Left out in the cold: Why don't LA apartments come with refrigerators?

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“He arrived back at his new apartment and then realized ‘Oh no, all I have is a skater dolly. How am I going to get this fridge off the U-haul [and] into my apartment?,’” says Los Angeles Times reporter Liam Dillon of the complications of moving a fridge. Photo by Lightfield Studios.

It is challenging enough finding an affordable apartment to rent in LA. It’s even harder to find one that is both affordable and has a refrigerator. But why? 

LA Times staff writer Liam Dillon wrote about the phenomenon and says that it is more than just an anecdote, and he found statistics to back it up. Through a census analysis, Dillon says, “they found in California, fewer apartments come with refrigerators than anywhere else in the country.”

Dillon also spoke to the rental company Apartments.com who had similar findings at the local level. In their analysis of LA and Orange County apartments pre-pandemic, he says they found that “there are fewer apartments that came with fridges than two dozen other large metro areas nationwide.”

So what's the cause? Dillon says it comes down to California law. “California law qualifies or classifies refrigerators as “amenities,” [which are] not required under habitability standards,” Dillon says. 

He adds, “When I talked to longtime landlords and property managers, what they said is, ‘Look, if we don't have to do this, then we're not going to do it. It's an extra expense.’” Especially with the upkeep of refrigerators that can break down and need repair, they can add extra cost for the landlord. 

Beyond the cost of renting or buying a fridge, Dillon talked to tenants who faced challenges moving the appliance into an apartment. For example, a tenant moving to LA from the Bay Area decided to buy a used fridge from a local “fridge dealer” because he was well aware of the city’s refrigerator desert. But things didn’t go as planned. 

Dillon says, “Everything was working great, until he arrived back at his new apartment and then realized ‘Oh no, all I have is a skater dolly. How am I going to get this fridge off the U-haul [and] into my apartment?’” 

The tenant begged people on the street for assistance, which worked until he discovered that the refrigerator was too big to fit through the building’s lobby. He eventually left the fridge in the lobby overnight until he could come back the next day to remove the doors and bring it into his new apartment. 

Dillon says that oftentimes tenants aren’t thinking about the logistics and complications of trying to get such a big and heavy appliance into an apartment. For example, tenants forget to think about which way the refrigerator doors open so as to not block access to other things in the kitchen. 

But Dillon says that LA’s trend of apartments without fridges is starting to shift. “I was talking to one property manager who said that she thinks that it is in part because tenants are saying ‘Look, we looked into newly-built construction, and they come with fridges.’ And so if landlords want to compete, they have to do it.”