The Utterly Unofficial Housing Guide

Step 1: Do your research.

Madison neighborhoods law students like include Vilas, Wil-Mar, Capitol, and Bassett. Read our Neighborhoods Page to learn more.

    Housing Sources:

    Tenant Resources

    Step 2: Come to town.

    A day (or so) trip to Madison to secure an apartment is always a good idea.  Come prepared with:

    • Appointments: Remember that almost all landlords must give current tenants at least 24-hour notice before a tour, so try to schedule some appointments before you come to town to maximize your visit.
    • Car: To maximize limited time, a car will be helpful to get to scheduled apartment viewings, to drive through town to search "For rent" signs on front lawns, and to get familiar with as many neighborhoods as possible.
    • Cell phone: You'll want to call landlords as you drive and spot signs on potential homes.
    • Checkbook: Be ready with it...yep, landlords still require the ol' fashioned paper method.
    • Deposit: Most apartments require a deposit to hold the apartment (usually a half or whole month's rent), so make sure to transfer funds ahead of time.
    • Information: Prepare your rental and employment history, co-signer information for rental applications.  Many management companies have these forms available electronically on their websites, if you want to expedite the process.  Competition for the most desirable apartments can be fierce and you will want to be ready.

    Step 3: Okay, let's negotiate with the landlord.  Get all the details and know your rights.

    READ: Read with an eye to special clauses, and ask questions if unclear.

    NEGOTIATE: Sometimes a landlord will agree to strike certain clauses (i.e prohibiting subletting or hidden fees for carpet cleaning, etc). Larger management companies may be less willing to negotiate, but Madison has tons of small landlords who will.

    Step 4: So, you are about to sign on the dotted line.  Hold on!  Consider these final potential areas of complication before signing a contract.

    • Car: If you plan to bring a car to Madison, be sure to consider parking.  If you live anywhere near campus, you can get a street permit from the City of Madison for a reasonable price.  Be advised, though: street permits come with their own set of challenges.  Street parking is limited in both amount and duration, and the parking laws are enforced with a ruthless efficiency rarely seen outside of an invading army.  Ask your landlord if they have off-street parking available, and if it is included. If you plan to commute to school, look at for campus parking information.  There is very little street parking on campus.  There is a pay lot on Lake Street.  Lake Street charges an hourly rate.
    • Pets: The rigors of law school are indeed stressful; for many, nothing is more soothing than coming home to the love of a pet. Sadly, this love will make finding housing more difficult. Most landlords charge an extra fee, and even more refuse to take pets at all. Expect these challenges if you are bringing Fluffy.
    • Noisy areas: Much of Langdon, all of State Street, portions of the Bassett Neighborhood, campus area.  Living in these areas will realistically force you to always study in the library and may have a negative impact on your sleeping schedule. Unless this is a lifestyle that interests you, you may want to explore other Neighborhood options.
    • Distance: There are real advantages to living near campus: short commute, easy access to university resources.  However, as many students say, if you can deal with a short commute from outside the downtown/campus area, it might be worth the hassle and money. The price for this: extra time for walking or parking/bus logistics. Madison is not so large that this is a horrible problem, but be mindful of it while looking for housing. Double-check distances quoted by landlords, who have been known to take advantage of out-of-town students in quoting the distance to school with amazingly liberal interpretations of the phrases "walking distance" and "easy commute."  If you cannot come to town to see your apartment, confirm distances on Google Maps. The law school's address is 975 Bascom Mall, Madison, WI 53706.
    • Public transit: Although the bus service is generally excellent and as a student you ride free with your ASM bus pass, service on some routes can be infrequent or end early.
    • Roommates: A great way to keep your housing costs low, good study partners, friends, etc. However, your home will be a sacred space during what may be a particularly stressful time of your life. The last thing you want to deal with in the midst of your first year is a roommate who drives you insane, so choose wisely.  A good place to find roommate is the admitted student Facebook group. Words of a student: "if you want roommates, make sure that you spend time meeting them and making sure they will be on a similar schedule (sleeping at normal hours) that being a 1L requires."

    Step 5:  Sign that lease!  Congratulations!  You're the proud new owner of an apartment!  Now what?

    Time to set up your utilities, internet, transfer your phone and bank accounts (if necessary), and change your address!

    Madison Gas & Electric



    US Cellular



    UPS Store

    Budget Truck Rental

    Mad City Moving

    AFH Movers
    Change of address

    Step 6: Whew, the big move is over!  Here are some logistical details to tackle after unpacking and the dust has settled.

