One landlord wanted a $3,000 dog deposit for a one-bedroom apartment in a duplex in Oakland. This was in addition to three months rent, a grand total of $9,000. We're not talking the Taj Mahal. This was a 900-square-foot apartment with most of the living space in a renovated attic accessible by a rickety ladder that dropped out of the ceiling. I talked her down to $500 for the pet deposit, but upon further reflection decided to move on.
I have officially entered my second month searching for an apartment. I have been focusing on Oakland but have also looked in Berkeley and Alameda. (Thank you for your responses to my previous post on this subject, which included suggestions that I consider moving to El Sobrante or Manteca.)
The tightest rental market in recent memory has unfortunately brought out unscrupulous individuals intent on capitalizing on would-be renters' desperation.
One person claimed to be offering a one-bedroom near Lake Merritt. When I responded to the Internet ad, this purported owner emailed back saying that it wasn't possible to view the apartment just yet because the current tenant's wife had contracted a major illness. But if I really wanted the apartment, I should fill out an application and send in a deposit to show I was serious. He couldn't emphasize how important it was for me to act right away.
Another shady soul was actually referred to me by a friend who lived in one of his buildings in Oakland. After touring the two-bedroom apartment in Berkeley, near the Oakland border, I gave him $35 cash to process my application. I heard nothing back.
When I emailed him early the next morning, he said he hoped to have an answer by the end of the day. He emailed back about two hours later, saying he had completed his "due diligence" and had decided to rent to someone else.
I smelled a rat. I checked with the credit reporting agencies and discovered -- surprise, surprise -- that he had never checked my credit report. He did however pocket my 35 bucks. Did someone offer him more money? Is this some kind of scam to make money off unsuspecting renters? One can only wonder.
When rentals do become available, there is a feeding frenzy.
I went to an open house for a two-bedroom apartment near Lake Merritt and arrived a half-hour before the scheduled 4 p.m. showing. By the time the landlord arrived, there were a dozen of us waiting outside, sizing each other up. As soon as he opened the door, the herd rushed in.
I felt especially sorry for a man and a woman with a toddler who told me they'd been looking for three months and wondered aloud if they'd ever find a place to call home.
Landlords who post on Craigslist are so swamped with queries, they often won't even respond. Try calling the number for the contact person and you get a message saying the number can't receive any more calls.
One has to treat looking for a place to live like a full-time job. "You really have to be diligent every day, two or even three times a day monitoring Zillow, Trulia, and Craigslist," says Benjamin Scott, president of Advent Properties Inc., an Oakland-based leasing and property management agency. "When you see something, you've got to be ready to pounce with an application already filled out."
I can attest to that. One afternoon I was at work at my real job and forgot to check Craigslist. Someone posted an ad for an apartment I was interested in. By the time I saw the listing the next morning, the landlord had one application that he was processing and several others waiting in case that one fell through.
Signing up with a leasing agency can give renters access to properties in the pipeline that haven't been advertised yet -- including rentals where a current tenant has just given a 30-day notice. It also allows a renter to specify certain criteria that he or she is seeking, so a person doesn't waste time viewing unsuitable properties. The landlord typically pays the fee -- at least at Advent -- so long as the rental property is one that the leasing agency manages.
In this market, it's wise to get as many irons into the fire as possible.
I'd love to hear your stories about looking for rental housing in the East Bay. Please email them to me along with your name and contact information.
Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Tuesday and Sunday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at Twitter.com/tammerlin.