It’s no secret that demand for housing in Denver is near an all-time high. With an average of 4,000 people moving to Denver County each month and a shortage of places to buy, competition among renters is fierce — especially among those seeking apartment shares or rooms at under $1,200 a month.
Even so, I never expected the flood of e-mails I received about a room I was renting in Highland after I placed an ad in mid-August. Within four days of the posting, my inbox had swelled to sixty responses. It wasn’t just the quantity of messages that struck me, but the desperate tone of some of them. As one person wrote: “Please, please respond! I haven’t had any luck with Denver’s cutthroat housing situation (I had no idea CO was booming like this!).”
The desperation was confirmed when I met the people who came to look at the room, some of whom were practically begging and ready to thrust a cash deposit at me. In order to be competitive, one woman told me, having cash on hand is the new norm.
Judging from their accounts, this summer might have seen the most brutal rental market ever. With so many respondents to choose from, I was able to find the perfect roommate within a week of posting my ad on Craigslist — something I had never experienced before. And that got me to wondering: Just how bad is it out there?
Statistics fill in part of the picture — Denver’s occupancy rate hovers around 96 percent, according to data firm Axiometrics. But in order to get stories beyond the numbers, I decided to use the very tools that many rental-seekers use, Craigslist and Reddit, and put up a post titled, “How hard is it to find a room in Denver?” Over the next two weeks, I received more than thirty responses. Here are just some of the horror stories coming out of the rental bloodbath of 2015, grouped by category:
Why is no one responding to my e-mails!?
The most common complaint I heard from rental-seekers concerned the incredibly low response rate to e-mails answering ads. (This wasn’t surprising, since I’d only responded to six out of the sixty queries I’d received about my room.) With so much competition, some people reported that it seemed like a victory to even receive a response — which is only the first hurdle to actually securing a room. Over three weeks, Meghan Anderson said, she’d sent sixteen e-mails and received a single response. An anonymous tipster detailed a particularly frustrating experience:
“I sent out anywhere from 50-75 inquiries about ‘legitimate’ rooms to be shared. Of those, I probably had about 15 percent EVEN respond, even though I was trying to put a personal touch in the e-mails so they could get an idea of who I am via text. I’m open to the idea of not being as charming as I tell myself...but not that open ;)
“I was looking for October 1st, so I started sending out inquiries [in] early September …. Of those, two gave extensive interviews, both that seemed to like me a lot...evidently not enough, though.
“Here’s the best part: I liked this one place and could have taken it, but I had a meeting in an hour with another roommate/place and planned to see which one was a better fit. By the time I got to the second place that day (within an hour of visiting the first place), I received a text saying the place was taken. Still kicking myself for that one.”
The longer you wait, the more you pay
Being price-sensitive this summer certainly didn’t help, especially with landlords consistently raising rent in tandem with the market. Over the course of a two-week search, Laura Miller said that she felt affordable places were disappearing right before her: “I have done everything from AirBNB and then trying to talk to the owner about staying longer on a more month-to-month basis, to looking into hostels! Don’t get me wrong, I love Colorado, but damn I’d appreciate the favor being returned,” she wrote. “I’ve reached out to leasing managers, made lasting impressions, only to have rent hiked like the Manitou Incline in the Springs! I’ve reached the point where I am genuinely debating living under my desk in LoDo. Sorry for the rant. This message’s tone is brought to you by my frustration after looking for a place for the last 2 weeks and refusing to pay $800 for a closet in Cap Hill!”
Take a hike, old man
In privatized subletting, there is little protection from discrimination for those who respond to advertisements on sites like Craigslist; nothing prevents the advertisers from replying (or not) to whomever they choose. Within the lower-rent market, which is dominated by younger tenants and transplants, one group that has been particularly hard hit is the elderly.
Finding a room as an older man was so tough that Dan considered leaving Colorado: “Next to impossible, especially for someone on a fixed retirement,” he wrote. “If you are over 60, then the younger landlords think you are dying or a couch potato hermit.... I’ve been looking for the last six months with little that is affordable.... The 420 dreamers that are coming to Denver from all over the world to get rich will find that the market is already sewn up. I guess paying $400 to $600 for a small place is just not going to happen.... I’ve been here for 23 years, and maybe it’s time to move out of state.”
What’s this? A Craigslist “showing”?
Usually, showings are one-on-one, so that a prospective tenant and the person(s) renting a room can get a feel for each other. Recently, however, demand has been so overwhelming that some landlords have simply had prospective renters show up at the same time. “I’ve been looking for a room for rent for a few weeks now. I had NO idea how hard and competitive it would be,” one room-hunter wrote. “Tonight I showed up at a ‘showing’ for a basement rental held from 6-7 p.m. I arrived and believe that about 15 people did as well, while I was there. The family plans to have two more showings. Obviously, price is a factor. The rental prices are unreal...there’s no shortage of ‘crazy.’”
Have a pet? You may be screwed — even if it’s a service dog
Colorado may be a dog-lover’s paradise, but that doesn’t mean that landlords want a dog in their house; many decide it’s easier to avoid the hassle of pets altogether. And they don’t make exceptions for registered service animals, as Shannon Knight discovered. “It’s a nightmare,” she wrote. “The housing market is pretty difficult if your budget is less than $1,100, unless you’re comfortable living in a studio dump.... The places that I did find previously that were looking for roommates had so many interested parties, the housemates had their pick of whom they’d like. The one instance I did meet with someone from Craigslist for a room, the girl didn’t let me know that they found someone else.
It’s a seller’s market and a landlord’s pick. I also have a service dog, and although they aren’t legally allowed to reject a service dog or discriminate, they can choose someone else without an animal over me.”
Hooking up at a bar…as a way to see a rental room
When the rental market is this tough, it can inspire creative ways to gain a competitive edge. Perhaps the most enlightening story I heard was from a guy calling himself “Scotty B,” who, after having no luck despite having sent out at least three e-mails a day in response to Craigslist ads, claims to have used some Casanova skills to check out an available room. “I was at the bar when this girl shows up in a little sundress, boobs halfway hanging out, and she was a real hottie,” he told me over the phone. “It turns out she knows one of my buddies — and then I found out her sister and brother were moving out of her place back home to Washington. I had ridden my mountain bike down to the bar. She said, ‘I can take you home.’ Next thing I know, I went home with her. Woke up in the morning and looked at her and said, ‘Nuh-uh, we’re not going to be roommates.’”
Why not? He provided the answer in a subsequent e-mail: “I was happy it happened because I got to see the place...she lived like a complete pig...a really hot pig, but a pig! Lol.”
For anyone who’s interested, Scotty B is still looking for a place to rent.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.