Apr 112012
 

Jean-Paul Villere

Spring is the season to rent in New Orleans.  And rentals are more competitive than ever this spring.  Supply and demand dictate that.  And if you’re a pet owner, be ready to settle, as in, in my experience 2/3rds of Crescent City landlords do not rent to you and Fluffy or Fido.  And forget smoking inside, incense burning, or band practice.  From the novice to the pro, see below for five tips to make you a savvier lessee.

(1) New to New Orleans?  Be ready to visit before signing sight unseen.  Since Katrina, most listing broker policies dictate a potential lessee actually see the space before they’ll rent to you.  Even if you grew up nearby or used to live around the corner or whatever, it ain’t happening.  Between New Orleans’ ample blight and generalities regarding any given living space, it’s a try-it-before-you-buy-it sort of scenario.  Keep in mind, I said listings though.  Mom and pop rentals may still do this.  But I had a military doctor stationed in Japan moving shortly email me this week, and I had to be the bearer of bad news as he likely isn’t making 2 trips from Japan to sign a lease.  Worse, he has not one but two cats.  Which brings me to – – –

(2) Pets are not always welcome.  3 weeks ago, I had a Houstonian-soon-to-be-New Orleanian with a great new job at Touro coming to see spaces on a Sunday.  Earlier in the week I emailed her 5 listings.  By Sunday, one was still available.  She has an 18-pound pooch, and this was all there was that would take a little dog.  You think I’m joking?  I’m not.  You think New Orleans is a big metropolitan area and surely there must be other dog-friendly spaces?  It’s not, and there aren’t.  And stop calling me Shirley.  You can always commute from Metairie, Kenner, or [insert funny sounding regional town here – – – aaaannndddd Boutte].

(3) You like it?  Fill out the app.  Don’t wait on what ifs.  We aren’t bursting at the seams with inventory, pet friendly or otherwise.  For example, you don’t like it that the washer / dryer hookups are in the master bedroom?  Well, maybe just be happy it has washer / dryer hookups, and call it a day.  This ain’t you, the interwebs, and an add-to-cart scenario.  It’s a rental; you aren’t buying it.  But with interest rates where they, and rental rates where they are, if I were you I’d be looking long and hard at possible acquisitions.  No matter, if you like the space enough, snatch it up before some else does.

(4) Your background, your credit, and you.  A prospective tenant with bad credit is not necessarily a bad tenant choice; conversely one with good credit may not be an ideal renter either.  You will be viewed as a whole-package candidate.  Filling out 3 references is not optional.  Fill out the whole app, and sell yourself, warts and all.  And have cash, a checkbook, or access to cashier’s checks depending on what the app process entails as generally they vary.  Having a stable job for many years may trump being self-employed for a short while, but generally how your app will be measured by a landlord may be in who your competition is.  I see it happen every day.

(5) The rent is too damn high.  No question, you’re likely not going to be thrilled with how much the rent is.  Consider you get what you pay for, usually.  Between higher taxes, higher insurance, and half of Hollywood living here now, our rental market is unquestionably bonkers.  But like I said, there’s always Boutte.

Good luck in your search.  If something seems hinky to you, feel free to shoot me an inquiry email, but I would submit your gut is usually right.  After all, whenever something sounds too good to be true, well, you know…

Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and the Du Mois gallery on Freret Street and father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also writes an occasional real-estate blog at villererealty.com and shares his family’s adventures via pedicab on Facebook and Twitter.

  17 Responses to “Jean-Paul Villere: The Renter’s Checklist”

  1. Good article Mr. Villere.

  2. These real estate commentaries always fill me with such optimism…

  3. You’re making me nostalgic for 2000, when it was no problem getting a nice enough place before I even had a job lined up, as long as I had the cash for the first month’s rent and deposits.

  4. I rented a half-double right across from The Blacksmith Shop on Bourbon, way back in 1961, The agent was Ethel Kidd and the rent was $45 a month. I moved a couple of times, always from Ms. Kidd and usually paid around that for an apartment. I graduated from Tulane (MFA ’68) and moved to New York for the next 30 YEARS. Returned to New Orleans in 1994, immediately looked up Ethel and was amazed she was still in business. She REMEMBERED ME from all those years ago! Found a great place on Chartres for $500 a month. In the five years I lived there my rent was never raised! The building went condo, as did many prime locations, and I had to move to the Marigny Triangle. But Ethel was a lady and a mensch!

  5. Well said…Out of personal experince, it might take 3 months of scanning craigslist, nola.com and all the other rental website you can think of to find a handfull of places worth looking into. Once you have done that, only 1/5 are going to be worth moving into.

  6. You are toooooooooo funny!!!!! So do you mean that there is no hope for my daughter who has three children and two pitbulls?

    • I own a house divided into apartments and live in one of them. My insurance company will not cover me if there is one of the following on the premises: pit bull, rottweiler, doberman, chow, or (wait for it) — German shepherd! I had a mutt, and my insurance agent asked me what mix it appeared to be, as if even a component of one of those breeds would disqualify me.

      Regarding children: most of the housing stock in New Orleans proper (not the suburbs) is pre-1978, meaning there is lead paint somewhere (or everywhere) in the house. I can’t rent to people with children for that reason. I suppose I could legally, but I always tell them about it and who wants that risk for their child? Maybe if a house was completely gutted (as in post-Katrina) and all new material put in, it would be OK.

