Houses for Rent in Houston Get Cheaper as Market Cools

Newsflash: Houses for rent in Houston, Texas are hot in demand —  and supply. In recent years, America’s fourth largest city has shown an impressive ability to keep up with fierce housing demands in the wake of a new trend to rent in Texas. As a result, Houston renters aren’t struggling nearly as badly with rent inflation and stagnant wages when compared to other major metros. In combination with a healthy supply of housing, Houston is one city where renters can sigh a breath of relief — things are looking up for housemates here. If you’re on the hunt for houses for rent in Houston, Texas, here’s why you should be renting right now.

A Good Time For Houses for Rent in Houston

Decreasing Housing Prices in Houston

As new residents continue to settle into Houston, the city is on the tail-end of a boom in housing prices. Fortunately, for potential buyers (and renters) in the metro, the market is cooling down in light of a recent dip in energy prices. Even so, Houston is one of only two U.S. metros (the other being Dallas) where both rental and ownership stock has grown in the last decade, according to a new affordable housing study by NYU Furman Center. Even with the minor setback in Houston’s prolific oil industry jobs, the city had the strongest economic growth in recent years of all 11 metros in the study. It’s still a great time both to buy and rent in H-Town.

“The housing market is still very, very strong,” says Paul Silverman, a realtor from the Houston Association of Realtors. “We’re seeing some negative numbers in single-family homes as far as dollar volume, number of sales and average price, but…we kind of knew they were not sustainable long-term, due to the surge we had.

“Houston has always been relatively steady. And Houston has always maintained a decent appreciation rate, without having to worry about a bubble. For people that prefer stability over a lot of highs and lows, I think Houston’s definitely the place to buy.”

The Good News For Renters

The good news for all types of Houston residents is that the cooling housing market means more affordable housing — whether you’re renting or buying. Of the 11 metros studied in the Furman Center report, only in Dallas and Houston could the median renter afford the median recently available rental. What’s more is that Houston had the lowest median gross rent of all 11 metros, making it the second most affordable rental market for typical renters.

“The drop in sales is not a bad thing,” says Silverman.

[bctt tweet=”One of the things we have to sell in Houston is affordable housing.” username=”Roomiapp”]

“And when that goes away, that’s just one less thing that attracts people to our city.”

Most of the growth in Houston metro area renters stemmed from renters in single-family homes. In 2014, 34 percent of renter households lived in single-family homes, according to the Furman Center report — 6 percent increase from 2006.

Essentially, houses for rent in Houston are still going strong because of affordability, but also in part because of the decline of oil prices in Texas (and the nation).

Growing Renter Household Size

More good news for renters: Single-family houses for rent in Houston aren’t the only type of housing available. Though the city’s vacancy rate dropped from 13 percent in 2006 to 9 percent in 2014,  the average renter household size also grew by 7 percent — meaning more housemates under one roof. But if single-family homes aren’t your thing, you’ll still have plenty to choose from.

“One of the big things we have is we’re about to be way over-built on multi-family [units],” Silverman says.

This will contribute to housing affordability as more rentals become available in the form of multi-family units like apartments and condos.

“Apartment complexes are forecasted to be dropping their rent next year,” continues Silverman.

“If we look at the average prices of rentals, they’ve only gone up one percent. It definitely contributes to the fact that rentals are not skyrocketing. We’ve even had to rent some rentals for less than they would’ve gone for a year or two ago. So renters definitely benefit from [the housing market],” concludes Silverman.

The Solution to a Shortage of Apartments For Rent in Dallas

In case you haven’t heard, people are flocking to Texas. The state, which boasts a burgeoning tech industry, warm weather and plenty of friendly faces has become the nation’s hotbed for renters in recent years. As a result, apartments for rent in Dallas — which has seen the second largest population boom in Texas — have become hot commodities. In a recent study of 11 major metros, Dallas’s rental market saw the most significant change in availability: a 5 percent drop in its vacancy rate over the last decade. The North Texas city even beat out San Francisco, the country’s most expensive city for renters, where vacancy has decreased by 4 percent since 2006. [bctt tweet=”Apartments for rent in Dallas are going fast and they’re staying gone.” username=”Roomiapp”] Here’s what else you need to know if you’re planning on navigating the shortage of apartments to rent in Dallas.

The State of Apartments For Rent in Dallas

A Sizable Expansion

According to an NYU Furman Center report that studied 11 U.S. metros between 2006 and 2014, the Dallas metro area increased its rental stock by 25 percent —  an increase the study remarks is “sizable” compared to other metros. Real estate investor Yariv Bensira says the market in Dallas is ripe, from a developer’s point of view — but at a cost to renters.

“More and more rental developments are going up throughout Dallas. And it seems more and more amenities are needed in new buildings to compete in order to command higher-end rents,” he says.

And it isn’t just apartments for rent that are contributing to the boom in units in Dallas. According to the NYU Furman Center study, a significant number of the new rentals are single-family homes, as homeowners choose more to rent their houses, adding new streams of income.

The Influx of Millennials

Nationally, Millennials are leaning more towards renting today than owning — perhaps because it offers a sense of flexibility that the generation is so well-known to love. In Texas, the steep property tax rate is an added incentive to rent. As a result, the competition for vacant apartments for rent in Dallas is fierce. As more renters enter the Dallas market, developers continue to outdo one another for new business.

“There are young professionals and entrepreneurs flowing into Dallas from other urban centers and big cities, and they are used to luxury living in high-end buildings laden with amenities,” Bensira says. “They are looking to stay in town and are willing to pay to do so.”

And for those who do want to buy? The swelling property values mean scarier price tags, and ultimately it’s a matter of choosing the lesser evil. There’s no way, they say, to really have it all.

