One of the things that I'm lucky to do here at the TRC is give seminars around Wisconsin on tenant-landlord law. I'm not the only one - we always go in pairs - and so, if you were to sign up for one of our seminars, you'd probably see me or Anders or Brenda. When we go out into the urban and rural areas of Wisconsin, we get to meet the neatest people!
Right now, it's hard to be a well-informed landlord in Wisconsin. The laws are complicated, and they're not getting easier. But, while we're talking about how tricky it is, it's always really lovely to hear tips from landlords themselves who are dealing with the complicated rental environment with grace. Here are a couple tips that I heard from landlords (for other landlords), from our most recent seminar in Tomah:
1. Every time a tenant signs a lease, don't rush through it. Take a while to go over the specific terms (how are they going to follow your rules if they aren't clear about what exactly they are?), show them where the garbage and recycling live, show them their mail slot and fill in the check in form together.
2. If you have a bunch of units, it can get tricky to give out the EPA's "Protect Your Family from Lead Paint" for every unit. One landlord told us about how she puts the pamphlet into a sheet protector and leaves one per unit in an entryway closet. She references it on her lease, and points it out to incoming tenants.
3. A landlord that we talked to never will accept a tenant sight-unseen, without first making sure they get the unit looked at in person by someone who represents them. She asks for a statement from the far-away prospective tenant, naming the person who can accept the unit for them, and then that person comes and signs off on it. Otherwise, there are always unwelcome surprises, even for the nicest unit.
4. Newsletters can be a great way to communicate seasonal information. For example, one landlord does inspections every spring to check for ants and mold, and identifies which unit they'll be inspecting at what times on the newsletter. It can be helpful to remind tenants yearly about checking their smoke alarms and notifying the landlord if they're not working. In the fall, if tenants are closing their windows but not yet turning on the heat, mold can develop, so it's helpful to remind folks about the best way to care for the units that are a landlord's livelihood, though of course, regular maintenance is the landlord's responsibility.
5. Know the laws! The landlords who seem to love their jobs make sure they understand Wisconsin's tenant-landlord laws well. That way, nothing catches them too off-guard.
6. What we hear, time and again, from landlords that take their job seriously, is that they treat their tenants with respect. If there's a problem, they deal with it immediately, and clearly. They expect rent on time (and take action if it's not), but also make repairs expediently (or immediately make a clear explanation of how the repairs will be done). They tell us that this is the way to hold onto tenants who are invested in where they live.