Of course, the "dungeon" connotation of the garden-level apartment doesn't come from nowhere: Diminished natural light, faulty drainage and old construction can add up to a pretty dire scenario. For those used to larger or more airy spaces, the garden-level home can seem dark, small or downright depressing. But with a little investigation of the circumstances -- and an eye toward minimizing these effects -- a garden-level home can be just as comfy and charming as a Los Angeles bungalow or midtown condo.
Before buying or renting, consider the underlying and structural qualities of the space. Areas of damage can be subject to quick-fix solutions that leave the true problems unattended, so you'll need to look out not only for obvious water damage and cracks in the foundation, but also new plaster and drywall patches that might be covering up a bigger problem. Look at the street, including drainage systems, gutters and pavement quality, to determine whether or not flooding will be a concern.
Next, consider the living conditions inside. Architectural styles can vary widely and are quite subjective: The ultramodern, "industrial" look of one property might be the perfect fit for your style, or a more classically designed or renovated apartment -- identical to those in the floors above -- could suit you better. Of course, if you're buying, these stylistic concerns are remedied easily enough if you're willing to put in (or pay for) the labor, but you must consider whether you want to take on that sort of lengthy and inconvenient project.
Finally, think about the unchangeable aspects of the space: Windows provide natural light and are key to setting the tone and distinguishing your home from a dungeon. Ceiling height is rarely negotiable, but it contributes greatly to the overall feeling and flow. The amount of usable space is another concern, although there are plenty of resources and tips on urban living that can help you get the most out of these parts of the equation.