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

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.  Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Broken Leases: Mitigation for Landlords

In the land of the small-time landlord, a broken lease is a difficult thing. The small-time guys are the ones who rent out a room in their home (so they can afford a mortgage); the ones who work full-time jobs besides landlording, so they can build equity for retirement; the ones who accidentally become managers of a deceased parents' home they aren't able to sell. This post is for the small time landlords out there. There's a cost to being a landlord, right? You know that you need to do the repairs to make the place livable, and that's expensive. Taking the time out of your regular job to show the place to prospective tenants, that's expensive, too. Sometimes it turns out that a tenant is unable to pay rent, and that's a process, to figure out if there's a way forward or not. But what about those times when a tenant, after a finally-successful-but-wearying application process, moves in and realizes that for some reason, this isn't going to work? What about when the tenant breaks their lease? Continue reading

Application Fees & Earnest Money

I'm lucky enough to be able to help teach the seminars, along with Brenda and Anders, and it's really a neat thing to do. We get to talk with people around the state, hear the questions, the concerns, the funny parts and the difficulties. It's nice. You should come. But one of the difficulties of the seminars (and our jobs more generally here) is explaining a concept where the laws don't match the common practice. Brenda and I regularly rock-paper-scissors (it's a verb!) over who has to teach our section on Earnest Money, which isn't all that complicated, but infrequently followed in common practice. So, I'd like to explain how application fees work (where does all that money go when you put in an application?), what folks are supposed to do, and what they aren't, but keep in mind, everyone understands this differently, even though the law is on your side if you do it right. And you get a gold star.  You've been warned. Continue reading

Security Deposit Roundup

I've written a lot about security deposits lately, and since we're still getting questions ('tis the season, after all, for rancorous debate about what, exactly, required cleaning), I think this is the moment to put All Security Deposit Links in One Place. And this is the One Place. Click through for all possible linky-links that we have on Security Deposits.  Continue reading

Non-Standard Rental Provisions

There's a shouty bit in tenant-landlord the law, did you know? In ATCP 134, and Wis. Stat. 704.28, the laws talk about NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISIONS, which are a tail on the end of the lease, where the landlord has to explain about the rights that they are taking away from the tenant.  It sounds like a situation where people should be all up in arms (they did WHAT?? NOW I'M SHOUTY, TOO), but most Wisconsin leases feature NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISIONS. The main things they are used for is: taking extra things out of security deposits, and saying that landlords can come into an apartment without giving all the notice they're supposed to. Below is an explanation to help you read them more carefully. Continue reading

Is Your Heat On?

We're hearing from a lot of tenants right now - not everyone has their heat on yet. And it's chilly out there. Summer seems to be ending with a frosty whimper, and for the tenants living in units where the heat hasn't yet been turned on... It's like the ice bucket challenge, without the ice, the bucket, and the positive social impact. Just tenants in their apartments, feeling cold. So, what's to be done? Lots. Apartment temperatures are not supposed to sink below 67 degrees, whether or not it's still technically summer.  Steps for tenants and landlords, below. Continue reading

Contract Law Issues

A while back, a tenant brought in a lease saying that if they had a keg party in their home, that they would be fined $500. Now, it makes sense to us why a landlord might want to discourage keggers, (there are actually more effective ways to do so), but this taps into a complex contract law issue: this kind of charge isn't really legal. It's called liquidated damages. We are in a season where folks are finding unexpected things on their list of security deposit deductions, but this sort of thing can happen year-round. Below, we dive into 2 hand-slappy no-nos, where landlords aren't allowed to charge in the way they think they might be able to. For the folks who read on, tenants will learn to read into parts of your lease that aren't really legal, and landlords will learn more effective ways to get what is reasonable. Continue reading

Security Deposit Myths Debunked

Around Wisconsin, many leases end during the warm months - the months in which it's not too likely to be snowing, icing or raining.  Which means that autumn, along with the beginning of school, is security deposit season. For the thousands of Madison renters who left their previous rental on August 15, security deposits (or the explanation of how they have been used) are supposed to get to former tenants before September 6. For many tenants, receipt of this letter is an unhappy surprise.  For the tenants out there, we are debunking the myths that many people have about security deposits - click through to make sure you are as well informed as possible. Continue reading