As winter break draws to an end, the apartment search for next school year continues. Veteran student tenants as well as students new to the process will take steps to ensure the best apartment situation for themselves, including some that need to be taken before a student even views a possible apartment.
The first step is to choose roommates with whom you can get along, according to Jim Stopple, President of Madison Property Management.
\The biggest [advice I can give] is make sure they're comfortable with the people they're signing leases with,"" Stopple said. ""That's more important that the physical apartment itself.""
Megin Hicks, program director of the Tenant Resource Center, agreed. The center helps students understand leases before signing them and provides counseling and referrals for a variety of problems, including security deposit issues, repairs and evictions.
Hicks also said students should decide on the basic qualities they want in an apartment and should shop around because there are a lot of apartments on campus, a statement with which Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, agrees.
""There are more than enough apartments of all sizes and shapes available for quite some time,"" Verveer said. He said the urban legend that good apartments go quickly is false. Advising students to wait until after break to begin looking for an apartment, Verveer said many places do not rent all of their units until almost the next August.
When students do decide on a possible apartment, resources are available to them to check its quality, according to Verveer.
""You can go to the city building inspection department and ask to see all the building code violations for an address,"" Verveer said. Hicks agreed the department was a good resource, but said they only have violations recorded if a previous tenant actually made a report.
""A clean record ... is not necessarily a 100 percent rating for the apartment,"" she said.
As other precautions, Hicks recommended contacting the Consumer Protection Agency with concerns regarding security deposits, application fees and unannounced visits from the landlord.
Once students have checked out the landlord and apartment and signed the lease, they should be aware of their new responsibilities to report repair problems and comply with building codes, according to Hicks.
Verveer said several new ordinances passed recently which concern tenants' rights with emergency situations. One ordinance requires landlords to provide an emergency number and the other allows tenants to change the locks on their doors in an emergency, such as domestic violence.
Verveer said he has helped many students, primarily with the habitability of the apartment and security deposit issues. He added that the best singular place for a tenant with questions is the Tenant Resource Center.
Although there are many options for students with problems, some of these problems can be avoided by following Hicks' earlier advice to know your roommates and check out the apartment.
""Once you sign the lease, you are bound to it,"" Hicks reminded.