Westside Rentals Empire Expanding

WestsideRentals.com, the 800 lb. gorilla of Los Angeles area rental listings, is expanding, moving its flagship branch into a snazzy new storefront on Wilshire, next door to Temple Bar and the sadly-recently-deceased Anastasia’s Asylum (more on that TK here).

Curiously, the free information pinata and open market of the internet has not extended to the local rental listing market. Despite the advent of Craigslist (or more likely a result thereof), Westside Rentals has maintained a chokehold on the listings market, ostensibly for their ability to prescreen prospective tenants with their $60 membership fee.

While everyone’s got a right to provide a service and make a buck, Westside Rentals business raises some questions. Craigslist has of late cracked down (somewhat) on agency listings masquerading as individual listings, but who hasn’t been tempted by a link or newspaper blurb of that too-good-to-be-true listing that redirects back to Westside Rentals? Who hasn’t investigated the $450 “studio” in Marina Del Rey that turns out to be a docked houseboat? The “charming” $1000 2br/2ba in Beverlywood that may as well have been airlifted and transplanted from Beirut? The $600 Cheviot Hills “garden guesthouse” that turns out to be a glorified toolshed. Obviously the landlord bears responsibility for the description used–but they aren’t the ones charging you 60 bones. And the kicker is, that once you resign yourself to joining up with WSR, you often notice a slight discrepancy between the promising “guest preview” listings and the actual current listings.

Then there’s those three little letters A-D-J you find in listings (not just those on WSR, admittedly–though they certainly have helped to disseminate its misuse) the elastic application of which has distended its meaning beyond any useful description. I’ve seen West L.A. listings that were just blocks west of Cadillac Ave. In the current vernacular, Brentwood ADJ and Beverly Hills ADJ combined basically encompass a quadrant bounded by PCH, Sunset, Venice and La Brea.

More recently, they’ve started hosting these networking parties at their offices, which promise prospective tenants the opportunity to meet landlords. Anyone been to one of these? I’m curious to know what they’re all about. These sound great for property owners to make sure they are renting to the right kind of people. After all, you can only learn so much from one’s last name and credit report.

But setting these quibbles aside, let’s look at the very nature of rental listing-as-proprietary content. From their Terms of Use:

The purchaser of the information further agrees that the information is proprietary to Westside Rental Connection and that any misuse of the information is a breach of this agreement as well as a violation of California law governing trade secrets

A question for our legal eagles out there: What exactly is the basis for Westside Rentals proprietary claims on their listings? Trade secrets seems to be a curious shield behind which to conduct this business. Would it be some kind of infringement for a member to, say, for instance, copy their listings, to say, the comments section of a popular Los Angeles blog? How would that be different from a member sharing a single listing, verbally, with a friend? How about if a few words in a listing were modified?

We’re just thinking out loud here, folks. That’s all. After all, monopolies need to be able to stand up to scrutiny. Chime in with your views on the Westside Rentals.

EPILOGUE: Better Business Bureau grades WestsideRentals.com a “D”

WSR grade = D