Apartment Hunting for Night Owls

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This weekend a lot of folks will stay up until midnight to celebrate the start of 2017. For many of them it will be the first time they've stayed up so late all year. They'll suffer for it too - for a lot of them it will be an exhausting test of endurance that will have lasting repercussions over the next several days. But the millions of shift workers in this country will observe the struggles of these midnight newcomers with some amount of mirth, thinking, "welcome to our world."

The US Bureau of Labor Services (BLS) last surveyed the work schedules of the national labor force over a decade ago, with the most recent reports (PDF) dating from 2004. At that time, workers on the night shift or otherwise working outside of the traditional 8am - 6pm hours made up 27.5% of the population, a number relatively consistent with surveys of prior years. It is only reasonable to guess that this number would have gone up in the 12 years since the last survey. To give you a benchmark, 28.8% of Chicago residents identified as Hispanic in the 2010 census.

Night owls can be found in many industries, from manufacturing and health care to IT and transportation. There are waiters and bartenders, cab drivers and security guards, hotel staff and performing artists. There are folks who work nights because they have no other option, and others who do so by choice for the higher pay rates or to have time during the day to spend with their kids. Still others, myself included, have medical conditions that prevent them from keeping to a consistent daytime schedule. The unifying factor though is that these are low paying and/or entry-level workers - a group that also makes up a large percent of the renting population.

But even with this large number of people working non-traditional hours, the CRLTO still specifies that a landlord can only enter an apartment between the hours of 8am and 8pm unless a tenant specifically requests another time. This means that for many renters, every interaction with their landlord requires them to stay up into the middle of their 'night.' If you have to sacrifice sleep, no matter what your schedule, you are compromising your health, your ability to drive, and your ability to perform at your best.

Even though Chicago is a 24 hour city, certain industries are definitely daytime only. Real estate is one of them, another is construction. Chances are if you're dealing with a landlord you're going to be interacting with workers in one of those two industries: either your apartment is being shown to others or something has broken and you're waiting on repairs. The noise and invasiveness of both industries mean that they are likely to remain daytime only unless a major change in awareness occurs. However, if you are a night owl by choice or by force, there are workarounds that can help you to find an apartment that suits your lifestyle. Here's how to find them:

  • Don't go apartment hunting during the day if you're not normally awake during the day. If you must use an agent, find one that works during your hours and look at vacant units at a time when you're awake, alert, and able to think clearly.
  • Check how the apartment looks in the dark. Is there enough light in the place or will you need to bring lamps? If you use a full-spectrum light box, especially one of the old-school ones that draw a lot of power, is there an outlet and circuit you can dedicate to it?
  • Ask what hours the landlord works, and what hours maintenance workers are on call. Some provide 24/7 service, others only do so for emergencies, and still others provide no overnight service at all.
  • Focus on housing close to hospitals and colleges. Landlords who cater to these communities are more accustomed to working with a 24 hour population.
  • Work direct with landlords or their staff instead of using agents if at all possible. Make sure they know up front about your schedule and find out what policies they have in place to accommodate your needs.
  • Find an apartment where you control the temperature. The city's laws set the minimum temperatures for landlord-heated apartments, and they are significantly lower for overnight hours than they are during the day. If you are only awake at night, you will be pretty chilly unless you can control your own thermostat.
  • The normal security measures that any city renter should take that aim for maximum visibility while entering and leaving an apartment go out the window for those who always come and go in the darkness. You want a place with monitored security cameras or a doorman. If you cannot afford the cost of this type of community, focus on housing on major arterial streets that are more likely to see overnight traffic.
  • Chances are you will want to install very heavy window treatments to keep out the daylight while you sleep. Make sure to ask about the landlord's policies for window treatments. If they do not allow you to put in your own curtains, keep looking.
  • If you take public transit to and from work, check which bus routes run all night "Owl" service. Only 16 of the CTA's 140 bus routes and 2 of the 8 train lines run all night! Make sure you live near one of these routes.

Above all, if you work a non-traditional shift it's important for your landlord to know it, and that you chose them because they were amenable to your needs. Shift work is here to stay, but it's tough for night workers to stand up for themselves in the daytime only legal system - a thing that needs to happen if they are to secure legal rights for themselves. Until then, the real estate industry will only acknowledge the presence and needs of night owls when they start to speak up.

Have a happy new year and we'll see you in 2017!

Check out more articles in our "Unprotected Minorities" series, featuring apartment hunting tips for:

... Exotic Pet Owners
... Overweight Renters
... Night Owls
... Introverts
... Homeowners
... Frail renters
... Newly Single renters

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Published by

Kay Cleaves

One thought on “Apartment Hunting for Night Owls”

  1. Great piece! I spent 4 years working overnight shifts as a police dispatcher. Living with folks who worked opposite me did NOT work. When I moved into an apartment with other emergency service workers with variable shifts, life was more bearable. It was a bonus that our landlord was a police officer who understood our shift rotations, and made every effort to accommodate our needs when entering the apartment for any reason.

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