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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Tenant’s rights, responsibilities, resources guide

Resources available to tenants, landlords in Madison
Celia Hiorns

The City of Madison is currently experiencing low vacancy rates and increased demand — both from University of Wisconsin students and non-students.

UW professor of urban planning Kurt Paulsen said vacancy rates in Madison have been below 2% as of January 2022, and described the housing market under these rates as giving landlords the “upper hand.”

Under these conditions, vice president of the Campus Area Neighborhood Association Cleo Le said it is especially important to understand the rights of tenants in the state of Wisconsin.


Le said Madison’s Tenant Resource Center answers a variety of questions first-time tenants may  have. Additionally, the Center offers emergency rent assistance, provides example letters to send to landlords regarding lease violations and has a team to answer any tenant-related questions, according to the website.

“For a lot of people, this is the first time they’re living by themselves and even trying to find a place for them to live, so search up the Madison Tenant Resource Center,” Le said. “They have everything you need to know about what your landlords are responsible for and their duties to you.”

Another resource available specifically for students who live in on-campus housing is the Dean of Students Office. They can help find resources and potentially give grants and extra support to help students, Le said.

Both tenants and landlords have responsibilities they are required to follow, Le said.

Tenants are required to provide prior tenancy information as requested, credit record and ability to pay on time, allow access to the unit for repairs and for the unit to be shown, and give adequate notice of the intent to move, specified by either the lease or State law, according to the City of Madison.

Leases are standardized and regulated by the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Production, so most landlords all use the same lease, according to Paulsen.

For UW students, the search and setup for housing may look different than normally. When students are looking for a place to live, apartments and houses will cater their leases to be more student friendly.

Typically, a lease encapsulates the entire unit. But property management companies have begun to create leases that only account for one bed inside a unit — to maximize the occupancy and cater to students, Paulsen said.

For example, a two-bedroom unit could be rented to four students, with two students in each room and four separate leases — one for each student, Paulsen said.

But as a tenant, it is important — especially for students — to ask a few questions before signing a lease, according to Paulsen.

“What is the cleaning fee — if there is any, is Wi-Fi or cable television included, if there are common areas like a pool or clubhouse, or an exercise facility, are there restrictions on who can use it and when … how the lease deals with noise complaints,” Paulsen said.

Tenants also have basic rights that are standardized by City and State laws, according to the City of Madison. These rights include the right to equal treatment on all terms and conditions of renting, the right to receive knowledge of conditions required to rent, the right to see the exact rental unit and the right of the return of a security deposit on time, minus any legal deductions and more.

Landlords have their own set of rights and responsibilities they are obligated to follow. Housing providers have the right to receive complete, accurate and relevant information on the rental application, maintain a waiting list, check income, credit and past housing references and more.

In terms of responsibilities, housing providers must treat applicants in a fair and nondiscriminatory way, provide clear, accurate and understandable information on conditions of the rental agreement, respect the rights of tenants, provide 24 hours’ notice before entering unless in the case of emergency and more.

Ultimately, Le said the best thing students and renters can do to ensure a fair lease is to ask.

“If you can ask tenants who are currently living in that apartment, what it’s like, or otherwise, ask any student or renter in Madison,” Le said. “The more you live downtown, the more experience you get on what’s good or bad management. Do your research, because there’s so many articles now just about apartments downtown.”

With most landlords, tenants are able to work things out, very rarely needing a lawyer or the Tenant Resource Center to get involved, Paulsen said.

But resources such as the Tenant Resource Center exist to assist individuals should issues arise, Le said.

“People need to know the resources that are out there so they can feel supported and not feel like they have to choose between living in a stable situation or going to school or working downtown,” Le said.

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