“I think people aren’t buying homes in Dallas because the cost of buying is also going up. I have friends who want to buy homes and condos, but it’s really expensive especially to be in a generally nice area,” says Betty Matthew, a Dallas-based speech language pathologist, who rents a townhome with two housemates in the city’s Deep Ellum neighborhood. “If you want to buy a home, you have to move further away, which people may be reluctant to do because of the longer commute to work and things to do in the city.”

The Decreasing Vacancy Rate

Even with a 25-percent increase in new apartments for rent in Dallas, the vacancy rate is still dropping. This is in part because the number of renters has increased by more than 35 percent since 2006, leaving a 10-percent deficiency in supply. As with any major metro experiencing the recent influx of renters, low-income renters are having more trouble finding affordable housing in the city center. They’re forced to either pay more to stay in the city or be pushed out into the suburbs and surrounding cities.

The Increasing Rent Prices and More Housemates

As multiple reports have shown, rent is rising nationally. Though rent affordability isn’t as much of an issue in Dallas as it is in other major metros, only 3 percent of vacant rentals in the North Texas city were considered affordable to low-income renters in 2014. And even for middle-income renters, a 3.8-percent spike in rent prices between 2013 and 2014 (more than double the increase in metro areas nationwide) is somewhat unsettling. It’s an indicator that the city, considered the most affordable of the 11 metros for median renter household, may be following suit of other more expensive metros.

“[bctt tweet=”The cost of living in Dallas, although fairly low in Texas compared to other cities, is rising. ” username=”Roomiapp”]

“The rent has definitely gone up every year both in the city and surrounding areas. Even living in towns further away like Denton, my rent was going up every year,” vouches Matthew.

Where does that leave newcomers seeking apartments for rent in Dallas? Hopefully not too overwhelmed; the choices are still available, and rent is still manageable for now — thanks, in large, to more housemates. The average household size increased by 8 percent in Dallas between 2006 and 2014, so it seems renters are wising up and rooming up to save some pennies.

And why shouldn’t they? Texas is awesome.

“I feel that Dallas overall is a phenomenal city and Texas a great state,” says Bensira. “There is no state income tax, which is another benefit to those moving to Dallas and choosing to work in Texas. The city is growing rapidly, there are great business opportunities, and lots of hard-working young professionals and entrepreneurs.”

Roommates in Philadelphia Opting For Single-Family Homes

Looking for roommates in Philadelphia? Check the single-family houses. That’s right: Contrary to the idealistic image of roommates stacking up in a chic little apartment or flat, one in five renters in Philadelphia are living the spacious life in a single-family house, according to a new study by the NYU Furman Center. In fact, the trend of renting single-family homes has increased sharply as the vacancy rates nationwide plummet and rent climbs steadily. So it’s no surprise roommates in Philadelphia are catching on. Here are some of the benefits you’ll experience when you switch from an apartment to a house and what roommates in Philadelphia know that you don’t.

Roommates in Philadelphia and Single-Family Homes

The Facts

According to the Furman Center’s 2016 National Affordable Rental Housing Landscape report, 70 percent of houses that changed hands between owners or renters were single-family homes that were converted to rental units between 2005 and 2013. That basically means that houses were converted into rentals more often than they were sold. It’s not surprising, with the growing demand for rentals, and the incentive for homeowners to rent their house out rather than live in an increasingly crowded metro. It’s not surprising when you consider the growing demand for rentals. Plus, there’s an incentive for homeowners to subsidize their income by renting their houses to a swelling population of urban dwellers.

“Philadelphia in total is seeing an influx of renters on multiple levels in every asset class,” says local property manager Benjamin Oller. “Philadelphia proper, specifically Center City is extremely hot.”

Oller, who works at Rent Philly pairing renters with landlords, says the growing demand isn’t anything to worry about in the City of Brotherly Love.

“We see no shortage of inventory among any asset class,” he says. “In real estate the old adage was and will always be location, location, location, and we can attest that that is still true. Philadelphia proper is the place to be and renters are competing to live here.”

Despite local opinion, the Furman Center study shows vacant rentals are disappearing fast in Philadelphia as more people move in. The city saw a 14-percent increase in rental units and a 23-percent increase in renters between 2006 and 2013 — meaning demand outpaced supply. The long and short of it? Vacant rentals are a hot commodity, and homeowners and renters, alike, have something to gain from renting single-family homes.

The Benefits

So, you’re looking for roommates in Philadelphia. Pay close attention to those open rooms in single-family homes. If you’ve lived the apartment life for years and find comfort in your small organized spaces, keep on doing you. But imagine the possibilities if you check into a house in Philadelphia instead. Here are just a few benefits you can expect renting a house in Philly.

So. Much. Space

You remember that two-bedroom apartment you were paying an arm and a leg for in that other metro you called home? Imagine having an entire house between you and your roommates living in Philadelphia. It could be a two-story house, with plenty of room to stretch your legs between the kitchen and your very own bathroom. In a single-family house, you’ll actually have the chance to have things you’ve never dreamed of as an apartment dweller. Granted, you’re unlikely to have everything you want, but things like garages, storage sheds, basements, and yards don’t come standard with an apartment. And just think about how happy your four-legged roommates will be.

Better Privacy

Sure, you’re still rooming with other people, but at least you know everyone (or, at least, you’ll get to know them). Even a small house is still a house. It’s separate from other houses nearby and only subject to the whims of the people living there. No more having to share a communal area with 50 other renters; no more awkwardly having to make forced small-talk in the mailroom; no more having strangers pass by your door in the middle of the night; no more brooms knocking on the floor or dance parties on the ceiling. And even if there are (it’s probable your roommates will get rowdy every now and then in a house), it’s nothing a calm conversation and open communication can’t fix.

