With the summer apartment season finally upon us in Chicago, everyone I know is in the hot pursuit of the one thing that is even more important than getting a table at Girl and the Goat, snagging tickets to The Book of Mormon or finally getting CTA tracker to tell you the right time: that magical dirt-cheap apartment. The diamond in the rough. In New York, they battle for rent-controlled apartments, but Chicagoans work desperately to find the lowest-price humanly possible without the promise of city intervention.
This is the most dangerous game, and this often ends in tears and heartache when that $400 a share apartment slips through your fingers, because someone else signed the lease on it two minutes before you. You might not think that $50 dollars matters that much, but as a grad student, I can tell you that any additional rent costs take out of my food budget, which is my favorite budget. With that in mind, here are 30 ways to save on rent or find a place that's even cheaper than Facebook's stock. This time around, you're going to have the biggest food budget imaginable.
1. Don't go through one of those businesses like Sudler/Sotheby's or any place where they have a secretary, a website, a Twitter or an address that can be looked up by the government. Instead, use the listing recommendations of your cousin's cousin's pawnbroker, Tony, or the weird guy on the street corner who offers you Pez and porno mags out of his trenchcoat. Or only consider apartments that don't have photos or use pictures of Yoda as photos.
2. Search for spaces that look like they could have been in Requiem for a Dream, Paranormal Activity, a Tracy Letts play or a Bobby Brown home video.
3. Look for a place where the streets have no name. Not in the U2 song way -- but in the Chicago-wasn't-sure-it-was-zonable-for-humans way. A place where all of the signs were burned off in the Great Chicago Fire or by toxic fumes, your neighbors are expatriate Chernobyl victims and the hills actually have eyes.
4. Browse EveryBlock and do the exact opposite of what all the concerned neighborhood residents tell you to do.
5. Circle or bookmark any listing that uses the words "spacious," "cozy," "comfortable," "quaint," "quirky," "sunny" or "mold-infested." Circle it twice if they use the words "dungeon" or "lanterns and medieval torture devices included."
6. Sublet from a guy who plans on spending his summer chopping cars in Siberia, dealing livers on the black market in Cuba, smuggling leather jackets across the border from Canada or a freakishly-intelligent bedbug.
7. Bunk bed with seven of your closest friends in a one-bedroom. Sure, your bathroom schedule is going to be insane and no one will be able to own more than two pairs of pants to accommodate closet space, but think about that $1,200 rent split eight ways. I thought you'd see it my way.
8. Lease a place in any building that advertises that it's going for that "Chelsea hotel décor" or brags that Courtney Love spent time there.
9. Don't rent out an apartment with absolutely anything included. We aren't just talking about heat, water, gas and electricity. Be also sure to cross off the list any place with a stove, refrigerator, door, closet, ventilation system, ventilation system, air conditioner, air, fire escape or escape in general. Rent a place where the only way to exit is to pull a reverse Mission: Impossible and be bungeed out through the ceiling.
10. Prioritize any properties that at one time use to serve as quarantines for tuberculosis patients.
11. Find an apartment where the last three residents have died or been possessed and the landlord is able to perform an exorcism at little additional monthly cost. You know you've found a real winner if the owners are willing to come up with a budget plan for your exorcisms -- in case the charges start to really rack up during the winter months and on solstices, full moons and former Mayor Daley's birthday.
12. Try to seek out a place with communal bathrooms, especially if those bathrooms have machines that dispense cigarettes, bullets, used tampons, city government secrets, more used tampons, large knives or missing fingers.
13. Lease out a space in an abandoned sanitarium. You'll have to contend with the ghosts and there's always a chance that your evening might turn into Gothika, and Penelope Cruz will try and talk to you about the devil. However, all of the places come pre-furnished, and it would be easy to have a mosh pit in your bedroom because you'll always bounce off if you are thrown into the wall. (And for the adventurous and the IML-inclined, those shock therapy devices may have some interesting uses.)
14. Find a place that doesn't just lease month to month, they lease second to second.
15. Does the listing say that your potential roommates will include a guitar-playing vegan, her seven un-spayed cats and the cockroaches that form dueling barbershop quartets at night? Check. That's a music competition show waiting to happen. Install some rotating chairs, call it The Plague and have Albert Camus host.
16. Did the building used to be owned by Satanists, amateur Jackson Pollock enthusiasts, a fishmonger's union, the mob or Al Capone's cousin, Cheeta? Double check.
17. Watch every episode of Nightline and 20/20, check out the local fundamentalist compounds they raid (especially the ones where the wives have 7,000 children) and see if you can room with any of them, because those rent shares have gotta be real cheap.
18. Remember that it's always about location, location, location. Living next to a part-time, unlicensed gospel church, under a pansexual orgy or across from a bar that's only open on Cinco de Mayo is sure to knock at least a few hundred off your rent.
19. Or: take up shop underneath the roller rink from Xanadu, the only remaining speakeasy in town, a tap-dancing studio, a bouncy castle or a bowling alley that doubles as a hardware store.
20. Get a place that lets you have pets. Sure, you'll want a place that allows you the option of cats or dogs. But you know you've found a keeper when they allow dragons, a dragonfly colony, silverfish, platypuses and a rat king. You know that 30 Rock episode where Liz Lemon's boyfriend has a landlord who runs an actual rat race in his hallway? That's the kind of establishment you want, one where the door guy doubles as a bouncer.
21. Live inside the freezer of a 7/11, an opium ring, a mausoleum, a baby merchant operation, the bathroom of John Barleycorn or an actual Tea Party.
22. Rent out from the guy whose last job was producing John Carter or who once was the proprietor of a flea circus ran by zombies and one-legged shadow puppets. If all of his residents are pod people, the actual children of the corn, Bachmann voters or the Leatherface family, you're home.
23. Only consider places whose pictures on Craigslist or Apartment Finder were taken by Jacob Riis.
24. Make sure to check your A/C and heat. The settings should say oven, Donner party, poison gas and bees.
25. Find that well from The Ring, because we hear they are doing lovely things with brick and hypothermia these days.
26. Try to find somewhere where they take the term "rehab" literally. I currently live next to a halfway house, and I often wake up to one of the residents singing Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All" on repeat at the top of her lungs. I'm convinced her incessant screeching may travel back in time and kill Whitney again, like the Terminator. However, I don't personally mind the sound, because my alarm doesn't go off about half of the time, and this is a very effective substitute.
27. Get your apartment zoned as a German sex-hostel or a Bed and Breakfast for escaped mental patients.
28. Don't just move to the suburbs. Move so far away that you have to take a bullet train or a plane to a plane to get to work every day. Sure, you'll singlehandedly destroy the environment and will go broke from the transit costs, but everyone will be so jealous when you tell them how much you pay in rent.
29. Salivate wildly when the term "cul de sac" has an unexpected "t" in it.
30. Kill everyone else you know who is also looking for an apartment. I mean, you'll be lonely because you won't know as many people as you used to. But the economy is hard, and apartment hunting is like The Hunger Games or attending a party on the West Side. Only the strong and the ostentatiously bearded survive.
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