      • Wow. I can’t speak to your insurance as every policy is different, but here’s a link to a lead based paint disclosure: http://www.lrec.state.la.us/pdf_files/forms/Lead-Based-Paint-Warning-Letter.pdf. Keep in mind lead based paint can harm anyone or any pet for that matter, so you can rent to children – if you want to. If you suspect you have lead based paint, that’s different than having knowledge or reports of lead based paint. So unless you have had your home tested (have you?), your notion is speculation. Keep in mind too, with lead based paint, it is very often better to seal it with a top coat or poly than to go remediating it. Too we could go on about asbestos roofing, siding, and yes even ductwork components, but perhaps another article for another time.

  7. I was sort of shocked at how crappy the rental market in NOLA is for the price. Sure it’s no Boston or SF, but NOLA isn’t Boston or SF job salaries either. Between the slumlords, loosey-goosey applications and leases (I saw a lot of illegal rental stuff being done by landlords), houses not up to safety codes at all, rentals next to really bad houses in bad hoods, etc, and a rental market that seems ridiculous for median income compared to what you get in return. I’m a landlord myself in another city, and man, you really need to watch your back as a tenant in NOLA. I’m surprised tenant lawsuits aren’t rampant there. Also, yes, it’s become incredibly competitive for good rentals as more and more renters move into a city that still has 50k plus blighted properties. Supply and demand market economics, yep.

  8. Linda: Three children and TWO PITBULLS? NAH!

  9. If only something could be done about the ridiculous insurance rates on houses. I would love to be a home owner but the cost of insurance is keeping me an (unhappy) renter.

    • FYI, it’s the ridiculous (and climbing every year) insurance rates, property tax raises, and doubling of sanitation and (possibly) water rates that contributes to the rising rents. I rent part of my house to help pay the mortgage, I don’t price gouge — but I can’t afford to give the space away either. I bought because I couldn’t stand being at the mercy of landlords any more — and I took a landlord training course so I would be a good one.

  10. I currently rent, and I couldn’t afford the place without a roommate. As it stands, I can barely afford the rent now, and I make a solid wage. It is reaching the point where it almost isn’t worth it to live in New Orleans when I can get a comparable (or better) apartment in Metairie for half the price.

    And it’s not just the rates, but the conditions which are deplorable. A friend of mine recently started renting a one-bedroom apartment for $750 a month in a building where there’s a visible hole in the ceiling from her neighbor’s tub leaking. The door to her place is rickety and would be taken down with one swift kick. It’s a shit hole. These rental rates would be reasonable if the landlords actually did any maintenance what so ever on their buildings, but they just let them rot. Not all of them, of course. But too many.

    • It is not only NOLA…I rented a house in Hammond that was a disaster, but I was lucky to get since I was moving from Georiga and had two dogs. After putting up with an absentee landlard for nine months, who did not want to fix anything, I moved to Baton Rouge. Love the house I am living in now, but I had to look at about 25 properties before I found one that was livable and that would allow dogs…and they all want to charge $1000 or more in rent. That’s more than my house note was before Katrina!!! Too bad I don’t want to buy right now..At least I finally found a great rental…that allows dogs!

  11. The price of housing in New Orleans is the number one reason I haven’t moved back. The actual cost of buying or renting is way more than what it should be, given the median wage in the area and homeowner’s insurance (based on what some of my friends told me they pay per year) is the equivalent of what I pay in mortgage on my current home per year.

    I have rented places for events like Mardi Gras and I can say with 100% certainty that if those properties were located in my city, not only would those landlords be fined and not allowed to rent, the entire structure would be razed by the city.

    It is really a shame. I would love to live in New Orleans again and I keep looking, but I lose hope as time goes on. You just don’t get much for your money.

  12. The apartment my wife and I had on Spruce, within walking distance to Tulane, was (in 1968) $55 a MONTH. Two bedrooms, carport, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, etc. Beautiful street and neighborhood. Visited the old street in 1994. It was a SLUM. Guess I am one of those rare people who NEVER had a problem with landlords, either in New Orleans or even Manhattan. My current landlord lives directly behind me and is a real gentleman and always helpful with any repairs or complaints (I have none). My neighbor who rents the other half is a professional young woman with a very large, but quiet dog. We respect each other’s privacy and blessed quiet. I certainly did not return to New Orleans to live in the boondocks. I love the Quarter and the Marigny and it’s there I will stay. Great music and restaurants right at my doorstep. Got rid of my car years ago because of the outrageous insurance, That was a minor mistake since ALL of the businesses have moved to METAIRIE. I was and still am shocked at how New Orleans, proper, does not exist anymore. One HAS to have a car just to buy something. Out of state condo owners have taken much of the prime locations that used to be rentals. Whole multi-units are now condos and not available to ordinary people. You can’t stop business no matter how much you protest. New Orleans to me is like a sister who is a prostitute and a crackhead: I am appalled at what she has become, but she is still my sister and I love her anyway.

  13. I’m not sure why this wasn’t mentioned but it’s important to note that tenant rights are basically nonexistent in Louisiana. If you want your lease to mean anything at all you have to register it with City Hall.

    Like anything else here, the only way to find a decent place to rent is through word of mouth. That’s really the only way to know what you’re getting and who you’re getting as a landlord.

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