RadPad and Westside Rentals Are Vying to Help You Find Your Next Home

With vacancies low and demand high, competing companies need to stake out their territory

If Westside Rentals is the network-TV procedural drama of the L.A. apartment hunt, RadPad is a streaming series on Amazon Prime about millennials who pronounce Los Feliz “Los Felice.”

RadPad, which has raised some $14 million in venture capital money and received a lot of buzzy press, began as a lifestyle app and then built a Web site out of deference to ancient history. My laptop hated RadPad, but my iPad was clearly aroused. To use the app is also to wonder what would happen if the apartment seeker mistakenly signed up for a dating app: Come for the two-bedroom share situation in Echo Park, stay for the profile of “Olivia.” This is not an accident. Jonathan Eppers, RadPad’s cofounder, incubated his concept at the start-up accelerator AmplifyLA after a stint at eHarmony, where he led a Web site redesign.

At Westside Rentals they’d given me water by pouring it into a Styrofoam cup. When I visited RadPad’s Culver City headquarters, in a complex of buildings at Jefferson and National that was once factory space for Hughes Aircraft, Eppers handed me a bottled water and ushered me into a room he calls “Curiosity.” He was amused by my impressions of the app while avowing that I was mistaken. RadPad, he said, is meant to be “the Instagram of apartments,” an “experience built around photos”—not a hookup site.

Eppers is a self-described “product guy” who resembles an Abercrombie & Fitch model (he actually worked in sales there during and after college). I’ll give him this about RadPad: The photos do load quickly and seamlessly, a particular advantage for new loft developments showcasing that well-lit and gleaming American Psycho school of interior design. The interactive map is fun to play with, though it once led me to an apartment “perfectly situated in hip Koreatown,” a locale that was also described as “just minutes to UCLA,” which naturally raised the question, Does the unit come with use of a helicopter?

Eppers hit me with statistics to bolster the app’s profile as a palm-size navigator of its users’ fitful, mid-twenties urban drift. Nearly two-thirds of renters on RadPad live with somebody, he said, and about 70 percent in a recent RadPad survey said they expected to be in their next apartment for only a year. “Our generation doesn’t want to commit to anything,” Eppers, who is 33, said. “And I think renting is one of those things. The idea of committing to something for more than a year, like a place to live, is kind of a scary thing.”

Eppers wants to “own” these people, he told me. “What I mean by ‘owning them’ is, building a product that they continue to use beyond just renting an apartment. For me there was not really anything that existed that was meeting those needs.” Which needs does he mean, exactly? Last year RadPad began offering the “Pay with RadPad” feature, which for a 1.99 percent fee debits the rent from your credit card and cuts the check for you. No smelly old landlord interface! Coming soon: a function that would make it possible to direct-message “Olivia.” As a potential roommate, of course.

Because of my growing obsession with Eagle Rock—my sister lives there, and the enchiladas at CaCao Mexicatessen on Colorado are delicious—I repeatedly searched for “pads” in the Northeast L.A. neighborhood and came up with little to nothing at all. Hmm. If I understood Eppers correctly, the dream of RadPad is that you will soon be able to order your food at CaCao, realize Eagle Rock might be a cool place to live, wonder how much apartments go for there, hop on a photo feed, get approved for an apartment, virtually meet a few neighbors (perhaps, finally, “Olivia”?), and find yourself living there—all by the time dinner arrives.

“But don’t I want to see the place?” I asked him.

“Yeah, of course,” Eppers said. “And you still can. But imagine walking into an apartment that you know you’re prequalified for,” he continued, “and all you have to do is click a button, and the second you walk out that door, it’s yours. That’s where I want to be. And we’ll be there by March or April.”

Although it also operates in other markets (Miami, Chicago, Washington, D.C.), RadPad boasts that it is now “the largest rental marketplace in L.A.”—bigger, anyway, than Westside Rentals. The claim, Eppers said, is based on inventory and, moreover, on app downloads and comScore ratings measuring Web site traffic. Regarding the listings themselves, RadPad aggregates nationally from more than 100 sources, Eppers said.

Three years ago, when RadPad was in its initial stages of venture capital funding, Westside Rentals sued the start-up, alleging trademark infringement. According to the complaint, RadPad was falsely implying it had a partnership whereby landlords could post listings on Westside Rentals by using RadPad.

In a sense, the suit echoed the successful action Craigslist brought in 2012 against the likes of aggregators PadMapper and Lovely for using data robotically scraped from Craigslist by the company 3Taps. That suit ended in a court order last year, which compelled the start-ups to strip all Craiglist content from their databases and further prohibited the sites from “directly or indirectly downloading, harvesting, obtaining or copying Craigslist Content by any means whatsoever, including but not limited to robots, spiders, scrapers, or crawlers.”

Yes, in a digital age this is what the apartment listing wars have come to—a peaceful (or not) coexistence between database syndicators, old-guard sites, and the aggregators for whom inventory is a means to create the coolest way to find a place. Craigslist hasn’t sued Westside Rentals or RadPad, both of which absolutely jump on its ads like predators on prey, albeit more judiciously. Trying to keep up with who shared databases with whom, meanwhile, became confusing. Miller told me, for instance, that Westside Rentals shares data with the San Francisco-based Lovely, while Eppers said that last year Zillow and Trulia stopped allowing RadPad to syndicate listings from their services.

As for Westside Rentals, Eppers characterized the company’s lawsuit—which was eventually dropped—as pugnacious and clumsy. “This is how bad it got,” he said. “People at Westside Rentals that were staff members were listing apartments on RadPad, unbeknownst to the higher-ups, who were then suing us because those very listings were on RadPad. And when we presented the higher-ups with the very evidence that their underlings were putting their own listings on our service, these guys immediately dropped the lawsuit.”

Asked for Westside Rentals’ view, Miller demurred. “That stuff’s in the past,” he said. “They have a much different business model than us. We’re going down different paths.”

But are they? Because here’s one thing they both believe in: the good old lawn sign. “Lawn signs are a very, very effective marketing tool,” Eppers told the Los Angeles Business Journal last year, referring to his canary yellow placards. “In L.A. and Chicago and D.C., those lawn signs have done wonders for us.”