Blog | Tenant Resource Center

Fee Waiver at Small Claims Court

If you read the pages that we write here, you know that many say something along the lines of, "if your problem is this, and the law says this, then write a letter and worse case scenario, sue the other party in Small Claims Court."

We do this because tenant-landlord law is mostly set up for folks to go to court and get payment for losses if they can't find another way to resolve the problem. This allows a judge to make a decision about whether or not laws were followed, and who, in the end, should be paid. 

Often, our lowest-income clients are reluctant to go to Small Claims Court. However, they usually don't know that Small Claims Court allows low-income folks to file without paying any fees for filing or service. So, filing can be free, and the only thing you have to lose is the money you don't sue for.

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TRC Facing Funding Cuts

Hi, Everyone. Tough news today - the TRC is facing funding cuts at the Dane County level. Our county funding has been awarded to a different agency, and we believe we are the best agency to provide these services. We really, really need your help.

These cuts would mean:

  • The TRC would no longer run the Housing Help Desk.
  • The TRC would no longer do eviction mediation in Small Claims Court to help anyone living outside the City of Madison, but inside Dane County (such as Fitchburg, Stoughton, Sun Prairie).
  • The TRC would no longer give any housing counseling to anyone living outside the City of Madison, but inside Dane County.

This is so frustrating because this funding process has been so very far from transparent!

This really stings because we raise our own funds every year to provide these services! While most agencies ask for 17% in overhead, we eat $30,000 every year, just to be able to continue to provide these services at the Housing Help Desk. It's because we really believe in this work! We really believe that our clients deserve this help, and we really believe that all the other agencies who would try to do it just wouldn't be able to help these clients in the way that they truly need.

But why are we the best at this? We believe we have the broadest knowledge and longest history of working with these clients (35 years of history!). We know, from our long experience, what works for which clients, what are the best ways to get them to the outcomes they are hoping for. While most agencies require appointments, our staff is committed to being truly available to clients, with walk-in hours at all our locations, no appointments needed. But even more than this, we are the only HUD-approved housing counseling agency in Dane County who talks to tenants about tenant-landlord law (the other agency that vied for this funding is not HUD-approved, neither for homeless services nor rental housing counseling). Beyond that, we are the ones that social workers here in Dane County call when they have a question, when they want to know what to do when their client is in trouble with their landlord, and where, if all else fails, that client can sleep tonight. We get calls from attorneys; we teach seminars statewide for police officers, sheriffs, social workers, public housing managers. We've happily invite anyone to test their knowledge against the knowledge of our staff. What we want is the best for our clients. We think they deserve it.

What we need from you: 

  • Please go to the hearing and testify. Tell them why you believe that the TRC is the right organization to do this job. The hearings are on September 1 from 5:30– 7 p.m. at the Fitchburg Public Library, 5530 Lacy Rd., Fitchburg, and on September 2 from 5:30 - 7 p.m. at the Westside Community Service Building, 2598 W. Main St, Sun Prairie.
  • Please email and, and tell them why you believe that the TRC is the right organization to do this job.
  • Save the date! The bigger budget listening session on Human Services will be September 16th (as far as we know)
  • If you want to help remove the TRC's dependence on insecure funding, then please consider donating.
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Rent Abatement

When repairs get really bad, many tenants get to a point where they have Had Enough. Some internal line in the sand has been crossed, and all negotiation and reason fly out the window. And they stop paying rent. Which is a terrible idea.

We normally meet these tenants when they are astonished to find an eviction notice at their doors, citing them for unpaid rent. Frankly, eviction hearings are most often the result for tenants who find themselves in the midst of reactive rent withholding, and are shocked to discover that there is actually a way to withhold rent legally, or to reduce rent legally, during the time that repairs have gone un-fixed. If only they had known! 

But you have the opportunity, here in this very post, to learn all the things a person should know about rent withholding and abatement, so that you are as protected as you can be.

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Conversations About Homelessness

While we work on the calls that are still coming in from Moving Day, here are a couple interesting things that have popped up lately.

It seems like there are more public conversations going on lately about homelessness, and we're glad to hear those conversations happening. Many of our clients are facing homelessness as a result of housing problems, so knowing that people, beyond the politicians, are thinking about homelessness... that's a great thing. 

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This Was a Terrible Idea: When the Apartment Fairy Tale Becomes a Thriller

50% of Madison's population are tenants. A good number of those moved this past weekend, with their leases beginning or ending on August 15. But not all new tenants are prancing around their glorious new apartment, and soaking their sore muscles in glowingly lit clawfoot tubs. For some, the fairy tale that might have been true when they signed their lease is anything but, now. This one's for you guys.

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Toss it! What to do with all your moving day garbage

Moving day means that there are SO MANY WAYS to get rid of stuff around Madison, including things that you normally have to pay to get the city to dispose of (tv's, appliances). Here's a list of all the ways you can get all of it gone, as well as the other things (road closures, etc) you should be thinking about if you're moving this week.

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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.


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:
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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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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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