Discuss: Apartment Hunting while Single and Female

Sep 7, 2012

For the past six years, I have lived in 475 sq ft of studio apartment.  The apartment’s small size–while the subject of many jokes–never really bothered me.  In fact, I kind of liked that there was less to clean. Until recently.

Suddenly, I feel totally trapped in my apartment.  I have no workspace, which means the vast majority of my blogging is done from the couch.  (This does not exactly maximize productivity.)  The apartment is north facing, and buried more than a half dozen stories down in the courtyard making it feel a bit cave like.  And the location, right next to the elevator, has become a real problem since a group of 25+ year old children who like to party like college freshman moved in down the hall.

So I started looking for apartments…and let me tell you something…the D.C. rental market is out of control.

Why would I pay more than $2,000 for a 527 square foot apartment with no washer/dryer where I would be expected to buy my own window coverings because the last tenant took them with her?  Why would I shell out $500 more than I’m paying now for 600 sq feet when the landlord couldn’t even be bothered to clean the thick layer of grey film off the bottom of the bathtub?  And why would I want to rent an apartment that hasn’t been updated since Bush 41 was in office and has the white Formica cabinets and parquet flooring to prove it?

Yesterday, out of pure frustration, I asked an apartment broker how people afford these units esp. when what they’re getting isn’t awesome.  Her response?  “People looking to rent in this neighborhood typically have two people paying the rent. I usually only rent to couples.”  Her tone was as sharp as a broken bottle.

And there it was, the “Hey, 30-year-old single girl, if you had a man to help you, this wouldn’t seem so expensive to you” assertion.  Since this isn’t the first time I’d heard a realtor or broker make this insinuation, I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

Earlier this week, I went to look at a condo in Logan Circle represented by a realtor who was so old that she’d once kept a Brontosaurus as a pet.  When I told her that my name would be the only one of the lease, she replied: “Oh, so you’re not married?”

“No, not married.”

“Do you live with your boyfriend?”

“No, no boyfriend.”

“If your parents will be helping with the payments, their names need to be on the lease as well.”

“No, if you look at the application I provided, I am more than capable of making the payments on my own.”

She picked up the application and thumbed to the back page, “How unusual.”  Her tone was that of someone who’d just looked into a tank at the aquarium and seen a fish covered in spines and neon stripes.  At that moment, I resolved to live in a van down by the river before I would earn her a dollar in commission.

The first two or three times this happened, I thought that it was all in my head.  Until last night, when a friend accompanied me to a showing in Eastern Market.  After the broker grilled me for five minutes about how there “weren’t a lot of single women” living in the neighborhood and how this was “more of a family environment,” I decided to take her card and “think about it overnight.”

As we walked out, my friend turned to me and said, “Is it me, or was she trying to convince you not to rent the unit?”

Seven apartments in four days, and four of the brokers have made me feel like apartment hunting while single and female is some kind of sin.  I suppose it could be an age thing.  Many of the realtors and brokers showing these units are my parent’s age or older.  But there are a LOT of single women in D.C., so I don’t understand why they see me as such an aberration.

Have you ladies ever experienced a similar attitude while apartment hunting?


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  1. Valerie says:

    Oy. I seriously thought city rental markets had moved on from the SATC era of harassing a young professional woman about her marital status and ability to afford an apartment. I'm sorry Belle. Your realtor's behavior seems extremely unprofessional, especially given that it is her JOB to find choices for you, and generally those that can afford to have a realtor on their own can also afford their own rent. All the reader comments about apartment management assuming the man is in charge just kind of makes me nauseous.

    I second the readers who recommended looking at properties rented out by individual owners in DC. Sometimes these owners don't actively live on their property and are looking to make extra money, but money isn't their primary concern so rent is often not as ridiculous. I would even say (yes, some readers loyal to the city will disagree) to look at properties in NoVA. I realize with your job location it may be easier to live within DC itself, but honestly I got fed up with the prospect of living in a $2500/mo closet when I could get a much nicer place in Arlington a couple metro stops away.

  2. Melissa says:

    I'm in the same boat, 26 and looking to buy downtown (I already own in the suburbs). I've definitely gotten skeptical responses even when contacting realtors, let alone actually looking at properties. I'm sorry I don't NEED a man or my mommy to help me pay for my residence.

  3. cleary says:

    First, the people renting you the apartment are the “lessors,” not the “lessees.” You're the “lessee” (or you will be, once you find an apartment.

    Second, I think that the first agent's comment was to the point of “how do people afford this” — the answer is that to rent in that neighborhood people normally have two incomes. I don't find anything particularly offensive about that. I don't think it was an assertion that you need a man, I think it was an admission that a family unit of two people generally finds those rents more affordable than a family unit of one person.

  4. Katie* says:

    Since group houses are so common in DC for younger people, I imagine singles renting on their own is uncommon enough. Plus, maybe you look young for 30? I tend to be a forgiving person, but I agree, those comments are shockingly unprofessional and rude.

