Los Angeles Times: June 16, 2004
By Gina Piccalo, Times Staff Writer
I love the closet, I mean apartment, and I promise I would be a great tenant…
JANINE deBOISBLANC was bitter, and no one would have blamed her. She’d been apartment hunting for far too long—five months, to be exact—living out of her VW Jetta, couch-surfing, house-sitting, scrutinizing apartment listings. Even a two-week hospital visit was a welcome reprieve.
“I thought, ‘Well, it’s a place to stay,’ ” she says. It was nearly summer, the time of year when every college grad and landlocked dreamer has eyes for sparkly Southern California, and competition was already fierce. These days, the locals are looking too. Homeowners who sold for a bundle and banked the cash are renting while they wait out the inflated market. Then there were the hordes who must rent because they can’t buy — only 23% of Angelenos can afford a median-priced home. Thousands of new units are built each year, but the vacancy rate continues to hover around 4%. Here, landlords can be choosy, and renters must compromise, cajole and pay up.
All of which had turned deBoisblanc, an otherwise bubbly actress in her late 20’s, into an exhausted nomad with hair-trigger senses, always on alert for that red-and-white “For Rent” sign poking out of the bushes, savvy enough to know that “charming” means claustrophobic,” “artsy” means “abandoned by landlord” and “easy freeway access” might as well say “surrounded by a deafening roar.”
“I’ve looked at converted garages that they’re calling ‘guest-houses’ with water heaters in the middle of them for $995 a month,” deBoisblanc says. “And I love it when they say ‘water included.’ I’ve seen places open for viewing that look like they were possible murder scenes.”
The first-come, first-served approach has its limits. Prospective tenants also need good credit (school loans can hurt you), a hefty security deposit (first and last month’s rent are usually required) and the right chemistry with the landlord. Just because you look good on paper doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the place. Just ask Mark Verge, the owner of L.A.’s listings giant Westside Rentals, which features as many as 14,000 properties from Santa Monica to the Inland Empire to Orange County. This time of year an affordable apartment in the right neighborhood is usually rented the first day it’s shown. He recalls one place—a two-bedroom for $1,100, three blocks from the beach—that drew 20 people. Apartment seekers must make a good first impression. “Housing discrimination has gotten worse,” says Housing Rights Center executive director Frances Espinoza. “If you have a family, a lot of times… choices are limited. Even now a lot of landlords don’t want children in their units.”
Perhaps the most famous of L.A.’s choosy landlords is Dave Goldstein. He requires each of his prospective tenants to write an essay describing why he or she deserves to live in one of the 70 Art Deco buildings he owns in the “yuppie areas”—the Miracle Mile, Hancock Park, West Hollywood, Sunset Plaza, Larchmont, Los Feliz and Beachwood Canyon. If he likes your essay, you survive the first round of cuts. If Goldstein likes your essay and you’re a Gemini or a Cancer and you drive a Saab and you’re in the entertainment industry and you are a minority of any kind (overweight, elderly and un-attractive folks are welcome) and he likes the looks of your furniture (no futons)—he’s got a high-ceilinged, hardwood-floored, crown-molded, Jazz Age hideaway for you. Although unconventional, and legally risky, Goldstein’s approach works, he says. In 13 years, he’s evicted only three tenants. And he claims a loyal clientele.
“Last week, I had a couple girls who after they signed their lease and put down their deposit broke down and cried. Like, hard tears,” says Goldstein. “They cried because they said nobody was nice to them. They were crying because I was sincere about caring.” He says he gave one a rent-free garage and let the other bring her dog. Housing shortage–The high cost of housing in Los Angeles is simply a matter of supply and demand, says Raphael Bostic, director of the Casden Real Estate Economics Forecast of the USC Lusk Center. Large numbers of people keep moving here, but organized neighborhood proposition to growth drives up the price of land and delays construction of new housing…