Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Housing market sees power shifts, high demand for older buildings

Joey Reuteman

As students look for housing in Madison, some officials say state legislation is giving landlords the upper hand in a competitive market where housing choices are becoming more complicated.

High demand for aging houses

As apartment developments continue to pop up around downtown Madison, the choice for student housing is increasingly coming down to either high rise apartment or 100-year-old houses.


Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said the increasing age of these downtown student houses comes with wear and tear and often not enough maintenance. Verveer said many of the houses in neighborhoods like the Mifflin and Bassett areas were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Many of these houses are reaching the end of their days, Verveer said.

“I think soon they will be outliving their useful life, especially those that have taken years of beatings from students and others moving in and out on an annual basis,” Verveer said. “It’s kind of amazing that some of them are still in habitable condition.”

Many of these old houses are already being replaced by new apartment complexes, Verveer said. However, he said these new apartments are not a bad thing.

While older buildings do have certain “charms,” such as having a yard, living with a group of friends in a neighborhood setting and more freedom to have parties, some negatives exist too, such as lack of maintenance and potential hazards. Verveer said most city buildings are only inspected once every seven or so years, so most of the maintenance responsibility falls to the landlords.

“Except for the pressure of city building inspectors, a lot of landlords don’t have an incentive to invest in their 100-year-old properties,” he said.

Part of the problem is that students sign leases for houses nearly a year in advance, which Verveer said can be attributed to a lack of housing and the historically low apartment vacancy rates in the downtown and campus areas.

Considering the condition of some of the houses, Verveer said he is always surprised by the speed in which leases are signed and units are rented.

“It is pretty crazy when you think about it, that these 100-year-old houses are being leased up a year in advance by students to live in, so it is my hope that as vacancy rates climb up a couple percentage points that rents will stabilize,” Verveer said.

State legislation shakes up tenant-landlord power dynamic

Additionally, changes in landlord-tenant state laws over the past year have shifted the balance of power toward landlords in the City of Madison which Heidi Wegleitner, District 2 Supervisor and attorney at Legal Action Wisconsin, said is something students should be looking out for.

The 2013 Wisconsin Act 76 that went into effect March 1, 2014 impacted the city’s ability to regulate landlord-tenant law, Wegleitner said. Because of this legislation, a local government entity cannot require a landlord to communicate any information, unless it’s required by federal or state law and is required of all other residential real estate property owners.

Wegleitner said this lack of required disclosure can make things especially confusing in cases where students who are new to renting are not asking the appropriate questions when looking over their leases, she said.

“Dane County had an ordinance that required landlords to tell a tenant why their application was being denied and/or why they were being non-renewed and give them a detailed explanation of what the problem was and if it was based on inaccurate or unlawful information,” she said.

Vaguer language no longer requires landlords to involve the local government when towing cars on their property, and is no longer required to store a tenant’s belongings after they move out or are evicted, she said.

“We had pretty stable, established landlord tenant law for decades, and since 2011, it’s been shaken up a lot,” Wegleitner said. “There have been a lot of changes and it has really caused confusion for landlords and tenants; I don’t know that it’s really accomplished the goals the authors of this legislation have been promoting.”

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