  5. When I first moved down here I did a whirlwind tour of 18 complexes in Arlington in a single 2 day stretch, by myself. I never experienced any questions about my marital status or how I would afford the place. Some were WAY out of my price range… read $2800 for a 700 sqft apartment (umm, no) but still the leasing agents showed them to me and didn't ask me about my finances at all. Then again, I never asked questions about “how people afford this,” I knew my budget and knew the general cost of an apartment in the area I was looking so went in with the attitude of “I can afford this so don't even ask.”

    Another thing to note – September is a crazy busy time to lease an apartment. If you can, wait a month or two — rents fluxuate with the month. I really like my building and it has really spacious units but my apartment is leasing right now for $500 more per month than what I signed at back in February. Anyways, if you're interested in my recommendations from my whirlwind send me an email…

  6. Michelle says:

    Isn't this in a Sex and the City episode?

  7. wannabe_free says:

    I was once desperately looking for a studio apartment in my hometown after my living situation went south and I resolved never to live with roommates again. At one large complex downtown, the landlady refused to believe that my female friend helping me look wasn't my girlfriend (I'm also a female). I told the landlady several times that my friend was just helping me look and she would not be living with me. Landlady wouldn't look either of us in the eye and made my friend complete a rent application, complete with SSN and so on, just so we could LOOK at a studio apartment. She was pretty brusque with us during the showing as well. I regret now that I just didn't turn around and walk out– it was a waste of everyone's time and I don't want to have someone like that as a landlady, regardless of my orientation.

  8. Belle says:

    DCQ: My question was really more of a: Why do people pay this, than a how do people afford this. I should have been more clear.

  9. Hannah says:

    I'm a single woman in her mid-20s who just recently purchased a jr. one bedroom on the Hill. The seemingly innocuous comments (ie “wow you are a pretty good saver for a girl of your age,” “this building is a little older than you generally, lots of couples.” were fine at first, but they start to accumulate.

  10. shilpi says:

    hmmmm, frustrating. I write for a DC real estate blog (dc.urbanturf.com) — would you be interested in posing a version of this question to our readers?

  11. Landlord says:

    I don't know….I think maybe you're taking it a little personally and that surprises you that it is hitting closer to home than you'd like it to? I don't think the first comment was trying to insinuate anything — she answered your question. The second is old school and was making conversation.

    I am a landlord and rent my own properties and never ask these types of questions, but if I did, it wouldn't be to judge. I can see in your rental application and credit score all I need know know. Renting my first couple of apartments in DC, I was never questioned on my ability to pay. Given the current employment market, I am more wary and want to be very sure that someone can afford my place, and will pay on time, and ideally, will be there for a few years. Maybe that is what these other landlords are looking for as well.

  12. JA says:

    Yes when looking at realtor-listed units. No when looking at units in large managed buildings, with appointments through the property management company, and definitely no when looking at anything listed on Craigslist. I hate the time that it takes to sort through Craigslist, but ultimately, I that's where I've had the most luck.

    The attitude is dated in so many ways, not least that there are plenty of 30-something women in DC earning six-figure incomes and perfectly capable of making rent payments of over $2000/month!

  13. love it says:

    Belle, that sucks. I'm sorry. I hope you find a good place soon and the agent has better customer service / manners.

  14. Emilie says:

    I actually just finished apartment hunting and moved into a great space a few blocks east of Eastern Market. I went solely with Padmapper (which aggregates listings from Craigslist, direct listings on Padmapper, and other online resources on to a customizable map -seriously best thing ever) because I refuse to pay apartment brokers. And while there were a ton of false starts (like the lady who upped the monthly rent by $200 when she realized she had so many interested parties), I never felt like I was being treated differently or dismissively because I was a single 30-year-old woman. In fact, in landing my current place, I think it helped, since I beat out a very lovely couple my own age who looked at the place the same day I did.

  15. rebecca says:

    ,,,WOW, sorry for your experience. 3 years ago i moved from scottsdale, AZ to DC and while i love the energy, the history and politics of the city, i'm finding there's more that i don't care for. $2000 where i'm from would get you a really swanky condo with all the ammenities and a 2 car garage (i know because i lived in one) or a 4bd/3bth home in a NICE neighborhood. i know this doesn't help you but it helps me because i'm returning to AZ. i wish you luck on your journey to find a “home.”,,,

  16. RMS says:

    I understand being offended, because I definitely get offended when people comment to me about how I'm wasting so much money living by myself instead of moving in with my boyfriend already. However, the simple truth is it would be a lot easier to afford a nicer apartment with two incomes paying the rent instead of one. I don't think the brokers mean to offend you. I think they're being honest about the fact that in areas where rent is so high, it is much more common for a couple to live together and shop for an apartment together. Now this is leading me to my rant about how couples shouldn't move in together simply for financial reasons, but that may be an entirely different topic…

  17. CynthiaW says:

    You know, I used to think that maybe I was “imagining things” when car shopping, too. Until I brought a man with me (any man – boyfriend, friend, dad – didn't matter) and the attitude of the salesmen changed completely.

