UW-Milwaukee Student Edition:
A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Your Home Away from Home Off-Campus in Milwaukee
- Best Environment for You
- Recommended Timeline
- Start Your Search!
- Narrow Down Options
- Lease Application and Sample Lease
- University Legal Clinic
- Rental Application
- Sign Lease
- Move-In Day
- Roommate Contract
- Meet Your Neighbors
- Living in Your New Home: Bills, Trash, Windows, and Lease Termination
- Moving Out
What do you need to succeed in school? Living off-campus, or outside of University Housing, comes with additional responsibilities. These range from paying bills, to shoveling snow, to being a good neighbor and community member, and much more. University Housing is convenient and offers a variety of options to suit your needs – including upper-level student only living arrangements. Visit University Housing’s website to learn more about on-campus housing options.
Find roommates that are trustworthy and dependable. A roommate contract can help prevent roommate disputes before they even happen. It can cover everything from how much each tenant pays in rent, to who washes dishes and takes out the garbage.These can be picked up in the Neighborhood Housing Office for free. Customize the content of this agreement to reflect each roommate’s specific duties and responsibilities. Consider choosing roommates you are able to have difficult conversations with in case issues arise.
Milwaukee’s housing ordinance is important to be aware of as well. If planning to live in a rental with more than 3 unrelated people, check that the landlord has a rooming house license. If the landlord does not have a license and the City of Milwaukee discovers this violation, those not on the lease will be evicted. The remaining tenants will still need to pay the entirety of the rent. Joint and several liability makes each tenant legally liable and responsible for the contents of the lease, including the total rent each month.
What can you afford in your monthly budget? Do you have Financial Aid you can use? Consider all your expenditures and your income when searching for housing. Keep utilities in mind as well – Internet, water/sewer, heat, gas, electric, etc. Other living expenses such as groceries, laundry, parking/transit, and household supplies will effect your budget. This Campus Living Budget tool can help you start figuring out your finances.
What amenities do you need, and what do you want, but can live without? For example, if you have a vehicle you will need a place to park it. On the other hand, a dishwasher may be convenient, but dishes can be cleaned by hand. Explore housing options that cover all of your needs, but try to think of wants as additional bonuses instead of deciding factors.
The following questions are good to keep in mind when renting:
- What areas near campus do you want to live in?
- How close to campus do you want/need to be?
- What transportation factors do you need to consider? Do you own a vehicle, need parking, want to be on a MCTS Bus line, is the unit within BOSS range?
- What type of unit do you want? Apartment, upper/lower flat in a house, single-family home
- How many bedrooms do you need? Trying to save on cost? Consider sharing a bedroom.
- What length of lease would you prefer or need?
- How much can you afford for rent each month?
- What accessibility/accommodation needs do you or your potential roommates have?
- Is there laundry on-site?
- Does the apartment allow pets?
- Do you have a car?
- What is on your “must have” list?
- What is on your “can do without” list?
Don’t start looking or sign a lease too soon! The table below shows when you’ll have the largest selection to choose from, however it’s never too late to start looking. We see available rentals all year long, with the smallest selection during the winter months.
|Move-In||Sign a lease||Start Looking|
|June 1st (summer)||April 1st-May 1st||March-April|
|August 1st (summer)||May 1st – July 1st||May-June|
|September 1st (fall)||May 1st – August 31st||June-August|
|January 1st (spring)||December 1st||October-November|
This grid is a recommended timeline to help you identify when you should start looking for your living arrangements in the City of Milwaukee and when to sign a lease based on your preferred move-in date. It is important to look no more than 2-3 months in advance because landlords won’t know who is renewing the lease or leaving. This is because tenants give landlords a 60 notice to leave. Also, landlords actually raise the price if you sign too early because they know students are eager to get a house. Just be patient and wait until 2-3 months in advance to get a more reasonable price and so you can see options before signing the lease. Note: many landlords will not know what they will have available more than two to three months ahead of time.
