apartment search 2011: crazy income requirement edition

i hate looking for new apartments.

i don’t even know exactly why i am looking for a new apartment. my current apartment is fine. jared & i have the entire third-floor of a big three-story house that has been split into apartments. we have a huge living room with enough space for numerous bookcases, two couches, a desk, several armchairs, & a huge dining room table. i have a small office. we have a large bedroom with plenty of storage under the eaves. we have a bathtub. the apartment has hardwood floors & really nice light. it’s well-situated between downtown lawrence & the university, & we have free private off-street parking. the utilities are pretty reasonable. the landlord permits pets with no additional charges.

the bad things about the apartment mostly center around the kitchen. i’ll estimate that the kitchen is less than thirty square feet, & that space is packed with a small oven, a full-sized refrigerator, a butcher block (which is our only form a counter space–there are no counters in the kitchen), an elderly sink, an ugly little shelf on which to store groceries. the cabinets aren’t deep enough to hold plates & also close the cabinet doors. if jared is in the kitchen, there isn’t really enough room for me to be in the kitchen as well. what i’m trying to say is that the kitchen is ludicrously tiny–it is easily the smallest room in the house, which isn’t great, because we cook a lot. we would love to have a larger kitchen.

& now that we actually have a real game plan for planning to have a child, jared has semi-convinced me that we need another bedroom. not that i have big plans for a nursery or anything. i think i’ll just have the baby sleep with us for the first year or so. but babies do have a lot of extra crap (clothes, diapers, toys, board books, spacial baby-sized wash basins, etc), & it seems smart to have a dedicated space for all that stuff. i think we could fit a baby into our current apartment without much difficulty, but jared says that the main part of the apartment is basically an open floor plan, which is not ideal for balancing a screaming baby & dissertation-writing responsibilities. i don’t know. i have mixed feelings.

but i figured that it doesn’t hurt to see what else is out there. maybe our dream apartment is lurking right around the corner–a single-family two-bedroom house near downtown & the university, hardwood floors, efficient appliances, an on-site washer & dryer, a dishwasher (to save my hands the arthritis pain that comes with washing by hand), lots of light, a private porch or deck area, a large kitchen with ample cabinet & counter space, a gas stove, no pet fees, permission to paint, high ceilings, on a quiet street, spider-free, & maybe some nice touches like stained glass windows or built-in antique sconces or something.

is that really so much to ask?

i found a listing for a nicely-priced one-bedroom with many of these features a few blocks away from our current place. the landlady told me it was in a house split into apartments (as opposed to a managed building, which we do not like, as they tend to feature ugly carpeting, noisy undergraduate neighbors, & close proximity to depressing strip malls). i am very familiar with the neighborhood & know that it’s mostly populated by drunk asshole undergrads that stroll up & down the street at all hours of the night, screaming & getting arrested for public intoxication. not exactly a recipe for restful sleep with an infant in the house. but we went to see it anyway.

we showed up a little early for our appointment, but no landlord was around. she hadn’t given me an apartment number or even any information about whether the apartment was in the front or the back, upstairs or downstairs. we crept into the house & went upstairs, where doors were hanging open, giving us a clear view of a bedroom with an ugly KU bedspread, the noises of the afternoon basketball game on TV. the halls were dim, carpeted, stained, & gross. finally we discovered that the apartment we were there to see was in the back. i almost died slipping on unshoveled ice leading to the back door. the words, “this is how i’m going to die,” actually crossed my mind. but the apartment it self was cute–lots of storage, high ceilings, nice-sized kitchen. i’d live there in a hot second…if i was 23 years old.

because the current tenant, who lived there throughout college years, confirmed that there is a noisy college bar around the corner & that noise is a huge issue. & that the apartment in the front of the building controls the heat for everyone, & they usually keep it turned too low. i HATE being cold. i don’t know. it was a cute apartment. i just don’t think it was a couple-in-theirs-30s-starting-a-family apartment.