A Worthwhile Price

Roommates renting in Philadelphia can expect a warmer market than some other expensive metros. The average home sells in Philly for $121,200, according to Zillow. Compared to Boston at $480,000, or NYC at a shocking $614,500, it’s considerably cheaper to be a property owner in Philadelphia — and the rent shows it. Boston rent averages around $2,300 for an inner city one-bedroom apartment, and Philly rent is an average of $1,470 for a similar one-bedroom in the city center. If the suburbs are calling your name, you can rent a three-bedroom house in the Philadelphia suburbs for $1,570.

All in all, The City of Brotherly love is a pretty awesome place for Philadelphia roommates to rent. (Just be cautious of a deal too good to be true.) Whether you’re a current resident or are moving there soon, keep your eye on the housing market for single-family homes as more Philadelphia homeowners jump ship in favor of renting. Or don’t; they’ll find something for you.

“To each their own, which is what makes Philly, Philly,” says Oller proudly.

5 Tips For Living With an International Roommate

Can you imagine moving to a new country and navigating the rental landscape? The American rental market can be difficult to navigate even for someone born and raised in the same neighborhood, so we can only imagine how intimidating it can be for an international roommate. To really understand their experience, we went straight to the sources themselves. We talked to them about making the great move and living in a foreign country and asked: What did your roommates do to help you adjust? Here are five tips for helping your international roommate feel at home.

Living With an International Roommate

Tip #1: Use a Good App

This first tip is more geared towards those of you moving abroad, but it will help to keep in mind if you’re already living with an international roommate. Coming to a new city is hard enough, but if it’s a big enough place, you figure you’ll know someone in town. At the very least, you might be familiar with the names of a cool area. Most people who relocate to New York City have heard of Brooklyn, right? Well, not always.

Stefán Sigurðsson, an integrated communications accounting coordinator, says when he moved from Iceland to NYC, he didn’t know how to find affordable housing or a roommate. His wish? Someone had recommended a good place to start.

“The first challenge was definitely finding a trustworthy website or app that could steer somebody like me — someone who knew absolutely nothing about the rental market in New York — in the right direction,” says Sigurðsson. “The rental process is definitely similar in Iceland, less expensive for sure. I had no idea what I was doing. I had a hard time figuring out what was a good deal, what was a ‘good’ neighborhood and what was a tolerable distance to commute. Not knowing the city, it was sort of like going in blind. Thankfully it just worked out for me.”

If your current roommate is on the hunt for a new place or you know a friend moving abroad, helping them start somewhere will be more helpful than you’ll realize. So, where would one find some great affordable apartments in cool neighborhoods? Here’s a good place to start.

Tip #2: Explore Together

A new city or country often means new stores and chains you don’t recognize. If your roommate is coming from abroad, it could be quite the culture shock. Take time to get to know the city together. Find a favorite grocery store, try a couple of happy hours, and just explore the neighborhood with your roommate even if you aren’t best friends (yet). And after you’re done raiding the local farmer’s market, schedule a night to try cooking a new dish —maybe you’ll discover a new favorite you’ve never heard of before!

Public relations professional Maria Baranova, who relocated from Russia to Boston and then later to San Francisco, says while it seems like a small gesture, it will help your new roommate feel at home.

“My San Francisco roommates were very kind and showed me the city — all the needed stores, pharmacies, parks, restaurants, bars and so on,” shares Baranova.

This goes both ways, though! They might have some killer recs for you too. Never tried Ethiopian food? Who better to show you exactly how to eat that spongy bread than a local? And if you and your roommate have any sort of language barrier, just remember: Food is the universal language.

Tip #3: Share Cultural Norms

When it comes to sharing stuff, it’s always best to ask — whether it’s food or toiletries, don’t just assume it’s yours to use. Hopefully, you’re doing that anyways, but sharing habits aren’t always so common sense. Americans, for example, might be more casual about “borrowing” something than someone from abroad.

Sigurðsson tells us how he figured this one out: “Back home we don’t [share beers] because all alcohol is so expensive. You don’t touch beer that’s not your own without asking or replacing it. So, at first I was about to flip a table when my beer went missing, but then I understood and just drank other people’s beer too. It works.”

Wherever you stand on the sharing thing, it’s best to talk about it early on to avoid any misunderstandings on either of your parts. The last thing you want is to sour your relationship over some grapes.

Tip #4: Be Crystal Clear About What’s ‘Included’

In the US, we tend to assume most apartments are BYO-furniture. Unless stated otherwise, we plan to shlep Grandma’s old coffee table, that Goodwill nightstand, and a garage sale recliner up two flights of stairs every time we move. It’s a harsh reality we’re used to. But as it turns out, we’re the exception. Unfurnished apartments aren’t the norm in other rental markets, which cause for a rude awakening, as Baranova puts it.

“One challenge I faced was also a surprise: The majority of the apartments are unfurnished. In Russia we have mostly furnished apartments, so people have no headache with it, should they rent or buy all the stuff. This all completely stressed me out for the first time.”

Before moving in together, disclose as many details as you can to be sure you’re painting a full picture for your new roommate. Some of the specifics we take for granted might need extra attention. You also might make an extra Ikea trip — or, if you’re crafty, do some easy DIY-ing.

Tip #5: Make Intros

Hopefully, you and your new roommate can find some common ground to let a friendship bloom. But even if you’re not the best of buds, you might be able to introduce them to their next BFF — making you Roommate of the Year. So get on your Facebook and make some intros. It will be the easiest thing you can do with the largest payoff.

