Joint and Several Liability

When a tenant walks in and says that they're having trouble with someone else named on their lease (a roommate, an ex, an ex-friend), most of the housing counselors here at the TRC will hold their breath, because they're about to tell that person something they won't want to hear. Me, I like a good story, and most of these have great stories, but either way, it doesn't usually end up so that we get to tell the client good news.  And the reason for that bad news is joint and several liability.  Joint and several liability is a confusingly legal term that means that all the tenants on a lease (on one lease, not separate leases) and each of the tenants on the lease, can be held responsible for all money damages. For example:  Housemate A punches a hole in the wall and then leaves for an overseas job. Housemate B, with the major that didn't translate into international job opportunities, stays put. Housemate B is easier to find when the bill for the damages come due. Housemate B ends up on the hook.  Continue reading

CCAP: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Do you know about CCAP?  If you're in this business of rental housing (as a tenant or landlord), I bet you do.  It's this magical land on the interwebs where you can find court records (the public parts) for people who have records in Wisconsin. (Click here for your digital portal into wonderland**). There's a lot that people don't understand about CCAP, though. CCAP has limitations, and it's important to be aware of them in order to use it most effectively, both in order to protect yourself, and in order to understand the people whom you may be screening. Continue reading

Dealing With Unwelcome Guests

Here at the TRC, we see a lot of folks who are down on their luck. Nationwide, long-term unemployed (those who have been searching for work for longer than 6 months) account for more than 1/3 of the folks who are unemployed, which means that some folks just can't catch a break.  We see tenants and landlords in this position, struggling to get their head, finally, above water.  Sometimes, those folks have kind friends or family who are willing to help them; people who let those down-on-their-luck folks stay for a while till they start to make things work on their own.  Those folks are wonderful people, but not all charitable residencies end on friendly terms. Today, I'm writing about how to get that long-term person, that used-to-be-friend, out of the house.  Continue reading

Landlord References

An older couple came into our office today. They'd left a home they owned in Chicago, because the neighborhood was getting rough.  They wanted to be near their grandchildren, in Madison. So, they moved to Wisconsin, and rented an apartment in Madison.  But they're older, and their 2nd floor unit made it hard to get in and out.  The trouble begins when they try to find another place to live.  Read on for tips for both tenants and landlords! Continue reading

Apartment Searches in the Spring

Throughout my life, I've lived in a number of different places, but Wisconsin is the one where spring has the most joyful arrival.  This year, after a brutal winter, spring has erupted! I see my neighbors outside, with smiles, faces turned up towards the sunshine.  Kids shout gleefully in the neighborhoods through which I drive. Trees drop their buds and sprout eye-searingly-green leaves.  It's a delight.   Spring is one of the most common times to look for apartments, though, and it can be tough to remember the steps to take to make sure that you'll be comfortable in the winter to come.  Some tips for apartment searching in the spring: Continue reading

Tips for Landlords

One of the things that we're lucky to do here at the TRC is give seminars around Wisconsin on tenant-landlord law.  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: Continue reading

How to Write a Letter

A tenant recently contacted us, saying that every time she asked her landlord to do a repair on the property that she was renting, the landlord raised the rent. All of those raises in rent were theoretically legal, since it was around the time for the lease to be renewed, but it seemed in direct consequence of her asking for repairs to be done. If you look at the laws on retaliation, they say that if a tenant makes "a good faith complaint about a defect in the premises," then a landlord "may not increase rent" (see Wis. Stat. 704.45 for the full set of rules). However, in order to show the timeline, and that the acts of the landlord would not have occurred "but for" the acts of the tenant, that tenant will be in the best possible position if she has her repair complaints in writing. (Then, if she's not able to work it out with the landlord, she can make a complaint to DATCP or sue in small claims court). In this example, and in so many others, we see that one of the most important tools in tenant-landlord disputes is writing, on a piece of paper.  And even though it's so important, it can be wildly overwhelming for tenants and landlords to put together a letter that makes sense to the other party, much less gets results.   Writing a letter is a process, and it doesn't have to be a stressful one!  Here are some steps to take: Continue reading

Springtime Heat Concerns

Can we say it? Is it spring yet? Or do we still have to whisper so spring doesn't get shy because we're all talking about it?  With spring seemingly on its way, many of us across Wisconsin are experiencing the confusing weather changes. It's warm! It's snowing! It's hot! It's raining!  Sometimes within the span of the day.   Among us, there are optimists ("it's fine to turn off the heat! It's already a hundred degrees warmer than it was this winter!"), and there are pessimists ("you call this warm?? I'm from Texas!"), but there are still tenant-landlord laws that come into play when we're discussing when it's okay to turn off the heat. Continue reading

Assert the Rights You Have

A couple of years ago, a tenant came into our office in the spring.  She and her husband were young professionals with a stellar rental history, renting a small single family home.  They'd just moved into the house that winter, and the tenant was eager to plant flowers along the driveway they'd so recently been shoveling. Their idyllic flower-and-bird-twittering spring came to a screeching halt, though, when they received an eviction notice for the kind of flowers they had chosen. Continue reading

Negotiation 101

A tenant called recently, deeply and powerfully upset.  The landlord had put a camera outside her house, and she was convinced that it was filming her.  As it turns out, the landlord was filming the courtyard because there had been a small crime there recently, and he wanted to do his best to keep his residents safe.  The tenant could have avoided months of turmoil if she had felt like she had good tools for knowing how to communicate with her landlord.  In fact, so many of the tenant-landlord problems that we see could be dealt with very effectively if the tenants and landlords could just communicate better with one another.  Of course, you have options if the talking isn't successful (small claims court, and complaints to DATCP), but sometimes it’s a good idea to give it a try.  But how? Continue reading