we moved on to a different apartment in a much quieter neighborhood, across 9th st. in old west lawrence. that’s where all the professors live, in these huge beautiful victorian homes. i had high hopes. but the apartment was really nothing special. two bedrooms, both smaller than our current bedroom. the larger one had hardwood floors, but acoustic ceiling tiles (yuck). the smaller one had normal ceilings, but hideous low-pile carpeting. the kitchen was galley style, with a half-wall separating it from the living room. i always find that tacky. i don’t know. it was okay. i think we could have taken down the ugly plastic venetian blinds & made it kind of cute. the current tenants have the place done up with a huge plasma screen TV & black leather furniture, so it can’t help but look ugly. but it was far more expensive than our current place, & it sounded like utilities would have been much higher as well.

the landlord gave us an application to fill out, just in case, & explained that they require a financial statement or a co-signer. i am familiar with how this works. i have been renting apartments for fifteen years now. most landlords request pay stubs that show the tenant makes at least three times the cost of the rent they will be paying. i currently pay a little more $300 in rent ($635 a month split in half with jared), so i had to prove that i make at least $900 a month. no problem.

but these people require that each tenant makes FOUR times the amount of the TOTAL rent. the apartment cost $745 total. that would mean that jared & i would each pay $372.50 a month. $372.50 times four is about $1500 a month. okay. i make that much money. no problem. but no–the landlord clarified that we EACH need to make four times the amount of the TOTAL rent–four times $750 per month. that’s $3000 a month.

my jaw dropped. seriously? that’s $36,000 a year, which maybe doesn’t sound like much, but is FAR more than i make or have ever made in my entire life. the average household income in lawrence, kansas is about $39,000 a month. if jared & i could put our annual incomes together & come up with $72,000 a year, you better believe we wouldn’t be RENTING an apartment! the landlords would still rent to us if our incomes dipped below that level, but we would need co-signers. our co-signers could be anyone who owns property in the united states. they were like, “maybe your parents?”

first of all, plenty of people’s parents do not actually own property. jared’s actually do, but my dad is dead & my mom certainly has no income & lives with my brother in the apartment he rents with student loan money. also, i don’t talk to her, so i told the landlord that my parents were both dead. they were like, “some of our tenants have gotten their professors up at school to co-sign for them.” does that seem fucking crazy to anyone else? NO FUCKING WAY would i co-sign for some college kid (unless maybe it was my own actual kid…& even then, it’s a big maybe). that kid skips out on the rent & i’m left holding the bag in exchange for doing a nice favor.

second of all, i’m 31 years old. i feel like that’s a little old to be needing a co-signer. i have never, in all my years of renting apartments, failed to pay rent or even been LATE paying rent. even when i was renting an apartment that cost $950 a month (& i did not have a roommate). i lived off canned soup & spaghetti, but i paid my rent.

third of all, this stipulation is just crazy. i talked to the landlords at length about how they came up with this figure, & the lady half of the couple explained that about 18 years ago, she volunteered with the city housing commission. they were updating their policies around housing discrimination, including the newest (at the time) figures from the office of housing & urban development stipulating that a tenant paying any more than a third of their monthly income toward rent was living under a hardship. somehow the landlady conflated “hardship” with “discrimination” & decided that she needed to make extra, extra sure her tenants could afford her rents…not by lowering her rents (can i just mention that lawrence rents tend to be unjustifiably high for what you get, or absurdly, crazy low?–our next door neighbor has the entire first floor of a house, with hardwoods, a big kitchen, two bedrooms, & a private all-weather porch for only $500 a month) but by ensuring that their rent is only 25% of their total income (or they have a co-signer). & because she seems to live in sheer terror of being accused of discriminating against someone based on their family or marital status, she applies this rule to roommates & partnered couples alike. she was like, “you don’t know. your partner could leave you stuck with the whole rent just like a roommate could.” & while that is certainly true, that is still not an excuse for expecting her tenants to essentially be either independently wealthy or willing to enter into an infantilizing legal relationship with whoever they know who happens to own property.

i actually called the housing commission after i got done talking to the landlord & was like, “seriously? four times the TOTAL RENT? that’s CRAZY, right?” & they were like, “wow. that is TOTALLY CRAZY. but as long as that’s the income requirement they ask of all their tenants, it’s also totally legal.” (that is a verbatim quote.) (also, i didn’t think what they were doing was illegal. i just thought it was a very flawed & bizarre interpretation of the law.)

