Looking for a new apartment? 4 ways to save money and hassle

Rick Magliano

Good morning. I’m Rachel Schnalzer, the L.A. Times Business section’s audience engagement editor, with our weekly newsletter. Renting is a fact of life for most Southern Californians. With renting typically comes the stress of moving, and there’s no getting around the fact that moving can be a great expense.

For the record:

4:32 PM, Nov. 19, 2020This article incorrectly says that basic moving insurance often covers only 60 cents per pound for damaged items. In fact, that rate is not insurance but is what moving companies are usually liable for, under federal and state regulations, if the customer does not pay for extra protection or a third-party insurance policy.

Fortunately, there are ways to minimize moving and housing costs. The Times recently published a guide to rental housing that can help you throughout your tenancy. Here are a few key insights from the guide.

Move in and out efficiently

There are ways to trim the costs of moving your belongings from one rental to another. Ada Tseng put together some tips for how to transport your things with as little stress as possible — while keeping your budget in mind.

For example, if you’re renting a U-Haul, you may be able to save money by moving between Sunday and Thursday instead of over the weekend.

It’s worth checking with your rental or homeowner’s insurance company to see if your policy covers your belongings during a move. Basic moving insurance often covers only 60 cents per pound, whether it’s a pound of blank printer paper or an expensive piece of fine art.

If you’re hiring movers, pay a little more for professionals with good ratings, if you can afford it. They should be licensed and insured — which you can confirm by requesting and verifying their U.S. Department of Transportation number.

Working with movers can sometimes cost more than you anticipate, so ask for an estimate and “do not exceed” price from the company. You should also ask whether you might face any add-on fees. For example, some movers may charge extra if you have them move large pieces of furniture from room to room to find a place where it fits.

Get your security deposit back

Getting your security deposit back from your old landlord creates a financial cushion during the moving process. Jessica Roy compiled a guide to getting that money.

In California, you are entitled to ask for an inspection of your rental with your landlord two weeks before you vacate. During this inspection, the landlord must note what needs to be repaired or cleaned and provide you with an itemized list. Then you can address those issues before you move out.

If your landlord chooses not to do an inspection with you, take a video of your rental to show the condition in which you’re leaving it. Show that you’re leaving the place clean and that everything is in working condition.

In California, your landlord must return your deposit within 21 days after you and your belongings leave the rental. If your landlord does not return your full deposit, you are entitled to an itemized statement breaking down why: what was cleaned and fixed, as well as the cost of these services. (Fixing normal wear and tear is the landlord’s cost to bear, but if the tenant left damage — such as holes in the wall, cigarette burns or pet stains — those repairs can be deducted from the security deposit.)

If you’re moving into another rental, take photos and video of your new space while it’s still empty. Document any damage. When you eventually move out, you can use this as evidence that you didn’t cause those problems.

Pet essentials

Remember the pet stains I mentioned above? Our furry friends can be rough on rentals, which can come back to bite us when we’re moving. Tara Paniogue offers a guide to essential information about pets and rental housing.

Tenants typically must pay for any damage their pets cause in the home they’re renting. This includes broken screen doors, clawed door frames, chewed-on blinds and much more. When you begin a new lease, look at its pet policy to understand what responsibilities you’re accepting. Keep in mind that renter’s insurance generally doesn’t cover pet damage.

Landlords are allowed to charge extra money to allow a pet (as long as it’s not a service animal) to live in the home. This charge can come in one of three forms: an extra security deposit, higher rent or a one-time, nonrefundable fee.

The security deposit would be charged when the tenant signs the lease. All security deposits combined can’t exceed two months’ rent for an unfurnished apartment or three months’ rent for a furnished apartment. The pet deposit is refundable upon move-out, minus any deductions for repairs and cleaning made necessary by the pet.

Do you have difficulty paying rent?

With more than half of California renters paying more than 30% of their income on housing, demand for affordable housing programs is high.

If you’re interested in applying for assistance in paying rent, you’ll need to understand the requirements, wait lists and other protocols. Christian Orozco and Diego Medrano created a guide.

Generally, housing programs receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, known as HUD, and are administered at the city or county level. Some programs, such as public housing, are subsidized by the government to keep rents low. Others, such as Section 8, contribute money to landlords to offset rental costs.

If your household earns 30% to 80% less than the median income in your area, you might qualify for a housing assistance program. HUD considers $77,300 the median household income in L.A. County in 2020.

The first step of applying for a housing program is deciding where you want to live. Check whether housing is available there. These sites are places to begin your search:

Affordable Housing Online
L.A. County Housing Resource Center
Volunteers of America

Next, contact the local housing authority. If you would like to live in the city of Los Angeles, you can start the application process using the city’s Housing Authority website. Otherwise, HUD’s Resource Locator is a good place to find the right housing authority to contact.

Before you are approved for a housing program, you may need to participate in an interview or briefing. You will also need to supply documentation of your identity and income, such as your driver’s license, Social Security card and tax forms.

Visit The Times’ guide to rental housing to read more about these topics.

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One more thing

Have you heard of the Nugget children’s couch? Some 200,000 parents are desperate to buy this $229 multicolor sofa.

Nugget Comfort’s furniture can be configured into couches, forts, castles, beds and slides. They were already popular before the pandemic, and COVID-19 stay-at-home rules sent demand skyrocketing.

To get their hands on a Nugget, would-be buyers are entering a long-odds lottery or paying exorbitant markups on resale sites, Julissa James writes. One woman, who spent five hours last month trying to load the website to register for the lottery, likens Nugget culture to high school: “Everybody wants to be a part of that little clique.”

Have a question about work, business or finances during the COVID-19 pandemic, or tips for coping that you’d like to share? Send us an email at [email protected], and we may include it in a future newsletter.

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