Renter’s Cheat Sheets: Some helpful tips for the serious renter

V1 Staff

Here are some helpful tips for the serious renter from Volume One, Rental Resources, and the Tenant Resource Center. Cut them out. Laminate them. Place them in silver, heirloom frames and pass them on to the next generation.

Tips for the Prospective Renter

•  Ask around. If a friend lives in a place they like or deals with a landlord they like, there may be units available even if they aren’t advertised.

•  What is the neighborhood like? Look at nearby amenities and bike/walkability. Check the 2009 Rental Living guide at for a full breakdown.

•  Call the Health Department and check if there are any uncorrected complaints against the property (Eau Claire: 839-4718; Chippewa Falls: 723-5542; Menomonie: 232-2388)

•  Get the name of a possible landlord and run it through WI Circuit Court Access ( to see if he/she has a clean record.

•  The Eau Claire Police Department has developed a voluntary Certified Landlord Program. See if your landlord is certified, as it shows a dedication to what they do. (

•  Never sign a lease without seeing the apartment – especially in complexes where “all the apartments are the same” and they keep a clean one on hand to show people like you.

•  Read and understand all lease paperwork. Make sure all your questions and concerns are answered before you sign. It is a contract, and means you have legal responsibilities as well as the landlord.

•  A one-page lease could be a red flag. The more paperwork, the better. Tenant and landlord responsibilities should be clearly defined.

•  Good landlords enjoy answering questions. They want tenants who care about their living space. 

•  If you’re deciding between two places, consider the Paper Layout Experiment. Take the rough measurements of the crucial spaces, and note where there’s vents, doorways, windows, etc. Then measure your furniture, bookshelves, and the like. Divide the measurements down so the room can fit on paper. Then do cutouts of the furniture and organize them in the paper room. Whichever layout excites you more is the winner.

The Renter’s Toolbox

You don’t need much as a renter, but a few tools will make life much easier.

Toolbox: Duh. But a nice one with a handle is incredibly useful, because if you don’t know where your tools are, they aren’t helpful.

Reversible drill with a bit set: Infinitely useful for fixing up furniture, tightening bolts, and getting to all those other projects you’ve been putting off.

Hammer: Look for one that’s heavy with a fiberglass shaft and a rip claw.

16-foot tape measure: Get one that locks and remember to take it with you if you’re going furniture shopping.

Set of screwdrivers: A good mixed set includes flat and Phillips head drivers, maybe even a magnetic head.

Needle-nose pliers: If you can find a pair with a wire cutting blade, grab ’em.

Safety glasses: Don’t start a project without these.

Stud finder: Start here when hanging pictures.

Level: Indispensible for hanging pictures.

Utility knife: Look for replaceable blades and keep some on hand.

Staple gun: Tackle basic reupholstery jobs armed with one of these.

Duct tape: For quick repairs and emergencies.

Glue: White glue and crazy glue for big and small projects.

Renters Insurance

what you need to know (and why you should get it)

• Policies usually start around $100 a year. Not a month. Not a quarter. A YEAR!

• It covers your personal property in circumstances like theft, fires, natural disasters, and more. Obviously there are exceptions and exclusions, but, in general, your stuff is covered when the crap hits the fan.

• Policies cover “replacement equivalents.” Meaning, if you have a big ol’ tube TV and it goes, you get the equivalent of what’s new – so you’re gettin’ a flatscreen, baby.

• If your apartment has a fire, not only does it cover your “stuff,” but also where you will live for the immediate future. And even if your place doesn’t burn and it’s a neighbor’s place, you might have to be gone, too. In either case, it covers hotel/motel costs for those circumstances.

• If someone visits and they get injured, your policy may cover medical payments and liability in case they want to sue you. (Again, with limitations.)

• It is basically a homeowners policy for renters. And homeowners policies often come with longevity discounts (so the longer you’re with a firm, the cheaper it gets). In some cases the years you have renter’s insurance can count toward longevity discounts if you become a homeowner and stay with that firm.

Landlord Conversation Starters

What utilities are included?

What are the average monthly utility charges?

How are maintenance requests handled?

How long does it take to complete maintenance requests?

How are maintenance emergencies handled?

Who do I call for maintenance emergencies?

Have the locks been changed since last occupancy?

What’s the parking situation?

How is the lawn mowing and snow shoveling handled?

What’s the laundry situation?

How bout dem Packers?

An “Is This Place Cool?” Checklist

__ Turn on all light switches to see if they do, indeed, produce light

__ Check each power outlet (use a small appliance like a hairdryer or waffle iron)

__ Turn on the sink and bathtub faucets (check for leaks or slow/plugged drains)

__ Flush toilet, check for leaks

__ Look for smoke detectors and fire extinguishers

__ Check ceiling and walls for cracks and water stains

__ Check the locking mechanisms on doors

__ Check the locks on all the windows

__ How well sealed are the windows? (Will you pay a ton for heat/air?)

__ Inspect furnace and/or air conditioner: Are they well-maintained?

__ Check hot water: Is it the proper temperature?

__ Check for exit lights

__ Is the exterior of the building well-lit and well-maintained?

After You’ve Signed the Lease ...

•  Educate yourself about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. For more info, contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at (800) 422-7128 or visit them on the web:

•  Your landlord should always provide an emergency number. Get it.

•  Create a check-in sheet on the apartment and list all items that may be charged to your security deposit (such as stains on the carpet, scratches on counter tops, etc.) Keep a copy for yourself and send one to our landlord. 

•  Grab your digicam and take pics when you move in and after you clean up upon moving out.

•  Buy a carbon monoxide detector if you have gas heat and/or stove. They are mandatory as of April of 2010.

•  Consider renter’s insurance. It’s usually inexpensive and covers things like robbery, fires, and liabilities. The amount of a policy depends on how much of your stuff you want to protect. Things like floods are usually not covered.

•  Learn odd/even parking. If you don’t have a designated parking stall, you’ll likely have to find on-street parking. Between Nov. 1 and May 1 the City of Eau Claire dictates which side you can park on. So make sure your car is parked on the “even” side (with even-numbered addresses) between midnight and 7am of even-numbered days. And vice-versa. 

•  Big security deposit suckers: defrosting the fridge and cleaning the oven.

•  When moving out, remember: Xcel Energy makes you cancel your own utilities. (And don’t forget TV, internet, and other such bills.)

•  Head to the post office for a helpful checklist of change-of-address reminders.

•  If you’re moving over the course of a few days, leave stuff like beds and entertainment items for last.

•  Save boxes early and often. Ask grocery stores if you’re desperate. Frequent recycling dumpsters at commercial spots if you’re extra desperate and bold.