Help Us Get an Apartment in LA with No Rental History and Half a Job
September 24, 2016 9:56 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I have just moved to Los Angeles and need an apartment ASAP. We have both been out of the rental market and out of big-city-living for over 10 years, and also have some unusual circumstances that might make us seem less-than-ideal to a potential landlord. Please help us figure out what paperwork/etc. we need (Special snowflake details inside.)

I have found some helpful info (both on Ask Mefi and online) about preparing documents for apartment-hunting, but some of it seems out-of-date or not specific to this area. Depending on who you ask, we need: credit reports/scores, proof of employment/pay, bank statements and/or tax returns, driver's licenses and/or passports, social security numbers, work history/pay stubs, rental history, reference letters, and perhaps even car titles. I'm wondering what exactly we need to make the best impression, especially since we don't have a lot of money in the bank, don't have recent rental history, and don't officially have jobs yet.

We are both artists/creative professionals. I have a conventional employment history, but he does not. I have a freelance job that should become permanent in about a week (cross my fingers) in the Culver City area, and he is looking for employment nearby, but neither of us has current proof of full-time employment/paycheck yet.

I can show proof of income/bank statements for the past 6 months-year, but it won't be the magic "3-times-the-monthly rent" number I see getting thrown around a lot. We were living in a super small town/low cost-of-living area before this, I worked at a very small business and was making less than I should be making here. I guess I can at least show that I was a consistent employee. I can also show my current freelance contract to show that I do have *some* kind of job here. If my full-time employment offer comes through in the next week as expected, that should help things, but we need to start apartment hunting right away.

Also complicating things, we have lived with family for the last decade and don't have rental history since before that, in college. We operate as a married couple but we are not legally married -- Will we have to be evaluated as individual tenants? Most of our money/financial history is in my name, and he does not have recent income/employment history.

This thread seems to suggest that we'll be okay without having jobs right away, but I want to be as prepared as possible. The good news is, we both have good credit. We have enough money in the bank for first & last month's rent, deposits, etc. and might be able to offer to pay something extra in advance if that would help sweeten things. We each own our cars outright. His parents (out of state) could potentially be co-signers, but we'd rather not involve them if we can do this on our own. Some sites suggested writing a letter explaining our situation and why we would be good tenants, etc.

Will landlords consider us without rental history & current proof of income/employment? What kinds of documents/letters of recommendation would help us out? We'll be starting our search in Culver City and the surrounding areas. We're hoping to find something before our Airbnb rental runs out (in less than two weeks) but can extend it if necessary. Thanks in advance!
posted by futura_light to Work & Money (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a landlord. For me, you'd need:
- credit reports
- proof of employment/pay (paystubs for the past month would work, or if you were freelancing, then tax returns showing your freelance income last year, or bank statements showing significant savings)
- photo ID (a photocopy of your driver's licenses and/or passport)
- references to call (ideally one from work and one or two from past landlords)

I wouldn't really care about your lack of rental history if you otherwise had good credit, good references, proof of employment, and were able to put down the security / damage deposit.

I would be concerned by your lack of local employment, unless your freelance contract was significant. Without proof of 3x income, I probably wouldn't rent to you, unless you had significant savings. Showing me proof that you were employed before would only partly allay my financial concerns, but the fact that you'd brought that proof would speak to your character. But I'd probably want a co-signer who was employed or had savings. Or, I might be willing to sign the lease after you got your job offer in writing (and I'd call them to confirm it), if your references and my impression of your responsibility were strong enough to make me expect that you wouldn't get fired right away, or that if you did, you'd find something else right away.

Show up at the first open house, at the start time, together, and bring a folder to leave with the landlord that has both of your materials printed out. Create a good impression - be showered, wear your nicer pair of jeans. Bring your checkbook to pay the credit check fee and even the security deposit if they would let you. Compliment the place, be respectful.

But between lack of rental history and lack of proven income, I think it's likely many places will want someone to co-sign.
posted by slidell at 10:41 AM on September 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

I'm going to strongly caution you against leaving a folder with you details. Only provide those documents after they run your credit checks and want to proceed evaluating you as a tenant.

Most places only check your credit report + bank statements + require photo ID. It's extremely common not to have a substantial rental history, lots of people move here from out of town. Lots of people have freelance work histories because that's how the entertainment industry works.

I know for a fact you would have better luck finding a room in a shared house. Echo Park, frog town, Atwater Village, Highland Park, Montecito Heights all have lots of artists living in shared housing that might fit your situation. I think you want to sublet a room in the beginning. I know the commute from one side of town to the other is a drag though... Venice! Venice might have some kind of shared house opportunities.

In general, landlords that are lax about financial stuff are crappy landlords. If you can share a house for 6 months and secure steady employment you will be much much better off.

Koreatown. Koreatown could also be amazing and the commute 1000x easier.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 11:12 AM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm going to strongly caution you against leaving a folder with you details. Only provide those documents after they run your credit checks and want to proceed evaluating you as a tenant.

Approximately one-third of my applicants last time came prepared with credit reports and other materials that they left with me, so if you don't, you're at a disadvantage. I'm not sure what jbenben's concern is, but for me, checking credit is almost the final step, because that's when I spend the tenant's money, so I'd need your paystubs, for instance, before I got to that. If there is particular data you don't want to share, you can cross it out. E.g., you can photocopy your paystub or taxes but black out your Social Security Number. Landlords are supposed to secure this paperwork carefully.
posted by slidell at 12:06 PM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Most of the time in LA you are filling out apps with a non-professional onsite manager. You have zero guarantee they will dispose of your information responsibly or in whose hands it will wind up. People go through dumpsters all of the time here, having a nice fat folder with all of your personal details is a recipe for identity theft.