    So, I don't think that Belle went out apartment shopping looking to be offended – actually, I'd be flabbergasted that once person was going to live in such tiny spaces, let alone two people. And I wouldn't give anyone who treated me like that a dime either.

  18. Kate says:

    I experienced something similar while looking with friends in the DC market. I get the group house concern, but I think 4 professional young women are going to be less damaging to a house than kids, but maybe that's just me.

    I rant about the DC market on a regular basis and it really is absurd. People are either okay not putting a cent in savings or taking on living in absurd situations to make it work (a. someone renting out a cot in her studio walk through closet in Kalorama for 1100 a month b. adult bunkbeds c. couples moving in <6 mark for the sake of splitting rent, etc etc).

  19. Devon says:

    I'm a single woman in the DC area renting on my own, and I think all of this is rude. I don't understand why it's any of their business. It would be one thing if your application indicated a lower income than they required, or your credit score was low, what have you – but that clearly isn't the case. I certainly don't understand why they feel they can ask these questions when they're simultaneously asking you for money (and a lot of it). The DC rental market isn't so competitive as to eliminate the need for common courtesy.

  20. MominHeels says:

    I think this is one of many realty (rent or purchase) blow backs we all may experience. Renting or buying when you have kids, you find similar behavior and feedback from realtors — Do you really think this neighborhood is appropriate for children? This condo has a very non-family friendlly set of regulations. We really seem to rent more to younger, singles. I have heard all of those. So, while it is annoying I would not feel you were targeted.

  21. Emilee says:

    The rent is astronomical in the DC suburbs too…. heck I practically live in the ghetto and the rent is astronomical. I'm graduating from grad school soon and all the jobs I'm looking at now are in Frederick county…

  22. B says:

    There are plenty of single women in this town, many making six figures who can easily afford some of the nicest buildings in this city. These landlords/leasing agents seem way out of touch with what's going on around them. This experience sounds really out of the ordinary to me. I am not single now, but I have been apartment hunting in DC while I was single, and I had no issues whatsoever and noticed no change when apartment hunting with my boyfriend vs on my own. I also have many single female friends in their 20s and 30s who've never had issues renting on their own, some of them in brand new, quite expensive buildings with rents as high as $2500/month.

  23. L says:

    Oh man, yes. The experience between apartment hunting by myself and then my boyfriend and I looking was like night and day. I had one person ask if I wanted to call my mother to ask for her input; I asked him if he could call his boss for me instead because I wanted to complain. I'm not sure what neighborhoods you are interested in, but I found CP to be fairly reasonable prices with actual decent apartments.

  24. Ella says:

    Honestly, I think this attitude is pretty common across the board. People seem to assume that you either live with someone or you're slumming it in a hovel if you live alone. But in the leasing world, when I (single, 26) was looking for a new apartment earlier this year, one office wouldn't even talk to me when I was by myself. I had an appointment, showed up early, and had to wait while they took couples who walked in off the street. I left after about half an hour, only to be desperately called a few days later by the leasing office because I was the first applicant to pass a credit check.

  25. rebecca says:

    ,,,one more point to make and then i'll step down from my “box.” a “professional” does not need to ask these sort of questions if they have done their homework and have your application in their hand. at the time of the meeting they have all the necessary information to make a determination if the “lessee” is able to meet their requirements. what the “lessor” should be doing is their dog and pony show to convince you the rentor that you really want to live in their space and pay their asking price!,,,

  26. Melissa says:

    I rented an amazing, large one bedroom apartment in Woodley Park in a rent-controlled building for a few years (moved out in 2010 to live with my now husband). The apartment went up from $1070 to $1260 per month over the three years I lived there. The rental company was amazing and used to renting to single women. The buildings are a little older, but the space more than made up for it. It's a different neighborhood but might be worth checking it out. https://www.shapiroandcompany.com/index.html

  27. Lindsey says:

    Realtors cannot discriminate. It is illegal. Sometimes there are even “secret shoppers” that will go out and basically test a Realtor to see if he or she demonstrates any discriminatory behavior. But, I guess that only applies if you are using a licensed Realtor and not just an apartment manager or landlord.

  28. Cara says:

    I agree that the questions are rude. I'm also surprised and disappointed that these landlords are not used to leasing to successful single women.

    Does DC prohibit marital status discrimination for housing? Not worth pursuing but could be fun to use that bit of information to shock these jerks into behaving.

    You know what makes me mad? On our mortgage, my name is listed before my husband's. You know who gets all the house/mortgage-related mail and information? My husband. I'm not even mentioned in the address. It's not just my bank doing it; it's all the related businesses. Someone also said that it was “easier” to list him before me on some sort of paperwork. Maybe the offer? It's a little thing but it's ridiculous.

  29. L says:

    I did not experience this while apartment hunting, but since I moved in two years ago, the management company has changed. Even though I am the one who takes care of all apartment issues, pays the rent (my boyfriend gives me a check for half so we can send just one check to the company), and initiates any other contact with the management company, if they initiate the contact, they ONLY contact my boyfriend. Very frustrating.

