Renting a place to live as a college student is inevitable. During your college career you will rent a house or an apartment. This process can be seamless, but it can also put you in a binding 12-month agreement to an unlivable situation, in which you have no way out.

With low housing availability and a growing population, Dane County has produced powerful landlords. Unfortunately, tenants are often left underrepresented, especially when it comes to housing repairs and subletting.

Repairs

According to the Tenant Resource Center, Madison landlords are legally required to maintain the property in good condition. This includes repairing plumbing, building structure and electrical systems.  But, there are situations where it is unclear if the house is in “good condition” and a problem is truly repaired.

For instance, if the house has mold or a bug infestation these are problems the landlord is legally obligated to fix to maintain the “good condition” criteria. But, what does repairing mold include?

In this case “repairing” mold could mean painting over it, or replacing a single ceiling tile. This is a gray area where the repair is legally fixed, but in reality it’s not. Anyone who has dealt with mold knows replacing one ceiling tile will not prevent mold from growing back.

Unfortunately, as a tenant there is little that can be done immediately. According to the Tenant Resource Center, there are six circumstances when a tenant can legally end a lease and mold is not one of them — unless the landlord fails to fix the issue, property has a serious health concern or it is deemed unlivable.

This is a circumstance when tenants are left to live in undesirable conditions while landlords collect rent.

Subletting

Another tenant-landlord issue includes subletting. Subletting is someone who agrees to sit in on your portion of the lease.

One would imagine, if a tenant finds a suitable subletter who agrees to fulfill the lease terms, the previous tenant would be void of legal obligation.

Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.

If the new tenant decides to stop paying rent, the previous tenant is still obligated to pay. Finding a subletter doesn’t void you of your lease. The subletter is simply agreeing to pay your portion of rent until the contract is done. If they fail to do so, the financial obligation still falls on the previous tenant’s shoulders.

And, if the rental agreement is not fulfilled, the landlord can file a junction against the previous tenant and the new tenant. If the landlord wins their case in court- an injunction will be put on CCAP.

Too much power

At times, landlords attempt to scare tenants into paying for something they aren’t obligated to pay for, such as carpet cleaning.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, landlords cannot charge a tenant for routine carpet cleaning.

But, sometimes landlords attempt to do this by adding an amendment in your lease, or claiming you must provide receipts for a professional carpet cleaning (I have personally experienced this). Even in these circumstance, you are still not obligated to pay for professional-routine carpet cleaning.

I understand landlords need to cover their bases, they own these homes and are entrusting strangers to live there. I also understand that there are possible solutions to these problems that partially favor the tenant. However, these solutions are cumbersome and unlikely.

In Dane County the average home price is over $230,000. There will be a lot of students, recent grads and new families that are renting properties.

I believe as tenants we should have more power. Signing a lease should not equate to being trapped in poor living conditions.