NEW YORK – Zachariah Mohammed's living room is filled with stuff he doesn't own.
He pays $200 a month for the sofa, side table, bar cart, dining table and four chairs in his living room. It's worth it, the 27-year-old New Yorker says. If he needs to move, which he's done twice in the last 12 months, he won't need to lug a sofa across the city or worry if it will fit in a new place. The furniture-rental startup, Feather, will swap out items for something else.
“We don't want to be stuck with a giant couch,” says Mohammed, a social media manager at a software company, who lives with his partner and their dog, Remy.
Feather, Fernish and other companies aim to rent furniture to millennials who don't want to commit to big purchases or move heavy furniture and are willing to pay for the convenience.
The furniture-rental companies target high-income city dwellers who want a $1,100 orange love seat ($46 a month) or $980 leather bench ($41 a month) – but only temporarily. The furniture itself is a step up from Ikea.
“I'm 32 years old and have lived in 25 different places, five different countries, 12 different cities,” says Chan Park, who co-founded online furniture rental company Oliver Space last year. He constantly bought and discarded cheap furniture. Then he moved to a furnished rental apartment in Singapore.
“It was probably the first time in my adult life that I felt like I was truly at home,” Park says.
These startups are in just a handful of coastal cities, with few users, but seek to grow. They offer furniture from Crate & Barrel, West Elm and smaller brands.
Critics have called the furniture-rental business exploitative in the past. Stores like Rent-A-Center target low-income shoppers who can't afford to buy a fridge or couch outright and charge higher prices overall than competitors.
Some of the new batch of furniture renters charge for membership, and there are fees for late payments or for furniture that is badly damaged.
Customers can keep furniture if their monthly payments add up to full price. Prices are the same at West Elm and Crate & Barrel, but you could buy more cheaply directly from the store if there's a sale.
“If people think this is the best way to buy a couch, they are wrong,” says Margot Saunders, the senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center. “They should recognize that they are paying for the convenience of renting.”