The simple Santa Monica apartment where James "Whitey" Bulger hid from the FBI for more than a decade could soon be one of the hotter properties in the city's rental market.

The door to unit 303 remains sealed with police tape as FBI agents continue to pick the place apart, but a line of would-be renters is already jostling to get a look at the apartment once occupied by America's most wanted criminal.

Mark Verge, owner of Westside Rentals, said his Santa Monica office had been inundated by callers wanting to know when the Bulger apartment would be available and how much it would cost. So many people called, he sent a memo to employees telling them not to promise it to anyone.

"It's a total curiosity," Verge said. "People say they want to rent it. But as the owner, you want the best tenant, not someone who is fanatical about living in a monster's apartment."

Verge's agency has no formal agreement with the 28-unit Princess Eugenia complex where Bulger lived, but has previously advertised several other vacant apartments from the building.

There's not much to distinguish Bulger's former home from any other in the 1970s complex. The corner unit faces away from the sea, is next to an elevator and has two bedroom and two bathrooms.

And it's not available -- at least for now.

Bulger, always punctual with his rent, which he only ever gave in cash, had paid through the end of June. FBI agents will remain at his former home for at least two more weeks as they search for anything he could have stuffed into the walls or floors of the two-bedroom unit.

After his June 22 arrest, agents found about $800,000 in cash, more than 30 firearms, multiple knives and several pieces of false identification in the apartment.

The FBI recently allowed a property manager a brief visit inside. Several square and rectangular holes, measuring about 10 inches wide and 18 inches tall, had been cut neatly into the drywall by the front door and in one of the bedrooms.

Agents told the manager that Bulger had kept these hidey holes covered over with pictures and mirrors.

The manager spoke only on condition of anonymity to avoid additional attention from the media.

Josh Bond, the building supervisor, went into the apartment soon after Bulger's arrest and said it seemed like any other. He too had been fielding calls from people wanting to know about renting it.

"We've been getting a lot of calls," Bond said. "People from Boston, people that saw it on the news and want to rent it out. The phone was off the hook there for a few days."

Bulger, now 81, fled Boston in 1995 after a retired FBI agent who had recruited him as an informant warned him he was about to be indicted on racketeering charges.

The former leader of Boston's notorious Winter Hill Gang has also been linked to 19 murders, including the strangling of an associate's girlfriend who knew he was a snitch and the murder of a man shot so many times his leg was almost severed from his body.

Soon after the ex-agent, John Connolly, tipped Bulger off, it was discovered that the Boston FBI had a corrupt relationship with its underworld informants and had protected crime leaders as long as they were feeding their handlers useful information.

Bulger was arrested along with his longtime girlfriend Catherine Grieg after publicity about the case led to the FBI getting a tip. The couple, who went by the aliases Charles and Carol Gasko, was known to neighbors as a generally friendly if somewhat aloof pair.

It's not clear exactly when Bulger moved in to the Santa Monica apartment, as its owners had no rental agreement on file.

When he first arrived in the early- to mid-1990s, the units were mainly used as extended-stay vacation homes, the property manager said. They were turned into regular apartments in the late '90s and no one saw a need to collect references or a tenancy agreement from Bulger, who had been a good tenant.

Because the apartment was rent-controlled, which meant rates could only go up a small amount each year, Bulger was getting a relative bargain rate on his rent. According to property records, he was paying $1,145 a month, while some of his neighbors pay more than twice that amount.

The property manager said the ideal new tenant would be a reliable person with good credit.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said it was not known how much longer agents would remain at the apartment. The unit's owners could file a claim with the government for any rent due or damage done to the home during the course of the investigation, she said.


Thomas Watkins can be reached at http://twitter.com/thomaswatkins