Los Angeles is expensive. Just so expensive. Fortunately, I recently landed on a solution for that problem. See, I've been traveling a lot this year, which left my insanely overpriced apartment completely vacant. Rather than pay rent for a place I'd only be at a couple weeks a month, I decided to rent it out to random strangers whenever I was away. It was equal parts awesome and unnerving. We talk about it on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
#5. The Money Is Nice
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When I say I live in Los Angeles, what I actually mean is that I live in Santa Monica, and that's so much better. Anyone who says otherwise is lying to themselves to make living in the Valley seem less depressing. Not only am I in Santa Monica, but I'm also eight blocks from the beach. Granted, I can only afford it because I don't have a car and am within walking (ish) distance from most of the work-related things I need to do in town, but still, it's nice. Imagine a resort that lets homeless people sleep on the grounds. That's Santa Monica.
As you can imagine, hotel rooms in my neighborhood are pretty spendy. But can you really imagine, or do you just think you can? Is this what you were imagining?
How about the 12 percent savings at the Viceroy?!?!?
And those are the rooms where the riffraff stay. Rich people opt for shit like this ...
A great value for anyone sharing a room with 35 friends!
All of those places are a few blocks from where I live. So when I list my apartment for $200 a night on a site like Airbnb, where people looking to sleep somewhere for cheap connect with the strangers who definitely won't murder them whilst they dream, it looks like a fucking bargain. It's also enough to cover my rent for the month if I rent it out for ten days or so. I've been doing that for most of the year.
Unfortunately, Santa Monica decided this wasn't exactly the kind of profiteering they wanted happening in their area. Effective June 15th, vacation rentals under 30 days are basically illegal. That's a bummer for me, but it was nice while it lasted. In the name of mourning the passing of my financial security, let's talk about a few of the things I learned from renting my apartment to strangers.
#4. Prostitutes Are A Concern
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Like any other advance in Internet technology that's made life easier for people, almost as soon as vacation rental sites like Airbnb went online, the criminals of the world started looking for ways to exploit them for profit. Naturally, the first segment of the underworld to make it work for them was the illicit sex trade.
Back in April of last year, the New York Post reported that prostitutes in the NYC area were using Airbnb rentals instead of hotel rooms in the name of saving a few bucks and, more importantly, remaining anonymous. Hotels have doormen and security and cameras -- features the average person's apartment generally lack.
Not that I haven't considered it, of course.
Even when nothing that can technically be defined as illegal is happening, you still run the risk of returning to your apartment to grab something you forgot, only to walk in on an orgy of plus-sized people happening in your living room.
Living where I do, this was always a concern. Luckily, once a person commits to renting, you get their full name. That means you can Google them and see if their social media posting history leans more toward Facebook or Craigslist. Sure, it will make you feel like a bit of a creep (unless you already are one, in which case you were going to do it anyway), but it's way better than getting a call from your landlord saying a prostitute just got stabbed in your apartment.
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"Yeah, his profile picture made me hesitant to rent to him, but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt."
If I was able to find sufficient evidence that the renter in question wasn't going to turn my residence into a brothel, I'd go through with the rental. In a couple of cases, I had to cancel.
Sometimes people make the decision easy for you right away.
Did I do this for everyone who rented my place? Of course. I'm in California. I have no doubt that the demand for male and female prostitutes is equally robust in my neighborhood.
That said, I would make an exception if the renter was clearly elderly. I mean, even if one of them was a hooker, at that point it's more like having a novelty act in your apartment, and that's kind of cool. It's like having the bearded lady or the boy with the lobster claws for hands renting your place. It's more charming than anything. I don't think any of the old people who rented my place were sex workers, but they were definitely something.
#3. Old People Are A Nightmare
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You know how people joke about old people struggling with modern technology? Well, people make those jokes because they fucking do struggle with it, and you learn this the hard way when you invite an old person to crash at your place for money. At a certain point, getting old sort of turns into being a child again, and as everyone knows, kids ask a lot of goddamn questions. That's even more true for old people, because in this case, they have the benefit of knowing that, in light of the fact that they've given you money, they have the right to ask as many goddamn questions as they want. They're like kids who have all of the basic rules of life mastered. It's the worst.
Part of it was my fault. Like so many other people, I don't have cable. What I do have is a Google Chromecast, which anyone with a basic understanding of how to follow three steps' worth of instructions can successfully use to watch Netflix, Hulu, or any number of other entertainment options, controlling it all from the comfort of their smartphone. This describes almost no old people.
"We're terrible at this!"
Like, barely any. But when you've traveled hundreds of miles to spend a week in California sitting on a couch, sometimes you want to watch a movie or two. So on several occasions, despite having left perfectly clear written instructions, I'd find my self talking septuagenarians through the intricacies of streaming video technology. On the phone, no less. I honestly considered logging onto oDesk and outsourcing that step of the rental process to the Philippines at one point.
They also turned out to be the renters most likely to do strange shit. The last guy I rented to was an elderly dude who seemed to have a seething contempt for the Brita water pitcher I keep in my refrigerator. Most people just, you know, use it. One woman even changed the filter for me. This guy, upon discovering it in my refrigerator, called me on the phone to ask what he should do with it. When I suggested he leave it right the hell where it was, he seemed dissatisfied with my answer.
"This isn't over, you bastard."
It just so happened that his rental involved him staying for six days, leaving for three, and then coming back for another ten days. I returned to the apartment for those three days to find that he'd put the water pitcher on the floor of the pantry next to my refrigerator. An odd choice and a bit of an overreaction, but I wrote it off. I put the pitcher back in the refrigerator. When I returned after his next stay, it was under my sink. Under the sink! He put my water pitcher in Chemicalville.
I should mention that this pitcher was definitely not the only thing in the refrigerator, so it's not like it was a space issue. Things looked exactly the same in there both times I returned, aside from the fact that my pitcher was always stowed away in an increasingly aggressive manner. What did clean drinking water ever do to this guy?