Most landlords here want to run their own credit checks for reasons. Even though by law they should accept your copy, they prefer not to. Insisting will label you as picky and undesirable for tenancy. Or they'll just think your credit report is somehow forged. It's $25 each, let them run their own if they want to.

Have copies of your documentation, sure, but don't just hand it to anyone. You can also redact account numbers, etc..

I wish LA was filled with honest trustworthy people, but it's filled largely with folks not paying attention to what's right and/or they are downright unethical. You can't count on them to be professional with your financial documents, so you take the lead and treat your financial information with professionalism and use appropriate discretion.
posted by jbenben at 12:50 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

As an alternative, have you considered finding a place that is seeking roommates? This may be a better way to ease into the rental market in the area, get your jobs lined up and then get a stronger credit record.
posted by Toddles at 1:22 PM on September 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

We operate as a married couple but we are not legally married -- Will we have to be evaluated as individual tenants? Most of our money/financial history is in my name, and he does not have recent income/employment history.

I forgot to answer this. Either way, I'd evaluate you as separate tenants. For me, the sum of your incomes is what matters, because you are agreeing to jointly pay the rent. It's not like you're agreeing to pay half and he's agreeing to pay half. I'd still want background checks on you both, in case either of you had been sued by a previous landlord for wrecking the place or something like that.
posted by slidell at 2:53 PM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

In your situation, I would either come to the table with a guarantor who is willing to sign the lease on your behalf, or I would start looking at much cheaper and more downscale places than you would otherwise want. (In other words not Culver City or anywhere else on the westside. Look at Inglewood, West Adams, and probably the Valley even though your commute will be horrendous.) Also, look at a TON of places and be super honest with the landlords about what your situation is. Because, to be really honest, new transplants without jobs who have always lived with family is going to be a huge risk for the vast majority of landlords.

This isn't to say you won't find anything. My partner and I look similarly bad on paper, so we ended up in a dump of a place owned by an individual landlord rather than a management company, in a less desirable part of town. It's a completely acceptable place to live. Most of our creative friends who don't have either wealthy parents or day jobs that compensate them handsomely also live in total dumps in our same uncool neighborhood. We all eat in greasy spoons and taco trucks, shop at thrift stores, party at home rather than in hip bars, see movies at the grungy neighborhood discount theater, and are unashamed of living the life of underpaid creative types in L.A. It feels much more sane to live this way than to try to keep up appearances with the right neighborhood, the right car, the right clothes, etc. (Which is another common way that striving creative types deal here in Los Angeles.)

Oh, and yes, you will be applying for apartments separately, much in the same way roommates would. Frankly, even if you were married, this would probably still be the case.
posted by Sara C. at 6:31 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Echo Park and Venice are both highly gentrified neighborhoods where you will find it difficult to get a landlord to rent to you. Both areas are in high demand, which means that landlords have their pick of well-off prospective tenants who can easily pay the rent (or their parents can).

Atwater, maybe? That said, Atwater is a really small area without a lot of apartment housing stock, and there's rarely a lot of availability there. You might luck into something? Even there, though, demand exceeds supply.

You will probably have a hard time finding a share situation unless you each rent individual rooms. Or maybe if you luck into someone looking to rent a master suite or poolhouse or something? Most roommates in share situations aren't interested in cramming two people into a space designed for one, and wanting to pay one rent for two people is going to create resentment.

You're looking for a studio or one-bedroom in the lamest neighborhood you can conjure up. In addition to places I already mentioned, I'd look at the South Bay neighborhoods including Long Beach, Lincoln Heights, and maybe East Hollywood.
posted by Sara C. at 6:39 PM on September 24, 2016

I moved to LA a few years ago under very similar circumstances, the major difference being that the person I moved with and myself had been working abroad for the two years prior, and also traveling (so unemployed, in the eyes of a landlord) for four months before landing.

The rental market is not exactly easy here, and we didn't have any luck with larger management companies, who basically didn't care to hear about the details of our situation. We got further with individual landlords, and in the end the place we got was mostly because we were able to sit down and make a good impression on the woman who owned the place. Fortunately LA has a lot of individual landlords, but you are much more likely to find them on Westside Rentals (which costs money to use) than on Craigslist. People often sell their Westside account on after they've found a place though, so you might be able to get it for half price.

Here's what we did to sweeten the pot:
- Extra deposit (Our initial check was first month, last TWO months and security deposit. A big chunk of change.)
- Offered a cosigner, which didn't turn out to be necessary.
- Showed a bank account with a decent amount of savings. This was made possible by the previous two years work.

Definitely bring copies of all relevant paperwork with you whenever you go searching. I found my current (underpriced) apartment on Westside only five minutes after it had been posted. I drove over immediately and by the time I got there the landlord said that she'd already had inquiries from dozens of other people. I basically agreed to take the place on the spot, and because I had copies of everything she needed she said the place was mine as long as the credit check, background check, etc. all came out good.

As for a place to live, I would recommend considering the area of West Adams/lower Mid City that is just east of Culver City. Around La Brea and Jefferson, or a bit further east. It's relatively inexpensive, centrally located (which is important for freelancers) and served well by transport (including the Expo line, which now goes all the way to Santa Monica--train to the beach!). It's a mostly working class area, but neighborhood-oriented and not unsafe . Crime stats significantly lower than my first place in East Hollywood, and the difference could be felt on the streets, though obviously things vary from block to block, so check it out first. I lived in this area with roommates for six months, and definitely recommend it as a starting place. I think demand is heating up there though, due to the tech industry on the west side driving up rents and pushing people east.

Anyway, good luck!
posted by dadaclonefly at 10:31 AM on September 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

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