SF Building Manager Explains How to Get an Apartment

The Bay's best newsletter for underground events & news

By Billy Priest (Sf Building Manager)


Dear Potential SF Renter,

You’re still having trouble finding an apartment in San Francisco in 2017? Shocking! Seriously, even though we’re past the peak of the market, it’s still tough! As a property manager and leasing agent, I hear the complaints all the time: There’s nothing available, what’s available is unlivable, property managers refuse to respond to me when I reply to their ads, they reject me for no apparent reason! While I can’t do anything about the first two complaints on that list, I can certainly help you with the last two.

Let me give you a peek into the property manager’s mind. Property managers and owners are looking for one thing in a tenant: responsibility. We’re looking for the kind of responsibility that pays the rent on time, doesn’t do unnecessary damage to the premises, follows instructions from management, and won’t violate or break the lease. We want to know that our property is safe in your hands and that you’re not going to be a problem for us or your neighbors. It’s that simple!

sf openhouse sign

Our dilemma is trying to determine your level of responsibility while staying within the bounds of the law. So we devise methods that let us test your responsibility directly. And it’s those tests that many prospective renters fail at the outset. Here are some tips that will help you pass those tests and prove to the next property manager that you are the candidate she has been looking for.

1. READ THE WHOLE AD: Professional property managers usually include as much info as possible to save you and themselves time. Asking for information that was in the ad (the address, the rent, the square footage, etc.) proves to the property manager that you’re not responsible enough to do the due diligence on your new residence or that you’re a bot. Many property managers will not respond to this type of potential renter: lack of responsibility has been proven before leaving the gate. Also, if you fail to read the whole ad, you could miss important instructions…

<> on July 8, 2009 in San Francisco, California.

2. FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS: This is a test! And not the kind you can ignore. If the ad has instructions in it, we put them there deliberately to test you! If you don’t follow those instructions, you are demonstrating to us upfront that you’re irresponsible. You will not get a response. Even after five years in the business, I am still amazed by the fact that only about 25% of ad responders follow my simple instructions, despite the fact that I put them at the top and bottom of every single ad. You weed yourselves out! Which is, after all, the point of those instructions.

3. DON’T LIE: If the ad lists minimum requirements, don’t claim that you meet them when you don’t. We will find out when we process your application! Then you will have wasted our time and your time (and application fee): You have no apartment and an angry property manager with a long memory who will not rent to you later, even if you qualify. This is a small town, believe it or not, and you may be applying for one of my apartments later. Too bad you lied to me a couple years ago.

4. SHOW UP: If you’ve gotten this far in the process and you’ve got an actual appointment to see the premises, show up! We are very busy people! We’re on call 24/7: making repairs, handling emergencies, photographing and advertising apartments, showing apartments, and many of us also hold down additional jobs (because property management/ownership often isn’t as lucrative as it looks from outside)! We also understand that your circumstances can change: you may have found another apartment, you may have decided you’re not moving after all. No problem! But we don’t have time to wait for potentials who don’t show up. So, at least let the property manager know if you’re not going to come. No­show=no apartment­­ever! (There’s that long memory again!) On average, about 50% of appointments fail to show up. That’s a lot of people who have aced themselves out of a present and future apartment.

show up open house

5. BE PROMPT: If you come to the showing late, you give the impression that you will likely pay your rent late. Fail! If you are unavoidably detained, at least let the property manager know: call or email! That lets the manager know that you’re responsible enough to communicate difficulties and pay the rent even in challenging, might­be­a­little­late­this­month times. It will be the difference between getting that apartment or continuing your search.

6. DON’T HOUSEHUNT EARLY: First, we only get 30­days’ notice when people leave our properties, so we have no idea what might be available two or more months from now. “But I’m shopping ahead to get a feel for the rental market there.” Don’t. The rental market in any city can change so that it will likely be different when you arrive. But you’ve now irritated me 6 months ahead of time and made me not want to rent to you when you do get to town. Second, I can’t hold a unit open for you for more than about two weeks: I’m losing piles of cash every month that unit isn’t rented and I can easily rent it to someone else, so unless you plan to pay the rent for the time I hold it open for you, don’t even ask.

7. HAVE YOUR DOCUMENTS/INFO READY: If the ad lists what documents you’ll need to provide, have them ready. At the time of application, most require proof­of­income, ID, and rental history. Know your history and the contact info of your previous property managers, because we will be requesting a tenant reference from them; it’s one of the few legal ways we have to check on your responsibility. It’s also a good idea to contact previous property managers to let them know to expect a call. Request that you’d like them to respond quickly. I’ve had applications that succeeded in 15 minutes; I’ve had applications that died on the vine because previous managers simply failed to get back to me.

Regarding that tenant reference, there are 5 magic questions we’re legally allowed to ask any other property manager about you, nationwide:

A) Did the tenant pay their rent on time?
B) Did the tenant cause any neighbor/nuisance problems?
C) Did the tenant have any deductions from their deposit because of how the unit was returned to management?
D) Was the tenant ever served any legal documents by management?
E) Would you rent to the tenant if they applied to you again? If not, please explain. A wrong answer to any one of those questions will most likely kill your application.

8. YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS ARE WORTHLESS TO US: Personal references from bosses, coworkers, friends, or family and rental history with family are both valueless to a property manager. Your family and friends will gladly lie to get you into an apartment (and out of their hair). Renting from family does nothing to prove your responsibility to us because, again, your family will lie about your having responsibly paid them rent.


9. DON’T BOTHER WITH A CREDIT REPORT: Some property managers will try to pinch a penny by making you bring the credit report: run, screaming! But most don’t care about your credit report because we get industry­specific credit reports that detail not only all of your accounts (past and present) and their payment histories but also anything sent to collections, past evictions, your debt­to­income ratio, and your rent­to­income ratio. Your credit score is also nearly useless for our purposes because it reflects your whole history. What if you screwed up as a teenager but you’ve been financially responsible for the last 15 years? Your score still reflects that screw­up. So, please don’t go bragging about your score: we don’t care, unless we specifically asked for it.

During the boom days of the 1990s, some property managers skipped the application completely by requiring rental resumes. That’s just what it sounds like: a detailed rental history with all the contact info, personal and business references, proof of income, credit report, photocopy of your ID, and explanations of why/how you left each address­­and they still charged a ridiculous application fee! In some cases, they even demanded a deposit upfront in cash (That’s illegal, btw)! These days, it’s not so crazy. We’re not asking for nearly as much. Count yourself lucky!

And now for the caveat: Not all property managers are created equal, of course. Some property managers are not this strict. Some just want their premises occupied, by anyone at all. You take your chances living in these situations, though. Property managers who care so little about their own properties are not likely to give a damn about you, your needs, or your tenants’ rights. Take a stringent application process as a sign of a property manager/owner who knows their business, cares for their property and, very likely, cares about their tenants and about keeping their building full and happy. You want to live there! So do what you can to prove that you’re worthy: live by this guide as you hunt for that hot SF property.

Like this article? Make sure to sign up for our mailing list so you never miss a goddamn thing!
Previous post

We wanna send you a Sunny Eckerle Bodega Cat Enamel Pin!

Next post

How to Dress Up Your Vibrator

Guest Writer

Guest Writer

We write for busboys, poets, social workers, students, artists, musicians, magicians, mathematicians, maniacs, yodelers and everyone else out there who wants to enjoy life not as a rich person, but as a real person. Namely, we write for you.

We’re currently looking to expand our author pool. If you’re snarky, know what’s happening in your town, and good at making your fingers type out funny words, then you might be just the person we’re looking for. Email with some writing samples if you're interested. Cheers