‘Homeless week’ causes many UW-Eau Claire students to sleep in cars, tents and on friends’ couches

Landlords require more time to maintain and clean student rentals due to a high turnover rate


Photo by Emilee Wentland

About 6,600 students live off campus at UW-Eau Claire. Most of their leases end on May 25, leaving them homeless until June 1.

When the end of May arrives at the 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, Patrick Hull of Greenpoint Properties in Eau Claire said.

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.”

Tristan Miller, a student at UW-Eau Claire who is leasing through LSI Property Management, has an earlier end date than most: May 22, which is the Wednesday of finals week at the university.

Miller has an exam that Thursday and his roommate has one on Friday, so their landlords are allowing them to stay until noon on Friday, as long as they keep the place in “pristine condition,” he said.

Miller will be moving home to Green Bay until June 5, when his new lease with JCAP Real Estate begins, and is keeping most of his stuff in a storage unit in Eau Claire during that time.

“I think ‘homeless week’ is a dumb idea. These landlords … all know we are college students who have finals that we need to get out of the way before we get out of their buildings,” Miller said in an email. “Many students will probably have to cram into others places and have full cars of their stuff because of this.”

Another tenant of LSI Property Management is Lucas Larson. His 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.

Representatives from UW-Stevens Point, UW-Green Bay and UW-Stout did not immediately respond for comment.

Invoking change

This year, UW-Eau Claire is offering students a place in the dorms to store their belongings or even reside in for the time 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, Quincy Chapman, director of Housing and Residence Life, said.

Given the length of various student’s homelessness, this could total about $150 for one week.

One thing UW-Eau Claire’s Student Senate has been doing — aside from providing on-campus alternatives for students to store their things — 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.”

Austin Northagen, the former Student Office of Sustainability director, said he has a personal connection to “homeless week.” He had friends who stayed in tents after putting their belongings in a storage unit last year.

Forrest said she wants the safety of students to be held to a higher standard. Northagen and Forrest are both excited about the temporary solutions UW-Eau Claire has provided to students for “homeless week,” but they need other solutions.

“We’re hoping (the storage options) will alleviate some of the problems,” Forrest said, “but really there should be other options out there.”

Aside from temporary storage, another solution is alleviating the financial burden of dumping items through a university-run program, Northagen said. Students get a bad reputation when moving out, he said, because of the trash and furniture that gets left outside after the mass move outs in May.

The program — which serves as a means to recycle, throw away and donate old furniture — used to cost $5 to $10 an item to dispose, which was a turn-off for students, Northagen said.

“We found that last year and years before, students weren’t going to the event because of the funds,” Northagen said. “Paying that extra $10 was a deterrent for students to go, so we decided to use funds from our Green Fund to create the event so that students can drop off a couch, drop off a mattress, drop off a nightstand at no direct cost.”

During the last year, Student Senate has been working to foster a better relationship with the community, Forrest said. One way they’ve been doing that is by ensuring that safety within student housing neighborhoods is held to a higher standard than it currently is.

“By having those conversations, too, it’s not only ensuring that students are being held accountable and that landlords are being held accountable,” Forrest said, “but the city is being held accountable for how we’re treating students.”

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 lead 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.

Many landlords offer solutions for students who may resort to living in their cars or on a friend’s couch between leases.

“I have let many groups stay late as well as many groups move in the moment that I check a vacated premises. No one wants anyone to be ‘homeless,’” Cramer said.

Hull said Greenpoint works with students who are renting a different home with them so they can potentially move in earlier or even on the same day as they moved out of their previous rental.

“We make sure we have a priority list of students who are moving from one unit to another. We’ll make sure their new unit is ready,” Hull said, “so basically they can move out one day, move in the next, or, in many cases, move in to their new unit that same day.”

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.”

Moss, a former UW-Stout student, said one year he stayed with a friend and put all of his belongings in his car or the trash to “ride out the gap between leases.”

As for solutions to the epidemic of “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.

Hull said he was unfamiliar with any of his tenants being forced to live in their cars or in tents. He said very few students ask for help, but they are willing to work with tenants to prevent unsafe living situations at the end of May.

“Anyone who has asked us for help,” Hull said, “we’ve certainly provided it.”

Wentland can be reached at [email protected].