Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


News Explainer

With the recent proposal of a new ordinance to the Landlord and Tenant Issues Subcommittee that would increase fines and require landlords to inform their tenants of their right to photographic evidence of damage, many students may find they do not know exactly what their rights are.

What are your rights?

According to Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center, there are a few basic rights every tenant should know when renting an apartment.


First, a landlord does not have the right to enter your apartment without notifying you in advance. When it comes to showing the apartment to possible new leasers, landlords are not allowed to do so until the date specified on the lease or, if there is no date on the lease, until a quarter of the lease is through.

Also, a landlord is supposed to return the previous year’s security deposit within 21 days of you moving out of your apartment. If they take money from the deposit, they are required to give an itemized list of charges applied and provide pictures as well.

One of the biggest things Konkel said landlords try to charge tenants for is carpet cleaning, which should not be done as long as it is normal wear and tear.

Finally, if you requested any repairs when you moved in, they should have all been taken care of by moveout. It is a tenant’s right to complain to the building inspector should they have any complaints about their landlord due to repairs, safety issues or anything else included in their lease, Konkel said.

“A lot of tenants don’t know they can complain to other people besides their landlord, so most students just live with it instead of getting it fixed,” Konkel said.

Konkel added the biggest problem about tenants’ rights is education, as most new renters are unaware of what their landlord can and cannot do.

“The more we can get the information … out into the public, the better,” Konkel said. “They should know they can call the Student Tenant Union and Tenant Resource Center and we can help them.”

What are some recent changes being made?

Resources centers are not the only ones working to help new tenants. Madison city officials have also been working on ordinances in order to make rights more clear and avoid conflict between a landlord and the renter.

Last year, former alder Eli Judge authored and helped push through the City Council a photo ordinance that mandates landlords take photos of all damage sustained in an apartment for which they deduct money from the tenant’s security deposit.

“Not only have I heard good anecdotes of people who have used it, it’s also been a deterrent for property owners to abuse (security deposits),” said Ald. Bryon Eagon, District 8, Judge’s successor. “Property owners for the most part have been happy too because they now have photo proof. It’s a win-win for both sides.”

Now, Eagon is looking to follow in Judge’s footsteps with the authoring of the ordinance currently before Madison City Council Housing Committee, which requires landlords to inform their tenants of the photo ordinance as well as increase fines imposed upon landlords and tenants alike.

“It’s something Eli Judge tried to do at the end of this term and handed off to me…. It requires landlords to put on their check-in and check-out forms that [residents] have the right and ability to request photo proof for deductions from security deposit,” Eagon said. “It also encourages people to take photos of their own apartment when they move in.”

Ald. Shiva Bidar-Siellaf, District 5, is a co-sponsor of Eagon’s bill.

Since her district containing many University of Wisconsin students, she hopes this ordinance will protect new renters from crooked landlords.

“For most students renting a house or an apartment is their first experience with a legally binding contractual agreement and thus they can be an easy target for unethical landlords… Thus, we need to continue putting in place reasonable protections for tenants and, as importantly, make sure that tenants and landlords are well-informed about rights and requirements,” Bidar-Siellaf said.

She added while these changes and those made by Judge are important steps toward protecting tenants’ rights, the city council needs to continue raising awareness while also measuring the effectiveness of the ordinance changes.

What are the objections from landlords?

While most of the ordinances are aimed at keeping landlords at bay, Madison Property Management Manager of Operations Nicky Snarski said she thinks the ordinances were a good thing to put in place.

With regards to the photo ordinance, she said she thinks it is a wonderful idea.

“It’s a lot of work, but overall it benefits both parties,” Snarski said. “If there is a discrepancy … it’s easy for us to say, ‘Here’s a picture.’ Instead of their word against ours, there are actual photos we can go over together.”

She added MPM already gives its tenants a pamphlet at their lease signing that contains all their rights and responsibilities, so the ordinance change to mandate landlords tell their tenants about the photo ordinance would not be far from a change of their normal practices.

Overall, she is happy with the ordinances and sees them as a step in the right director toward protecting not only tenants, but landlords as well.

The News Explainer column will run every Wednesday, answering the questions and concerns of the student body. If you have any questions regarding a story that you would like to see further explained in this column, e-mail [email protected].

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