Help Desk also fund housing counseling outside the City of Madison (but inside Dane County), and services for the homeless/near homeless. It makes sense that since the CAC is receiving this funding, they'd be required to provide those services, but it's not clear at this time if they will (we have been told that the contract is being negotiated). As such, we have no resources for those seeking housing counseling outside the City of Madison but inside Dane County. Please contact the CAC or your elected official with questions about those services after January 1, 2016.
  • Housing Help Desk phone line: Currently, staff at the Help Desk can be reached by calling 608-257-8278. We also have access to a forwarded phone number at 608-242-7406. TRC staff will not answer/have access to either phone line as of January 1, 2016. We do not know if the CAC personnel that will be staffing the Help Desk will continue to receive calls from 608-242-7406, but we will update folks via the blog in the future.
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Peaceful Enjoyment

Here at the TRC, we rarely get clients that walk in bursting to tell us some good news. (Even though we love to hear it! Let us know if we helped you!) And, we've learned over the years, so very many things can go wrong.

Tenants have a right to exclusive possession in their unit (besides the law and the lease, no one can tell you how to live in your rental home*), and their landlord is supposed to make it so they can peacefully enjoy what happens inside that home, without interference from their surroundings (to the extent that the landlord has control over those things). 

We hear a wide range of problems that are, for us, resolvable under peaceful enjoyment, and those run from mundane ("I am an extremely quiet person and my upstairs neighbors walk when I wish they would be silent and still") to extreme ("a neighbor threw a knife through my wall"). 

But there's a way to do this! There's a method to the madness! There are cases that explain why judges look at these situations the way they do. All this and more, below.

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Thank You!

It may have seemed strange, at the tail end of our budget crisis, to have a big party. (What budget crisis, you say? Short story below.) But, we did, this past Friday (well, November 13th, 2015), and it was incredible. Lately, the staff here at the TRC has been feeling a little overworked and under appreciated; it's hard to know that your funding (and job) is in jeopardy, and not take that personally.

Speaking for myself, I love the work I do. I love the clients I get to talk to, I love going around the state to teach seminars, and I love writing this here blog. I love being a member of one of the most diverse small staffs I've ever been privileged to be a part of, of being rewarded for being curious about confusing legal issues, and feeling like I'm contributing to a city that I'm so happy to be a part of.

And you know what? When people came to celebrate with us, and made this fundraiser one of the most successful we've ever had, it lifted us up. It told us that people do want us here, and that we do matter to this community. We are so lucky to get the chance to do this work. And we are so thankful for all of you who make it so that we can.

THANK YOU. Photos of the shenanigans below. 

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Friday's Silent Auction Goodies!

Tenant Resource Center is celebrating 35 years of service to the community on Friday, November 13th, 5 - 7 at the Brink Lounge!  Check out our silent auction items (artwork, jewelry, kids packages, date night packages and more! - get your holiday shopping done early!), listen to Cornish Hen Bacon (a smaller version of Chicken Bacon), snacks and cash bar.  Plus, you couldn't hang out with more awesome staff and volunteers dedicated to serving the community!

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Hot and Cold

We've got fridge issues and heat issues lined up in our emails today, and I'm combining them for one blog post for giggles, and also for the thrill of tangential hyperlinks.

Fridges: sometimes they die. But what about all the stuff that's inside? Is there someone who is responsible for that, if it's lost? (Also, is Wisconsin unique in its meat raffles?)

Heat: it was cold this weekend! And it's supposed to be again, soon. However, not all landlords have the heat on, and frozen tenants are calling us to ask when their heat must be on (spoiler: there's no date! It just has to be warm enough to maintain 67 degrees in your house!)

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What Kind of Lease Do I Have?

Tenants have different rights and responsibilities, depending on what kind of lease they have. And yet, it can be darn difficult to figure out what kind of lease you have. So today, I'm making pretty charts so you can know the official name of your type of lease, and understand some of the ways that it impacts your rights.

To start the day of quizzing, here's a quick round of true or false.

Statement: It's legal for leases to be agreed upon verbally, without anything in writing.
Response: TRUE. Under Wisconsin law, it's perfectly legal to agree upon things verbally, and to have a lease without a single thing put down in writing. However, verbal agreements make it quite difficult to prove what, exactly, both parties agreed upon, so it's not something we recommend, even though it is legal.

Statement: Because I pay rent monthly, I am a month-to-month tenant.
Response: FALSE. Even if you pay monthly, if you have a lease with an end date, then you do not have a month-to-month lease.

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