The daunting, harrowing predicament of finding a home rental

Posted on July 29, 2021 by Sonoma Valley Sun

By Georgia Kelly | For The Sun

After almost 24 years as a renter on Sonoma’s West side, the death of my landlord put me in the position of seeking a new rental. Finding something affordable in Sonoma is challenging, but the requirements accompanying many of the available rentals render them out of reach for a good portion of prospective tenants. Having been a long-term tenant where there were few interior upgrades, I was paying below market rate and was in for a rude awakening when encountering the current prices. But, in addition to the prices were the invasive requirements to land a rental. These are a few of the ones I encountered:

  • First and last month’s rent plus the equivalent of another month’s rent is acceptable for a landlord or rental agency to charge an incoming tenant. How many people, coming out of 18 months of COVID, can afford such a steep threshold? And, three times the monthly rent of a Sonoma property might be out of reach for many people who could afford the monthly rent.


  • Some landlords or management companies ask for tax returns, bank statements, and/ bank account numbers in order to obtain “proof that the person can afford the rent.” (Asking the previous landlord might offer a clue, and real estate agents I contacted cautioned against ever giving out your bank account number.


  • Often a tenant is required to earn two-and-a half to three times the monthly rent. Because of housing costs in California, 27.3 percent of renters are paying more than half of their total income on rent, and more than 40 percent of renters are paying a third of their income on rent. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t paying the rent; it just means that the tenant has less money to spend on other things. Most people will consider rent their most important monthly bill, whether they can afford it or not.
  • Three-to-twenty-page application forms (daunting enough), each requiring an application fee of between $25 and $59. In order to improve one’s chances of finding a rental, it behooves one to apply for several places. These fees can quickly add up. It would be much more economical for the prospective tenant to pay for their own credit report and make copies for various landlords or management companies, but I only encountered one person who was willing to accept that. Corporate rental companies are inflexible.

The above requirements ignore the fact that we have still not fully emerged from a pandemic that began eighteen months ago. It’s as if COVID never happened and no one suffered an income or job loss during this period. They have a way of eliminating people of color, people on fixed incomes, and people who are just emerging from a downturn in income due to COVID.

I was lucky. After two and a half months, I found the perfect place – one that I love and can afford – and it’s in Sonoma, where I wanted to remain. But, I have thought every day about all the people who are being discouraged from applying or who are refused after paying their application fee because they didn’t meet one of the requirements. I think of it as the new red lining and can’t imagine the difficulties that some people are going through.

Affordable housing is the issue everyone is talking about, but corporate requirements that show no flexibility and draw clear lines around who will and will not be accepted as tenants seem to be an issue that no one is talking about. Most people have no idea how brutal it is out there for people in need of a rental. I would not know if I hadn’t been looking for one myself.

It’s time we pay as much attention to the “requirements to rent” as we do to the affordability because rigid requirements are probably forcing many people who work in Sonoma to leave this area and/or are rendering others homeless who should not be in that category. Hopefully, we can reduce or eliminate some of these requirements and thereby make renting a more people-friendly and community-supportive process.


Georgia Kelly is the founder and director of Praxis Peace Institute, a peace education non-profit organization that focuses on educational programs, conferences and seminars abroad. It is based in Sonoma. She is also a professional harpist, composer, and recording artist.


Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA