FAQ: Silicon Valley Housing

andreas.com FAQ: Silicon Valley Housing

A collection of resources, etc. for housing in the Bay Area.

  • Check every link. Even if you only want to live in Berkeley, check the links for Palo Alto, San Jose, etc. anyway. Some landlords or managers may live in other cities, or for whatever reason, they advertise in other areas.
  • Don’t give up. Even with one percent housing availability, that is still thousands of apartments every month. Focus on what you want and be ready to act quickly.
  • If you find new housing resources, write to me at andreas@andreas.com


Finding… in Palo Alto

Palo Alto and the South Bay:

  1. Zillow in Palo Alto and HotPads in Palo Alto
  2. For the South Bay, there’s the SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS newspaper with a web site at www.sjmercury.com.
  3. Mercury Center http://forums.mercurycenter.com/classifieds/real/today/homerent.htm
  4. For the lower peninsula, you can post messages at Stanford University’s student union (next to the Jamba Juice stand at the Tresidder building) and the school of business. Lots of rooms, esp. at the end of spring when students graduate, or after the winter break, when students just give up studying.
  5. Craig’s List (http://www.craigslist.com/) also has listings for the South Bay.
  6. Enclave, TheSan Jose
  7. Forest TowersPalo Alto

Finding… in San Francisco

  1. Craig’s List (http://www.craigslist.com/) has listings.Zillow in San Francisco and HotPads in San Francisco
  2. Rental Source
  3. Roommate Link
  4. SF Renter Independent guide for San Francisco tenants, featuring news, information, editorial, chat and free listings for landlords and apartment hunters.
  5. Rent Cafe has free listings. Mostly SF, but also other cities.

Finding… in General

Check out these as well. Many of these are consolidating, so you may find that a web site has been bought by another web site.

  1. RENTER’S DIGEST magazine describes many apartment complexes with photos and descriptions: pool, pets, laundry, etc. Call them at 1-800-551-2787 and go through their automated voice mail system and order the magazine numbered 09060 (the Renter’s Digest issue for the San Francisco Peninsula). This will cost $4 and they’ll charge it to Visa / Mastercard.
  2. There’s also APARTMENTS FOR RENT magazine, also at www.aptsforrent.com. Call them at 408-988-5811 to order a copy of the magazine.
  3. Post a message to the USENET newsgroup ba.market.housing. Read it daily for new offers.
  4. www.springstreet.com
  5. www.metrorent.com
  6. Apartments.com
  7. ApartmentGuide.com
  8. http://ehousing.com/
  9. http://www.homefindersbulletin.com/
  10. http://www.allapts.com/
  11. Bay Rentals
  12. Rentals.com
  13. BayArea4Rent.com
  14. Berkeley Connection
  15. eHousing (Berkeley and surrounding areas.)
  16. Homefinders Bulletin (East Bay)
  17. Rental Solutions (Bay Area)

Rental Referral Services…

Referral services act as a list of available housing. You pay a fee and you can look at their list. Note: Be careful with all of these “pay for lists” sites. Over the years, I’ve gotten emails from people who complain about their experience with some of these services. In general, you can probably find something without using these service. Check the newspapers and first drive around in your desired area and look for For Rent signs.

  1. For lower peninsula, there is Calrentals. They charge a fee ($105, with a refund if you don’t find anything.) and will email you a daily list in your price range, size, and list of amenities. You have to go to the office. The address is on their site. Don’t call, they won’t call back. Before you pay, ask to preview the list first. You can’t sign up or browse the website. So when you go, tell them to get with the picture. www.calrentals.com.
    A woman wrote to tell me that the refund policy is a Catch-22; CalRental lists practically everything from every source (newspapers, etc.) so eventually, you’ll use some other service to find a place to live, and thus you won’t get the refund. It’s not really a good deal.
    I’ve gotten several emails with complaints about CalRentals. People haven’t gotten their money, there’s been problems, and so on. So maybe you should explore other possibilities first.
  2. For San Francisco (SF), go to RentTech. There is a fee ($90, with a refund if you don’t find anything.) Many SF landlords use this service. Many places are available only online. Search the database before signing up. www.renttech.net
  3. Bay Rentals www.bayarearentals.com/
  4. Metro-Rent (888) 563-7368 www.metrorent.com

Reviews and Ratings of Apartments

  1. AptRatings.com is a website where renters can rate and review apartment complexes. AptRatings does not accept any money from apartments. AptRatings.com is an unbiased service for renters, not apartment owners.

Tenant Rights, Rent Increases, and Evictions…

  1. CALIFORNIA TENANTS: A Guide to Residential Tenants’ and Landlords’ Rights and Responsibilities http://www.dca.ca.gov/legal/landlordbook/
  2. Landlord Tenant Information (Nolo Press): “Thirty years ago, custom, not law, controlled how most landlords and tenants interacted with each other. This is no longer true. Today, whether you focus on leases and rental agreements, habitability, discrimination, the amount, use and return of security deposits, how and when a landlord may enter a rental unit, or a dozen other issues, both landlord and tenant must understand their legal rights and responsibilities.”
  3. San Francisco Rent BoardSan Francisco – rules, regulations, ordinances, meeting agendas and minutes, plus rent increase issues and the rent ordinance text.
  4. San Francisco Tenants UnionSan Francisco – provides tenants rights counseling for members and non-members alike.
  5. GreedySFLandlordSan Francisco – San Francisco residents unite to resist landlord abuse.