  30. kims says:

    I moved to a new apartment in Arlington a month ago. I've accepted the fact that I'm going to have to live with a roommate or a boyfriend for the rest of my renting years. Damn my dependance on the metro! Even so, I'm really impressed by my friends who live in the area (esp Arlington) and work on the Hill. I need to take a page from their financial management skills!

  31. Remy says:

    This is awful! The “and will your parents be co-signing?” line has been given to me more than once, its totally disrespectful. And I'm with Michelle- this is all like the real-life version of Miranda's condo-buying SATC episode! If you haven't been totally discouraged, try livelovely.com…it compiles craigslist and other sites onto one easy map, so no flipping between the map and the listing, especially when your hunting on a laptop from the couch! Good Luck!

  32. Tiffany says:

    This is frustrating to hear, especially because this sort of practice is illegal. Dealing with bigger apartment complexes, they aren't even allowed to answer questions about the demographics of the residents (couples, families, etc), let alone question you extensively about yours. I think smaller realtors, buildings and owners get away with this sort of behavior because they don't expect anyone to make a complaint … but consider it. It's a form of housing discrimination.

  33. Danielle says:

    I've actually had the opposite experience. When my BF and I were looking at houses to buy together, the real estate agent (a 60 year old man) looked at my income and advised that I could purchase the home on my own, that he would not recommend purchasing a home with just a boyfriend.

  34. Caroline says:

    What the hell? I live exactly one block from Eastern Market (with my lesbian partner) and can attest that there are all types of living arrangements here. The two men next door are married, the couple on the other side are retired, and there are several group houses on my block that are full of singles. One of my classmates from grad school is a single woman who owns a 1-bedroom condo nearby, though she was lucky enough to buy when you could get a condo for less than $200k!

    Yes, there are a lot of young couples with babies in this neighborhood, but I take issue with that broker's insinuation that you don't belong here unless you have a husband and a kid. She's absolutely wrong on that point and I hope she didn't scare you away from Eastern Market. We bought our house a year and a half ago and, in spite of the ongoing crime wave, I absolutely adore the neighborhood and can't imagine being as happy anywhere else.

    Unfortunately, it's true that a lot of the housing in DC (or anywhere within a 50-mile radius of it) is only affordable with two decent incomes. I've lived with some truly awful roommates because I didn't feel I could afford to live on my own– and I'm in one of the highest-paid professions out there. From the landlord's perspective, it's probably less risky to rent to a couple because one might be able to cover the rent temporarily if the other loses their job. Tenant rights are very strong in DC and it's incredibly hard to evict someone who's not paying their rent, so the landlords are just trying to protect themselves. And with hundreds of applicants to choose from it's no wonder they turn down the ones perceived to be riskier.

    Anyway, I wish you the best of luck with your housing search. Usually the rental market slows down in the fall so I'm hoping your odds will improve.

  35. CH says:

    The DC housing bubble never really burst, did it? The rents here are eye-popping. Lessors know that if someone wants to live without roommates, close to Metro, in a safe neighborhood, they'll pay the asking price.

    A friend of mine (single girl, but I don't think it ever came up for her) ended up paying $200/month over the Craigslist asking price for a 1-bedroom in Dupont because she wanted that place so bad and her previous lease was days from running out.

    Good luck with the housing search, Belle!

  36. Jess says:

    I wouldn't pass over a place that you like because you don't want to give some moron any commission money. If you like the apt. go for it regardless of that. That is what management is for, to call and tell them your thoughts on the person who was saying things that were't all that appropriate. And you still win. You get a good apt. and that person hopefully gets an earful from the boss. And I would think you could always send a letter to the realtor after you are nice and settled in and give her a piece of your ear in the most polite way you can manage!

  37. Claire says:

    Yikes, that's super frustrating. You'd think brontosaurus-age realtors would judge you for living with a boyfriend before marriage, not for shopping alone! Either way, it sucks. In those sorts of situations I feel like the best thing to do is call them out or prove them wrong…

  38. J says:

    When I first moved here I had roommates, but two years ago I decided to go it alone and find a new place by myself. Whenever I looked at places in NW I would get those kinds of comments – more often the parents co-signing comments but also sometimes the boyfriend/husband comments. After a while, I was just annoyed because I could definitely afford the places on my own. I eventually settled on a super cheap studio in SW that is ancient with parquet floors and Formica countertops – but I seem rich compared to the rest of the people who live in the building so when I applied they accepted my application as soon as I walked in, didn't ask questions, and didn't require a deposit. It's not a slum, it's just not luxury. I figure that saving $500/month for a few years is better than living someplace where i'm not wanted. But I plan on buying something in the next few years and i'm already dreading the comments I'll get when I submit the application alone.

