Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How to be a (good) Renter

Why do I consider myself to be a bit of an expert on how to be a good renter you might ask?....well, you probably didn't...but for arguments sake, let's pretend that you did.  I mean it's not as if I was born an expert on the topic.  My parents weren't renters and honestly I didn't know any renters until I was in college and actually became a renter myself.

However, I do happen to have several (very vocal) personal friends who are landlords.  For nearly a decade, I worked as the weekend Leasing Manager at an upscale riverfront apartment complex.  For even longer than that, I was a renter.  Because of these things, I tend to consider myself a bit of an expert on what makes a good renter and what doesn't.

Usually getting advice from an expert is quite pricey.  However, today I am giving my advice away absolutely for free...which honestly is still probably overpriced, but here I go anyway!

What makes a good renter?  

A good renter is someone who keeps the property clean, pays their rent on time every time and who doesn't annoy either the neighbors OR the landlord.  Simple as that.  

Now how could one actually annoy the landlord?  Maybe by calling her/him the day before rent is due (or making them hunt you down a week AFTER the rent was due) and telling them some personal tragedy that recently occurred to you that will prevent you from paying your rent on time - or at all?  And when I say "personal" I mean an event that has zero to do with your landlord.  Something along the lines of "the electric bill was so high that I didn't have the money to pay both the electric bill AND the rent"  or "my car broke down and after I get it fixed there won't be enough left over to pay the rent."

Let's look at that for a second.  If the rental property is out in the country or in a small town without public transportation AND you don't know a single solitary soul in that town (including co-workers) who happen to have a working vehicle....then I can see how that could prevent you from getting to and from work thus putting your livelihood in danger.  But most people don't fall into the above categories.  Most people know someone - anyone - who could give them a ride to and from work until their next paycheck.  Others live in a town or city that has public transportation.  Riding a bus sucks.  It really does.  However, if it comes down to a choice of riding a bus or losing your job - riding the bus suddenly doesn't look quite so bad.

As for the excuse that the electric bill was so high you couldn't afford both, I say....what good is being in good standing with the electric company going to do you if you have no house in which to use the electricity?

Now thus far, I may sound rude, uncaring and even maybe a little bit inflexible.  Right?  Let me try to tell you why this particular scenario annoys me.

Usually the house or apartment in which you live isn't 100% paid for meaning there is a mortgage, taxes and insurance due every month on it whether you pay your rent or not.  If you live in an apartment complex there are added monthly expenses such as garbage pickup, water/sewer bills, employees, etc added on top of the mortgage.  

Let's reverse the situation for a second.  It would be a disaster if you paid your rent every month on time as you should and one day you come home to discover your landlord hasn't paid the water/sewer bill and now you have no water.  This has actually happened recently in Memphis, TN.  The landlord of a mobile home park racked up a $51,000 water/gas/electric bill and when the nearly 80 renters came home - no utilities of any kind.  They paid their rents every month.

How about if the landlord has been taking your rent every month but has spent it on personal things like HIS personal bills or maybe a vacation rather than sending it to the bank to pay the mortgage?

I have had that happen to me not once, but twice, during my stint as a renter.  I paid my rent but the landlord neglected to take part of that and give it to the bank.  So what happened?  The first time it happened, I answered my door one bright Saturday morning to find two gentlemen in suits with business cards telling me that they worked for the bank and were here to do a cursory inspection of the property and also to let me know that I had 2 weeks to move because the house had been foreclosed.  They swore they had mailed a letter to the house 2 months earlier warning me that this day was coming, but I never got it.  I later discovered that my landlord, who lived around the corner from me, was stopping by every day at lunch to look through the mail and grabbed anything from the bank.  So I never received notice until the two men knocked on my door.  I don't know about you, but I don't have a money growing tree in my backyard so having to find another place, come up with moving expenses, packing and actually moving in 2 weeks is neither fun nor recommended.  I never got my deposit back nor did I ever get any of the money that my landlord had fraudulently taken after the house went into foreclosure and was legally no longer his. Lesson learned.  

Both sides of the coin have responsibilities.  If both sides take that seriously, then the experience will be a pleasurable one for all concerned.  But it only takes one side to shirk their responsibilities and the world gets nightmarish really quickly.

How does one become a good renter?

To those of us who rented for a period of time, this may sound like a stupid question.  However, I remember the first time I rented, and the second, and the took me a while to get the hang of this whole renting thing.

