I hate apartment hunting almost as much as job hunting. Why? Because the competition is higher and there are more “qualified” candidates that will snatch apartments right from under your nose in less than 24 hours! Erik and I have been searching for a 1 bedroom apartment on the West side of LA for the past month, and we applied (and got approved) for 2 properties. Throughout our process, we’ve dealt with a sketchy management company and had to juggle many moving parts. Here are some tips that might help alleviate some headache when the inevitable apartment hunt comes your way!
This is by no means an endorsement to use Padmapper. I actually dislike the user interface and prefer other sites like HotPads.com instead. But the cool thing about Padmapper is that it takes listings from various sites and congregates them into one, including Craigslist. And here’s a secret about Craigslist: Managers can post listings for free. So a lot of times, you’ll find apartments on Craigslist that aren’t online anywhere else, because managers are trying to save some money and there’s plenty of applicants around on every housing site. So even though I prefer using HotPads, I still checked Padmapper on the side.
Erik and I didn’t actually use this trick, but it does help and we would have used this eventually had we not found the right place yet. Rather than check a few times every day like I did, you can set alerts with the right parameters and filters so that every time a new listing hits the site, you get an email or text notification and you can hop right on it to contact the manager. Good apartments go very very quickly so you have to be on top of everyone else!
Request a copy of your credit report
That $20-45 “application fee” is really just the money used towards a credit check. The manager doesn’t really get to pocket any of it. So you are legally able to request a copy of the report that the manager/company runs of you, and you could potentially use that to present to other units to either waive the application fee (if allowed) or simply as a means to speed up the process should you have a good credit score.
You do NOT need to provide your Drivers License
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS. This is so important. Many rental applications will ask for: your birthday, SSN, and your drivers license. The last item isn’t required to run a credit check, and that’s just another thing that could be stolen for identity theft. So do yourself a favor and keep that info to yourself. It’s NOT necessary to provide it.
If you’re not as finicky about your personal info (though you should be) and the application demands a photo ID in the form of your license, you can try what Erik did, in which he edited the photo to include obvious text that said, “only for (insert apartment address).” It doesn’t necessarily prevent identity theft if your driver’s license number is still visible, but it does make it harder to transfer digital copies around.
Say NO to a pre-agreement or pre-lease
This was an issue Erik and I came across for our first-choice apartment. The management company required that we sign a pre-agreement that states our intent to pay the deposit and sign the lease. Note that we weren’t able to see the actual lease beforehand either. We requested to see the lease, and were given a standard template which checked out fine, so we went forward and signed that pre-agreement. Then the next step was to put down a security deposit to “hold” the apartment. Again this was prior to signing the lease but since we thought we knew what the lease entailed, we went forward. Turns out, the lease was NOT the same one we saw the example of and we had to fight a bit to get our deposit back. A pre-agreement is still a legal document that does you no favors and is entirely beneficial to the management company asking you to sign it. If one does, turn the other way and run.
READ EVERYTHING AND READ CAREFULLY
I can’t stress this enough and any sane person would tell you the same. NEVER sign anything you haven’t read. The actual lease that we got AFTER we put down the deposit had language in there that waived our rights to any notice to vacate if the owners decided to convert the building into condominiums. We were told in email that they had no intention to convert, but that the law required they disclose that info. BUT, the addendum to waive any right to a written notice was added voluntarily by the company and they refused to remove that language when we asked. So because of this, Erik and I backed out and demanded our deposit back. This is just shady slum lord behavior that you should be watchful for!
No pets policy with an ESA?
Maddie is registered as an Emotional Support Animal, which I have a doctor’s letter for. You should familiarize yourself with the Fair Housing Act and any ESA laws if you have one and are trying to get an apartment under a no pets policy. OR a pet-friendly building and you’re trying to waive the monthly pet fee and deposit. I had the hardest time figuring out when to tell managers that I had a dog that is registered as an ESA. Is it before or after signing the lease? After being approved for the unit? Before putting down the deposit? I Google searched countless articles that did not help when it came to applying for a new apartment. What I found that worked for me was to let the manager know as soon as you’re approved for the apartment. That way, you have the leverage of being a qualified tenant, hopefully the only ones that have applied thus far, and the manager has already accepted you as a potential tenant. There might be a delay in between approval and lease-signing if the manager needs to verify the authenticity of an ESA letter. I had one company basically never get back to me about the verification and we negotiated waiving the monthly pet rent in exchange for keeping a pet deposit (since you’re supposed to get that money back eventually). Under CA law though, managers can’t charge ESA owners any amount of money. Another manager just requested a picture of Maddie and her vaccination records in addition to her ESA letter and approved her almost immediately. So it can really depend on each manager, but definitely do research to know your rights.
Bring a tape measure
I started bring a tape measure with me to all my viewings mainly to get the size of the bedroom. The living rooms are usually big enough that we had a lot of options on how to furnish, but the bedroom is trickier. Some places have very very tiny bedrooms and all rooms honestly feel really small. So I measured Erik’s current bedroom as reference (since I know what can fit) and compared my findings with his room as the baseline.
Most of these tips were things we learned along the way, though some were old knowledge. My dad, a former landlord for some of my grandpa’s properties, was the one who told me that providing a driver’s license isn’t necessary. If red flags get set off for whatever reason, listen to your gut and do your research. And do it quickly because apartments go so fast!