  39. webdoyenne says:

    I'm a middle-aged woman who came to the DC area to work on a contract for about five years. I plan to return to Florida, where I have a house, when my time is up. I was warned about the real estate situation, but I could never have imagined I'd be paying $1500 a month to rent a nothing-special one-bedroom condo in the Bethesda area. It is more than the mortgage/insurance/taxes on my house in Florida (where my older son is living right now…and paying half of it, thank God). As a “mature” single woman, I had no age-related issues when looking to rent (although I ran into “bait-and-switch” with a couple of large, managed buildings and complexes). Meanwhile, my younger son is sharing a one-bedroom apartment with two other young men in Foggy Bottom for $2600, and I had to cosign…along with the parents of the two other guys, even though they are all over 21.

  40. Maggie says:

    I just started as a staff assistant around the Hill and I stalked Craigslist for three months before I found my current place. Hardwood floors, washer/dryer, 600 square feet, quiet neighborhood but within walking distance to restaurants. It's perfect… except for the 50 minute public transportation commute.

    Price pays off though- $1600 and before you ask- no, there is no. way. I could afford it without my boyfriend. I just can't do roommates again.

  41. A says:

    The same thing happens every time I look for a place.
    This morning I also got yelled at by the clerk at my doctor's office. I hadn't filled out the section of the form that said “If patient is not the primary insurance holder”
    I had to explain to her that I'm a big girl, with a real job, and no one else pays for my insurance. She was a real monster about it too. Ugh.

  42. VCS says:

    Couple of thoughts on this- I never experienced this while apartment hunting, but I also haven't moved that often. If it makes you feel better, though, I have married couple friends who were asked by mortgage brokers if they would be getting any “gifts” or contributions to the down payment, so the assumption by people in the industry that real estate may be out of reach for some is not confined to single people. I think it is more of a statement about how out-of-control expensive real estate is in this town (whether you buy or rent).

    Finally, I will say that I bought my first place last year at age 34 and was extremely proud of the fact that I did it entirely on my own. Most of my friends who own are either married with two incomes or got help from their parents.

  43. Kate says:

    I agree with a lot of commenters that some of this is just because DC real estate/rental market is OUT. OF. CONTROL. I looked at apartments all summer WITH my boyfriend, who I currently live with, and we saw some places that were not just not-luxury but flat out gross and extremely poorly maintained…for the low price of nearly $2000 (particularly once our car and dog were factored in). We are both young (he just turned 25) and we got frequent comments that if we didn't BOTH pass a credit check, our parents would have to cosign, or we'd be turned away altogether, despite living in a $2000+ per month apartment and never paying rent late once (as well as always keeping up with all our other bills). We were also frequently quizzed about our jobs and typically it was not until my boyfriend finally name dropped his company that we got any kind of respect.

    Furthermore, I would also note that typically big building management offices are not necessarily trained in any type of customer service. As I mentioned, our current building is super luxury (we got a deal on it when we initially moved in because it's near the Nationals Stadium, which was in an extended stasis period with construction projects routinely being dropped), and we are treated terribly here. Trying to move out has been a complete nightmare; both our intent to vacate notice and our reservation for our loading dock have been lost, which I only found out because I made an effort to double and triple check with them (knowing from previous experience that they are incompetent). And I will say, frequently in these situations my boyfriend receives MUCH better treatment (for example, when I have found some mistake they made, I rarely receive an apology…whereas they fawn all over him). What I'm trying to say overall is…mostly these people care about a sale. Just like in the world of retail, there's only one Nordstrom, with employees highly trained for above and beyond customer service. The same building management is also a needle in a haystack.

  44. Chelsea says:

    I know what you mean! Believe it or not, it happens even if you're married, realtors assume you can only afford a place because of your husband. Even after submitting salary info and everything, no one seemed to notice I make three times what he does and could pay for the place myself. Every single question gets directed at him, and they even list him as first on the lease and direct email to him–it gets a little ridiculous. I'm grateful for what I have, but I'm less grateful for the assumptions people tack onto it…

  45. ES says:

    Unbelievable. Good for you for pointing out how rude and inappropriate those comments were.

  46. Alex says:

    I've had luck renting directly from professional couples in their mid-30s/40s who are basically just looking for someone to pay their mortgage on their investment property – they don't seem to take any sort of issue with a young female professional tenant.

    Before I found my current place, though, I'd had a slightly different issue – the only places I could reasonably afford on my own (and I was very strict about setting limits for myself) were income-based (I forget the proper term – “tax…” something buildings?), and I was “too rich” to qualify for the advertised rent. However, I was still “too poor” to afford the rent set for tenants with higher incomes per the buildings' own “max 40% of net pay” advisory (which is reasonable, I'll give them that). My math skills might be rusty, but I could never quite figure out how, say, someone making $43k in DC was expected to be able to afford a $1,500 closet and still make that 40% of net pay cutoff… I was making a good deal more at the time and I still couldn't justify that chunk being taken out of my take-home pay. That Catch-22 is probably what leads to these attitudes among realtors and building managers in the first place: they know that a single woman is likely to be caught in that too rich/too poor gap without a roommate/significant other.

  47. E says:

    I agree with Chelsea, being coupled-up does not fix the problem. I am a partner in a law firm and my husband is a stay-at-home dad/freelance musician. Suffice it to say that I make much more than he does, and we qualified for our house based on my income alone. (In other words, technically I'm the one who pays the mortgage.) Yet, when we were house-hunting, the realtors spoke directly to my husband. The only thing they asked me was whether I liked the kitchen. I'm serious.