Start by visiting the Neighborhood Housing Office (Union WG85) location 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. Neighborhood Housing offers resources like the Preferred Tenant Program and the Annual Housing Fair which can benefit you and your roommate(s) during your search. Check out some of our resources below:
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 legal agreement – the 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. Ask general questions and specific questions. 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! This will help you look back later and note any damages to the house. Additionally, if you do end up signing the lease, this will help you complete the check-in sheet and keep you covered for move out. The dates on the pictures will show proof of previous damages, since the photos were taken previous to your residency.
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. This can organize the features you like and dislike about each option. Sit down with your roommates, pull out the pictures, and go over each option. This will make the decision process a little easier.
For example: You could love the size of the bedrooms in one unit, but have to pay for parking. For another house, parking might be free but the bedrooms may be smaller. Decide what is more important to you and your roommates and go from there!
Once you find a couple potential housing options, check out a few free resources to help guide your decision. Check the unit you are interested in and the landlord in Wisconsin’s legal databases. The Department of Neighborhood Services collects records of every dwelling in Milwaukee. Look up the address of each residence on their website to check for any potentially troublesome issues with the property. You may also want to background check the landlord using the Wisconsin Circuit Court website. A simple name search may reveal any past legal issues with previous tenants, which should be taken into consideration before signing a lease. The NHO also provides a landlord rating system, which can be found in the links below. If you’re unsure or would like any assistance, contact the NHO to help you out!
Research rental listings and landlords using these resources:
Landlord Ratings (through the NHO)
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. However, this cost for the credit check only is not to exceed $20. Any other fees must be refunded by the landlord, typically in the first month’s rent.
Make sure to review the lease application and sample lease carefully.
The University Legal Clinic (located Union WG81) is a great resource for off-campus renters. Take your sample lease here and get a free lease review. Once you reviewed your sample lease with the University Legal Clinic and received the green light to pursue the rental, fill out the application for your desired apartment or house.
Additionally, the Legal Clinic can assist with any legal questions or issues throughout your tenancy. If you’re experiencing any trouble or have concerns with your landlord or property, check in with this team of professionals.
As part of the application process you may be asked to pay an application fee. These are used to pay for the credit check landlords do on new potential tenants. By law, this fee is not allowed to exceed $20. The entirety of any excess money to the actual cost of the credit check must be returned to the applicant.
Once your application is approved, it’s time for you, your roommate(s), and any cosigner(s) to sign the lease for the house or apartment of your choosing. By law, it is first come first serve to the first eligible renter. If you have completed and passed the approval application, the landlord must rent to you. If there isn’t an application process, then the landlord rents to whoever signs and returns the lease first. If you do not get approved for the unit you wanted, continue looking for a different place.
After you receive the go ahead from the University Legal Clinic and are approved for your rental application, all parties must sign and return the lease to the landlord. This is generally when you would also turn in your security deposit, which is typically the same amount as the first month’s rent. Landlords generally like one check instead of three, so consider how you want to go about payment. It doesn’t hurt to ask the landlord what their preferred method of payment is as well.
Additionally, if the landlord informs you repairs will be done in the unit, make sure you have this in writing with an estimated completion date. This is called “Promise to Repair” and must be fulfilled by law. If the landlord fails to timely correct repair issue, contact DNS. A landlord cannot legally retaliate – including threatening eviction, refusal to re-rent, etc.
On your move-in day, record any existing damages prior to moving in any of your belongings. The Neighborhood Housing Office recommends taking photos and video of your rental before moving in. Especially for any areas you note on your check-in sheet. You have 7 days to complete the check-in sheet and note any damages before giving a copy of the completed form to the landlord. The landlord is required by law to provide you with the check-in sheet. The Neighborhood Housing Office provides paper copies of check-in sheets as well.
Here is an example of what a check-in sheet may look like.
Completing this form and turning it into your landlord is a good precautionary step to help get the entirety of your security deposit back upon move-out. A landlord will be unable to charge for any preexisting damages if they were documented appropriately. Any photos and videos will also contain a timestamp in case a form of proof is necessary.
