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A Small Claims Strategy

I have theories about why summer is our busy season here at the TRC: temperatures go up and so do tempers. Many leases end here in Madison in August, leading to that sense of I-only-have-one-month-left-and-it's-unbearable.

But whether or not I'm right, it seems like the folks we talk to are a little feistier than the rest of the year, and we have more conversations about what to expect if you end up in Small Claims Court. Since that's the last resort for many tenant-landlord disputes, and since more cases look like they're headed there. 

Today, I'm talking about a strategy (a way of structuring your trial) that some folks use if they're headed to Small Claims Court - who knows, it might work for you!

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One of our favorite attorneys came in recently, and talked the housing counselors through some murky legal issues. One of the topics that blew my mind was: folks in small claims court can ask the other party (as they sue/are being sued/are one of the people in a small claims case) for the evidence that they are using. Since small claims court is the place of last resort for many tenant-landlord issues, finding out there is a way to make that process be clearer/better/more in line with the facts is kind of amazing.

Now, I'm not a lawyer, and I had secretly kind of believed that "discovery," the procedures used to obtain disclosure of evidence before trial, were something that were: A. Only used on tv, B. Especially only for criminal trials and C. Something only lawyers can do. Turns out none of those things are true! Discovery is the tool of the masses! Here's how to do it.

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A Few Best Practices for Landlords

We get a bunch of phone calls here at the TRC. Right now, we've had some staffing changes, and we're a little bit behind (side note: do you want to volunteer for the TRC???). However, most of those piled-up calls are not folks who want to pick up the phone and connect about how great their tenant-landlord relationship is. It's tenants, landlords, roommates, friends, all struggling with a problem, and needing some information in order to resolve it. We love helping people, and we're glad to do this work.

But it's a nice change to go out into Wisconsin, teach the seminars, and help landlords and service providers who are trying to improve their skills. While they may have complex examples in mind, usually these folks that sit in our seminars do not have emergency-level concerns; rather, they are thoughtfully attempting to improve their skills. I love to see that. And I learn a lot from them.

Here are some tips from the landlords at this set of spring seminars.

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Write That Conversation Down

Generally, the best piece of advice that we give to tenants and landlords is to get things in writing. Getting things in writing is the best way to prove that something really happened, and that it happened the way that you remember. It's the way to have that all-important paper trail.

But what about the moments where the other person doesn't want to sign an agreement, where they are not interested in negotiating the nitty-gritty? Where the most that you can get is a quick verbal conversation?

Then you should send this letter. Or something like it - keep it polite, write down the details, and make sure you write down that last line (that you'll assume this is correct unless you hear otherwise in writing). 

Short and sweet today, folks.

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Parking Part IV

So, déjà vu, guys. The Matrix has been altered. You know how 2013 Wisconsin Act 76 gave landlords new rights to tow vehicles on the rental property? We had Parking I, Parking II, and Parking III on this here blog to explain those changes, especially as the Dept. of Transportation guidelines lagged behind? 

A new round of emergency DOT rules went out on April 30, so here we are, looking at short-term changes, once again, to vehicle towing rules at rental properties. I don't want to give away the ending, but since this is another round of emergency regulations, it looks like we'll be back here again before this is done with.

(To be clear, we're aware that not everyone is dying to know about parking rules, but we've heard juuuuust enough stories of tenants waking up one morning to find their car, which they need to get to work, is gone without a trace, that we think this is the stuff that folks really need to know. Check out the tips at the bottom.)

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CDA Accepting Pre-Applications Starting May 19

The City of Madison's CDA (the city Housing Authority) is opening its waiting list for several public housing complexes starting on May 19

What this means: Folks who might qualify can file an online "pre-application," which would allow them to wait on the waiting list until there is an opening at the housing location. CDA will allow people to file until "the CDA has sufficient applications to fill vacancies in the next 12-24 months." This means that the pre-application might only be available for a short time, so if you want to apply, you should do it as soon as you can.

Which locations will open their waiting list?
- Public Housing family-sized units (2, 3, 4 and 5 bedroom units)
- Public Housing 1-bedroom units (disabled or 62 years of age or older)
- Public Housing 1- or 2-bedroom wheelchair-accessible units
- Parkside 1-bedroom units (disabled or 62 years of age or older)
- Parkside 1- or 2-bedroom wheelchair-accessible units
- Karabis 1-, 2- or 3-bedroom wheelchair-accessible units

How do I submit a pre-application? By clicking here: Make sure you use this new form, not old ones!

What about Section 8? This waiting list is not for a Section 8 voucher. This waiting list is for public housing apartments of various sizes. If you're confused about the difference, click here for an explanation.

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Landlord's Perspective: Unwanted Guests

Each Spring and Fall, I get the privilege of helping to teach seminars across the state. The crowd of participants is usually a smattering of landlords, social workers and attorneys. I'm always nervous to start - they ask really good/tough questions! But I'm so glad that people come, participate, and take the knowledge we have to spread out into their communities.

I always come back with a new appreciation for the difficulty of being a landlord. We serve landlords year-round (our daily clients are tenants AND landlords!), but walking a newbie through nuances of an the course of an entire tenant-landlord relationship really demonstrates the level of skill it requires to be a careful landlord. Good landlords are hard to come by, and we meet a lot of great landlords at our seminars.

So, today I'm taking on the landlord's perspective in a situation where a tenant has a long-term guest.

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Fires: The Aftermath

Every once in a while, a group of slightly sooty tenants will walk in and explain, dispiritedly, that they are the ones who lived in that house that just burned down. Usually, thankfully, they tell us that everyone who lived there is okay, but most of the belongings are ruined. And they want to know, what can they do? What's the first step? How do they start to unravel the mess that is their home?

Here are some ideas.

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Non-Renewal Reasons?

When tenants come in to talk to us about non-renewals, it seems like one of those things, where everyone knows non-renewals are a possibility, where they are a recognized fact of rental life... but when it happens to you, when you get non-renewed, it feels kind of like a car wreck. Unexpected. Damaging. 

I've written before about the amount of notice required for choosing not to renew a lease, but here we talk about the why. What reasons can a landlord use to choose not to renew a lease? What does it look like for those tenants? How can you respond if it happens to you?

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Spring Roundup

The kids and I drove around Wisconsin in a Spring Break Road Trip a couple weeks ago, and it's beautiful out there! We saw sandhill cranes all over, a fox skirting the highway, and cranberry bogs getting their season started. Springtime has pizzazz here in Wisconsin, where seasons always feel full force, whether cold or warm.

We're getting a full load of springtime complaints, too, from around the state, and a lot of the concerns that clients are voicing to us are things that we've written about before, in other parts of this website. So, here's a roundup for tenants for lots of the common Spring issues.

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