“All my past roommates have been good with introducing me to people and taking me to new places. That’s what makes living here so great — the fascinating people from all over the world and from all walks of life and the amazing places to go. So I was so fortunate to have my roommates and other friends to set up my life here.”

Help! My Roommate Smokes and I Don’t

Even though you’ve staved off the temptation and tried hard to avoid second-hand smoke, you just found out your roommate smokes (next time you’ll make sure to use a roommate finder that prevents unpleasant surprises like these). Smoking cigarettes used to be in vogue, but their well-known health risks have made the practice less socially acceptable today. Still, there are an estimated 40 million smokers in the U.S.  So naturally, you have your concerns. Your roommate’s crumpled clothes reek of smoke, and they always seem to miss the ashcan outside the apartment, leaving a fine carpet of rain-washed butts for you to trod over on your way in. You’re worried about that unrelenting cough your roommate gets occasionally, or maybe you’re just grossed out and wondering what to do now. You enjoy your co-living situation, but the smoking is really getting to you. Not to worry; communication is key, and though your roommate has a right to their habits (no matter how detrimental), that doesn’t mean you have to suffer. We asked some nonsmoking roommates on how to clear the air when your roommate smokes.

Help! My Roommate Smokes

Preventative Measures

If you’re living with a smoker and you don’t smoke yourself, one of two things happened: They either moved in with the habit (and didn’t mention it) or they picked up later. In either case, you should set up some ground rules ASAP. Just like with taking out the trash or washing the dishes, you should settle on an agreement. Are you okay with them smoking on the landing even if it lets some of the smoky air in? What about when it’s cold outside? Be clear what you’re willing to compromise on and what is a total dealbreaker. Some habits affect everyone, and you have a right to make your needs known. It’s always important to communicate your issues with habits like smoking to potential housemates. And if you’re cool with the habit but need rules, make sure to set them down in your roommate contract. This will prevent some of the problems discussed here.

Smelly Situations

Of course, it’s entirely possible that you knew your roommate smokes before they moved in, but now it’s become an issue. Such was the case with Courtney Mixon, whose #1 roommate (her husband), recently ceased a 20-year smoking habit. Mixon, not a smoker herself, affectionately recounted the ups-and-downs of her hubby’s habit.

“He would leave the butts and stuff in the ashtray…and it would annoy the crap out of me. But I emptied it. And the wrappers were everywhere cause the cats loved the crinkle sound.”

Fortunately, the Mixons know that a little communication goes a long way.

“He got better after I pointed out both issues,” says Mixon, adding that they’ve moved to a new house where they do not allow smoking inside.

Barbara Denzer had similar complaints when she lived with a roommate who smoked for 15 years, noting that the consequences went beyond simple pet peeves.

“It turned the ceilings in our house yellow. It made the house and all our clothes smell. It was a lot of work to combat that, but I also worried about our lungs,” she says.

Denzer says after moving away from that housemate, it was easier to avoid these situations.

“People went outside to smoke. Smoking wasn’t allowed in restaurants. It seemed like it was safer to live with.”

But smoke and smell might be the least of your worries.

A Hazardous Habit

It goes without saying that smoking is bad for you. And though everyone is entitled to their own habits, you’re also entitled to worry. According to TheRealCost.gov, smokers die about 10 years sooner, and almost one in five deaths in the U.S. can be tied to smoking. Denzer knows the dangers first-hand: Having lost a husband to lung cancer, she soon after found herself at risk for the deadly disease.

“Three years [after my husband’s death] I had a pulmonary embolism, or blood clots in the lungs, which I barely survived. Two years after that, I had another pulmonary embolism, also a narrow escape from death,” says Denzer.

If you can help it, Denzer’s advice is to avoid living with a roommate who smokes, or to “try to get them to quit — for their sake.”

Mixon is thankful that her husband stopped while he could.

“He made it a point to quit because he has asthma,” she says, adding that she’s very proud of his success. “His asthma has gotten so much better! He doesn’t use an inhaler as much as he used to. He went from using one inhaler for three to four weeks and now he’s been using the same one since August 2015.”

Perhaps your roommate can’t be scared into quitting, but it doesn’t hurt to talk about it. If you’re concerned about their welfare, tell them. It’ll let them know you care. If you don’t want to combat their personal choices, but it affects you, politely ask for some space from the habit. The simple act of smoking outside or cleaning up their cigarettes might make all the difference for your peace of mind.

4 Non-Political Spots Roommates in Washington Will Love

You’ve pledged your allegiance to a political candidate, followed the debates and made your obligatory visits to the White House and Washington Monument. Now that America’s political hub is your new home , you’ve committed to fulfilling your duties as model roommates in Washington. But despite going through the motions, you’re not into politics as much as you hoped. Sure, you’ll discuss the topic in passing, but at the end of the day, you’d rather spend your time at art galleries, open mic nights, and every Smithsonian museum for the hundredth time. Hillary Clinton’s in town? That’s neat, but you’d rather go to that Walt Whitman reading on Friday. In a city saturated with politicians, lobbyists, and activists, roommates in Washington wonder how to survive and thrive in D.C. Thankfully, while one of your roommates is spending his time rooting for Donald Trump (and you’ve done your best to avoid getting into any political drama at home), you’re glad the other feels the need to satiate her artsy side and get away from the political noise with you. But where to start? Here are four non-political spots roommates in Washington will love to explore.

