(Not) Evicted in Dane County

This post discusses a 2016 UW-Madison Urban and Regional Planning's report: Evicted in Dane County, Wisconsin, A Collaborative Examination of the Housing Landscape.   (See Below for Major Findings) Continue reading

Raising the Rent

Hey all you folks out there in internet land! My very favorite part of this blog is writing the answers to the common questions we're getting, and this right now is the season for lease renewals. And based on our emails, a lot of people are getting notices saying that their rent is going up. So, what's the deal with that? Are rent increases legal? Indeed they are. As long as they're done correctly. Continue reading

Exclusive Possession

Hey all! Today is an exciting day because we are gearing up for the Big Share on March 5th (tomorrow!). We've been talking to a lot of people about what home means to them, and it's got me thinking about the basics, about what a home means in tenant-landlord law.  One of the most basic building blocks in tenant-landlord law is exclusive possession. It is a concept that means that once a landlord offers a space for rent, a tenant has exclusive possession, and, within the rules of the lease, can do whatever they want within the home (as long as it's legal, of course). For many people, you love who you love in your home. You cook the food of your heart in your home. You raise your children at home. You feel safe to be yourself in your home. These deeply felt concepts are due to the tenant having exclusive possession.   Continue reading

Winter Issues

Hello, my lovelies.  As winter blasts its way into our lives, here at the TRC, our call logs fill up with questions about the cold, and the problems it causes. Here are answers to some of our more frequently asked questions. Continue reading

Subletting

Questions about subletting are some of the more consistent questions we get. In theory, it's a great concept, but in practice, it rarely seems to work out as planned for those involved.  Subletting is when the original renter (the "sublessor") remains responsible for a lease, and either lives with a subletter, or has a subletter take their place. The original renter remains legally responsible for all terms of the original rental agreement.  Subletting is often seen as a way to alleviate the landlord's concerns about breaking a lease (because instead of finding someone totally new to take over the lease, the subletter is simply added, and the original renter and the subletter both become legally responsible for upholding the terms of the lease). However, when it doesn't work out, it seems to fall apart rather spectacularly. In some cases, landlords offer subletting as a tenant's only option for getting out of their lease, which isn't true. Also, landlords often charge a "sublet fee" in order to allow subletting, but this usually isn't fully legal, either. Below, we have a guide for dealing with many of the subletting situations that arise. Continue reading

Fees and Liquidated Damages

This may come as no surprise to you, dear reader, but we are pretty nerdy here at the TRC. We do a lot of jobs here, but when we dive into tenant-landlord law, we go deep, because the details are crucial for the folks who come in to talk to us. This is one of those deep dives.  Generally speaking, when a landlord charges a fee in a lease, then that fee needs to reflect actual damages that a landlord experiences.* For example: a tenant gets locked out of his apartment, and he asks the maintenance person to let him in. The cost of the maintenance person swinging by and unlocking a door with a master key during work hours, is pretty low. Perhaps $15 of someone's time? It might be higher if the call came after work hours, and more if the whole lock needed to be re-keyed. In the end, the tenant could only be charged the actual costs that the landlord experiences in dealing with this issue - in this case, the cost of the maintenance person's time, the cost of the new key. But what happens if the lease holds a weird escalating fee clause - the first time a key is lost, it's $15 to replace. The second? $50. The third? $200. And so on. Sometimes, fees in a lease are written in as a penalty, which are not reflective of the amount of monetary damage that a landlord faces as a result of a problem, and are simply put in the lease as a way to deter behavior. And punitive fees, my friends, are not allowed. And in order to explain why, we get to jump into contract case law. Whee! Continue reading

Flooding

So, there's been a lot of water around Wisconsin lately. And, as they say, when it rains, it floods. (Or something like that). Flooding is technically a repair issue, so for more information on the overarching laws about repairs, see our repairs page for Wisconsin, or for Madison & Fitchburg. We've been flooded with calls about this issue (pun totally intended), and we have answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.  Continue reading

Emotional Support Animals

Hi Everyone! We are just done with Seminar Season (TM), which is the time of year when our staff head out into the wilds of Wisconsin to talk to folks about tenant-landlord law. During this season, we get more up close and personal with the kinds of concerns that landlords bring to us (many of our seminar participants are landlords, as well as service providers, government folk, and attorneys). I have to say, I love them. It gives us a chance to stay in tune with what's happening around Wisconsin, and we feel like we can really make a difference - we work hard to give folks the best information possible. One of the Very Big Questions that people, especially landlords, have is about Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). There are new laws that define ESAs in Wisconsin, and establish rules about what landlords have to do, and what they don't have to do (2017 Wis. Act 317, and you can find the summary here).  But there's a problem: We see some really big clashes between the new Wisconsin laws and federal Fair Housing laws. Generally, states can't take away rights given by federal mandates. And so, it looks like some of these new laws might be giant traps for landlords to fall into - even if landlords carefully follow the new Wisconsin laws about ESAs, they might find themselves in violation of federal law, which is a huge, expensive, problem. Continue reading

Section 8: Terminations & Disputes

Best Beloveds. We are on the third, and last, part of my Section 8 series (exposé? dissertation? riveting journalistic foray? you decide).  Even though the process for learning all this has been engaging and eye-opening for me, I understand that reading it may not have the page-turning quality that, say, a Harry Potter book might. But, despite the law references and dry subject matter, there's a heart in here. And, at the risk of becoming sentimental, that's exactly why we do this.  Today, I'm diving into terminations from the Section 8 program - when someone receives a notice that their Section 8 voucher will be taken away from them. Inside every Section 8 termination is someone who is terrified that they are going lose their housing. Most likely (because they are low-enough-income to qualify for Section 8 in the first place), they are about to become homeless, if they are not able to successfully dispute the termination.  So, for every quibbly sentence about definitions of criminal activity, and references to what, exactly, is good cause, there's someone whose stable housing lies in that balance; who may need an advocate to tell them: "I've read about this! It's worth fighting! Try to overturn this!" Many, many clients get their termination notices and think, "this is it. It's already decided. It's over." BUT IT'S NOT OVER. There's so many more questions to be asked, so many more possible outcomes. I hope that when you read this, you see as I do, all the ways that we can work together to protect those who hold these vouchers, the tired, the poor, the wretched refuse, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  Continue reading

Section 8: Info for Tenants

Hello, fair readers.  As promised, I'm back with information for tenants about Section 8 vouchers (or housing choice vouchers, to use the proper terminology). I'm thrilled to be writing about this, because we get so so so many questions about how to get these vouchers, how to use these vouchers, how to find housing with these vouchers and how to deal with problems while holding a voucher.  As a recap, Section 8 vouchers allow a low-income person or family to pay 30ish% of their income as rent to a landlord, and a housing authority pays the rest with funding from HUD. It's amazing when it works, devastating when it doesn't, and all the in-betweens tend to be pretty confusing.  I was lucky enough to get some guidance from the City of Madison's Marketing Outreach Coordinator, and an attorney at Legal Action, and I'd love to share the fruits of my labors. This week's post is for tenants (last week's post was for landlords!). Next week, I'll address Section 8 terminations. Continue reading