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Tips for Cosigners

We got an email in our inbox recently with a rather desperate question from a mother of a college student, who had been asked to co-sign a lease for her child. It was a lease with several students, and the mom was confused that individual portions of rent didn't appear to be identified in the lease, nor was there anything specific about her obligations as a cosigner. 

Cosigning a lease is tricky business. The terms are often unclear, and many cosigners go into a contract assuming that they will only be held responsible for their ward's portion of the contract, but that's NOT TRUE. In this post, I hope to clarify what the expectations are for cosigners, and some tips to avoid the pitfalls.

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Domestic Abuse: For Landlords

We get a lot of opportunity to talk to landlords here at the TRC because of a couple reasons: 1. We serve them (did you know that landlords can come to us with their questions, too? It's true. And many do), and 2. We give seminars around the state twice per year (they're fun, you should come).

When landlords have questions for us about abuse in their rental, usually, they are frustrated. And it's not because the landlords are bad people - it's because they feel like they can't do anything about something awful that is happening inside walls they own. Walls that they own that are getting damaged because of the awful thing that is happening. Landlords have so many reasons to want abuse to stop, but that power doesn't sit with them - it sits with the tenants. And that's hard to live with.  Today, I'm talking about what a landlord can, can't, and must do in these situations where they know abuse is occurring for their tenants.

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Housing Help Desk Funding Cuts

Hi, Everyone. I'm writing with a heavy heart today. The TRC's office out at the Dane County Job Center, the Housing Help Desk, is in danger of being cut. They made a change to the way that our organization is funded (which would make a long gap in funding while the proposal is implemented), proposed at a meeting with very little notice, aren't doing it to any similar organizations, and making it so that the public cannot testify further about this change. Kind of like maybe they didn't want to hear what we might have to say, don't you think?

My request: Please click on this link and sign this petition. They will still accept petitions, emails and phone calls, but no in-person testimony. 

Why: The Housing Help Desk (HHD) is an office that is staffed by impressively compassionate and committed TRC staff members (not me, though I used to work out there). The HHD is the place through which almost all county-wide requests for emergency housing go, and we direct clients (mostly low-income and desperate) to subsidized housing, to affordable housing, to shelters, and try and help them resolve their impressively high barriers to housing. The HHD supports the work of social workers and helping professionals county-wide, who need to figure out where their clients might live sustainably, and meanwhile, where they might spend the night. We serve approximately 1 client every 6 minutes that we have a staff member present in the office, to unravel and educate around significant barriers to housing, such as credit history, abuse, disabilities, and lack of income.

I really believe that the TRC's work at the Housing Help Desk is significant, and I ask your support in continuing its meager funding. The petition is here, and you can always contact us if you have more questions.

PS. Want to help remove the TRC's dependence on insecure funding? Donate here to the TRC!

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Domestic Abuse: For Tenants

Recently, a client came in who had moved to Madison to escape an abuser, only to find out that her name was on an eviction case (with the abuser, no less) back in the apartment she had left behind. We worked out a plan and I'm happy to say I think she got what she needed. Here at the TRC, we see so many people having dealt with so many kinds of violence, and it's one of the Really Hard Things. Abuse is one of the main causes of homelessness among women and children, so it's something a lot of our clients have dealt with in the past or are currently dealing with.

As the person who gets the privilege of writing many of these blog posts for the TRC, it is one of my great joys to give voice to the voiceless, to highlight a perspective that maybe some of you out there, either: 1. Feel, and find it difficult to articulate, or 2. Haven't thought of. Being abused is the ultimate experience of voicelessness, of unempowerment, and there are Wisconsin laws that help protect survivors of that abuse. That's what I'm writing about today, the laws that might be able to give those survivors out there enough leverage to get themselves safe.

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Winter No-Go Clause

As we get closer to winter (notyetnotyetnotyet), we're starting to get questions from folks who are looking ahead and realizing that they need to move out of their apartment over the coming winter. We see a number of tenants who have month-to-month leases, where those leases say that the leases can't be ended during the winter months (i.e., October - March), and they come to us feeling pretty confused. "I thought I had a month-to-month lease," they say, "but here's half the year when I'm not allowed to move out."

