Moving to Los Angeles is the continuation of the American dream, of traveling west towards the setting sun and carving out a life on the edge of the world.
The good news: You can do it. Renting an apartment in LA is far easier and cheaper than in cities of comparable size like San Francisco and New York. Legions of dreamers, wanderers, pioneers, artists and those in search for a better life have picked up and moved to the belly of the beast, and so can you.
The bad news: Los Angeles has over 100 definable neighborhoods, and deciding which one of them to live in can be intimidating. However if you do your research, you too can join the masses in the land of milk and honey, the entertainment capital of the world, the center of the universe: the City of Angels.
Tips for Renting in Los Angeles
Consider your commute. The most important factor when deciding where to live in Los Angeles is where you work, because you want to live as close to that location as you can. Nothing affects quality of life more in LA than the length of your commute, which you want as short as possible. Test-drive the length of your commute before you sign a lease to get a real idea of what your time in the car will be like.
Check out schools. Have kids? Where you live will determine what school they go to, and many of Los Angeles’ public schools receive failing grades – or are downright scary. For families, school location should be a top consideration when living in LA.
Have a car. Moving to Los Angeles with no vehicle is like moving to Mars without a rover. While public transportation exists, the system is nothing like what you would find in New York, Boston or Paris. Los Angeles is not a walkable city – hell we drive our cars to the corner coffee shop – and if you don’t have wheels, your options become extremely limited.
Drive around. Many landlords, especially those with only one or two units, will never list their properties online. The only way to find out about these smaller and more unique spaces is to drive around the neighborhood that you want to live in and look for “For Rent” signs in windows. This is easiest to do with a friend, who can write down phone numbers and addresses while you drive.
Call before you visit the apartment. Whether you are searching for apartments online or in the newspaper, always call first to find out more information before you make the trek to see the place in person. A phone call can often weed out many of your options, and you don’t want to be running all over LA for no reason.
Set your budget, then search slightly above it. Some rental properties in LA include cable service, internet connection, water, wastewater and utilities, and some include none of these. A $1000 rental that includes all of the above is a much better deal than a place for $900 that includes nothing – even if your budget is $900 per month.
Go back at night. Did you find the perfect apartment and are ready to move in? Be sure to return and visit the neighborhood at night. Some neighborhoods are just fine during the day but become sketch-central once the light falls. If you are particularly concerned about crime, check out the LAPD crime map, available on the LAPD website. Like many American cities, LA can go from a swanky neighborhood to a scary one in a matter of blocks, so be sure to fully check out your surroundings before you commit.
Think about parking! When you move to LA, you will have to devote a much larger space in your brain to parking, so you might as well start now. Does your apartment come with a parking space? Is it secure? If you will have street parking, check signs for the street cleaning schedule and for any other times (like rush hour) your car would have to be parked somewhere else. A secure parking spot that you can call your own is worth quite a bit in LA.
Get a Thomas Guide. This is the map that Angelenos swear by, and you will likely find one in almost every home and car. Thick, heavy and hundreds of pages of long, the Thomas Guide is the recognized source for street information that the city relies on. Not big on maps? Make sure you have a working GPS to find your way around the city.
WHERE TO LIVE?
If you don’t already have a job or school lined up in a particular area of Los Angeles, then your options are open when deciding where to live. Talking to locals is always the best way to figure out a new neighborhood, but here’s a quick breakdown to get you started:
- North LA: Good for young families and hipsters
- East LA: Known for crime but slowly getting better
- West LA: Beautiful, beachy and expensive
- Central LA: More affordable but also more congested
- South LA: Avoid if possible
Also, be aware of the west side/east side division (not to be confused with east LA). If you live on the west side – Santa Monica, Venice, etc. – you will spend most of your time and your life there unless you are commuting to work on the east side (not recommended). And if you live on the east side, you won’t see the beach that often and will only go to the west side when you really have to or want to – and you’ll pack a snack and drink for the car ride. The geographical reality of large Los Angeles makes your choice of a neighborhood very important, for it will become your home; when people ask you where you are from in the city, you don’t say “LA” but rather: Silver Lake, K-Town, Venice Beach or Hollywood!