so…the search is on. maybe we’ll find our dream apartment, maybe we’ll just stay put. jared did just recently make adorable bathroom curtains patterned with owls. maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible to just stay here.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. msjacks says:

    Jeeee-zus Christ! That rent requirement is completely ridiculous! How do they even rent the place out? I doubt her logic even is what she says it is: she’s probably just been burned by college kids before, and she knows she can go after their parents if they burn her again. She’d probably rather rent to 20 year olds who tear the apartment up rather than 30 year olds who take care of their spaces. So my guess? She’s a shitty slumlord, she performs surface repairs only, and you guys and your future helpless, precious newborn baby just dodged a bullet.

    If you think you’ll stay in the same apartment you eventually rent into the toddler years, check out their lead statements, if Lawrence requires it. At the very least, inquire about the history of lead paint/de-leading in each apartment that you’re interested in.

    1. ciara says:

      they rent the place out by just making people get co-signers, & recommending all kinds of ludicrous tricks to secure said co-signers. it’s really strange. they said that if the only people we know who own property are jared’s parents, then one of them can be my co-signer & the other can be jared’s…even though they own the same piece of property & don’t have any money. not that we’re planning to skip out on our rent or anything.

      you make a good point about potential slumlordiness. their properties look well-maintained through, from both the inside & the outside. they did annoyingly refer to themselves as a “mom & pop operation” even though they have over forty rental units…i don’t know. i will only consider renting from them if they happen to show me a dream apartment. i just think it’s so ridiculous that they expect us to make so much money above & beyond our rent costs. i don’t understand. they say it’s because they don’t want us facing a hardship trying to make rent…but even the guy over at the housing alliance acknowledged that they are clearly only worried about being paid.

      the lead laws in kansas say that they have to disclose if there is lead paint in a building, but they don’t have to do anything about it, even if they are renting to a family with a child. it seems like most landlords just tell you there is lead paint whether they know for sure or not so it doesn’t come back to bite them on the ass if they say there’s no lead paint & then there is. though the law in kansas is that homes built after 1978 can’t have any lead paint at all. i wonder if we’ll end up in some terrible, ugly managed building after all. yuck.

  2. Cait says:

    I wish you guys could just move to Missouri. The neighboring unit is twice the size of my place, two bedrooms and $450/month with an awesome, pet-friendly landlord. I have three friends living in my complex now, but my fantasy is to load the place up with weirdos and have thrice-weekly game nights.

    1. ciara says:

      i too wish we could move to columbia. i checked out the rents there & they are so cheap. why is it cheaper to live in columbia than lawrence when columbia is like twice as big as lawrence? it’s weird. plus there’s no weird legislation in missouri involving mandatory paternity tests on all newborn babies.

      1. msjacks says:

        plus there’s no weird legislation in missouri involving mandatory paternity tests on all newborn babies.

        What is this, the Keep Kansas Off Of The Maury Show Initiative? Bizarre.

        1. ciara says:

          yeah, basically, that’s exactly what it is. here’s the article: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2011/feb/12/bill-kansas-house-would-require-paternity-testing-/

          granted, this has not passed & i’m thinking it probably won’t pass because…who would pay for the tests? how can you do a paternity test if the alleged father cannot, by law, be compelled to give up a DNA sample? you can have all the baby DNA on file that you want (although i would certainly do everything within my power to prevent a hospital from taking a DNA sample from my newborn) but if you have nothing to match it against, what’s the point? i don’t see new parents being psyched about paying extra for unnecessary paternity tests, nor do i see hospitals willingly footing the bill, nor do i suspect the crazy bastards in topeka would be willing to appropriate state funds to pay for it. they don’t even want to appropriate state funds to honor union contracts with state employees or fund public schools. but i guess those are clearly crazy communist causes.

          oh kansas. they’re also suggesting legislation which would allow blind people to carry concealed weapons. this state is a hoot.

      2. Cait says:

        Well, let’s be honest. Columbia kind of sucks more than Lawrence.