As I said earlier, I never knew anyone who rented until I became a renter.  So, when pumpkin colored paint paired with chocolate colored paint became all the rage - without asking - I painted my rental in those colors. I even painted the master bedroom a lovely hunter green.  I thought it was stunning! landlord did not. Not only did I lose my deposit when I moved, but I got a bill for the cost of repainting the whole place.  I was livid!  After all, I thought it was beautiful!  But in the end, I paid the invoice.

There was another time that after I moved into an apartment, I decided to get not only a puppy but a kitten. Did it ever occur to me to look at my lease to see if they were allowed or if I should pay a pet deposit and monthly pet fee to have them?  Nope.  I swear, it honestly never crossed my mind.  In all fairness, at that age, even had I considered asking the landlord I probably would have thought, "who will ever know?" teehee....Trust me when I tell you that your landlord will find out eventually.  They always do.  It might be the next day, it might be the next month or it might be after you've moved out...but they are going to find out. And when they do, they are going to charge you through the teeth for having those pets living in your apartment.  If you haven't moved when they find out, they may even make you get rid of them or face eviction.  Either way, your rental reference just became bad and your deposit is never coming home to live with you ever again.

Sadly for the landlords in my past, I learned the hard way how to be a good renter.  No one taught me.  A lot of landlords would roll their eyes at the above story thinking "it's common sense!"  Well, to a college kid who was raised in a home with a mortgage, no it's not.  Growing up, if I wanted a puppy or kitten, I got one. My parents didn't have to ask the bank's permission.  Duh.  Entirely different scenario when you're a renter.

There are a lot of things that are different when you rent.  Attitude is one of them and my attitude had to go through a lot of changes before I morphed into a decent renter - I hesitate to think that I was ever actually a "good" renter - I was just an "okay" renter.

For instance I remember the first time that I flushed "personal" items down the toilet, it stopped up sending water everywhere, I called the landlord who sent the maintenance guy over on a Sunday and he discovered the cause of the overflowing toilet was a personal hygiene item that I had tried to flush down the my defense, the box said you could!  At any rate, I thought "problem solved" - right?  Wrong!  When I went to pay the next months rent, the apartment manager told me that in addition to the normal rent, I had to pay a $75 fee because the clogged toilet was my fault!  THE BOX SAID I COULD!!  Sigh.

While the above examples were a direct result of my being immature and well, dumb, there are some renters out in rental land that do some crazy stuff that even I would know better than to do.  Like the guy I read about the other day in England, who thought it would be a great idea to enlarge a window so he could get more light into his apartment.  (Who does that?)   So he took out the existing window, knocked a huge hole in the wall to put the new window in and then left the hole there covered by plastic garbage bags for a couple of weeks until he could "get around" to finishing the job.  He also apparently failed to check on the whole loading bearing inconvenience and his ceiling slumped about 4 inches overnight causing some pretty expensive repair work for the landlord.  He was highly offended that the landlord expected him to pay for the repairs.  Highly offended.

So to recap how to be a good renter, I would say it's the following:  

1.  Pay your rent on time and without forcing the landlord to track you down a like a bloodhound tracking a criminal.  We all have emergencies in life from time to time.  If you have a legitimate emergency that has made you unable to pay in full and on time, please call your landlord as soon as you know about the situation so they can make adjustments for it.  That's only fair.
2.  Don't make "improvements" to your rented abode without written permission and approval from your landlord.   If you need more light - buy more lamps.  And always remember that just because you think it's pretty, it doesn't mean the landlord will.

3.   Always remember that if YOU cause the damage, YOU will be responsible for the cost of the repair. This also includes leaving the property in a nasty mess when you leave it.  Most of the time it's far cheaper for a landlord to repair a few holes in the walls than to hire someone to clean an especially nasty house after the tenants leave.

The picture below was taken by a landlord in New Jersey who had recently renovated the apartment before she rented it out and this fridge was new when the renters moved in.  This is what she found once she had them evicted for nonpayment. Apparently, their lights had been off for a while before they moved.  Sure glad my computer doesn't have "smellovision" right now.

I think there are WAY more good renters out there then there are bad ones.  I also think there are WAY more good landlords out there than bad ones.

But every time we hear of a bad renter or a bad landlord, it just makes it that much harder for the good ones to overcome that stigma.

As always, enjoy your space!!

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