Thank you for your recent editorial ‘Tenant Rights All About Education'. It's never been more important, on even more levels than those you mention.
Indeed, it was true years ago that if you didn't sign a lease at your first opportunity you'd be living away from campus and perhaps not in an ideal setting. But times have changed a lot. The housing market has come full circle, and some describe it as even being a renter's market. With the addition of multiple large buildings in the last several years, and the likelihood of the Mifflin Street neighborhood expanding its number of residents, it's win-win for students.
Sounds great, right? So what's the problem?
Despite the fact that the UW- Madison ‘great housing shortage' is a thing of the distant past, the virtual stampede to sign leases every November continues. Today there are more apartments and houses around campus than there are students to live in them. More options equates to good news for students.
The news that rentals around campus are plentiful also forces property owners who may have once been lax about their upkeep to step up their game. If they want to remain competitive, they need to get things fixed, painted, and looking good. The good property owners also know that it costs less to keep tenants than it does to go out and find new ones, which equates to good stuff for student renters too.
It's all good, but as long as the big demand each November to sign leases exists there will always be owners willing to offer a lease to sign at their top dollar price for the longest possible time of commitment well in advance of the lease starting date.
If you are renting now, consider staying where you are. Many students don't move every August. Think of it this way: You already know your landlord and you already know what to expect. Your friends know where to find you. And let's face it, moving costs money! If where you are now is working for you then consider staying.
For the first-year student, signing a lease is perhaps the first individual legal commitment of your life, and it should not be taken lightly. It is a legal contract. Generally speaking, no, you can't just ‘get out of it' if you find something else you like better or your friendships change between now and then. You are locked in. That's it. And for those who find themselves in this position, less than half are able to find someone to take over their spot as a sublet.
Don't fall for the hype or rumors that you have to sign a lease this instant before they're all gone. Simply put, if you don't need to make the decision to sign a lease this far ahead, then don't. Start thinking about it. Ask friends what they are thinking about next year's living arrangements. Talk about it, but don't rush to put pen to paper.
For the first-year student, make sure you do not want to stay in the residence halls, where everything in the world is provided for you, which allows you to focus on your academics, campus involvement and activities, which is really why you are here. Living off campus brings independence, but also for some it is the loss of a safety net. Look carefully at what will suit you best at this point in your life and make the decision about where to live thoughtfully.
If you choose to live in one of the neighboring campus communities, and you simply want a quality place that is conveniently located nearby, wait until after winter break to begin your serious search. That is when you will have the broadest number of options, and the rent prices start to fall by that time too. Of course there is an exception—if you just have to live at a particular address, at any price, then you should sign a lease at your first opportunity.
Over break, talk with your parents and family about the kind of living arrangements you are exploring. Are you considering living alone or with friends? How will this fit into your budget?
If you are planning to spend a semester of 2010-2011 studying abroad, you most definitely should wait to sign a lease. Finding a subletter for while you are away is risky business. Not all of them fill—in fact, most do not. Then you are stuck paying rent for the time you are away. Either sign with a place that offers semester leases or wait until as late as May to look for a fall-semester-only lease. Then, you are more likely to be able to negotiate one—as property owners are apt to consider a single semester lease rather than have their place be vacant the entire year. If possible, sign a lease for only the time you are going to be here. Then you can jet off to your new destination—and not look back. And don't worry! It's not just the undesirables that will be left. There are plenty of quality rental options close to campus all year round.
One last thing—when you're looking, instead of wading through each of the local rental companies websites one by one and scrolling and scrolling to find the two bedrooms, etc—use the campus resource where all of the vacancies are pooled together. Put in what you want for how much and it creates a list for you. Put in how many bedrooms, rent budget, pet policy, location. Stop sifting. You can find it at www.wisc.edu keyword search: Campus Area Apartments.
It's not just about having the means to assess fines—it is also about students being aware that they can take their time, check places out, and make thoughtful rental choices. So slow down! Be sure! What you commit to, where you live and with who is kind of a big deal. In your article you put out the call for the campus to educate students about renting. As a result, we are already working on organizing a forum in the near future that will speak to first time student renters about tenant rights and responsibilities, housing options, off-campus living safety, and more. Thank you for putting a spotlight on this important issue!
Campus Area Housing