Resources and Information…

The following links were sent in by a the city of San Mateo’s housing office. Thanks!

  1. RHOL: An informal network of landlords, tenants, housing professionals, investors and associations actively involved in rental housing. Our purpose is to promote decent, safe and affordable housing, while providing the highest possible return on investment for property owners.” http://rhol.org
  2. Tri-County Apartment Association: Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz county. The Tri-County Apartment Association is a service for those seeking rental housing in the Tri-County area.


For your search, you’ll need maps. Go to the AAA, become a member for $49, and ask for the free street maps for the Bay Area.

  • Map nr. 2021 Bay and River Area gives you a nice overview of the bay.
  • Map Nr. 2119 Sunnyvale for the lower peninsula.
  • Map nr. 2080 Palo Alto for the Palo Alto Stanford area. You’ll need the first one for the lower part of Palo Alto.

Ask landlords for the cross streets. Note that it’s common that a street name will have several versions: street, boulevard, avenue, etc. You can also use MapQuest.com to create maps.

Cats and Dogs in Silicon Valley…

Apartment managers may tell you that most places don’t allow cats. Not true. The SPCA did a survey of landlords and found that about 40% allow cats. Many landlords don’t really consider cats as an issue. They’re concerned with large dogs who damage apartments, bark, need to walk, and relieve themselves on the sidewalks, etc. So point out that your cat is clean, quiet, mature, indoor, neutered, declawed, and well-behaved. Ask your previous landlord for a “letter of recommendation” for your cat. If the ad doesn’t mention pets or cats at all, then generally, they won’t allow cats. Some managers may ask for extra deposits. A friend simply held out two $50 bills and said “how about a one-time fee without a receipt?” (in other words, a bribe.)


Silicon Valley is the safest urban area in California. Due to the huge number of highly-educated professionals, the police security of the high-tech complexes, the spectacular housing prices and cost of living, there isn’t much crime.

Before you move into a neighborhood, call the local police department and ask them about the area. You can also use the Palo Alto city government’s web page to check out crime statistics. The Palo Alto Weekly newspaper also has a crime summary and links to the city government.


The Freeways: both 101 and 280 from San Francisco to San Jose. 101 is crowded and tends to slow down during commutes. 280 is wide and beautiful. It’s 40 minutes from Palo Alto to SF.

CalTrain is a commuter train that runs up and down the peninsula. Visit Caltrain for schedule and maps.

You don’t want to live one side of the bay and work on the other side. The bridges are narrow and if there is an accident (rather frequent) it can take a very long time to clear it.

Wherever you choose to live, be sure to check out the commute rush hours. Leave the place at 7 or 8 AM and see how long it takes to get to work. Try the opposite drive at 5PM.


Palo Alto and San Francisco are more expensive than Manhattan. So forget about cheap, affordable, and nice. If you want cheap, then move to a low-rent area, such as Manhattan.

A useful measure: the highest prices start at University St. in front of Stanford University. From there, it falls in all directions.

If you’re young, share a house with several others. If you are the one in charge, be careful if the others are students: they tend to disappear in the summer and you’ll have to pay the rent.


Deposits are generally “first and last”, i.e., two months rent, plus the first month as well. There may be key fees, etc.


Most places ask for a lease. It’s not a bad thing. It means more stability for everyone: both landlords and your neighbors. Landlords often want 12 month leases. If they like you, they’ll accept a six-month lease. You can often rent for a trial 30 days (but you’ll pay a bit more). Try to negotiate that you’ll sign the lease after a trial 30 days. Leases usually include a credit check and a fee for that as well; it’s a good thing too: it means that your neighbors will be reliable.

Books about Silicon Valley

If you’re moving to Silicon Valley, or you’re a recent arrival, there’s a good guide to the area.

  • Peninsula and Silicon Valley Guide The book describes every town: housing, schools, basics, transportation, neighborhoods, and so on. Plus there’s lots of info: shopping (essentials, household goods, etc.,) arts and entertainment, 600 restaurants, activities for children, and outings to nearby tourist sites, such as Monterey, San Francisco, and Yosemite. Lots of maps, etc. The book is in most large bookstores in the valley. ($15, Good Life Publications)

In Closing

  • Show up for appointments on time, in a washed, clean car, and dress in neat casual clothes (i.e., Gap casual).
  • Have copies of your references, such as a letter from your previous landlord and an employer’s letter with statement of employment.
  • If your credit history is less than perfect, see if your parents, etc. will be on the lease for you.
  • Have all of your money ready to move so that you can write a check on the spot. Landlords usually find a renter within a few hours.