First Steps When Looking for Off-Campus Housing
Moving off campus is a big decision. Below are a few questions to ask yourself before you start your housing search.
- Location and Safety – How close do you want to be to campus? What kind of neighborhood would you like to live in? Learn more about the University area by Becoming Familiar with La Crosse.
- Cost – What can you afford? Costs include rent, utilities, food, entertainment, and all other living costs.
- Roommates – Do you want to live alone or with roommates?
- Subleasing – Does your landlord allow subleasing in case you need to move?
- Parking – Does the property provide parking spaces? Is there a cost for parking?
- Leasing Requirements – You may need a cosigner and pay application fee.
Viewing a Rental Unit
Safety and Comfort
- Crime: Is the rental unit in an area you feel comfortable living in? Crime statistics are available through the La Crosse Police Department on www.cityoflacrosse.org/. Visit the unit during the day and at night to see if there is a major difference in the neighborhood environment. Talk to the current tenants about their experiences.
Space: Is the rental unit, and its kitchen, bedrooms, and closets large enough for your needs?
- Fire Safety: Are all smoke detectors in working condition? Test them to make sure. Each level must have at least one smoke alarm, including the basement. Each bedroom and living area must have at least one window.
- Home Security: Are all doors, locks, and dead bolts in working condition?
Condition of the Property
- Cleanliness: Is the unit itself in a condition you are willing to live in?
Working Appliances and Plumbing: Is everything in the unit in good working condition? Test the heat, air conditioning, hot and cold water faucets, shower pressure, and toilet to make sure everything works to your satisfaction. Do all lights and electrical outlets work properly? (You can even ask the current tenants).
- Energy Efficiency: Do all windows open and close properly? Test all windows throughout the unit. Drafty windows could mean higher energy bills. Are there any leaky faucets? Leaky faucets could mean higher water bills and possibly future water damage.
- Off-Street Parking: Off-street parking means the landlord has spaces reserved for building residents. You should ask the landlord how many spots are available and if there is a cost.
- On-Street Parking: If off-street parking is not available, you may need to purchase a City Parking Permit.
Agreements between You and the Landlord
Document Agreements: If the landlord agrees to make any changes or repairs to the property, you should document the agreements in writing. Student Legal Services will help you add amendments to your lease and document any oral agreements between you and the landlord.
Comfort with Landlord
- Current Tenants: Talk to the current tenants about their experiences with the landlord.
- Off-Campus Housing Excellence Program: Does the landlord participate in the Off-Campus Housing Excellence Program? Landlords that participate in the Excellence Program are committed to initiatives that promote home safety, security, and sustainability.
Signing a Lease
Do not sign a lease until you personally enter and view the exact unit you will be renting. A model unit may give you an idea of the available units, but ask to see the specific unit for rent, even if people are currently living there. Visit Student Legal Services before signing your lease.
Once you have visited a unit multiple times and are seriously considering renting the place, you may need to provide the landlord with certain information:
- Application fee: You may need to pay an application fee (typically $30-$75 range). The landlord may check your credit report as well.
- Co-signor: Most landlords require a student under the age of 23 to have a co-signor (typically a parent or guardian).
- Holding fee: if you will not be moving in right away. This will secure your unit while your application is processed.
- Sign lease: Before signing the lease, visit Student Legal Services for a lease review. Read the lease before signing. The lease affects your rights and responsibilities. After signing the lease, your co-signor will also be asked to sign the lease. Ask for a copy of everything you and your landlord sign.
Security deposit: The deposit is usually equal to one month’s rent. The security deposit is refundable, as long as the property is returned in the same condition as it was received, minus normal wear and tear. Some landlords may ask for not only the security deposit, but also the first month’s rent, up front.
*If you feel that the landlord’s requirements are outrageous and you are being discriminated against, contact Student Legal Services immediately.
Purchase Renter’s Insurance
- Protect Your Property: Your landlord’s insurance does not cover your personal property in the event it is damaged in a fire or stolen. Check with your auto insurance company or other insurance companies for a price quote. You can also ask your parents to see if their homeowner’s insurance covers your property.
- Protect Yourself: Ask Student Legal Services to review your renter’s insurance policy (or any potential policy) to ensure that the policy covers your acts of negligence. Some insurance policies will exclude your acts of negligence from coverage. So, for example, if you accidentally cause a fire in your apartment that leads to damaged personal property, you want to make sure you’re covered by your renter’s insurance.
Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
- Responsibilities: As a tenant you have certain responsibilities. For example, you must take out your trash and only put recyclables in the blue bins, keep bathrooms in clean and sanitary condition, maintain the heat above freezing temperatures, keep your living areas clean and in sanitary condition, and avoid insects and other pests from infesting your rental unit.
- Rights: As a tenant you have rights as well. For example, your landlord must provide heat and water at all times, provide functioning fire safety devices, and provide garbage service and trash receptacles.
- Legal Services: Student Legal Services is available to assist you with any questions or concerns about your rental unit or your landlord. If you need repairs made to your rental property, contact your landlord and follow-up your request in writing. Unless the repair is an emergency, your landlord has 30 days make the repair. If you need assistance, contact Student Legal Services.
Off-Campus Living Guide: The Off-Campus Living Guide is a La Crosse definitive guide for a successful off-campus living experience.
Parking in The Snow:
Parking in the city of La Crosse can be difficult as well as expensive. However, it is important for everyone to follow the city’s guidelines of where to park during the winter months. This will not only help plow truck drivers do a better job clearing the streets, but will also help you to avoid a $115 ticket to the city for violating the city’s regulations–a fine that increases if not paid within the same business day.
Keeping Your House Safe
As finals week comes to a close and the semester winds down at the onset of winter, we all look forward to going to our respective homes and enjoying some time off for the holiday season. But something many of us do not take into account is the danger our on-campus homes may be in if not properly secured. Whether it is your first year living outside the residence halls, or the last time you’re leaving campus before graduation, here are some things to keep in mind regarding the safety of your living space:
Winter is coming! And with it comes the desire to crank up the heat in your home, curl up under warm blankets, and sip hot chocolate while safely protected from the freezing temperatures that come with a “Wisconsin winter”. It’s easy to increase your energy use in the winter without even realizing it, which has negative environmental and financial consequences.
Safety Starts at Home
Here are some important safety precautions to help you feel safe and protect your home.
Secure sliding glass doors with a safety bar placed in the door track.
Maintain good lighting at all entrances, and keep porch lights on at night. If you come home and find a door or window open, do not enter. Call the police immediately. Ask for proper identification from repairmen and utility workers before letting them enter your home.
Hide spare keys in accessible places. Give them to trusted neighborhoods or friends if you leave for an extended period of time. Never leave doors or windows open or unlocked when you’re not home. Always close and lock doors and windows before leaving your home.
Securing Your Security Deposit
You always paid your rent on time, you took good care of your residence, now it’s time to move out and you want your security deposit back, right? Your landlord may deduct money from your deposit for unpaid rent (including late-payment fees), unpaid utility bills, or actual damage to the unit. But deductions cannot be made for cleaning or for normal wear and tear.