Answers to Your Renting Questions

Deciding to live off-campus is an exciting part of being a college student, and the Neighborhood Housing Office wants to make sure you have the tools and information to have an enjoyable experience. Read the article below for some answers to frequently asked questions, and be sure to sign up for the Preferred Tenant Program to receive $250 off your security deposit or 2% off your monthly rent from participating landlords! Registration opens March 25th!

Is Living Off-Campus Cheaper than Living in the Residence Halls?

The NHO keeps track of the average price of rent based on the units from all over the Milwaukee Metro area that we have on our listing service. We update this information regularly. You should also consider what you can afford in your monthly budget. Keep utilities in mind – Internet, water/sewer, heat, gas, electric, etc. Other living expenses such as groceries, laundry, parking/transit, and household supplies will affect your budget. You should also consider the cost of renter’s insurance, which we will discuss below. This Campus Living Budget tool can help you start figuring out your finances.

When Should I Start My Search?

The NHO recommends you look no more than 2-3 months before you want to move in because landlords won’t know who is renewing the lease or leaving. This is because tenants typically give landlords a 60 day notice that they are leaving. Also, landlords actually raise the price if you sign too early because they know students are eager to get a house. Just be patient to get a more reasonable price and so you can see options before signing the lease. Start by visiting the Neighborhood Housing Office (Union WG85) or website. The NHO Listing Service is the exclusive online listing service for landlords who accept the Preferred Tenant Program discounts. Go to several apartment or house showings before making a decision. The NHO is also hosting the Annual Housing Fair which can benefit you and your roommate(s) during your search.

Which Neighborhoods are Safe?

A prospective tenant must decide what “safe” means to them specifically when looking for housing. It may be helpful to contact the 1st district police department and request they look up the address that is being considered for safety statistics. The contact number for any police department is 414-289-CITY. If doing this, check the individual address statistics – not the district. Additionally, try to visit the unit once during the day and once at night. This may help form an opinion about the safety of a specific unit. Check all the locks on the house and doors as well.

I Heard I Can’t Live with More than 3 People…Is this True?

Per the City of Milwaukee ordinance, no more than 3 unrelated people can live together in a unit. Renting with more than 3 unrelated adults puts tenants and the landlord at risk for tickets and eviction. If you have a group of friends you want to live with, consider looking at duplexes that have both a lower and upper unit available. You can also look at apartment buildings with units next to each other.

What Should I Do at a Showing?

While looking at a unit, don’t be afraid to ask the landlord questions! No question is dumb while looking for housing and potentially signing a lease. Some things to think about: Are utilities included? Who takes care of the lawn and snow removal? Is parking available? Are pets allowed? These questions are important to address while looking for a house. It’s better to ask while you’re there instead of reaching out to the landlord later. Ask about neighbors, outside lights, any previous damages to the house. Check the water pressure and look at the basement and attic if applicable. Don’t be afraid to ask anything while looking at units – all things are important to know. This Questions to Ask Your Landlord document covers the basic, most important information. Bring a list with your own personal questions and concerns to rental showings as well. Filling this out can also help narrow down your choices later! While going through the unit, take pictures and video. This will help you look back later and note any damages to the house. You can (and should) visit multiple units before deciding on a unit and signing a lease. Do not sign a lease with the first place you visit, no matter what the landlord says! Creating a pros and cons list may be a helpful strategy to compare different units.

What is a Lease Application?

Landlords are required to give you a copy of the lease application and sample lease. The lease application is a way for landlords to background check potential tenants and make sure they have the means to pay for rent and utilities. They may ask for rental history including past landlords and unit addresses, employment history, credit history, references, and any other pertinent information. An extra nonrefundable fee may be required to cover the costs associated with credit checks, usually around $20. However, the landlord can only charge the amount required for the check, and must refund any extra money.

What is a Lease?

A lease is a legally binding document that is meant to protect the tenant and the landlord. Both parties sign a lease before a tenant moves in. A lease will state how many months you are agreeing to live in the unit, who is responsible for shoveling snow and mowing the lawn, the procedure for collecting rent, and other important information. If a tenant or landlord breaks any term of the lease, legal action may be taken. Some landlords also require a co-signer, who acts as a guarantor, promising to pay rent if a tenant cannot complete the payment. Usually, a co-signer is required if a prospective tenant has a minimal or nonexistent rental history, poor credit background, or doesn’t have enough income. A co-signer is typically a relative or guardian.

How Long is a Lease?

Most leases are 12-months in length, but can also be available in month-to-month, three month, six month, and nine month durations. Since many students are around for the Fall and Spring semesters, many leases become available in June, July, August, and September. However, Milwaukee is an open housing market so there are often houses/apartments available throughout the year. Tenants with a year lease must be reminded 15 to 30 days in advance of the landlord automatically renewing or extending the lease – assuming there is a provision in the lease.

Should I Read the Lease Before Signing? 

Yes, it is always important to read the fine print before signing. UWM’s University Legal Clinic can provide additional help understanding the contract before signing. Never feel pressured to sign something right then and there. A tenant should be given a copy of the lease and any rules or regulations referred to in the lease after both the landlord and tenant have signed. If the landlord does not voluntarily give the tenant a copy of the lease and rules and regulations, the tenant should request a copy in writing. Since the lease spells out the tenant`s and landlord`s responsibilities, it is important for both parties to have a copy of the lease to answer any questions. Asking the landlord for an emailed copy of the lease may be helpful. Note: the NHO does not review leases.

What is Renter’s Insurance?

Renter’s insurance protects your property against several types of losses like damage from a fire or theft. It also covers injury or damage stemming from negligence. There are several types of policies sold in Wisconsin. The main factor to consider in determining how much insurance to buy is the actual value of your belongings. Cost of renter’s insurance varies depending on the type of building, location, and other factors. You should call several companies to find out exactly what coverage and price they offer.

To meet our staff, enjoy some coffee, and have more of your questions answered, stop by the NHO Sip & Spin event on Monday, April 15th in Union WG85! And be sure to check out all of our NHO Week events.