Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to our inbox.
Craigslist, founded in San Francisco, is the advertising medium of choice both for agencies, management companies, and small property owners. It has the benefit of being updated daily and searchable, with extensive offerings for room-mate situations or with rooms to rent. It can also be a circus. They're strict about discrimination when they see it, but Craigslist can be a goldmine of barter and life-style offerings that may make you cringe, spit out your coffee, or lead you to the home you're been longing for. It (almost) goes without saying that San Francisco is covered by all the imaginable anti-discrimination rules one can imagine, except for pets. Yes, your treasured Golden Lab may keep you from getting an apartment. Cats are slightly more accepted, plus some leases may ban tropical fish tanks over a certain size.
Craigslist is a good place to find open houses. Leasing agents will schedule a few hours where potential tenants can the see the property in an informal way. A good way to bond with the landlord or leasing agent, and they want to meet you (in your incarnation as a potential tenant or fee.)
Craigslist is also prime territory for scammers, so be careful. As with any endeavor that involves money, there are people who live to take it away from you. The most common scams involve renting apartments that don't exist ("send me a certified check and you can pick up the keys") or vacant apartments that do exist but are not actually for rent by the person "renting" them.
True Scam Story: In the mid-90's when the Dot.Com Boom was in full swing, it was incredibly difficult to find an apartment in San Francisco. A friend wanted to move here from New York, and despite sterling credit and serious assets, he kept getting beaten out by other applicants for apartments he wanted. A very attractive 16th-floor condo apartment appeared on Craigslist, with a Los Angeles telephone number- the condo owner was a lawyer who had been transferred suddenly, the apartment was available, but there was some confusion about how to see it. He asked my friend to Fedex the first and last month's rent, plus one month's rent as a deposit in certified checks and he'd send the signed lease and a set of keys. More than $10,000. We decided to stop by the building, where we discovered it only had eleven stories. End of story.