        1. ciara says:

          you think? i have only been to columbia twice, so i wouldn’t know. it seems a little more sprawl-y than lawrence, but i figure that’s just because it has more people. the coffeeshops seems a little better. i thought the pizza place was good (jared hated it). & come on, dude. you have access to a tiger tease class. there is no class in which they release live jayhawks into a room & you have to seduce them before they peck your eyes out. we also do not have a “jayhawk grotto” that is presumably full of writhing homosexuals at all hours of the day & night. i guess we do have those awesome jayhawk-themed “am i gay” pamphlets though. that makes up for a lot.

          but can i just comment on lawrence’s coffeeshops? okay, downtown, we have aimee’s, which is constantly populated by a succession of willie nelson impersonators drinking black coffee & getting egg yolk in their beards. & it is always as dark as the grave in there. traveling down mass st., soon you will come to mirth, which i guess is kind of a coffeeshop when it’s not an aspiring yuppie brunch place. there is pretty much never anyone in there, but there are always sad fake flowers in the bud vases on each table. it’s like an off-brand bargain basement midtown manhattan starbucks with even less character. next up–henry’s. that place has plenty of character, but it also has a fly infestation that makes “the amityville horror” look like the after photo at an exterminator convention. there’s starbucks & the little coffeeshop inside the borders, but come on. we’re not doing chains. last on our tour is la prima tazza, which is default my favorite even though it smells like a gas station bathroom at least 63% of the time, & you are apparently not allowed to use your laptop in there unless it’s an apple. there may be some other coffee places i am forgetting (like the one that also doubles as a christian bookstore–’nuff said)…but i really miss normal coffeeshops.

      3. Cait says:

        Ok, it’s true. We DO have good coffeeshops, most notably Kaldi’s and Uprise. And I’ll confess we have more opportunities to flaunt athleticism and raw sensuality to a captivated tiger audience. (Although it turns out the Tiger Grotto isn’t actually filled with writing homosexuals.)

        But Lawrence has queer people. And Lawrence has better bars! And seriously, those jayhawk pamphlets are amazing, particularly in terms of jayhawk versatility from a fixed angle. I think I still have a 10-year-old collection somewhere–everything from “Am I gay?” and “What does it all mean?” to “Gastroenteritis” and “Jayhawks with disabilities.”

  3. leah says:

    Maybe this kind of nonsense it a small college town thing. I’ve found landlord behavior in Ypsi to also be bizarre; poorly maintained properties, weird leasing requirements, landlords with delusions of the grandeur of their properties. For example, my ex-landlords were incredibly snooty and had this idea that their property for elite tenant only. And yet, they put the crappiest, poorest quality everything in the units and never did even the most basic outdoor maintenance. By the time I moved out, ivy had covered 2 of my living room windows.

    1. ciara says:

      the lack of outdoor maintenance in lawrence blows my mind. cracks in foundations, horrific plant life covering all the windows, gutters falling off roofs, cracked, broken, & sagging window jambs, screen doors hanging from their frames at an angle, makeshift porches propped up on cinderblocks spraypainted to match the house. what are these people thinking? a little tasteful ivy can be a delight, but when it starts following you down the street, saying, “feed me, seymour!” things have gone too far.

      but the lack of inside maintenance is also shocking. i looked at an apartment last year that basically had packed dirt floors with carpet samples thrown over them. when i pulled back a corner of the carpet to see what was going on with it, i discovered a huge spider lurking beneath. no, thank you. when jared & i moved into this place, two windows in two different rooms were broken. one was a pretty small break, but in the bedroom, one of the windows was shattered, & another window frame was splintered & dangling. & there is a little patch of unfinished floor that gives me a splinter like once a week.

      eh, i could complain all day. & it’s not like boston was this amazing bastion of well-maintained rental properties managed by reasonable landlords. one of my old roommates there kept a collection of all the bugs she found in her bedroom all week & then left them on the landlord’s front stoop every saturday afternoon in an effort to pressure him into fixing the windowsills so they actually joined with the walls of the house (there were huge gaps where the bugs came in). another landlord called me & threatened to take me to court to collect unpaid rent from the tenant that moved into the house & signed a lease after me (yes, after i had moved out & was living in another house). jared had a landlord who routinely burned down his own properties, even when tenants were living in them, in order to collect the insurance money. luckily, no one ever died. renting is scary.

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