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Things Can Be Hard

During this season of celebration, where people gather with family to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's, among other, more personal celebrations, it can stand in stark contrast to the stories of difficulty that flood us here at the TRC. Of course, this is true year round, but always seems especially difficult as the days are short, the temperatures drop, and our clients come in wondering how to stave off eviction. Meanwhile, folks outside cheerfully rush past our glass windows, laughing with their bundles of presents.

We have a print in our office, by the talented Amos Kennedy, which says, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. - Ian MacLaren." We remember it daily, as we talk to our clients. I think one of the main benefits of this job, is that we see every story, told again and again, from many angles, each time new.

Did you know that tenants can be evicted even during the winter months? Even if they have disabilities or children? It's true. No law protects tenants from that, though there is a legal process to dictate the terms. Also, laws don't protect landlords from foreclosure, though there is a process for that, too. 

Today, I'm urging compassion. And I'm telling some stories.

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How to Count (Days in a Notice)

Counting the number of days in a notice may seem obvious - counting is counting, right? How could you, dear reader, have gotten to this point in life, reading this sentence, without knowing the basics of counting? And yet, in tenant-landlord law, it is not so simple. When counting the days in a notice, there are Rules, rules that don't make sense in the basic world of one plus one. 

Today, we're going to tackle the Rules.

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Snow and Ice

A couple years ago, a woman came in to speak with a housing counselor. She had slipped on the ice at her rental housing (it was one of those winters where the ice never really went away), and she kept getting progressively more injured throughout the winter, because of slipping and falling on the walks outside the house. Injury meant that she couldn't go to work, not going to work meant that she couldn't pay her rent. Pardon the pun, but the whole situation snowballed. 

Winter weather can be a really big problem. And it's not always clear whose responsibility it is to clear those sidewalks, and plow those driveways.

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Lease Renewal Already?

There are a whole darn bunch of emails in our inbox right now that all ask something like this question: "I have a year-long lease that started this fall. I just moved in (some of my stuff is still in boxes!), but my landlord is already asking me to renew for the following year! Is that legal??"

 

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Bedbugs

I confess, bedbugs give me the heebie-jeebies. When folks come in, talking about how they have an infestation, I feel like I need to do a superstitious cleansing, a dance, a prayer, to make sure they don't end up hanging out around here. (And so far they haven't. Knock on wood. Feel free to come visit.)

When 2013 Wisconsin Act 76 was passed, it had some language in the law to do with repairs, which has led many people to confusion, especially on the subject of bedbugs. Today, I'm hoping to explain what bedbugs are, best practices in elimination, and whose responsibility it is to take that step.

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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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