FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions in the City of Madison

What is earnest money?
Any money given to a landlord by an applicant with an application before it has been accepted or denied.

What is a co-signer?
A cosigner is the person who is promising or guaranteeing the rent if the actual tenant(s) cannot or will not be paying it themselves.  Frequently student leases are co-signed by parents.

When and why would a co-signer be needed?
It depends on the apartment or house you choose–where you apply to rent?  Most properties require a co-signor if you have little or no credit history or your income does not meet the criteria set by the housing provider.  Students often require co-signers because of lack of income and/or credit history.

Can there be more than one type of lease when renting an apartment?
Yes there are different lease options available to students.

Ask what type of lease is available.  Options include month-to-month leases,
semester leases, one year leases, short term leases, joint and several leases and individual leases.

  • Month to month: Either party may give a 30 day notice to vacate and end the lease.
  • Semester & short term: Lease will only be valid for dates on the lease and no longer.
  • One year: Lease will be valid for a year from the beginning of the lease term.
  • Joint and several: All tenants will share responsibility for the lease terms together and individually.
  • Individual: Tenant is solely responsible for all lease terms.

When you”re looking at apartments, ask to see a copy of the lease you will be signing before you rent an apartment.  If you”ve never signed a lease before, take a copy home for your parents to review.  STEM volunteers can also answer your questions about leases.

What is an informational check in sheet?
It is a condition report of the unit upon move in.  A check in sheet protects your security deposit.  A landlord is required to give you an informational check in sheet and must allow seven days for a tenant to complete and return it to the landlord.  Be sure and keep a copy for yourself and return the original to the landlord by the 7th day.  Take photos of the apartment before you move in to document the condition of the property and retain the photos with your copy of the completed check in form.

Can a lease be automatically renewed?
Yes, read the lease carefully before you sign it—it may state the lease will renew automatically. Ask the property manager or owner to point out in the lease to you, before you sign the lease contract, where it states the lease is non-renewable or will automatically renew.  Know that a landlord cannot enforce an automatic renewal or extension of any lease unless the tenant was given separate written notice regarding the automatic renewal at least 15 days, but no more than 30 days before the renewal date.

Does a lease have to renew?
No, most leases are non-renewable leases.  A lease contract must have the lease term included in the lease, including the first day of the term and the last day of the term.  Do not presume a lease will automatically renew or that a renewal will be offered.

How much notice is required for a landlord to enter into a rental unit?
In the City of Madison landlords must give at least 12 hours advanced notice to enter the tenants premises for showing and at least 24 hours advanced notice to inspect the premises or make repairs.

What are the reasons a landlord can enter into a rental unit?
State law permits property owners and their representatives (such as a leasing agent, maintenance technician) to enter into a rental unit with advance notice for the following:

  • to inspect
  • to make repairs, including required maintenance requested
  • to show the premises to prospective tenants or purchasers

State law permits landlords to enter without advance notice for the following:

  • if the tenant agrees to the entry or
  • if a “health and safety emergency” exists or
  • or if the tenant is absent and the landlord reasonably believes that entry is necessary to protect the premises from damage

What is a security Deposit?
Payments given by a tenant to a landlord before signing a lease to guarantee the tenant will pay the rent on time and cause no damage to the property.

Who is the security deposit returned to?
Some property owners will provide a security deposit return agreement to you when you sign the lease, and you and your roommates can designate in this agreement how and where you would like your security deposit returned.  Otherwise, the security deposit will be returned to the tenants who signed the lease.

What can be deducted from a security deposit?

  • tenant damage, waste or neglect of the premises
  • unpaid rent
  • unpaid utilities owed that the landlord will become responsible for or that the tenant owes to the landlord under the rental agreement
  • unpaid mobile home parking fees
  • Nonstandard Rental Provisions: if a tenant signs or initials a separate document titled “Nonstandard Rental Provisions” a landlord may deduct for those specific items discussed with lease signing.

When does a landlord need to return the security deposit?
The landlord has 21 days from lease end to send the full security deposit back OR an accounting listing deductions from the deposit and balance remaining OR amount owed by the tenant for damage costs beyond the security deposit amount.

Can landlords charge more rent for a tenant to own a pet?
Yes they can.  They may charge a monthly pet fee or a pet security deposit.

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