Searching for a rental in Los Angeles County can be time-consuming, expensive, and confusing. Being originally from LA, and watching the rental market morph over the years, coupled with a growing understanding of rentals/leasing from the professional perspective, has resulted in some hard-earned insight. Whether your looking for a rental in West Hollywood, East Hollywood, NELA (Koreatown, Silverlake, Los Feliz, Echo Park, Highland Park), or even the Valley, here are 5 (very) tried-and-true tips to give you a competitive edge when it comes to finding a Los Angeles rental!
#1 KNOW YOUR SEARCH STRATEGY
Choose your search strategy. This may seem obvious, but it’s an often overlooked aspect of finding a rental in Los Angeles.
Free Searches - If you absolutely will not pay to see inventory then Craigslist, word of mouth, posting to FaceBook, driving around, and Google are all your best friends. Unpaid searches may take longer and be more competitive, but you may find some hidden gems that are under-priced. If you’re looking for a roommate situation, then no-cost searching may be the way to go. If you’re on a budget, this is also your method. Note that some portion of this inventory may be out-of-date--it will be your job to sift through that inactive noise. In the free space, The Rental Girl looks like a great alternative resource, especially if you're looking to lease a home, condo, or loft. Their website is neatly organized, well-designed, and free to prospective tenants.
Paid Searches - If you think you will pay to see inventory at some point during your search, just do it already. I personally have never paid to search inventory, but just looking at Westsiderentals.com reveals they have close to 50,000 listings in inventory. This strategy is your way to go if you can afford it and if you’re pressed for time. Note that this inventory should be up-to-date: if it’s listed, it’s likely still available.
Realtor - In practicality, searching for rentals is time-consuming with low-returns for a Real Estate agent, so cold-calling your local real estate office may not be the best way forward. But if you happen to personally know one, then ask your real estate agent friend to search inventory for you. Don’t forget to take her out for a cup of coffee in thanks!
#2 BE PROACTIVE
Needless to say, you must be proactive in your search: when you find something you like, pick up the phone and place a call. Realtors and landlords will be inundated with text messages, emails, and messages through 3rd-party sites (like Trulia or Zillow). While getting back to each written inquiry takes time, answering a call and spouting out some information is quick and fairly straightforward: you can get your questions answered in no time at all. Also, know that most inquiries sent to the landlord will be written, so if you just pick up the phone you will be in a very short line.
Follow-up your phone call and property visit up with an email. Keep it short and sweet. If you have additional questions, then note them concisely. If you are submitting an application via email, simply state your name, thank them for their time, re-iterate your phone number, and attach your application. Do not go into long-winded sob stories about your cat passing away a year ago which resulted in some turbulent credit history but that your aunt’s cousin’s third sister is willing to cosign for you on the next full moon. (See “BE UPFRONT” section below.)
When filling out your application make sure to fill it out COMPLETELY. If an item is not applicable to you, then write in "NA". Don't leave anything blank.
When you don’t hear back, follow-up with a phone call or short email. This is Los Angeles: everyone and their mother is trying to get that sweet one-bedroom with hardwood floors, french windows, and sunset views. Following up is essential. For example, “Hi Maria, Jackie here. I wanted to follow-up regarding 123 Anywhere Street in Silverlake. Do you need any more information from me?”
If you don’t hear back, then save your energy and time and move on.
#3 BE UPFRONT
Don’t waste your time by hiding your skeletons. Once you’ve asked your basic interest questions, be upfront about features of your renter profile that make you less competitive in the renter’s market.
You might, for example, have questionable credit. Do not go into your three paragraph-long sob-story about your cat, and your credit, and how you truly are a good person who experienced a momentary lapse in your good-personhood resulting in Nordstrom’s sending you to collections. Save your proverbial breath.
Instead, be practical here. A landlord wants to know that you will pay your rent on time, every time. If your history doesn’t demonstrate that ability, then you need to compliment your profile with information that promotes trust and shows your actual rent-paying ability.
So if you have questionable credit history, then simply say that outright and offer accommodations like having a guarantor co-signer, sending redacted bank statements that show high savings, or offering to remit double security deposit.
#4 KNOW YOUR NON-NEGOTIABLES
Your dream rental is an updated large one bedroom with on-site parking, doorman, in-apartment laundry, garden, and a rooftop pool. But you’ll settle for a rental with dedicated parking; everything else is negotiable.
When I was looking for my apartment my only non-negotiable was that it had to be a one-bedroom. Everything else was a bonus. But now-a-days, I have two non-negotiables: parking and schools.
What I didn't know was how important dedicated parking actually is for me. My flat is in Koreatown where parking (at the time I moved in) was pretty tight. But the community largely resorted to parking on the median and the City of LA didn't cite us. We had an understanding. But recently the City decided to crack down on our median-parking practice, resulting in an unbearably impossible parking situation for residents. Hence, given the amount of parking tickets I’ve gotten coupled with the inconvenience factor, my new non-negotiable is parking. I don't care if I move into a closet at this point, just so long as it has parking!
Moreover, schools are now super important to me! Any Los Angeles parent of school-age kiddos knows how critical geography can be when it comes to deciding where to buy or rent a house. When I moved into my flat a couple of years ago, my daughter was preschool age and it did not much matter. Now, as she’s blazing through Kindergarten, we’re faced with deciding where she will spend her Elementary school years, whether they will be public or private, and how much time we want to spend commuting her to and from school. Now geography is a non-negotiable, since we’re opting for a public school for the next 5-6 years that we can walk to.
It’s important for you to know exactly your non-negotiables, this will help you save time, energy, and money.
#5 DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE
Ok, you’ve submitted applications and finally have a rental offer. Congrats! You feel amazing and can’t wait to sign your life away and move in.
But before you do, take a deep breath and come back to reality. Temper your excitement with actual information.
First, read the contract. Look for lease term, potential rental increase, rules and regulations regarding overnight guests, stipulations on parking, window items, shared community spaces, and repairs. You want to make sure you know what you are signing. If you have a question: ASK. You will be held to the terms in your contract, and landlords in Los Angeles can be ruthless. Know the agreement you are getting into, before you sign.
Second, walk the building and/or neighborhood. Ask your neighbors (if an apartment building) what the drawbacks are to live there. Since you’re on cloud-nine, you might not be clear-minded enough to see glaring drawbacks: smells, noise (within and outside the building), parking, repair times, size of building, tenant turnover, apartment temperature, laundry facilities, and overall vibe will all play a role in your comfort. Asking a tenant what he doesn’t like about the building is a quick way to assess what might be problems for you. Even run a quick Google/Yelp search: you might see that the building is notorious for duping tenants out of their security deposits.
Third, ask the manager/owner what problems the building has experienced recently. Are there problems with pests or plumbing? Is there a problematic tenant? Is the owner responsive to repair-requests?
Take a hard look at the information. If the space doesn’t seem right, then do not move in. Otherwise, you might be stuck with an over-priced and often too-hot mid-Wilshire studio that smells like mothballs and cinnamon sticks.