Finding an apartment in DC
April 29, 2007 10:39 PM   Subscribe

I need advice for finding an apartment in DC, in particular the Columbia Heights, Shaw, or Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods.

I'm starting grad school at the University of Maryland, College Park in the Fall (August). Many of the current grad students have recommended living in DC instead of College Park. I find the idea appealing and intend to do so. The neighborhoods that have been recommended are Columbia Heights, Shaw, and Mt. Pleasant. These are all near the Green Line, which is important, as it runs into College Park.

I don't have any experience finding an apartment in a "real" city, as I did my undergrad in a college town that very much catered to students and where finding apartments was easy. I would appreciate suggestions for finding an apartment (e.g., where to look, what to look for, what to look out for). I would also appreciate comments from current or past inhabitants of DC about these neighborhoods (what range should I expect to pay in rent?).

I'll admit, I'm the slightest bit nervous about making the move as this apartment thing is a big unknown for me. I'd appreciate any helpful comments. I'm aware of this question, but would like some more information about the neighborhoods I mentioned in particular.

I'll be watching the thread in case any questions come up.

posted by Inigo Jones to Human Relations (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm. Don't know much by way of DC, but I'm dropping in to say that I'm moving out in a few months and I've been keeping a close eye on Craigslist postings. It's a good resource in terms of finding cheap listings, at the very least, and you can search through the postings by bedroom/cost, etc.
posted by Phire at 1:35 AM on April 30, 2007

Look on Craigslist, the Washington Post rental ads, and the Washington City Paper's rental ads. If you're new to the city, I would suggest that you look for a room in a group home -- it's going to cut down on costs and you'll be able to get your bearings around here. If you don't go the group home route, you're probably going to want to allow at LEAST two weekends chock full of apartment hunting in order to find that special place that's in a reasonable area, is not too expensive, and is actually a place you want to live.

As to the neighborhoods, Columbia Heights is a little more gritty. I really like both Shaw and Mount Pleasant, but I feel like Mount Pleasant has more of a calm, residential feel than Shaw, so you might want to concentrate there. (It's also a short walk to Adams Morgan and U St. and the National Zoo and tons of other attractions, so it's really central.) If you look for a basement apartment around Mt. P or Columbia Heights, you should easily be able to find something in the $900-$1100 range for a 1BR. Also, I've had great luck in DC with small landlords -- my friends who have lived in large managed buildings have all been disappointed by service in some way or another. (I've been lucky with getting great landlords in the past, so YMMV.)

Email's in the profile if you want to discuss further.
posted by kdar at 5:04 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


I just started renting a studio in Mt. Pleasant in December, and from when I used to live here, prices really have shot up. I couldn't find anything under 840/850 for a studio (this is at the north end-the south end close to Adams Morgan can be more pricey). I have fam in Mt Pleasant, so I stayed there cause I wanted to be close.

My studio is a tad over $900/month, but I've seen 1 bedrooms for 1000-1200, especially in older buildings. I looked at most lower-end buildings in Mt Pleasant, as well as a few in Columbia Heights (and going up to 14th Street Heights, so let me know) as well as a lot of the buildings on 16th Street. The northern edge of Columbia Heights is the only place around there I found 1 bedrooms for under $1000.

Email is in the profile as well, but keep it here. This is probably a useful discussion.
posted by jare2003 at 7:27 AM on April 30, 2007

Well shoot, I think it's Shaw that is gritty. Plus, less things to walk to than if you are in Columbia Heights or Mt. Pleasant.
Assuming you are looking to save money then I'd at least go look at the non-refurbished buildings that seem be marketing to young professionals who will move in without granite counter tops, etc. I have noticed several young women who are student age have moved into this building for example:

Craigslist is very helpful and this website makes it easy to understand where things are located (when people put proper addresses in their posts):

Don't forget that China Town in on the green line as well. Fun area but probably the most expensive option of the bunch. The U street Metro is around 12th and U and there could be some good options there as well.
posted by hokie409 at 7:27 AM on April 30, 2007

Oh, with apartment searching - I found in DC that on the lower end, I had much better luck walking around and looking for vacancy signs at apartments than with craigslist.

I used to live at U St and loved it. Not too much apartment stock except newer luxury ones, so you might go into a group house instead.

Did you want to live alone? or with other people?
posted by jare2003 at 7:36 AM on April 30, 2007

I can't rave enough about the William Calomiris Company. They are old-fashioned landlords (they prefer to keep the same tenants year after year and it shows) with well managed, vintage buildings. They have one or two in the neighborhoods you mentioned.

Also, check out Takoma Park -- it's a short bus ride to Fort Totten which gives you Green & Red. It has more of the flavor of College Park too.
posted by whitneykitty at 7:55 AM on April 30, 2007

whitneykitty might have mean the bus gives you Green and Yellow (Yellow Line just got extended to Fort Totten from Mount Vernon).