After moving in, it is important to set some ground rules. Creating a roommate contract can save time later and act as a good guideline to follow if any disputes come up. The contract outlines the terms, conditions and responsibilities agreed to by each of the residents in relation to how they share space, and how they divide rent and other expenses. Think about what you expect from a roommate and what your roommate(s) may expect from you. Decide what types of behavior or habits are acceptable and what isn’t in your new shared living space. Some questions to consider:
Is there a certain time during the week or weekends that volume should be kept down? How often is the home being cleaned, and by who? Who does the dishes? Takes out the trash?
Roommate agreements are legally binding contract between residents. Some parts are unlikely to be legally enforced – such as who should be doing dishes. However, any financial agreements listed in a roommate contract – such as rent amount per roommate and utilities – can be legally enforced by a judge. If one roommate isn’t paying rent, the other roommates could take legal action against the offender and avoid a bad mark on their credit records as long as payment is specified in the roommate contract.
Stop in the Neighborhood Housing Office for a copy of a roommate contract.
Introducing yourself to your neighbors (both long-term residents and fellow college students) is an important step in becoming a member of your new community. The Neighborhood Housing Office recommends having all tenants on your lease stop by each of your neighbor’s homes and share contact information. This way you can communicate with one another prior to having gatherings at your house, and in the event that you need to tell the other something but cannot reach them in person. Many neighbors will notify each other when they are having get togethers so neighbors are not surprised. This way, your neighbors can contact you before contacting the police, so you have a chance to take care of the situation without getting a visit from UWMPD or MPD.
Establishing relationships with you neighbors can also be useful in case you and your roommate(s) are gone from your unit for an extended period of time. For example, if you are all going out of state for the week of Spring Break, consider asking a neighbor to keep an eye on the house for you, and to report any suspicious behavior. This may provide some extra peace of mind while away from your home.
During Your Lease
Keep track of your bills while living in your house or apartment. You and any roommates will need to decide who will be primarily responsible for paying any utilities that are not included on the lease. Although the cost is usually split between parties, only one name will be associated with the account for payment. Paying or not paying bills on time directly impact the credit score of the person on the account. Credit scores are pulled and taken into consideration for future larger expenditures, such as new leases and loans. Carefully consider who will be primarily responsible for making on-time payments before starting your services. Go through the lease as well to figure out what services are included by the landlord and what additional services you need.
The most common type of bills are for energy/electric/heat through We Energies. We Energies collects records of past bills for every house or apartment in Wisconsin. This can help you get an idea of energy costs in your specific unit. Consider calling We Energies to get an idea of what to expect when you open your first few bills. You can transfer, start, or stop your energy service through We Energies moving section.
Internet and cable are also services to consider. These can be packaged or separate, depending on your budget and which services you and any roommates decide you want. The two prominent companies in Milwaukee are Charter Spectrum and AT&T.
Water bills vary from landlord to landlord. Some will include water costs in rent, while others will require tenants to pay for water separately. Check your lease or ask your landlord for specifications on this. Typically, if tenants are required to pay water, it will be in the landlord’s name. The landlord may bill you quarterly for water and take care of the actual bill payment themselves.
Take your trash out regularly and dispose of it in your designated dumpster. The Department of Public Works has a garbage pick-up schedule, which will tell you what day the next garbage and recycling pickup is for your specific address. The City also provides services and guidelines for different types of garbage disposal, such as electronics, appliances and bulkier furniture items, which can be found here: Sanitation Services.
It is important to dispose of garbage and recycling correctly and in your designated bin. Don’t get on your neighbor’s bad side!
Insulate Your Windows for Winter
It is important to maintain your household in the winter – especially windows. The City of Milwaukee Code of Ordinances states: “In any rental dwelling or rental dwelling unit, storm windows or at least double-glazed windows shall be supplied by the owner for each window in each habitable room of the rental dwelling unit except that such windows need not be provided if heat in the rental dwelling or rental dwelling unit is supplied by the owner. Storm windows shall cover the entire window surface and be capable of adequately sealing out cold air and be constructed of rigid, clear material. Clear, rigid plastic or film materials may be used instead of storm windows when installed on the interior of the primary window in a manner to prevent air infiltration. Flexible film shall not be allowed on the exterior of buildings. Flexible film shall be removed during periods when screens are required. The responsibility of installing the storm windows or other approved materials shall be assumed by the owner, except in one and 2-family dwellings, the tenants shall be responsible for installation.”
