America’s Most Expensive Cities: How to save on rent in Los Angeles


Jeanne Lee

Jeanne Lee

Contributing Writer

Jeanne Lee is a freelance journalist with 16 years of experience writing about personal finance and small business. Her work has appeared in Fortune, Money, Fortune Small Business, and Financial Planning, among others.

Published May 10, 2018|4 min read

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Welcome to Expensive Cities, a new series designed to help renters find affordable apartments in the nation’s most unaffordable metros.

Looking for an apartment in sunny Los Angeles? Prepare yourself for sticker shock. The nation’s second most populous city is also its least affordable.

Renters in L.A. spend a whopping 47.3% of their income of housing, according to a Zillow analysis of our 50 biggest metros. By comparison, the median U.S. renter paid a more moderate 28.9% of income on rent in 2017. (Fun fact: Los Angeles renters are actually making the more prudent housing choice. You can learn why here.)

With the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in L.A. up to $2,099 as of March, what’s a would-be resident to do? We tapped Liz McDonald, CEO and founder of leasing agency The Rental Girl, for tips on how to find an affordable apartment in Los Angeles.

1. Know where not to look

Los Angeles is huge. The city covers over 500 square miles and houses close to 3.8 million people, while the county, comprised of 88 municipalities, is eight times that size. To save time and money, cross the more expensive neighborhoods off your to-see list.

The famous beach communities — like Santa Monica, Venice and Marina Del Rey — are much too pricey for most renters, since proximity to the ocean drives prices into the stratosphere. Ritzy Hollywood and Hollywood Hills, home to clutches of celebrities, are also largely out of reach.

In recent years, renters seeking reasonably-priced housing have flocked toward Northeast Los Angeles, or NELA, but the influx of new residents has tipped the scales of supply and demand.

Many of NELA’s seven neighborhoods — Atwater Village, Cypress Park, Eagle Rock, Glassell Park, Highland Park, Montecito Heights and Mount Washington — have undergone rapid gentrification and development. As a result, these neighborhoods, and Eagle Rock in particular, has experienced a surge in rents and home prices. (For insights as to why people are paying these high price tags, check out our feature profiling some big-city renters.)

Nearby neighborhoods Echo Park and Silver Lake have also become extremely popular in recent years. You could find an affordable apartment in these areas, but expect to put in work.

“The more desirable the neighborhood, the higher the rent,” McDonald says. “Right now, one-bedrooms in these two areas seem to be going for $1,400 to $2,000 per month.”

2. For better value, head to the Valley

As a strategy, McDonald recommends value-conscious renters search “areas that had their heyday a while back. They still have development and structure, but may not be where everyone is looking.”

Try the San Fernando Valley, for example. The region of 34 neighborhoods including Burbank, North Hollywood and Van Nuys, is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity as renters are priced out of other neighborhoods.

“The Valley has always been the spot to find better deals, but it meant sacrificing livability,” McDonald says. Lately, parts of the Valley have become more sophisticated, with improved walkability to shopping and restaurants.

3. Apartment-hunt in neighborhoods on the rise

“Look at spots like Virgil Village or Frogtown to find areas that are only a mile out of the trendy hubs, but lack nothing when it comes to neighborhood amenities,” McDonald says.

Virgil Village is a rapidly-evolving neighborhood within East Hollywood. Parisian-style bakery cafes and cool brunch spots have earned it the moniker of “L.A.’s Hottest Dining ‘Hood” from foodie website Eater. While new shops and restaurants abound, a recent search for one-bedroom apartment listings found rents as low as $1,250 to $1,826 a month.

Elysian Valley, colloquially called Frogtown, is south of Atwater Village. It's also worth a look, McDonald says. Once blighted by gang violence, the burgeoning area now boasts an annual arts festival, an independent craft brewery and many hipster restaurants.

4. Act fast to beat out competitors

As you’d expect, good apartments rent quickly in Los Angeles. Bring your paystubs, letters of recommendation and checkbook along when you go to see an apartment.

“Most landlords are looking for immediate move-ins,” McDonald says. “So be prepared to sign a lease that starts right away in order to be competitive.”

She suggests starting your apartment search two-to-three weeks before the date you want to move in.

“And come to each showing with a completed application package to help get your name to the top of the pile,” McDonald adds.

We can't curb burgeoning rents in big cities, but we can help you save on coverage for your stuff. You can quickly compare renters insurance quotes here.

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