  48. Emme Gee says:

    You should look in Glover Park – it's way more single gal friendly. I've had a reasonably-priced one bedroom there for several years and I didn't get any crap from anyone when I was looking for it either. Good luck, Belle!

  49. Meg says:

    My husband and I lived in Arlington, and just moved out to Fairfax for more space and MUCH cheaper rent. We went from an old, moldy apartment in a sketchy area to a brand-new apartment with hardwood floors, granite countertops, and great amenities still for only a tiny increase in price, and a location closer to a metro stop. I went to appointments by myself to narrow the field at first and had a few problems (I'm young and look even younger) with agents sounding skeptical about even a combined income.We eventually went with a place from Bozzuto Management – even though they are a huge company, they had by far the best customer service and we have a great relationship with the staff. Totally worth the commute the Georgetown!

  50. A says:

    The comments of the brontosaurus-aged realtor disgust me, although I am far from shocked. Discrimination on the basis of family status is more common than we want to believe.

    When my husband and I moved to a “conservative” locale several years ago, our landlord told us she rented to us because we were a married couple (the other applicant was a divorced man).

    Also, landlords often second-guess our marital status, since we have different last names. I want to scream at them that it should make no difference to them either way! The small-mindedness of people never ceases to amaze me.

  51. HM says:

    First, let me tell you that just today I had a realtor say something similar to me and I am still upset over the matter. So this post may be a little bit of me just ranting myself calm again.

    I am a single 30 year old from the midwest. My grandmother has already started talking about the “old maid in the family” in hushed tones. I just don't understand it! This is not the 50’s and I can live without a man taking care of me!

    And I'm looking to move to a house (where I don’t have to worry about the people in units around me) and finding that I'm being treated like some sort of abnormality. We are not just being touchy about this. Half of the questions I get asked would not be asked of a single male my age. And I'm getting tired of the “wouldn't an apartment be a better choice for you? You wouldn't want to live in a family neighborhood all by yourself.”

    Like CynthiaW, I have taken a man along with me before, but have found that the landlords/leasing agents speak to the guy (instead of me) most of the time. I'm fed up with others thinking I'm helpless because I'm not in a relationship.

  52. Katherine says:

    Wow! I have rented 3 apartments and owned 2, all in big cities and I've never gotten that. I'm kind of outraged that so many of you are getting that kind of attitude.

  53. GoGoGo says:

    That's such insult to injury. DC rents are outrageous. Sorry you had poor service on top of that.

    I agree with the commenter who said September is probably a uniquely tough month. Each of these overpriced pits probably has dozens of applicants banging down their doors.

    This might not be your demographic, Belle, but know of any housing listservs? All my friends seem to be on one, and I've had good luck working through them. A lot of the same organizations that run a job posting list also run a housing list, like college alumni or women's networking groups. People are less apt to be jerks when keeping it “in the family.” Most people are looking for shares, probably, but maybe someone knows of a long-term sublet, or a good broker.

  54. A says:

    Oh, this post hit a nerve for me. When my husband and I were looking for an apartment I did feel like I was ignored. Also, one landlord wanted to make sure we were married – since we have different last names. We are looking at buying now and I'm dreading it. Reading through the comment section reminded me that I needed to call my university because they have been sending alumni information with the wrong name on it. Someone in the alumni relations office actually just said, “We go through the wedding announcements for database changes.” What?! Does anyone else think that is presumptuous?

  55. An says:

    Belle, your experience is unacceptable, and your reaction is completely justified. I was surprised reading these comments that more people didn't feel that way. The realtor telling that you that most people can afford a particular neighborhood only with two incomes might be fine or unintentional in a vacuum, but the scary part about your experience is that it just kept happening.

    I just finished my own apartment search and moved last weekend, albeit up in Baltimore, so my experience was a little different. I even had one landlord make me verify that I would be single occupancy, because she did not want to rent to couples or roommates. My primary shock was how many apartments did not have any washer/dryer access… none! I'm not talking in-unit, I'm talking no basement laundry, no building next door laundry, nothing. Old school laundromat. Yeah, I guess I've been spoiled with my shared-facitilities-on-my-floor laundry all of these years. But I digress.

    However, I have gone through multiple apartment searches in DC, and I assure you that I would have had the same reaction as you did to a realtor who suggested my parents would need to cosign. The insinuation a 30-year-old single woman could not pay her own rent is a terrible assumption to start from. I have to help my parents out in this economy, thank you very much, not the other way around. It is particularly galling that this behavior occurs in a city full of young professionals like DC.

    Some of this behavior might be considered acceptable when renting to a 21 y/o in college, but becomes beyond inappropriate when showing apartments to a 30 y/o professional. As long as you will pay the rent and take care of the apartment, your choice to live alone is not up for their judgement.

    Hang in there, and absolutely, when facing this kind of treatment, take your business elsewhere. This behavior will not stop if we always doubt ourselves and believe the people who say we are being too sensitive.