Takoma Park is on the Red.
posted by jare2003 at 8:09 AM on April 30, 2007

Response by poster: jare2003: I'm pretty sure I'd like to live by myself in a studio or 1B.
posted by Inigo Jones at 8:27 AM on April 30, 2007

You will spend more money to live in the DC neighborhoods you mention and you will spend a great deal of time commuting. It is a long walk to campus from the Metro stop. Trains out to College Park run less frequently.

When my girlfriend at the time was a grad student in College Park we rented near the school and left our DC flat. She was very happy she did so because the commute would have sucked.

The only reason I would rent in the areas you mentioned is if you really plan to stay in those areas after you are done with school.

Takoma Park is awesome, but it too is expensive.

Good luck
posted by terrapin at 8:59 AM on April 30, 2007

terrapin is right that you will spend time commuting, but you should balance that with what you want outside of grad school. do you want to be close to dc amenities, cultural life, etc? then live in the city. if you're going to be at school 90% of the time, i would just put up with College Park.

also..will you have a car? or no? parking in most of the DC neighborhoods you mention is pretty miserable. (there is very little)
posted by jare2003 at 9:16 AM on April 30, 2007

I know someone who lives near-ish to Shaw, just where North Capital meets the street just after Z (Adams? can't remember the name). There's a lovely reservoir around there and the streets and buildings are beautiful and neighborhoody. Excellent Ethiopian food as well.

Not the safest place...

Oh, and a little secret: there is loads of free parking on the street (C-something?) by the reservoir as well. I've parked there loads of times. There are no signs, and hardly any cars parked there. Something to think about.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:58 PM on April 30, 2007

Might want to check out Hyattsville (minutes drive to campus, also on the green line) and Silver Spring (on the red line but still fairly accessible to the Maryland part of the green line).
posted by mhaw at 1:18 PM on April 30, 2007

Parking *is* free in reisdential neighborhoods in general, but you have to have DC plates and a zone sticker appropriate for the neighborhood to be able to street park during the day.

a lot of neighborhoods are unzoned (in the more suburban parts of DC - the Crestwood neighborhood above Mount Pleasant, for example, and you can park with out of state plates, etc.

of course, if you dont have a car, no problem there at all.
posted by jare2003 at 1:57 PM on April 30, 2007

I live in Mt. Pleasant now and found my place on Craigslist. I don't think commuting would be so bad from the Columbia Heights Metro.

I can recommend Habitat Real Estate, which is actually based in MtP. They are a management company, but have been very cool in all my dealing with them.

Also, if you are looking at the aforementioned HousingMaps, or searching certain neighborhoods, you should know that west of Mt. Pleasant Street is where the nice houses are (for English basement opportunities).

I'm moving out at the end of May, but I live with three other people. Sorry that's of no help.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 3:31 PM on April 30, 2007

Craigslist, totally. Wish you could replace one of my roomates.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:40 PM on April 30, 2007

Also group house is the way to go. Instant contact with people and cheap living.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:41 PM on April 30, 2007

I used to live in Columbia Heights and most of my friends still live in the Shaw/U-Street area. It's definitely cheaper than Mount Pleasant, and more Metro-accessible. The basic rule of thumb is the further east you're willing to go, the cheaper the apartments get. The sketchier the neighborhoods get, too, but having lived there (as a young female), I never felt particularly unsafe. I would seriously consider a group house--the absurdly high DC rental prices and relatively low salaries (at least in the realm of non-profits and media, which is where most of the cool people work) mean that group living isn't just for hippies and recent college grads. And it *is* a great way to meet people. Personally, I'd stay away from the big new condos--they're usually overpriced and I've heard that the landlords are often non-responsive. Oh, also--consider Petworth, if only because Temperance Hall is one of the best bars in DC.
posted by ethorson at 6:57 AM on May 1, 2007

It's well worth the search to find a place in the city.... Don't live in College Park. There's a good reason why your fellow grad students are telling you to live in the city. Living in College Park sucks if you're not a ahem certain type of undergrad.

There is unzoned parking in Columbia Heights and Petworth, and its about a 20 minute drive to College Park. Metro takes ~40 minutes, between the train itself and the buses that take you to campus from the metro station.

Columbia Heights is transforming really really quickly, the construction is almost frightening... Petworth is still quite a bit cheaper. There are deals (especially to be found in group houses) but around summer time the competition for places in group houses sucks. Especially in Mount Pleasant, and Columbia Heights.

Good Luck.
posted by stratastar at 1:51 PM on May 1, 2007

Response by poster: HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal: Do you have an email where I can contact you?
posted by Inigo Jones at 10:46 PM on May 2, 2007

Response by poster: etherson: What kind of suckage should I expect? I get that there's not much to do, but is getting to DC so hard? Let me know what it's like.
posted by Inigo Jones at 11:07 PM on May 2, 2007

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