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End of the Lease: Protect Your Security Deposit

Here in Madison, we're getting close to the August 15 madness, where a bajillion (it feels like) apartments turn over from one set of tenants to another. For those of you who haven't experienced this, it's mayhem. So we're trying to get all those tenants out there ready to go. 

Phase 1: As a tenant, protecting your security deposit as your lease is ending. This post is about the ways you can make sure your security deposit is as refundable as possible.

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DCHA Section 8 Waiting List Opens August 4

Update from 8/5/15: The Dane County Housing Authority closed its waiting list at 2:39pm on August 4. In that time, they gathered sufficient applications that it will take at least two years to serve them all.

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The Dane County Housing Authority will open up their Section 8 waiting list on Tuesday, August 4 at 10am!

To apply you will need: 

  • names of all family members
  • dates of birth of all family members
  • social security numbers of all family members
  • income of all family members
  • access to a computer -- all applications must be done through this website: www.dcha.apply4housing.com/
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Renters Insurance

Did you know that usually a landlord's homeowners insurance doesn't cover a tenant's belongings in case of emergency? That if a tornado were to hit, or a fire were to burn the house down, or an upstairs neighbor's pipe burst, it's unlikely that a landlord's insurance would cover your stuff?*

It seems like many tenants don't know how to wade through the terms of an insurance policy, afraid of making a mistake. But when it comes to a renters insurance policy, the biggest mistake a tenant can make is not one at all. Today, I'm putting a bunch of information in one place, hoping that if I break things down, all of you readers out there, who don't have renters insurance, might get a little more information.

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Negligence

Last week, I wrote about mold, and quietly referenced "negligence," something that we talk about a lot here at the TRC, but the laws aren't real clear on. Negligence is a big deal in a lot of repair issues, so today I'm breaking it down. It can be really hard to hold someone financially responsible for a problem they could have prevented, but it's certainly possible, and today we're looking at how to do it.

Spoiler alert: everyone should write more letters. It's a lost art. It'll help you in the long run. Details below.

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Mold

Has anyone else noticed that it's been a super wet June (and now July) here in Wisconsin? So much rain. Our email is flooded (heh) with complaints about water and mold. 

Now, to be clear, I think mold can be devastating - let's say you're a family with kids, the kids have mold-triggered asthma which leads to bronchitis or, worse, pneumonia. Sickness in the kiddos leads to days home from work for the parents, which means that it's hard to pay rent. Suddenly, this little spore becomes a make-it-or-break-it thing. Of course, it's usually less impactful for most of the folks who read this blog, but it can damage carpets, lead to mild sickness, render furniture unusable. Let's look at some of the steps to deal with mold.

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Aging and Abilities in Rental Housing

Aging is tricky, amiright? For folks that are older, the aging process is uneven, different for everyone, and eventually leads to a deterioration of physical and/or mental capacity. The question of where and how to live becomes a complex issue for almost everyone who goes through this deterioration.

So, let's say you're a landlord. And you have tenants who are aging, some less gracefully than others. Maybe you manage a complex that's mostly dedicated to seniors (ages 55 and up), or you're managing a complex that has a higher than normal ratio of seniors that choose to live there. One of the questions you might have, which is frequently asked by landlords in our Housing Law Seminars,  is what to do about people who are aging out (or already aged out) of regular rental housing. Whose abilities (or resources) are less than what is needed to live independently, and how a landlord should deal with that. 

It's a difficult question, but let's dig in, shall we?

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A Small Claims Strategy

I have theories about why summer is our busy season here at the TRC: temperatures go up and so do tempers. Many leases end here in Madison in August, leading to that sense of I-only-have-one-month-left-and-it's-unbearable.

But whether or not I'm right, it seems like the folks we talk to are a little feistier than the rest of the year, and we have more conversations about what to expect if you end up in Small Claims Court. Since that's the last resort for many tenant-landlord disputes, and since more cases look like they're headed there. 

Today, I'm talking about a strategy (a way of structuring your trial) that some folks use if they're headed to Small Claims Court - who knows, it might work for you!

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Discovery

One of our favorite attorneys came in recently, and talked the housing counselors through some murky legal issues. One of the topics that blew my mind was: folks in small claims court can ask the other party (as they sue/are being sued/are one of the people in a small claims case) for the evidence that they are using. Since small claims court is the place of last resort for many tenant-landlord issues, finding out there is a way to make that process be clearer/better/more in line with the facts is kind of amazing.

Now, I'm not a lawyer, and I had secretly kind of believed that "discovery," the procedures used to obtain disclosure of evidence before trial, were something that were: A. Only used on tv, B. Especially only for criminal trials and C. Something only lawyers can do. Turns out none of those things are true! Discovery is the tool of the masses! Here's how to do it.

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A Few Best Practices for Landlords

We get a bunch of phone calls here at the TRC. Right now, we've had some staffing changes, and we're a little bit behind (side note: do you want to volunteer for the TRC???). However, most of those piled-up calls are not folks who want to pick up the phone and connect about how great their tenant-landlord relationship is. It's tenants, landlords, roommates, friends, all struggling with a problem, and needing some information in order to resolve it. We love helping people, and we're glad to do this work.

But it's a nice change to go out into Wisconsin, teach the seminars, and help landlords and service providers who are trying to improve their skills. While they may have complex examples in mind, usually these folks that sit in our seminars do not have emergency-level concerns; rather, they are thoughtfully attempting to improve their skills. I love to see that. And I learn a lot from them.

Here are some tips from the landlords at this set of spring seminars.

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Write That Conversation Down

Generally, the best piece of advice that we give to tenants and landlords is to get things in writing. Getting things in writing is the best way to prove that something really happened, and that it happened the way that you remember. It's the way to have that all-important paper trail.

But what about the moments where the other person doesn't want to sign an agreement, where they are not interested in negotiating the nitty-gritty? Where the most that you can get is a quick verbal conversation?

Then you should send this letter. Or something like it - keep it polite, write down the details, and make sure you write down that last line (that you'll assume this is correct unless you hear otherwise in writing). 

Short and sweet today, folks.

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