If your rental is up to code, check out some ways to weatherize your rental and save money in the link below.
Terminating Your Lease Agreement
Pay close attention to the language in your lease. The type of lease you have matters! Is it a month-to-month or a term lease? Term leases have a fixed amount of time, typically 1 year for UWM students. Your lease will have a termination date listed. Different leases have different requirements for minimum number of days’ notice as well.
Be vigilant of automatic renewal clauses. This automatically renews a lease unless either the landlord or tenant gives notice of non-renewal, which is due a set number of days before the lease ends. Additionally, in order for a landlord to enforce automatic renewal, the tenant must receive a written reminder from the landlord 15-30 days before the tenant must give notice to stop the lease from renewing. Landlords legally cannot fail to remind tenants of the renewal written in a lease and still require tenants to renew their leases.
It is in your best interest to notify your landlord via written notice of your intent to move based on your lease requirements. Check your lease. The Neighborhood Housing Office recommends sending notices via certified mail so that you have proof that the written notice was delivered. Additionally, always ensure you include a forwarding address where your security deposit can be returned to.
This is a good sample of written notice to your landlord: Notice of Non-Renewal
Stop by the Neighborhood Housing Office for a paper copy of a fillable Notice of Non-Renewal form.
*There are some circumstances which allow tenants to break their lease through “Special Early Termination” and leave prior to their lease ends. These instances include: The Safe Housing Act, The Service Members Civil Relief Act, death of the tenant, health and safety hazards, and void and unenforceable provisions. If you feel your circumstances fit into any of the aforementioned categories, the Neighborhood Housing Office recommends seeking legal counsel through the University Legal Clinic at no charge to student fee paying students.
Enlist Help for Moving
This is important to do in advance. If you plan on getting a moving truck, it is recommended to make reservations 2 months in advance. Book one as soon as possible to guarantee a vehicle for your move out date, especially during busier moving times such as the end and beginning of the academic year. If you plan to have family and friends help, having a few cars/trucks to move your things can be helpful. Confirm that they all know what time you need to be out of your rental, and you give yourself plenty time to move everything out. Ensure you have time to do one final walk-through with your check-out sheet.
Change of Address
Make sure your mail makes it to your new home address by visiting your local post office, or going online to submit a change of address. Notify credit card companies or your personal bank of your new address, and remember to change it in PAWS. Touch base with We Energies and any other service providers to transfer services to your new address as well.
Start packing your personal belongings at least 2 weeks ahead of time, varying on how much you own. It will take some time to make sure you have everything packed and ready to go. It can be helpful to use clear totes so you can see what is inside, or grab a few sharpies or colored duct tape to easily identify boxes. Keep similar items together and label everything for an organized unpacking experience as well. For example, you may want to have a couple boxes designated for kitchenware and others for bathroom supplies. After you go through your things, make a box of items you don’t need/use anymore and donate them. Goodwill is a great company to donate old items to! Just make sure you are following their guidelines before bringing all your unwanted items to a location. Two Men And a Truck also provides some helpful moving tips!
If there is no damage to the apartment and it just needs a good cleaning, there is a good chance you will get all your deposit back. Things to keep in mind when moving out:
- Remove nails or screws from the walls
- Fill in holes with putty
- Use cleaning products for the toilet, sink, mirror, counter top, floor, stove, and fridge
- Disinfect the sink and faucet
- Vacuum if carpeted
Deliver the key to your landlord after you do a walk-through inspection. The Neighborhood Housing Office recommends doing a walk-through with your landlord so any discrepancies can be addressed immediately. If you are not doing a walk-through, take photos of the move-out conditions of your apartment or house. Ask your landlord when you can expect to receive your deposit back, and then set a reminder in your personal calendar to follow up. Give the landlord a forwarding address to receive your security deposit or the list of itemized cost of charge and deductions from the security deposit. Landlords are required to return this minus any deductions within 21 days of your move out.