When the end of May arrives at UW-Eau Claire, off-campus property managers are arranging time for cleaners, maintenance workers and others to prepare their properties for new student tenants come June 1, said Patrick Hull of Greenpoint Properties in Eau Claire.
While landlords in the area are spending one to two weeks preparing their rentals for the new tenants, some of the 6,600 off-campus residents at UW-Eau Claire may be left without a home for all or part of that period.
“Last year I had to sleep on my friend’s couch for over a week,” said Rachel Pieper, a third-year nursing student at UW-Eau Claire. “I was still scheduled to work so I couldn’t go back to my parents’ house. All of my frozen food or perishable food had to be thrown away because my friends didn’t have room in their fridge or freezer for my stuff, and that was my problem to figure out, and I couldn’t find a solution for it.”
Pieper rented through University Area Housing the past two years and will begin a new lease with EDJ Rentals on June 1.
“This year, again, I’ll be homeless for a week,” Pieper said. “My new landlords are trying to work something out and allow me to move in, but I will have to sign a document saying I’ll take the apartment as it is and be responsible for any damages the previous tenants did.”
This time period where off-campus residents are without a home is referred to by students as “homeless week.” Typically, the time between the end and the beginning of a lease is about one week, as it will be this year, but it has been as long as two weeks in previous years.
This year, many leases end on or around the university’s commencement ceremony, which is set for Saturday, May 25. In the past, to accommodate for the time between leases, students have stayed with friends, slept in their cars or even tents or moved home temporarily.
Hull said lease end dates are based around UW-Eau Claire’s commencement ceremony. These dates are determined prior to students signing their leases, he said, so students know if they will be without a home at the end of the academic year up to 18 months in advance, depending on when they sign.
Hull said he is also willing to work with students to find them temporary solutions.
“We will find storage for students if they have needs for that. We’ve provided trailers for students to move if they’re moving from one of our places to another,” Hull said. “If it’s at all possible, we’ll do the check-out and check-in the same day, but most often, they can do check-out one day and do check-in the next day.”
UW-Eau Claire student Lucas Larson’s lease also ends May 22, and he has finals both the following days of finals week.
“I feel like there should definitely be more of an emphasis addressing students in their housing until the end of the month,” Larson said, “that way they don’t have to stress about it during finals — especially not ending the lease during finals.”
Not just UW-Eau Claire
“Homeless week” is not a phenomenon specific to students in Eau Claire. Students at UW-La Crosse face similar issues, according to UW-La Crosse student administration.
Ben O’Connell, president of the UW-La Crosse Student Association, said students seem to just “accept” the time between leases as part of the off-campus living experience.
“Then you end up with nine people living in a three-person home during that two weeks because they have nowhere to live and store their things, aside from their friend’s house,” O’Connell said. “I’m hopeful that in the future, student governments like we have at UW-L and UW-EC will be able to address this and find a solution to this problem.”
Students attending UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee do not have a “homeless week,” according to the student associations at these universities.
UW-Madison student leases typically end August 14 and new ones start August 15, said Morgan Grunow, UW-Madison’s Press Office Director of the Associated Students of Madison. Because of this, there is usually only one night where students must find a place to stay.
This year, UW-Eau Claire is offering students a place in the dorms to store their belongings or even reside in at the end of May. Temporary storage options until June 1 are available for $50 and summer room rates are $14 a night for double rooms and $16 a night for single rooms, said Quincy Chapman, director of Housing and Residence Life.
Given the length of various students’ homelessness, this could total about $150 for one week.
UW-Eau Claire’s Student Senate is making students aware of legal options they can pursue.
“In years’ past, we’ve been advocating for students’ rights in terms of just communicating with their landlords,” former Student Body Vice President Maddie Forrest said, “because one of the biggest issues is, frankly, that students don’t feel comfortable talking with their landlords about extending their date because we know landlords really take advantage of their students because it’s such a vulnerable population.”
Landlords offer reasoning, solutions
“Homeless week” is not a new issue. It’s something Patrick Hull, one of many local student landlords, said he “inherited,” when he took over Greenpoint Properties in 2015, and he said it’s likely to have been going on well before then.
About 30 percent of Greenpoint Properties’ 600 units are rented by students, Hull said. While the student leases end about a week before new ones begin, Hull said other tenants have until the end of any given month.
“Students generally need a little more time because there are so many units turning over at the same time. To get all the cleaners, to get all the painters, to get all the maintenance people in, you sometimes need more than just one day,” Hull said.
Landlords provide reasoning for putting students without homes for a week or so, and most look to maintenance needs brought on by the common wear and tear of student tenants.
“Sometimes, you have a group that has led a tough year with parties and/or not cleaning,” Paula Cramer, of Cramer Rentals, said. “These houses are usually a mess or trashed, requiring hours of cleaning and repairs all which take time.”
Cramer said her property rental leases end up to a week before the new ones begin.
John Moss, of General Property Management, said his student leases end May 26. Like Hull and Cramer, Moss said he puts tenants who need or want to move in early before those who don’t require an early move-in.
“We let tenants move in early for free,” Moss said. “If you are a tenant in one of our apartments and you are going to be moving into another of our houses, we adjust the lease end date and the new lease begin date to overlap so there is no homelessness.”
As for solutions to “homeless week,” Hull said he hopes to one day see Eau Claire turn to a schedule similar to UW-Madison, where leases end and begin in the middle of August. However, he said that would take coordination between all the student property managers in the city.
Having leases end at different times in the year would be a hassle for students, Hull said. For instance, if some leases ran from June to mid-May and others ran from mid-August to mid-August, students could end up spending the better part of the summer without a house.
Because many students don’t stay in Eau Claire over the summer, this would give landlords more time to perform maintenance duties and not have any defined period of temporary student homelessness.
“I would certainly be open to a discussion of moving the check-out date to a later time in the summer, when it would just be easier, because you’d have more time for students moving in and out to make that transition easier for them,” Hull said.