Increased demand for inexpensive temporary quarters and a booming housing market in the Washington area have prompted a growing number of apartment complexes to offer short-term leases.

Oxford Management Co., one of the largest apartment developers in the nation, started offering three- and six-month leases a year ago after every fourth call to its rental offices turned out to be a request for short-term leases.

"There definitely was a need that wasn't being met," said Jeanne Hendricks, an Oxford vice president. Consequently, Oxford, which had been sporadically offering short-term leases, began offering them at each of its complexes. In a year, the number of apartments on short-term leases has grown from 20 to 200. King's Square in Landover is another complex that started offering short-term leases a year ago, while the Cider Mill Apartment complex in Gaithersburg started such leases in July.

They are not the only ones. Arnie Applebaum, vice president of Adler Publishing Inc., which publishes the Apartment Shoppers Guide, estimated that there are more than 40 apartment complexes in the Washington area that now offer short-term leases. Hendricks said, "If you look in the paper, you see more ads for short-term leases. A year ago, you didn't see that."

While short-term leasing isn't new in the apartment industry, landlords typically have avoided offering them because of high turnover costs.

But relatively low interest rates have prompted more renters to buy homes and increased apartment construction has softened the rental market somewhat.

Consequently, landlords have been forced to cater to a market that typically had been left to hotels: corporate tenants and homeowners seeking temporary quarters while they either look for new homes or wait to move into them.

"We're doing short-term leasing to stay competitive, especially since lower interest rates have made home buying more attractive. You have to be creative to fill apartments," Hendricks said.

"The only reason the vacancy rate is at 3 to 5 percent is because of short-term leases. Otherwise, it would be at 10 percent," she said.

Several landlords have started corporate leasing programs in response to growing interest from companies.

Trammell Crow, the large Dallas-based developer, employs a full-time corporate sales manager to pursue companies with relocated employes who typically stay in hotels until they find permanent housing. Among other options, Trammell Crow offers companies fully furnished apartments "down to the silverware," said Debra Fangikis, the corporate sales manager.

Rene Carter, Oxford's corporate leasing specialist, said that most companies like the idea of housing employes in apartments because it makes them feel more comfortable than if they were in hotel or motel rooms. Employes "are coming from nice homes and they don't want dormitory settings," she said.

But landlords are also leasing to home buyers who need temporary housing while they wait to move into new houses, according to Wayne Sheiner, president of Cathedral Management Corp.

Despite their new-found availability, short-term leases aren't cheap. Carter said that a three-month rental at an Oxford property can cost as much as $1,500 a month for a fully furnished two-bedroom apartment, while the same-sized apartment under a year's lease costs $810 a month.

Other complexes, such as Cider Mill, charge an extra $300 nonrefundable fee to cover turnover costs for its three-month leases on unfurnished units.

Nevertheless, the cost is still much cheaper than a hotel room. "You're still paying hefty rates. But if you look at what you would pay for a hotel every night, there's no comparison," said Paul Cawley, a Sovran Financial Corp. vice president.