Should I avoid signing a year-long lease in DC? Can I?
October 10, 2010 2:08 PM   Subscribe

Should I avoid signing a year-long lease for a room in a group house or shared apartment? Is it reasonable to hold out for month-to-month rent, or will I end up with slim pickings? (I am looking in the DC area)

I am moving to the DC area and looking for rooms with housemates or apartment mates. It seems pretty risky to sign a year-long lease with roommates who I don't know and I have no experience living with. Also, I am very sensitive to noise, both during the day (if I am trying to read or something) and the night (trying to sleep). Finally, even if the roommates and noise are not a problem, it still seems that a year is a rather long commitment to make to any place.

I am finding some nice-looking places on craigslist (I am especially looking in the Capitol Hill, Clarendon, and Cleveland Park areas), but most of them seem to require year-long leases. If I focus on month-to-month options it seems I will have very few places to choose from, and maybe higher rents too. What should I do here? If I sign a year-long lease and I need to move, will it be hard to find someone to take it over?

Side question: How long should I expect a thorough housing hunt to take?

(I previously asked a question about where I should live in the DC area)
posted by catquas to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Think about it from the perspective of the person renting the space to you. A friend of mine estimated that every time a room came open in his group house, it took a total of 40 person hours to fill it. It's a huge hassle to find a new roommate, so if they're going to go through the trouble of showing the space and interviewing people and holding house meetings and whatnot, they want you to stay for a while so that they don't have to pick up and do it again next month.

In the DC area, desirable houses at good rents are hot commodities. So yes, you're going to have trouble finding a place for less than a year unless you're willing to pay more or accept a worse deal. If you want flexibility, expect to pay for the time and hassle that it causes to the person renting you the space.

You can ask at the beginning what the house policy is on early termination of leases. But most residential leases will require you to keep paying until a replacement is found who is suitable to the house. And just asking the question may take you out of the running for some houses because they're going to think you're planning to leave, so they'll choose someone they perceive to be more stable and reliable. But if you think you might want to leave early, you need to ask so as to avoid paying out the year on a place you don't want to live in.

It took me two months to find my current place, but I wasn't looking full time. I also live alone, so if you're looking at sharehouses, your mileage may vary.
posted by decathecting at 2:52 PM on October 10, 2010

Unless one of the people living there owns the house, it will be on a 12 month lease, so the expectation will be that everyone living there is signed up to the lease - the risk is then shared.

As decathecting says, the standard procedure if you want to move out is that you are liable for rent until a suitable replacement is found. Usually that's not too much of a problem.

While yes, it's a risk moving in with people you don't know, it's a risk for them too, so it's important to take the time to find a place you like and people that you think you'll get along with. If noise is a problem for you, make it clear that you're looking for somewhere quiet before you even go and see the place and meet your potential housemates. Ask lots of questions about how the house runs (kitty / cleaning / dealing with issues etc)

But you do need to accept that no houseshare situation is going to be perfect. There will be things about your housemates that annoy you, that you'll have to put up with, just as there will be things about you that annoy them. But it can be a really rewarding experience too - if you're new to the area, you have a ready-made group of people who can introduce you to people and places. And some of my best friends are people I met in shared houses years ago.
posted by finding.perdita at 3:31 PM on October 10, 2010

Can you avoid signing a year-long lease in DC? If you want an apartment in your name, probably not -- almost everything's on a year lease there.

However, I've never heard of anybody joining a group house or an already-existing shared apartment being made to sign a lease.
posted by Rash at 3:51 PM on October 10, 2010

Really, Rash? I've lived in DC for more than five years, and I've never heard of being allowed to move into any sort of shared living situation without signing a lease, either with the landlord directly or a sublease with the roommates who are on the landlord lease. It's possible that such situations exist, but I don't know of any.
posted by decathecting at 3:57 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the responses! I guess I should also add that I am looking to spend $1200 per month or less, if paying month-to-month just means that I am going to have to spend more money.
posted by catquas at 4:02 PM on October 10, 2010

At that price, if you're worried about strangers and noise, I'd suggest you live alone. You should be able to find a decent studio or small 1BR within your budget.
posted by decathecting at 4:15 PM on October 10, 2010

Well I ideally want to live with other people because of the social angle. Also while I am sure I can find a small 1br within my budget in the DC area, I am not sure how easy it would be to find one within a short commuting distance of Union Station.
posted by catquas at 4:47 PM on October 10, 2010

Think of the year lease as something that protects you as well.

If your roomie moves in a boyfriend, or decides your taste in music is'll be in a better position to bargain because you have a legal document that outlines your rights as well as your responsibilities.

Why payode to have your ass hanging out in the wind, so to speak?
posted by bilabial at 4:47 PM on October 10, 2010

Have you looked at English basements? That might give you the right mix of privacy and sociability if you move into the basement of a sharehouse. There are some that actually have good light and fresh air where you can make friends with the people living in the main house without having to worry about noise or disputes as much, since your space is yours.
posted by decathecting at 7:28 PM on October 10, 2010

There are definitely $1200 1brs in Clarendon and other decent areas (not sure how Clarendon is any easy commute to Union Station though; you have to switch Metro lines, bleh - is there a bus?). You should be able to pay less for a room in a group house - I was living in a house sort of between Capitol Hill and the H Street Corridor (a 15-minute walk or short bus ride from Union Station) for $800 a month + utilities. I'm not sure what month-to-month options are available out there, but a year lease isn't a terrible thing as long as you are allowed to sublet should you decide to move. Finding someone to move in after you is absurdly easy: when I posted my room for subletting on Craigslist, I got 50 responses in an hour or so, and overwhelmingly from nice, normal peoplle.
posted by naoko at 12:37 PM on October 19, 2010

« Older Where to board the French soul train?   |   Link Report Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.