4 Non-Political Spots Roommates in Washington Will Love

1. The Mansion On O Street

Perfect for: The thrill-seeking roommates

If the idea of hidden rooms, secret passageways, and treasure hunts evokes a sense of excitement and thrills from within, the Mansion On O Street tours are a perfect day activity for roommates in Washington to enjoy. With over 20,000 books, pieces of artwork and other donated items, this museum-meets-brunch hotspot is like a mix of Narnia and Wonderland for the creative soul. The best part? You can even buy some of the items you see on display! Searching for concealed doors and wandering through several dozen rooms, you’ll have the chance to bond with your roommate all whilst testing your sleuthing abilities.

2. Washington Psychotronic Film Society

Perfect for: The indie-film buff roommates

There’s really nothing better than a movie date, but when you’ve already seen every film out in mainstream cinemas, you’ll want to take a chance on the Washington Psychotronic Film Society. Free to attend for those 21 and over (though donations are always welcomed), the non-profit organization screens old-school, independent films from the Psychotronic genre. In other words, “just about everything except the Norm,” according to the film society’s website. A fresh breath of air from all those blockbuster hits, the films at the WPFS will make for intriguing conversation when you’re networking your way through the city.

3. Rock & Roll Hotel

Perfect for: The rock n’ rollin’ roommates

For all the roommates in Washington who love to rock out, D.C.’s Rock & Roll Hotel — not actually a hotel — is an awesome music venue with a rooftop deck, concert hall and lounge. With notable artists like Rooney, Big D and the Kids Table, and American Authors passing through, this popular location never fails to draw a crowd with its impressive lineup of rock and indie bands from around the globe.

4. Poetry Reading at the Library of Congress

Perfect for: The spoken word enthusiast roommates

The Library of Congress is such an iconic building in D.C. that the first thought on your mind might be, “Been there, done that.” But what if you could hear some of your favorite poems and literature come to life with a reading or a discussion of an author’s works? From a dialogue on Asian American literature today to the translations of celebrated female Uruguayan poets, many of these diverse events are free and open to the public. Grab some coffee with your roommate and get your creative juices flowing in one of the most inspiring landmarks in town.

An Intro to Biking Laws for Roommates in Washington D.C.

One of the best offerings the northeast metros have is their variety of transportation options. If using public transportation or driving through hour-long traffic aren’t your preferred methods of getting around, biking through the capital city is another great option. For roommates in Washington D.C., who are already battling rising rent costs, using programs like Capital Bikeshare or investing in your own two wheels can be both cost-effective and a great way to experience the city. But before you hop on and ride off into the sunset, familiarize yourself with the biking laws. Before you know it, you’ll be most mobile roommates in Washington D.C.

An Intro to Biking Laws for Roommates in Washington D.C.

Stopping at Lights

Many D.C. cyclists tend to agree that it’s OK to bike through red lights as long as they aren’t interfering with traffic or doing something that could cause an accident or harm others. Though it’s a common occurrence, it’s actually illegal and could land you in the slammer should something go awry. (You don’t want to be those roommates in Washington D.C.) However, a proposal that would allow cyclists to simply yield at red lights is currently under review and “would apply to quiet residential areas where under current law cyclists are required to stop even when there’s no one around,” according to The Washington Post.

“The law would not allow any behavior that threatens the safety of others,” says Tamara Evans, advocacy director for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “Stop as yield would apply where no one else currently has the right of way. It would help divert bicyclists from more dangerous streets to safer streets that they might currently avoid because those streets often have stop signs at every block.”

Evans says that the proposal, which Council Member Mary Cheh introduced through The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act, might also encourage the Metropolitan Police Department to concentrate on enforcing traffic laws that would be more likely to cause injury or death. Cyclists throughout the city, many who don’t follow the standing law regardless, support the proposed bill.

“Under the law, cyclists would be required to stop at a red light, but if no traffic was coming, could then proceed through the intersection with caution,” Evans says. “The law distinguishes between red lights and stop signs.”

Riding Two Abreast

When the weather is nice and you’re looking for something to do, taking a bike ride with your roommate is a great outdoor activity. Though riding two abreast (when two cyclists ride side-by-side) is legal, it’s more common to see people biking single file. But because bicyclists can use the full lane they’re in, riding two abreast occupies less of the road, according to Evans.

“This is a contentious subject out of the city on two-lane roads, where it is difficult and sometimes dangerous (or illegal) for drivers to pass,” says Evans. “There is an infraction for impeding the flow of traffic by riding two abreast, as we mention in the pocket guide. So it is somewhat situational depending on how many lanes of traffic there are.”

Required Bicycle Parking

New to biking and worried about where you would store your own? Fortunately, this is no longer a problem for apartment residents and roommates in Washington D.C., who don’t want the hassle of lugging a bike upstairs and finding room for it in their home.

“All new and existing buildings in the District now require bicycle parking,” says Evans. “Locations and types of bicycle parking must be shown in building site plans and be approved by the District Department of Transportation during the development review process. There are two sets of regulations governing bike parking in D.C. Code: Title 11 (zoning) shows number of spaces related to size of development and Title 18 (traffic) governs residential specifications, rack placement, and abandoned bikes, where bikes may legally park.”

For a full list of D.C. bike laws, WABA’s pocket guide is available here.

Using Capital Bikeshare

If after securing a new rental in one of the country’s priciest rental markets, buying a new bike isn’t in your budget, Capital Bikeshare is your next best option. The program offers numerous passes allowing roommates in Washington D.C. to rent bikes to commute to their destination. As a member of the program, you can use a bike for a free 30-minute ride. An additional fee will be added to your bill if you go over the first 30 minutes, but every new bike you take offers another free 30-minute trip. So essentially, customers can bike for 30 minutes, park the bike in a Capital Bikeshare station (if one is available), take out a new bike and ride for 30 minutes again. Considering the inexpensive membership cost, many D.C. dwellers enjoy the convenience of the program.