    On the opposite side of the spectrum, my boyfriend and I both have been getting a lot of flak from friends, relatives, and strangers alike when they heard I was moving, but not moving in with him. Lovely assumptions being made about our relationship there. Shocking that someone my age might actually want to live alone and attempt to not bow to the societal (and $$$) pressure to cohabitate, and might want to wait until we were truly ready rather than rush into it to save money.

  56. Jill says:

    I once lost a nice basement apartment near Eastern Market to a guy — the owners, an older couple who lived upstairs — felt sorry for him because his girlfriend left to go to law school out of state and so gave him the apartment. I was single at the time and had no such sob story. Oh, well. I bought my own tiny place nearby soon thereafter that I dearly loved (and miss even though I have a bigger house now). Buying a tiny place in a good location can be a good location if you're ready.

  57. M says:

    I wouldn't be offended – these are reasonable observations, and sometimes you just have to face that people are going to think things that you don't like. The first one didn't sound even judgmental, and the other comments were based on experience and common sense. If something is uncommon, why pretend like it's normal? “how unusual” is not “how irresponsible/ill-mannered.” It's simple commentary, based on what sounds like a long experience of reviewing applicants. Further, when you rent, don't you have an interest in what type of neighbors you will have? I am planning to rent my house in the near future and will pay close attention to my applicants' family statuses. My neighborhood has a lot of young families, and it is basic courtesy to my neighbors, many of whom are my friends, to find a family who fits in with that environment. I love your blog, but I would feel really bad allowing you to be my lessee – my neighbors need someone who wants to be friendly and involved in the community, and you are unlikely to fit the bill.

  58. H says:

    Im a 30 year old professional who spent a LOT of time in a public interest job and can really mainly afford a nice place because of my boyfriend and I dig kitchens, but I would still be angry if I were treated like Belle was. It's obvious from reading this blog she isn't running around looking to get offended. These kinds of thoughts Belle is getting from the realtors are real, and are often expressed subtly. It's tempting to say, “you're dreaming that up”, or “you should have said something” but honestly, I would just feel uncomfortable and want to leave, too. What a bummer. Sorry, Belle.

  59. Lucy in the Sky says:

    I'm a little confused about how bothered you are that others might be passing judgment on your lifestyle, or making unfounded assumptions about your living situation, when I have read a blog post where you actually chased after a poor woman wearing what you deemed to be an inappropriate sartorial decision. It is human nature to draw conclusions based on experience, and as you have oh-so-proudly proven, to judge others. Don't dish it out if you can't take it, and remember that it won't do you any good to live your life with a victim mentality. Be proud of your independence and the uncommon nature of your situation, and wear it like a badge. Others will respect you more for it.

  60. Anon says:

    I'm outraged for you and anyone who shrugs and says NBD is putting women's rights back a half century.

    It is apparent that no lawyers read your fabulous blog, Belle, because what you've experienced is arguably housing discrimination covered by DC's Human Rights Act. Marital status is a protected class in DC, but it's less clear from the website if the local Fair Housing Act protections extend to marital status. https://ohr.dc.gov/fairhousing I'm so fired up for you, I'm going to call this number and ask if you don't! (202) 727-4559. Even if it's not covered per say, there's a lot of good that can come from a sharp tone and a declaration that marital status is a protected class. (Completely true – how many of these archaic agents will research exactly what kind of protected class?)

    While I don't live in DC now, I may be coming there in the future. I'm a girly girl who just so happens to be a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. I'd LOVE for somebody to ask me if my mommy is going to cosign. Bring it, brontosaurus. You'll get a set-down like you've never experienced before.

  61. Anon says:

    Wow, poster M [a few above this on page 3]. “I am planning to rent my house in the near future and will pay close attention to my applicants' family statuses. My neighborhood has a lot of young families, and it is basic courtesy to my neighbors, many of whom are my friends, to find a family who fits in with that environment. I would feel really bad allowing you to be my lessee – my neighbors need someone who wants to be friendly and involved in the community, and you are unlikely to fit the bill.”

    Where on earth do you get off assuming that because Belle is a 30 something professional single woman that she'll be a frigid bitch to anyone with kids and will be uninterested in being involved in the community? I just… I can't… Who do you think you are?

    What surprises me most I think is that your attitude exists here on Belle's blog. Conceivably, most of the readers are educated professional women with a few of the educated professional men who love them thrown in. I'd expect your attitude from a man in a culture hostile to women, like Pakistan for example, not from a modern American educated professional. Is your worldview so narrow that you cannot conceive of a community in which singles and marrieds, parents and nons, happily coexist?

    I have so much more to say to you, M, but I'm restraining myself.