Santa Monica: A polished seaside city with a famous pier, Santa Monica is the epitome of the west side. Upscale shops, gourmet restaurants, spoiled dogs and slick new cars make Santa Monica a place of affluence and ease. Santa Monica is a very livable neighborhood, with the family-friendly farmer’s market on Main Street every Sunday morning, but it will cost a pretty penny to call this place home. $$$$
Venice Beach: If you are determined to live by the beach but your budget is tight, Venice might be a good option. This funky beachside neighborhood retains the bohemian spirit that once attracted Jim Morrison, and the boardwalk is populated by a colorful parade of characters, from street performance artists and hippie craft vendors to musclemen pumping iron and the occasional hobo. If variety is your spice of life, think about a home in Venice. $$
Westwood/Century City: Although Century City is a business center that turns into a practical ghost town at night, Westwood next door is the home of UCLA – and therefore has plenty of students, student housing and student-priced restaurants and bars. Parking can be a nightmare but if you are young and willing, Westwood can be a happenin’ place to be. $$
Culver City: There’s not too much to say about Culver City, long known for movie and TV production – and for being a little soulless, Lately, however, that reputation is changing and a certain bohemian gentrification is taking over the area, meaning that you can find an apartment here for a decent price. $$
Beverly Hills: You probably can’t afford Beverly Hills. A separate city from Los Angeles altogether, Beverly Hills represents the epitome of luxury, decadence and conspicuous consumption. Mere mortals are welcome to shop along Rodeo Drive, but unless you’ve got some bubblin’ crude filling up your bank account, renting here is probably not an option. $$$$$
West Hollywood: West Hollywood (or We-Ho) is one of the nicest, cleanest and most stylish areas in Los Angeles and one of the biggest gay communities on the planet. Very trendy and forward thinking, West Hollywood is full of upscale clothing shops, new eateries, rainbow flags, adorable dogs and tolerance. $$$
Hollywood: Hollywood is where many people first land when they arrive in LA, and this neighborhood has the cheap, seedy apartments to prove it. Here you will find plenty of shops selling hooker clothes, bongs and cheap souvenirs, drunken young people, sushi trucks and a faint smell of urine. Loud, fun and boisterous, Hollywood is a great destination for a night out – but think twice before you sign a lease here, as living in the thick of things may get a little old for most people. $
Silver Lake: This hip young neighborhood is full of organic cafes, eclectic boutiques, dive bars, chilled-out coffee shops and the artsy people that inhabit them. Located between Echo Park and Glendale, Silver Lake has a central location, just 10-15 minutes to downtown or Hollywood. Finding an affordable apartment here isn’t easy, but with enough legwork it can be done. $$$
Echo Park: Echo Park is slowly but surely losing its gangsta reputation from a decade ago and is slowly being infiltrated with cute little shops, vegan cafes and hip young artists looking for a good deal on rent – although you might still hear gunshots now and again. Echo Park Lake is quite beautiful during the day, Dodger Stadium is around the corner, and the Echo and the Echoplex venues both see a lot of hot musical action all throughout the year. $
Los Feliz: Once upon a time Los Feliz was the hip indie lovechild of Los Angeles, but the neighborhood has since been infiltrated by upscale yuppies who want to be cool, thus driving up the rents and out all the artists who actually ARE cool (they now live down the road in Echo Park). Still, this pretty area is a chill place to come home to from the madness of LA, has quick access to neighboring Griffith Park and the homes in the area are gorgeous – if you can afford to live in one. $$
Wilshire/Midtown: Centered on Wilshire Blvd, this area is a nice mix of wealthy people, students, and middle and working class families. Also home to Koreatown (or K-town), here you can find an apartment in any price range, although life in central Los Angeles can be congested and dealing with traffic will be an everyday issue. $$
Downtown LA: Downtown Los Angeles is the heart of a city that has no heart, and people are working hard to revive the area and transform it from hobo land to a thriving urban center for young professionals and families. You can rent a chic new loft with a killer view for an amazing price – but when you walk outside at night, you will still be toe-to-toe with a homeless problem that hasn’t gone away yet. For some people, it’s worth it to be in the first wave of gentrification, for others it is not – either way, make sure your rental has secure parking. $$