“Biking is my primary mode of transportation. Plus, you can get practically anywhere in D.C. in 30 minutes,” says Erin Gifford, a marketing professional. “The metro is terrible, buses are OK, and walking is great but slow. My company has nine locations throughout the D.C. area, so it’s nice to be able to move about the city easily and quickly on a bike.”

Though Gifford notes that it’s frustrating when a bike isn’t available, Capital Bikeshare’s app and the station kiosks notify its members of availability at other stations.

Taking Advice From the Pros

As a cyclist, you really can’t win; cars loathe driving around you, and pedestrians will curse the day you accidentally side-swipe them on the crosswalk. Despite the reputation cyclists have with both parties, however, there are things you can do to avoid confrontation and prevent potential accidents.

“My number one rule is to be predictable,” Mike Abrams, a D.C. paralegal says. “If the cars, pedestrians and other cyclists are expecting you to do what you do, you’ll probably be fine.”

Abrams advises practicing safety — even as an experienced biker — whether that means going the correct way on one-way streets or using lights and neon vests when biking through the dark. Likewise, cyclists should exercise caution on sidewalks around pedestrians and should mind the actions of those around them if, say, a driver is texting or a passenger of a cab is exiting the car.

“My biggest pet peeve when driving around cyclists is when they pass on the right at intersections,” says Abrams. “The most dangerous interaction between cars and bikes is when the car passes the bike. The cyclist passing the car at the intersection just forces the car to have to pass the bike repeatedly, which is dangerous.

“It’s not worth the extra 20 feet by moving to the front of the intersection. When I ride, I try never to force someone to pass me more than once. I act like a car and stay in the middle of the lane at lights. Not saying the cyclist should move to the back of the line at an intersection, but forcing unnecessary extra passes is just stupid, in my opinion.”

Gifford agrees with this notion and, while biking is her main mode of transportation now, she admits that cyclists and drivers attempting to pass each other at lights is a common problem. Of course, drivers and pedestrians have their own faults as well.

“Pedestrians cross the street whenever they want and jaywalk, forcing me to slam on my brakes so I don’t end up in prison,” Gifford says. “Drivers unaware get way too close, drive in the bike lanes and don’t always look for cyclists. Pedestrians feel like they always have the right of way and refuse to pause for two seconds while I pedal past so I don’t have to stop completely.”

In any case, it’s not a bad idea to prepare for the worst case scenario. One precautionary action you can take? Using technology to document what happened.

“I ride with a GoPro on my handlebars because D.C. has contributory negligence and that combined with MPD’s general apathy toward bike/car crashes doesn’t leave me with much confidence,” says Redditor tiny_apt_brewer. “I got burned once so the GoPro became a $200 insurance policy.

It’s not a bad idea, confirms another Redditor by the name of voikya.

“I do the same. I got hit by an Uber driver one time and it proved beyond any doubt that I was completely in the right. Completely paid for itself.”

For roommates in Washington D.C., biking can be the ultimate way to experience your new city. Be smart, and be safe, and leave your tips for fellow cyclists below!

Houses for Rent in Boston in Higher Demand Than Ever

Alright, so Boston is an expensive place to live. Where isn’t these days (besides Texas)? Prices on apartments and houses for rent in Boston increased by nearly 6 percent in 2015 — the most rapid rise in at least six years. Much to the dismay of students and young professionals, Boston is just one of the many metros where neither the rent prices nor vacancy rates have let up. New York City and San Francisco are the poster children for this phenomenon, and Boston is following closely behind. While new residents continue to flock to the city, Boston’s vacancy rate is among the lowest of America’s major metros. Unsurprisingly most renters stay put, and those who do move stack up in the suburbs, which are also filling up quickly. So if you’re hunting for houses for rent in Boston, you’ll want to read up on this advice from the local experts on navigating the Boston rental landscape.

Houses for Rent in Boston are Atrociously Expensive

First, let’s talk about how expensive. According to recent data from the CFEd Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, about 50 percent of Massachusetts renters are cost-burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities. The “City of Neighborhoods” is currently boasting an average rent of $2,945, according to Trulia. Aaron Katz, a Boston-based HomeVestors franchisee, spends his time rehabbing local houses and putting them back on the market. He laments about the recent stress the Boston market is feeling.

“Boston rentals are in very high demand. Boston has been strong for years, but there has been a large increase in demand for rentals in the past 12 months.”

And while Trulia data indicates the price of homes in Boston was on a steady decline last year, the median price of houses for rent in Boston is still soaring, especially in peak seasons.

The Suburbs are Filling Up as Well

Somerville, a Boston suburb, and other local cities are getting the run off now that vacancy rates are nigh on obsolete in Boston. According to the Boston Globe, vacancy rates have dropped from 8.7 to 4.4 percent in just a few short years. As more professionals, graduates, and other renters come through with $3,500 in hand for a 700 square foot apartment, the middle class is getting pushed out further from the city to find affordable housing. And as houses for rent in Boston perform a vanishing act, gentrification stretches its fingers further.

“There is so much demand in the city that demand has spilled into the suburbs and created these issues everywhere,” Katz confirms.

Why Is This Happening?

There are many reasons Boston is a desirable destination for newcomers and a permanent (if expensive) home to natives. Here are a few:

  1. Boston is in the middle of a tech boom. Like many other metros who have experienced mass gentrification, Boston is attracting many new residents. Startups are flocking to the city to establish themselves.
  2. There is a shortage of housing. Like in NYC and SF, vacant houses for rent in Boston are hard to come by. And with all classic cases of low supply and high demand, inflation is the result.
  3. It’s a college town. Home to some of the world’s most presitigious schools, Boston accommodates students from all over the world. Naturally, they need a place to stay while putting their brilliant minds to work.
  4. And if You’re Still Moving to Boston?

