Rent Smart Program Sets the Stage for Renters’ Success

More and more Americans are choosing to live in rental units, rather than buy their own home. For people new to renting or for those considered high-risk tenants, finding and maintaining rental housing can be a complicated and confusing process.

“Rent Smart provides valuable information for potential renters to find and keep housing. The program focuses on gaining the knowledge and skills essential for a successful renting experience,” says Christine Kniep, Extension Winnebago County Extension family living educator and co-chair of the Family Living Rent Smart team that produced the program.

Kniep says the program takes an active learning approach that emphasizes forming a strong partnership between tenant and landlord. Other goals include helping people gain the skills and confidence to find and maintain affordable housing; understanding the application and screening processes landlords use; and learning the rights and responsibilities of both tenants and landlords.

“Establishing a positive rental history is much like having a positive credit report,” says Michelle Tidemann, Rent Smart team co-chair and family living educator with Extension Fond du Lac County.

Tidemann says local partners trained in teaching the program are crucial to its success. Rental housing providers, local housing authorities and other tenant service providers who are trained in the course play an essential role in making it available in the community.

Rent Smart is divided into six units that can be taught alone or together. The sections cover: Helping future renters determine if they can afford an apartment; checking out an apartment and landlord; applying for rental housing; learning who is responsible for maintenance and repairs; communicating with landlord and neighbors; and legal aspects of renting.

To learn more about Rent Smart, visit online at or contact your local Extension office.

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