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Rent Smart

Background

Rent Smart is designed to provide practical education to help potential renters to both acquire and keep decent housing. The curriculum consists of 11 lessons, which may be taught separately or in combination with other units. Many tenant education materials stress tenants’ legal rights. While Rent Smart covers these rights, it emphasizes skills that may help tenants avoid legal confrontations. It stresses tenant responsibilities and the advantages to be gained from viewing the landlord-tenant relationship as mutually beneficial, rather than as inherently confrontational.

Rent Smart is based on information collected through focus groups held with the type of tenants who could benefit from the program and on discussions with property managers and tenant advocates. It attempts to balance the massive volume of information recommended for the program by various sources with a realistic expectation as to the amount of time participants are likely to commit to such training. The amount of material included was also limited by the desire to incorporate an active learning approach designed to foster participant motivation and course effectiveness. It was piloted under its original name, Good Neighbor-Good Tenant, for several years and has been completely rewritten based on the pilot experience.

Participant Goals

Rent Smart participants would like to:

  • Better understand the benefits of developing a cooperative relationship with their landlords
  • More easily find adequate housing
  • Improve their ability to resolve problems with their neighbors and landlords
  • Move less frequently, thus increasing housing stability

Target Audience

The program is specially designed to help those individuals likely to encounter difficulty obtaining rental housing. This difficulty may arise from lack of experience, a stigma associated with previous residency in public housing, poor rental and/or credit history, or other issues that may cause potential landlords to perceive such individuals as high-risk tenants.

A growing audience for the program is high school and college students, as they begin their rental experiences. Establishing a positive rental history is much like having a positive credit report.

Rent Smart Curriculum

The curriculum provides a detailed outline of topics, activities, and teaching resources. In addition to the curriculum, a successful tenant education program requires a local partnership. Involvement of local rental housing providers, local housing authorities and other tenant service providers in design and delivery of the local program is essential.

It was developed by staff from the University of Wisconsin-Extension in consultation with the Wisconsin Apartment Association, the Wisconsin Trade and Consumer Protection Division, the Tenant Resource Center, the Apartment Association of Southeast Wisconsin and other housing and tenant support groups.

The entire curriculum was updated and reintroduced in 2008.

How to Order

The Rent Smart curriculum is available from your Wisconsin county Extension office (www.uwex.edu/ces/cty) or from Cooperative Extension Publications. To order, call toll free: 1-877-947-7827 (WIS PUBS) or visit our web site: www.learningstore.uwex.edu

The Lessons

  • How Much Will It Cost
    Provides guidance to participants on how to determine the total cost of a rental unit and compare unit costs. Includes practice on reading rental ads.
  • Money For Rent
    Introduces participants to the process of calculating their monthly income and expenses so they can determine how much they can afford for housing. Strategies for balancing income and expenses are explored.
  • Making the Most of Your Credit Report
    Includes a basic introduction to credit reports, how consumers can obtain a copy of their credit report, ways to improve their credit report and how landlords use the information on a credit report.
  • Finding a Place to Live
    Introduces a tool participants can use to determine what is most important to them in a place to live and a similar tool that can be used to compare apartments. Information on how to find affordable apartments is also included.
  • Checking Out the Rental Unit and the Landlord
    Participants learn about appropriate resources to assist them in checking out the landlord and discuss their readiness and confidence to interview property owners or managers.
  • The Rental Application Process
    Describes techniques landlords use to screen applicants so participants know what to expect and can be prepared to address doubts landlords might have. The lesson also covers fair housing regulations and how to get help if they feel they have been treated unfairly.
  • Understanding Rental Agreements
    Emphasizes the importance of reading and understanding rental agreements. Participants practice reading a rental agreement, and learn about legal and illegal rental agreement provisions.
  • Maintenance: Who is Responsible for What?
    Introduces several keys to determining who is responsible for the maintenance and repair of rental unit features. Participants learn the importance of the rental check-in forms and questions to ask landlords at move-in time concerning responsibilities for repairs and upkeep.
  • Home Maintenance: Keeping it Clean and Safe
    Provides participants with basic tips on efficient ways to keep their homes clean. It also provides information on how to handle home-care emergencies.
  • Communication with Your Landlord and Neighbors
    Includes a review of effective verbal skills, how to write a letter to their landlord requesting repairs, and resolving conflicts with neighbors.
  • Moving On: Notice, Security Deposits, and Evictions
    Covers steps in ending a rental agreement and what they should do when moving on to avoid disputes about deductions from their security deposit.

Inquiries

Inquiries about this curriculum can be made to any of the following Extension staff:
Kristi Cutts, Family Living Educator
(920) 232-1973
Karen Joos, Family Living Educator
(608) 269-8722
Christine Kniep, Family Living Educator
(920) 232-1973
Michelle Tidemann, Family Living Educator
(920) 929-3174