    Don’t freak out. Houses for rent in Boston might be expensive and pretty occupied, but that doesn’t hurt the housemate scene by any means. The first step to procuring a sweet Bostonian pad is to let the professionals guide you to tenants who need an extra hand with rent and might just take you in as the newest household member. Rent might not be so frightening if it’s split between a few tenants (here’s a nifty tool to make sure you’re splitting rent as fairly as possible.)

    And another way to save some money is to know your local laws. In Massachusetts, landlords can only legally collect a security deposit, a lock deposit, and rent — meaning landlords are finding ways around the system to make up for fees they can’t charge.

    “No pets fees or any other type of fees that a tenant may be willing to pay to make their application stand out are allowed,” Katz says. “Because of this, it’s driving the rental prices up. Tenants are willing to pay more since they can’t pay other fees, and landlords are simply raising prices. It makes it harder and harder for most average renters to find housing.”

    But all hope’s not lost yet, and there are other non-monetary ways to make yourself a desirable candidate for the coveted housing in and around Boston. You just need to be willing to go the extra mile, says Katz.

    “Renters have to be aggressive to have their application considered. Many pull their own credit to make it easier for the landlord to process their application or they may offer to pay more than the listing rent price to make their application stand out from others. Landlords are getting dozens of applications the day of or the day after listing a property for rent.”

Finding Rent-Controlled Apartments for Rent in Washington D.C.

Washington D.C.: America’s capital city and the fourth most expensive rental market in the country. If you’re on the hunt for a new home, you’re likely looking for the most affordable apartments for rent in Washington D.C., right? Rent control is a pretty nice setup in some of America’s major metros, and Washington D.C. renters are among the lucky who can benefit from it. A lot of the usual rent control laws apply here as they do in cities like San Francisco and New York City. Whether you’re a new or veteran renter, here’s what you should know and some tips on finding apartments for rent in Washington D.C. that were blessed with rent control.

The State Renting in Washington D.C.

According to Washington D.C. realtor Angie Garcia, finding apartments for rent in Washington D.C. isn’t complicated — as long as budget isn’t a factor. With rental units starting around $1,500 for the bare bones, and increasing sharply the more amenities you need, finding an affordable apartment can be a real pain.

“It’s not easy for a newcomer on a budget because of the high rental rates,” admits Garcia. “Finding a location that has all the factors a newcomer is looking for: convenience, commute, price, living space, storage space, parking, metro, cool neighborhood, and so on is a difficult task when working on a budget. Eventually the newcomer sacrifices some of their [preferences] to finally get their new place.”

And while that might sound frustratingly similar to a lot of major rental markets plagued with high rent prices, the City has been doing its part to make affordable housing more available. Introducing rent control was one of the first steps.

Overview of Rent Control in D.C.

What Buildings Qualify

Here’s the good news: A majority of rental units in D.C. fall under rent control — more than 60 percent of all rentals. But a surprising number of residents are unaware of how pervasive rent control laws are. Rent control was instituted under the Rental Housing Act of 1985. All rental complexes with four or more units fall under rent control, thanks to this law, with a few notable exceptions. A dwelling is exempt from rent control if:

  1. It was built after 1975.
  2. It was vacant when the Act was instated.
  3. The dwelling is owned by a person not owning more than four rentals.
  4. It is subsidized by the Government or the District.

How Much Rent Increases Yearly

Basically, if you find apartments for rent in Washington D.C. and they’re in buildings with more than four rental units, and they aren’t new, they’re very likely rent-controlled. All rent increases are based on a yearly adjusted Consumer Price Index (CPI-W), which factors in workers’ wages. This allows the population to keep up with inflation. What does that mean? It means that all rent-controlled units increase in rent each year but by marginally less than newer rentals and other non-rent-controlled units. Landlords can’t increase rent more than 10 percent each year. But for most tenants, the average yearly increase is the CPI plus another 2 percent. For disabled or elderly tenants, it’s even lower, with a maximum increase of 5 percent per 12 months.

Exceptions to the Rule

In the case that a unit becomes vacant, the landlord can raise the rent price more than once in the same year. The “vacancy increase” rule allows the landlord to:

  1. Increase rent by 10 percent more than was charged to the former tenant, or
  2. Rent it for the price of a comparable rental unit, but the rent hike can’t be more than 30 percent.

There’s also a clause in the Act that allows landlords/property owners to claim hardship. Essentially, if they find themselves unable to make a 12 percent rate of return on the property (with 12-15 months of paper proof of the fact), they can raise the rent to make that 12 percent. Additionally, a property owner can petition to raise the rent to make improvements to the building required by local law. That being said, tenants should stay in the know about whether their landlord is following the legal processes to raise rent. And if you think you might live in a home that falls under rent control but has not been registered, it might be time to file a complaint.

Finding Rent-Controlled Apartments for Rent in Washington D.C.

Section 8 Voucher Program

So you want to get in on this, right? Well, with a 60 percent stock of rent-controlled buildings, your chances aren’t bad. The issues lie in vacancy rates, pricing, and availability in general. If you’re moving to D.C. with little in the bank, you might apply for Section 8, a voucher program for low-income, elderly, or disabled renters. To up your chances of securing a voucher, Washington D.C. realtor Chris Chambers says you’ll have better luck with smaller units if you’re applying for Section 8.

