On the Hunt
According to the 2017 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, 27 percent of Mt. Lebanon’s occupied housing units are rentals. More specifically, rentals account for 3,704 out of the 13,909 total occupied housing units—with a median monthly rent of $861.
Many of the reasons to rent in Mt. Lebanon intersect with the reasons people buy—safety, walkability, access to public transportation—but renting does have its own set of unique benefits. No real estate taxes, fixed expenses, little or no home maintenance costs and the transferal of responsibility onto a landlord when it comes to repairs. Yearlong leases allow renters a chance to give the community a try before choosing to settle here.
Mt. Lebanon has a variety of housing units available to rent—standard apartments, townhomes, duplexes, traditional homes—and each type requires a different approach from prospective renters.
If you are looking to rent a house, local real estate agents are your best resource. Most real estate companies employ several agents who specialize in rentals and can access the West Penn Multi-List to show available rental homes, at little to no cost to the renter. The multi-list, available only to licensed real estate agents, details the status of homes available for sale or rent in our area.
Real estate agents can also help renters who are searching for apartments, but apartment units, complexes and townhomes often have their own management companies handling vacancies. It’s still worth reaching out to an agent—conducting a solo search can be overwhelming. But you can look on your own, using sites such as Zillow, HotPads and Rent.com to communicate directly with landlords and property managers. Just be wary of scams and be patient—with more than 3,700 units, it may take some time to find the best fit.
THE PARKING CHALLENGE
Renters seeking homes or townhouses in Mt. Lebanon may not encounter this, but apartment hunters often do: Where can you park your car, particularly if you are looking to rent in one of the business districts?
Luckily, most apartment buildings in Mt. Lebanon have their own parking lots or garages. In some instances, however, landlords do not have enough spaces in these lots, so they must charge for parking—typically anywhere from $45 to $100 monthly—on top of the cost of rent. This may also mean that you could fall in love with an apartment, only to find out after the fact that there are no spaces available at all.
So what do you do? First, be sure to ask about parking during your initial tour. If the landlord does not have spaces available, or if you would prefer to shop around, the municipality offers a variety of permit parking options in the surface lots and garages near Washington and Beverly roads. For example, a 24-hour permit in the Academy lot is $85 monthly, which could be cheaper or more convenient than what your landlord has to offer. Permits in the garages are slightly more expensive, and permits in lots further from the main street are slightly cheaper. Each lot also offers night permits, if you expect frequent overnight guests. The municipality recently launched the Passport App, which makes paying for parking easier for all Mt. Lebanon visitors—now anyone can manage parking of metered and lot spaces from their smartphones. Learn more here.
Just like homes, apartments move quickly in Mt. Lebanon. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where, after an extensive search, you finally found the perfect place—just to have someone else sweep in with a complete deposit and application before you.
Knowing proper timing will help you here. According to Investopedia, people most often choose to move in the summer, so rental inventory tends to be higher during the warmer months. While this means that more rental options are available, it also makes demand extremely high, and you may notice higher rental fees and more competition. Look for rentals in the fall and winter—particularly after the new year—for less competition and an increased ability to negotiate.
Tailor your search around your desired move-in date. Often landlords are looking to fill an apartment ASAP, so searching too far in advance may give any competition an additional edge. Rent.com recommends planning your budget two months before move-in, scheduling your tours 40 days before move-in, and fill out all paperwork as soon as you find the right place. Also keep in mind, most Mt. Lebanon landlords are looking for a credit score of 650 or more. If you don’t have that, you may want to find a cosigner.
South Hills apartment hunters sometimes remark that rentals in Mt. Lebanon are overpriced. However, when you look at the numbers comparing Mt. Lebanon to its bordering communities, you can see that the median cost to rent here is actually rather median. So where does this impression come from?
In general, homes and apartments in Mt. Lebanon are older, with 79.6 percent of our housing units built before 1969. Dormont’s homes are comparable in age, yet the median rent in Dormont is slightly lower. Perhaps apartment-hunters seeking more modern units prefer to spend their money elsewhere, and those who appreciate older units may choose to go where rent is cheaper—even if it’s only marginally so.
Mt. Lebanon also has the lowest average rental household size, at 1.57. This could indicate that smaller families are being attracted to the area, or that, comparatively, our rental spaces are smaller—making this a “bang for your buck” argument.
Yet in spite of this, Mt. Lebanon’s rental vacancy rate is only 4.7 percent. This certainly indicates that many are willing to spend slightly more on an older unit because of the attractiveness of the overall community and its assets. The proximity to the city, safe neighborhoods, abundant community amenities, an excellent school district, walkability and thriving business districts add up to make a community with character—one where people want to live.
A NOTE FOR PROSPECTIVE LANDLORDS
If you own a home—more specifically, if your occupancy was issued for a single-family home—there are no local ordinances preventing you from renting out your home. People choose to do this for many reasons: They inherit responsibility for a home and are not ready to sell or do not want it to sit vacant; they need to move for work but do not want to give up their home here; or they simply see it as another revenue stream.
Luckily, local real estate and property management companies offer resources for prospective landlords who need some help preparing their home for rent, finding tenants, writing leases and more.
We would specifically like to thank Chuck Wallace from Berkshire Hathaway, Brad Templeton from Coldwell Banker and Serendipity Home Rentals at Howard Hanna, each of whom helped provide primary source material for this story and offer extensive services to both tenants and landlords in Mt. Lebanon and beyond.