    UW ID card (Wiscard)
    where: Union South
    why: access to recreational facilities, campus libraries, free ASM bus pass
    ASM bus pass
    where: SAC and Union South
    why: it's free...why not?  plus, better to test out your local bus route when you have extra time than when you are in a mad rush to get to a final during a December snow storm
    Residential parking permit
    where: Madison Parking Division, Rm 100, Madison Municipal Building, 215 Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard
    when: between 7:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m., Monday through Friday
    why: avoid parking WILL unquestionably get one (or many) if you do not have a street permit and leave your car longer than 1-2 hours
    Outdoor activities
    what: Hoofers Outdoor Club
    what: sailing, scuba, windsurfing, riding, outings, mountaineering, kayaking, and more
    where: Memorial Union lakefront
    why: you've got the time (enjoy it, you will soon be buried under casebooks), the weather is fine...take advantage of one of the country's best outdoor clubs

    Step 7:  Here's some advice for dealing with your landlord to ensure you don't lose your power.

    GET IT IN WRITING: Especially promises to repair things. Keep a file of all written requests and make a logbook of the substance and date of all calls.  

    BE REASONABLE BUT PERSISTENT: Be prepared, but not threatening, antagonistic or overly legalistic. Recognize their challenges: landlords cannot fix a problem if you don't tell them. You have a duty to alert them about structural problems (leaky plumbing, sinking floors, etc).  Give them a chance before calling a housing inspector about serious problems.

    Advice from law students

    Mull over some words of wit and wisdom from students.Disclaimer:  These are unedited, and sometimes directly contradictory, words of advice from students.

    "In my opinion, the closer to school the better, so location is important, especially if you'll be taking the bus. Ask someone who lives here what they think of the location you're considering because landlords tend to underestimate the hassle to get to campus from some apartments. But if you get just a little bit outside of downtown/campus area, prices drop a lot so I guess a happy medium is best"
    "Start looking early, avoid management companies unless you absolutely have to"
    "Start early, ask a lot of questions, live on the Isthmus--you won't regret it. Oh, and leave your car behind. It'll end up being a huge pain and you won't really need it"
    "Make sure that the living quarters has room to set up a study area. Nice to be able to do some work at home if you have to, and law school work inevitably requires space to spread out materials (hard to sit on a couch and study)"
    "Don't be wed to living on the Isthmus or close to campus. You get much more apartment for your dollar if you are willing to look a little further away. And if you're not going to walk, a 15 minute drive is nothing"
    "Check out the materials online from the Tenant Resource Center about preparing to rent. Gives tips on places to call/look to see if the landlord's been reported for problems in the past"
    "For about the same amount (if you have a roommate) as you would pay for a studio or efficiency downtown, you can get a beautiful, spacious apartment with luxuries like a swimming pool, air conditioning, on-site laundry, and free parking (or heated underground parking for an additional cost) if you are willing to live a few miles away from campus"
    "Try to live on the near west or near east side--you are still close to campus, but far enough away to avoid the distractions. Also, housing immediately downtown is terrible--the conditions are really bad, the landlords are questionable characters, rent is out of control, and forget about parking your car. In my experience, the non-downtown area landlords are excellent in Madison. The near west and near east sides have some really terrific neighborhoods with interesting apartments/houses for a reasonable price"
    "I was told that you shouldn't bring a car to Madison. I'm really glad that I did. There are quite a few areas in Madison, especially on the outskirts, that aren't accessible by bus, or the buses run too infrequently to be practical. However, driving to campus is ambitious and should be avoided"
    "Don't go with the big housing companies. Most of the best apartments in Madison come from small landlords who own one or two properties in interesting neighborhoods. If you have a car, drive around and write down phone numbers. While the Isthmus and the Onion have some gems, better apartments can be found in the Cap Times and State Journal because the people who advertise there tend to be looking for working people rather than just students. A lot of times that means that you find well-maintained properties rather than places that years and years of students have trashed. The Willy street neighborhood is one in which you can have a lot fun but not get into an argument with your neighbor when you ask them to turn down their stereo the night before you have a final"
    "See the apartment before you rent, there are so many really bad apartments/landlords around here, but if you take time to look there are good ones to be found. Don't be afraid of living a little further from campus, it has not been a problem at all. Look for "extras" such as included utilities, security, easy landlord access by nice websites, etc.--these things seem to be indicative of good landlords who aren't simply trying to bleed you for everything you've got. Convenience is important to--it is easier to adjust to the sometimes overwhelming 1L life if you don't have to travel far to get groceries, work out, do fun things, etc"

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