Although this web site is geared to buyers and sellers, it can also help to renters. Schools, neighborhoods, amenities, even the affordability factor—all can make your hunt for a place to rent much easier.
By far the best way to find a rental is through the newspaper classifieds or the Internet.
Craigslist.org offers a huge selection of Bay Area rentals.
If you’re looking from Mountain View to Atherton, paloaltoonline.com gives you access to the classifieds for the Palo Alto Weekly, Mountain View Voice and The Almanac (primarily Menlo Park).
Property management companies are also a good source, as are rental agencies. Your employer may have a housing office. If you know where you want to live, you might just drive that area looking for For Rent signs.
How about real estate agents? We’re usually a very poor source of rentals. The Multiple Listing Service has an extremely small selection of rentals that account for a miniscule percentage of the rental inventory.
Note: as of late 2005, the balance is shifting from a renter's market to a landlord's market. Inventory is tight, particularly for single-family homes, and rents are on their way back up. See my other articles on the recent rental market, "The rental market: there's something big out there", and "Rentals redux".