How to Ask for What You Want

I want to tackle a basic communication issue: how to ask for what you want. Interactions between tenants and landlords (and landlords and tenants, and co-tenants, and co-signers) are regulated by some laws, but the bulk of those communications are not about laws. Rather, they are a simple exchange between people, and sometimes they go well, and sometimes they go badly.  Today, I'm giving you some directions to help it go well. Continue reading

Weatherproof Your Rental

We've been hearing rumors that this winter will be another tough one, and that Wisconsin's fund for folks needing help paying for heat is lower this year than last.  While you have a couple days off (if you are one of the lucky ones with days off), you might spend a little while doing some of these easy and inexpensive steps to lower your energy bill for this winter.    Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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??" Continue reading


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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading