You’ve probably figured out some of the rental lingo on your own: “cozy” and “quaint” often mean “tiny and cramped.” “Garden level” might mean “opening out into a busy street.” “Artist-friendly space” means “deafeningly loud parties will happen a lot.” Once you’ve looked at apartments and narrowed it down to your top choices, make sure you’ve asked the right questions before you sign that lease.
Even if you are rooming with a friend, find out ahead of time what the roommate policy is, just in case one of you decides to split at some point. The landlord should agree to keep the lease “as is” as long as one of you is on the lease. Beyond the credit check fee, there shouldn’t be any surprise charges should you find yourself needing a new roommate.
Pools or Hot Tubs
Ask how often the pool is cleaned; your landlord should have a confident answer like “Mondays” or “weekly”. If it’s a vague “when it needs to be”, it’s safe to assume that the pool gets cleaned when your landlord needs to sign a lease. Even if you don’t see yourself ever taking a dip, a landlord who’s willing to let a pool become a petri dish probably won’t be too tentative to other grounds issues either.
Much like the pool, well-maintained grounds should be a weekly routine. Check that the trees, flowers and lawn are watered and manicured in a way that tells you that your landlord takes pride in the upkeep of the building. Gardening is almost always included, but if you are renting a guesthouse or bungalow, you may need to pay a fee for a gardener to keep the area trimmed and watered.
Depending on the area you’re looking at, parking could mean serious business. In particularly dense areas like downtown, Koreatown or Brentwood, parking is at a premium and may be a significant monthly cost if it’s not included in the rent. Permit parking is common in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the western area of Hollywood. While this ensures a much better likelihood that you’ll get a spot, you’ll have to print out guest permit passes if you have company over at $2.50 each. And while the permits are free when you apply with your driver’s license and a copy of your lease or two utility bills with your name on them, be aware that you need to be paid up in full for any parking tickets first.
Don’t assume that your fuzzy critters will be welcome. While it’s not terribly difficult to find a pet-friendly apartment, many apartments won’t allow dogs or won’t allow any pets at all. More and more buildings are accepting dogs so long as they are under 25 pounds (yes, the teacup dog trend is alive and well). If you have a pit bull or even a dog that looks like a pit bull, like a mastiff or American bulldog, be upfront about it! Because of an unfortunate stigma around the breed, it’s common for landlords to prohibit the breed entirely. Better to find out your landlord’s feelings on your pet before moving day.
Perhaps the biggest question of all to ask a potential landlord is which utilities are included in your rent. If you are renting in a typical apartment building, basics like trash, recycling and water are usually included. Gas varies but because of LA’s climate, it’s really a negligible bill. Electricity is the utility that is nearly always the responsibility of the renter, along with auxiliary costs like internet and cable. If there is an intercom system, check that you’ll be able to get it on your cell phone as some require a landline up to the apartment and while it won’t break the bank, it’s just one more bill to keep track of.
Renting an apartment without a fridge is a really puzzling quirk of LA. Presumably it’s because it’s one less appliance for a landlord to have to worry about taking care of and unlike a stove, a shoddy fridge won’t present the danger of a gas leak. If the apartment is otherwise what you’re looking for, the cost of your very own fridge isn’t too bad and thanks to Craigslist, you’ll have a selection of local used fridges and local folks with pickups and muscles to help deliver it. But be careful not to grab the cheapest fridge you see– an old or malfunctioning fridge can eat away at your electrical bill and fluctuations can make your food unsafe to eat. If the apartment you are looking at is still occupied, ask about the fridge at the viewing. If it’s not included with the rent, you may be able to purchase it from the current renters.
If you’ve gone through apartment hunting in New York or other very large metropolitan areas, don’t stress. Los Angeles apartment searching is far easier and moves at a much slower pace. It’s not expected to take more than two weeks to find your new home and hiring a moving company is just an LA Craigslist phone call away. Relax, keep an open mind. You’ll find your dream rental.