There are admittedly many problems facing student tenants in Madison, ranging from dirty apartments with barely functioning refrigerators, to poor responses to maintenance calls, to the ubiquitous wrongful withholding of deposits for unsubstantiated reasons.
The Student Tenant Resource Center was designed to help students deal with housing problems or concerns and has asked ASM for $50,000 to fund the organization's operations. In principle, the STRC, funded by seg fees, would work to ensure that students are aware of their rights as tenants, help them resolve problems concerning their living situation and, if necessary, serve as an arbitrator between tenants and landlords. This would hopefully keep students and landlords out of small-claims courts and ensure that students get treated fairly.
It goes without saying that tenant resource centers are beneficial to communities and ensure fair and safe living conditions for renters. This is why Dane County, the City of Madison, Community Shares of Madison and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development currently fund one; the Tenant Resource Center (TRC) is located on the near east side on Williamson Street and offers free counseling services for tenants and landlords interested in learning more about their rights and responsibilities.
The TRC is open to the public, and that includes students. Any tenant with questions about a housing contract or landlord's legal responsibilities can call or stop by. The TRC is the place to go when your landlord hasn't returned a deposit or fails to respond to repeated requests for maintenance. The center unquestionably offers a valuable service to renters and property owners in Wisconsin.
Despite the negative publicity received by some of Madison's largest property management companies, students continue to rent, year after year, from some of the city's worst offenders. Students' decisions regarding housing situations are generally influenced by concerns about location and roommates. Students don't consult a tenant resource center before signing a lease and they don't turn there for help when a landlord attempts to charge them for carpet cleaning.
Students don't take advantage of the resources available to them when it comes to housing selection and resolving housing issues. The creation of a Student Tenant Resource Center won't change this, even if it is more centrally located. And while increasing student awareness about their rights as tenants is a noble endeavor, doing so should not be the responsibility of the university or done at the expense of students.
UW's $50,000 STRC would copycat services already offered by the TRC. And as few students are aware of or take advantage of the services offered by the TRC, the existence of a STRC doesn't seem justified. ASM should not allocate funding for services that will not be utilized by students, regardless of how beneficial they are in principle. The failure of students to utilize the TRC does not bode well for the proposed STRC and it fails to be seen how student behavior would change by funding the STRC.
If ASM does want to contribute to bettering the student renter experience it would be worthwhile to help fund the city's TRC. Doing so would allow the TRC to improve their student outreach and make sure that assistance is available to student tenants who need it. We don't need the STRC to ensure that tenant rights are upheld.
Editorial Board Member