“Unfortunately, in this current market with the increase of rents in the city, the Section 8 Program is way behind the current market rents,” he explains. “There are still one- or two-bedroom properties available on the market. But finding a three-plus bedroom section 8 house is like finding a needle in a haystack.”

Scoping Out the Rent-Controlled Buildings

If you don’t qualify for Section 8, there are still plenty of techniques to finding affordable apartments in D.C. The first step is to do some research before you hit the streets looking. Use D.C.’s affordable housing locator, and see what comes up. Research the neighborhoods, and use a realtor to help with the legwork.

“For a newcomer, I would always recommend using an agent from the city,” Chambers says. “They can give you a real quick ‘street’ view of all the different areas and talk about the pros and cons of certain areas. Also, you can weigh your pros and cons list against your max. budget and the location answer is normally staring right at you.”

And if you already found a place, but aren’t sure if it’s rent-controlled, always ask. The landlord is legally obliged to disclose that information.

Explore Your Options

With low vacancy rates, it may be difficult to secure a rent-controlled apartment from scratch. But you can run into some luck by finding a housemate who already did the dirty work of locking one down and has an open room to fill. Even if it doesn’t have every amenity on your list, locking down an affordable apartment offers you a lot to gain.

“Rent as low as you can find for at least one year,” recommends Garcia. “Get to know the surrounding area (VA, MD), and familiarize yourself with the transit system etc. to know what works for you first-hand. This way you know what you truly have to sacrifice or not for the price.”

Why Baltimore Roommates Should Plan a Staycation in Charm City

When moving to a new city, you take into consideration things like potential job opportunities, affordable housing, and the social scene. While working your dream job may be your top priority, finding ways to enjoy your time off comes in as a tight second. While you may assume you need to jump on a plane and fly across the world to explore, don’t forget about the endless adventures to be had in your backyard. And who better to experience them with than your co-living partner in crime? Baltimore roommates are among the lucky ones, who won’t have to leave town just to get away. Here’s just a short list of how you and your roommate can enjoy an awesome staycation in Charm City.

A Staycation for Baltimore Roommates

In the simplest terms, a staycation refers to a vacation that doesn’t involve traveling — but rather spending time close to home and enjoying local attractions in your own city. It’s the perfect way to embrace a new city or neighborhood or discover the unknown in a place you’ve been in for a while. The charming city of Baltimore has something for friends, lovers, and families to enjoy year-round, all in its very own Inner Harbor.

For the Animal Lovers

The Inner Harbor is known to most as a port of call for cruise ships. But the Harbor is also a landmark for the city of Baltimore and a major tourist attraction just waiting for locals to enjoy. One of the most popular attractions at the harbor is the National Aquarium. With over 20,000 aquatic animals, there’s surely a creature or two you’ve never seen before. Baltimore roommates will love the aquarium’s newest exhibit, the Living Seashore, which has become the hot spot for guests, says Kate Rowe, Director of Media Relations at The National Aquarium.

“This exhibit showcases a mid-Atlantic seashore habitat and features two large touch pools where guests can actually walk up and touch the animals (with proper guidance from our team),” explains Rowe.

Some of the animals in this exhibit include Atlantic stingrays, sea stars, horseshoe crabs, and moon jellies. The staff works hard to create engaging experiences that are inspiring for all guests.

“From tactile learning in our new touch pool exhibit and fully immersive experiences in our rain forest and Australia exhibits, to our close to 40 daily talks with animal care staff…there’s something for everyone at the Aquarium! It’s a place to build and make connections,” she adds.

They also offer great deals. Head over any Friday night after 5 p.m. and get the full aquarium experience for half price. That’s right, bring along your roommate and that’s a two-for-one special you can enjoy together. You can even make it a double date! The more the merrier, right? If you’re bringing along miniature roommates, kids eat free Monday through Thursday at The Hard Rock Cafe. Check out the aquarium’s website for a number of year-round discounts including military, parking and other promotions.

For the Foodies

If you’re a foodie (especially a seafood lover), you’ve picked one of the coolest cities to settle — and dig — into. Baltimore Ravens Defensive Back Nick Perry says that eating is for sure one of his favorite things to do in Charm City, and there’s rarely a dull moment.

“There’s always something to do. Baltimore is known for its seafood. Their crab cakes are out of this world!” he tells us.

Surprised? Don’t be. Baltimore’s foodie reputation is often overlooked. In fact, Thrillist named it one of the seven most underrated American food cities in 2015, saying Baltimore is a kind of “petri-dish” left to its own instrument.

“It sits there just out of the spotlight until you take off the lid and realize all of the crazy stuff happening inside. The art, music, and food scenes are filled with thriving communities that not only don’t frown on experimentation, but expect it,” Dan Gentile, the article’s author, writes.

Even better? There’s a plethora of farms within a 15-minute drive of downtown and weekly farmer’s markets to assist the farm-to-table advocates and vegan roommates in stocking the fridge.

For the Art and History Buffs

For Baltimore roommates who are feeling artsy or are in the mood to learn about history or culture, the city has enough museums to keep you busy and learning for weeks on end. Just for starters, there’s the Baltimore Museum of Art, the largest museum in Maryland. The BMA has over 90,000 works of art available to you for free, every day. The Matisse collection is especially perfect for modern and contemporary art lovers and includes a state-of-the art lighting showcase.

The Walter’s Art Museum, which celebrates 55 centuries of art from around the world ranging from the Millenium B.C. to the early 20th century, is ideal for the Balitmore roommates more into classic art.  Once you’ve roamed the museum and fueled up on inspiration, Walter’s also gives you a chance to make some art of your own on the weekends with their Drop-In Art events. Hey, consider it the perfect opportunity to spruce up the DIY decor for your apartment.