9 things your landlord won’t tell you: A rebuttal

My wife found an unflattering piece about landlords in the Huffington Post titled 9 things your landlord won’t tell you. This sorry excuse for an expose just makes accusations, without backing any of it up.

I’m a landlord. Here’s what I have to say about those nine things.

1. I plan on jacking up your rent.

I haven’t raised rent yet. Yes, I can jack up the rent by hundreds of dollars a month, like the article says, but when a landlord does something like that, it’s because he or she wants to get rid of a bad tenant. Yes, there are bad tenants, too. The fastest way to get rid of one is to raise the rent by $400.

Now, there’s likely to come a time when I will have to raise rent modestly. If the insurance on the place jumps by a few hundred dollars and I can’t find a better rate somewhere else, I won’t eat that cost. But I don’t consider raising the rent by $40 to cover an increased cost of living “jacking up the rent.”

Many real-estate books do recommend raising the rent every year, but we’re talking by modest amounts, like $25. Nothing I’ve ever read says to raise the rent by three digits. It’s foolish to do, unless you’re trying to get rid of a problem. Because a tenant can leave, and they will.

2. I’m not going to repair that.

Sure, repairing something is a choice. But if I let the place go long enough and a decent tenant leaves, then the house has to get re-inspected, and the county is going to make me fix that anyway. They’ve made me fix cracks high in the wall inside a dark closet–you’d never see it–and doors that gave the slightest resistance to closing, among other things. And beyond that, the plumbing and the electrical outlets all have to be perfect, or the new tenant doesn’t get to move in.

I’d much rather make minor repairs before they get worse and turn into major repairs. And I’d much rather keep a tenant happy than to end up with a vacant house. It takes me 15 minutes to fix a leaky drain or a loose electrical outlet, and it will probably cost me less than $5 to do it. That’s a lot better than having a house sit vacant for a month, and losing that month’s rent.

3. I don’t really need to know about your color preference.

I have no idea what they mean by this. I paint each house in a nice, pleasing, neutral scheme before putting it on the market. A house that looks like a box of crayons won’t rent out. It won’t sell either. That’s one way landlords get properties cheaply–they find the house that’s been painted the 16 most obnoxious colors known to humanity, then put a coat of primer and three coats of dark beige over it to make it look good again.

I’ve never had a tenant ask to paint the interior of the house. I suppose I wouldn’t say no, but they would have to return it to my color scheme before they move out.

I’m not going to go all HGTV on a rental property and I don’t want a tenant doing that either, because in 10 years, that look will look every bit as ridiculous as that public-nuisance green that was popular in the early 1970s. Beige may be unimaginative, but it’s timeless. Landlords have been painting rooms beige since at least the 1930s, and it looks the same now as it did 80 years ago.

4. I don’t run a hotel.

If a tenant has a houseguest for the occasional weekend, I really don’t care. It’s none of my business.

That said, every municipality has laws about how many people can be in the house, based on the size of the house and the size of the bedrooms. There are also laws about what counts as a legal bedroom. If the county says six people can live in it, a family of six is going to pay the same rent as a single individual would. But if the house is approved for five people, and a single person rents it and then turns around and lets six friends move in, guess who gets into trouble? The landlord, not the tenant.

If you don’t like it, go complain to the fire marshall. But don’t expect the fire marshall to be sympathetic. Those laws exist to keep people from dying in house fires because landlords packed too many people into too small of a space.

5. I plan on keeping your security deposit.

If you trash the place, sure, I’m going to spend the security deposit to fix the place back up again. The county is going to make me fix it anyway. But I’m going to be fair.

I’ve never kept a security deposit. And, back when I was a tenant, I always got my security deposits back. My secret was to take care of the place and respect it. When I moved out, the place looked pretty much like it did when I moved in. It’s not hard.

6. Your neighbor isn’t my problem.

I only rent houses, so I can’t really do much about the neighbors, but if I needed to knock on a neighbor’s door and advocate for a good tenant, I would. I’ve only had neighbors complain to me about one of my tenants once, and if anything, those neighbors were generous in their criticism.

7. I go through your stuff.

No I don’t. I only have about a million more important things to do.

If I enter the house, it’s to make sure everything is OK. A lot can go wrong, and a good landlord realizes that. And someone who hasn’t lived on their own for very long can have something major going wrong without knowing it. I know from my own experience. But when I do that, I get in, check what I need to check, fix what I need to fix, and I get out.

If a landlord wants to make a quick monthly inspection to check for leaks, make sure the furnace filter is clean, make sure the smoke detectors work, and make sure everything else is OK, be glad. That heads off bigger problems.

8. The previous tenant paid way less.

No they didn’t. Two things factor in to the price of rent: the landlord’s up-front cost, and the average pay in the area.

If the monthly rent isn’t at least 1% of what the landlord paid for the property, the landlord will lose money. So if a house cost $70,000 and then the landlord had to spend $5,000 to fix it up, the rent will be, at minimum, $750 a month. If the house is worth $90,000, the landlord will probably charge closer to $900 a month. The landlord gets a slightly bigger profit that way, but remember, the landlord is paying taxes and insurance on a $90,000 house, not the $70,000 house it was on the day of closing.

Another rule in charging rent is that the monthly rent shouldn’t be more than the tenant makes in a week. So if the average family of two in a given area makes $1,000 a week, I’m going to struggle trying to rent out houses for $1,200 a month.

I suppose the rent is negotiable, to a certain extent, but keep in mind that if you’re interested in a place, someone else is probably interested too. When I have two applicants and one is trying to get me to come down $50 or pay one more utility and the other doesn’t balk at the price, guess which application is going to get submitted to the screening agency first?

9. We knew about the mice problem.

I’m fixing up a house right now. Last weekend I walked around the house twice, looking for any opening large enough for a bug to get into, let alone a mammal, and repaired it appropriately. I know the occasional bug will still find a way to get in, but I don’t want anything bigger than that in there. It causes problems. Expensive problems.

 

2 thoughts on “9 things your landlord won’t tell you: A rebuttal”

  1. The fact that you strive to be a fair and law abiding landlord does not invalidate the fact that there are many unfair and lawbreaking landlords out there.

    I’ve rented from good landlords and from bad ones. While some of the article is silly, large parts of it rang true for my experiences with the bad ones.

    1. Fair point. But if I were to write something along the lines of this piece called “9 things your dentist won’t tell you,” or “9 things your girlfriend won’t tell you,” and then proceed to do a one-sided hatchet job on dentists or women, I should expect to be sued.

      I don’t like being painted with such a broad brush (nor does any other landlord I know), especially when there is a perfectly valid reason for many (if not most) of the behaviors this obviously horrible, horrible tenant objected to.

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