So, to the tenants out there who are wondering about this: It's a confusing issue, that's for sure. And it's not entirely clear whether or not these clauses are legal. 

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Broken Leases: Mitigation for Landlords

In the land of the small-time landlord, a broken lease is a difficult thing. The small-time guys are the ones who rent out a room in their home (so they can afford a mortgage); the ones who work full-time jobs besides landlording, so they can build equity for retirement; the ones who accidentally become managers of a deceased parents' home they aren't able to sell. This post is for the small time landlords out there.

There's a cost to being a landlord, right? You know that you need to do the repairs to make the place livable, and that's expensive. Taking the time out of your regular job to show the place to prospective tenants, that's expensive, too. Sometimes it turns out that a tenant is unable to pay rent, and that's a process, to figure out if there's a way forward or not. But what about those times when a tenant, after a finally-successful-but-wearying application process, moves in and realizes that for some reason, this isn't going to work? What about when the tenant breaks their lease?

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Party Time!

Recently, we had a staff meeting here at the TRC. And, weirdly (based on my experience at other offices), we laughed much of the way through. We actually laugh a lot here. Not because the stuff we handle is trivial (it's not! So many clients see their housing problems compounding as laws get more complicated, financial help becomes more scarce, and their poverty rates increase). 

I think it's because we get to spend time with some pretty incredible folks. We maintain 3 separate offices, field tens of thousands of calls per year, answer so many questions. We get to hear people's most personal stories, and we carry their pain forward, finding meaning in what we do and, hopefully, making things a little better. We are surrounded by astounding volunteers (thousands of hours of dedicated time each year). 

So, we're making the obvious choice: We're throwing a party. And you're invited. 

Party info is here! The basics are: Friday, October 24, from 5-7pm at the Brink Lounge, in Madison. We are going to have an amazing silent auction focused on pieces of art, so you can shop for your family's holiday presents while also helping us continue our mission to find housing justice in Wisconsin.

If you can't make it, please donate! Everyone is welcome to come celebrate (regardless of ability to donate).

Also: stay tuned! We'll be posting photos of some of the amazing silent auctions on our Facebook page.

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Application Fees & Earnest Money

I'm lucky enough to be able to help teach the seminars, along with Brenda and Anders, and it's really a neat thing to do. We get to talk with people around the state, hear the questions, the concerns, the funny parts and the difficulties. It's nice. You should come.

But one of the difficulties of the seminars (and our jobs more generally here) is explaining a concept where the laws don't match the common practice. Brenda and I regularly rock-paper-scissors (it's a verb!) over who has to teach our section on Earnest Money, which isn't all that complicated, but infrequently followed in common practice. So, I'd like to explain how application fees work (where does all that money go when you put in an application?), what folks are supposed to do, and what they aren't, but keep in mind, everyone understands this differently, even though the law is on your side if you do it right. And you get a gold star. 

You've been warned.

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Security Deposit Roundup

I've written a lot about security deposits lately, and since we're still getting questions ('tis the season, after all, for rancorous debate about what, exactly, required cleaning), I think this is the moment to put All Security Deposit Links in One Place. And this is the One Place.

Click through for all possible linky-links that we have on Security Deposits. 

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Non-Standard Rental Provisions

There's a shouty bit in tenant-landlord the law, did you know? In ATCP 134, and Wis. Stat. 704.28, the laws talk about NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISIONS, which are a tail on the end of the lease, where the landlord has to explain about the rights that they are taking away from the tenant. 

It sounds like a situation where people should be all up in arms (they did WHAT?? NOW I'M SHOUTY, TOO), but most Wisconsin leases feature NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISIONS. The main things they are used for is: taking extra things out of security deposits, and saying that landlords can come into an apartment without giving all the notice they're supposed to. Below is an explanation to help you read them more carefully.

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