  62. Pam says:

    I experienced the same thing last November. I'm a 32 year old, single woman who had just sold her house and purchased a one bedroom condo. I arrive at the condo building the morning of move in day and walk with the front office manager to the loading dock to open it for the moving truck. I expected pleasant chit-chat and a friendly welcome (and for the most part it was). When the moving company arrives and starts unloading my things, she looks at me and says, “Where is your boyfriend?” I say I don't have one. She then says (almost horrified): “Wait……..is it just you?!?!” I reply, “It's just me.” She stares for about 5 seconds and says, “Just you…alone, buying a place. Moving in.” YES! What is so difficult to understand? In the real estate/buying world it's the same thing. A single woman buying and selling property and people look at you like you're a drug dealer or a lottery winner and can't possibly have earned and saved enough money to buy something on your own.

  63. MLW says:

    I have never run into this issue- however, I live in a studio apartment as well, in Glover Park, and moved in when I was 22. My father's name was on the sublease.

    After reading your story, I am dreading when I too, start to feel claustrophobic and need a larger apartment!

  64. hanna says:

    Yes! This has happened to me too. I really don't understand why it is any of their business how I am paying. They should just be happy I have the money. <a href=”https://www.hannamarielei.com/” =”_blank”>https://www.hannamarielei.com/</a&gt;

  65. addie832 says:


    While this experience is horrible for you to live through, it is such an encouragement to me that someone finally shared the truth of what it is like looking for housing and living in DC. I love DC – dont get me wrong – however living here is sometimes glamorized and folks refuse to admit that it can be a logistical nightmare. I found our most recent place by hitting refresh on craigslist for 3 weeks and emailed a posting within 40 minutes of it being posted. The only con: 1.5 miles from crystal city or braddock metro stations. Hence, we used the bus and were forced to drive alot.

    I actually had a child in the dc area. She was born at GW hospital and was in the NICU. I will never forget having to shell out 20 bucks a day just to visit my newborn, or renting a hotel near GW during the snowmageddon as we “lived across the river”.

    We recently relocated to Roanoke for all the same scenarios you mentioned. I was able to find a great job due to DC all over my resume. Dont give up – there is a great place for you!!

  66. Chelsea says:

    To be honest, I'm surprised to here that you are using a broker in DC if you're only looking for rentals (buying is a different matter, of course). I doubt you will find the best deal that way – even in New York, where I live now, the best place we found was not through a broker. I would recommend using social networks or Craigslist instead. Also, it is important to note that rentals in the District have gone through the roof in the past few years, especially since the housing crisis (tougher access to credit + plus fewer jobs in private sector led to more people entering the public sector, among many other factors), so that might also be influencing the reaction you're getting. But in general, deal directly with owners if possible – you'll be much better off.

  67. anon says:

    To Anon earlier, I am a lawyer, and it did cross my mind, but it didn't sound like she was actually being denied any places – just dealing with people who were being unkind. It's not against the law to be an “a-hole.” M however, may be violating the law by “paying attention to family statuses” and maybe other sorts of protected classes…

    I wish M would say where her neighborhood is so I could be sure not to move there by accident. Sounds like one where if you have an untrimmed bush for a week or something the pleasant and family-oriented HOA would be all over you. Who needs that kind of pressure, or having neighbors all up in your business all the time? Everyone should watch Hot Fuzz to see how I imagine M treats her neighborhood image…

  68. Leigh says:

    I'm choosing between two job offers right now, and the rental market in the DC area is actually a big factor in my decision. I think I'm going to have to wait until I'm further along in my career before I can afford to live there. It's insane.

    As far as apartment hunting goes, I've never had an experience like yours, but I've never gone through a real estate agent, either. I'm going to be looking for a new place soon, so who knows. My limited patience for fools might be put to the test.

  69. Sophie says:

    I ran across some of these issues when renting my own apartment, but I was able to find a 750 SF condo to rent in NW DC for under 2K. I have found that renting a condo is so much easier and you deal with an owner so negotiation is key. I also have 2 dogs so that was harder to find a pet-friendly place. But I know one condo I wanted to rent choose a couple over me renting alone. I can understand why 2 incomes are better than 1 if I was a landlord choose a tenant.

  70. Emily says:

    The first incident sounds like she was just answering your question of how people afford the high prices – on two incomes. The sharp tone could have easily been in response to your tone, which was pure frustration. It could have been a long day for her, too. The second is just an old lady being an old lady. It happens. I find that my life is easier when I assume whatever people do to irk me isn't personal.

    Apartment hunting and moving sucks all around. Just be glad it's over and move on.

  71. Emily Egan says:

    As a former realtor in DC, i'm appalled at the behavior of the agents you encountered. It is rude and offensive yes, but it is also a violation of fair housing laws, as marital status, familial status (meaning # of people who will be living there), age, and source of income are all actually protected classes under DC laws (VA & MD are different). So just as it would be illegal for an agent to say “gee, we don't normally see (insert racial group here) folks in this building” it is illegal for her to say the same about young, single women. The laws even go so far as to mean agents cannot answer questions about the general makeup of the building or neighborhood (i.e. Is this building full of GW students? cannot be answered). Note that these do not apply for landlords who aren't held to the same standards as real estate professionals. I would recommend anyone facing this tenant discrimination to ask the agent for his/her manager's information and simply let them know what was said.

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