Last week I completed the second class of a two-part series for first time homeowners. I wasn’t looking to buy but was interested in finding out what preparation and training was given to those looking to purchase multifamily homes and ultimately, landlording. Sadly, I had to wait until the last class AND the second to last hour before that topic would be broached. It was an interesting one and half to two hour presentation by an attorney on the legal do’s and don’ts of renting to tenants. We received a nice folder which included a sample lease and some touched upon topics that would be relevant to one looking to rent to tenants. Overall, it was a good and broad presentation for those interested in venturing into the land of landlording.
But let’s back up for a moment.
One day in January, I called the Home Center in City Hall and asked if they conducted or knew of any classes that taught on how to be a landlord. They directed me to MAHA with a confident tone regarding the learning one would receive. I followed their advice and signed up for the two class session.
Going in with an expectation of being thoroughly educated, I was sorely disappointed.
Now I will admit, there are somethings you’re only going to learn by experience. No class can prepare you for all that being a landlord can throw at you. And quite frankly, people don’t really take things seriously until they’re in the thick of it, which for many unfortunately, ends up being in front of a judge. But what made me exasperate a bit too much while listening to the presentation was how different the law is from it’s interpretation and practical application. The attorney didn’t give out erroneous information but from my years of experience, the law is more ideal than reality. For example, a landlord has the right, with proper notice of course, to enter into a tenant’s unit to inspect the premises or make repairs. Simple right? I, the landlord gives you, the tenant a service notice to come into your unit to re-screw a cabinet door that seems to be semi-hanging off the hinges. But here’s where it gets sticky. You as the tenant can deicide that you don’t want me in the unit PERIOD. And the reasons are irrelevant. I can be the nicest landlord in the world, have committed no infraction of the lease or against you but you can decide that you just don’t want me in there. And guess what? The judge will side with you, the tenant. Which means I will have to shelve out $100 per hour to have a LICENSED contractor come and screw in something that will take him less than 10 minutes to do. He’ll make $100 for about five minutes of work. Yeah….let that reality sink in. Your cash flow for that month just went down $100. But in the world of landlord-tenant law which is another phrase for ideals and should-be’s, you are not given not the whole story. Just the kumbaya picture of happy tenants and a responsible landlord (wow, that sentence deserves a post of its own). How do I know the above example is true? Because I went through it. I stood there shocked as the judge basically informed me that the maintenance agreement I had written in the LEGAL lease was basically worthless. I was powerless and had no choice but to fork over unnecessary dollars for meager tasks.
This is what these workshops aren’t going to be able to teach you. And in all honesty, given the numerous other things these classes have to cover from insurance to credit scores, landlord lessons are collateral damage in the enormous scope of homeownership. So what’s a new landlord going to do? They are going to fail. They are going to end up in housing court. They are going to become disgusted with even having tenants. They are going to let their families occupy the units or leave them empty. OR they’ll settle for a tenant that doesn’t allow them to maximize their profits . Why? Because they don’t know and there is no one to teach them.
This is why I feel so good when coaching landlords. I empower them by giving clarity to the law, what it looks like in a realistic setting, and how to troubleshoot when surprises happen. Many are just afraid (who wouldn’t be in this pro-tenant state?) and are willing to placate and do anything to avoid problems. But that’s not a sound business practice. This defeatist mentality benefits neither the landlord or the tenant.
Overall, I applaud MAHA for giving their participants a broad picture of what being a landlord means. But it’s not enough. I hope to work with them to catch those first time homeowner buyers looking to be a landlord. And if I can catch them before they buy and give them the tools that have successfully served me, we can eradicate the fear and change the bad rep that still darkens the streets of our city and maybe lighten the load at the housing court on Thursdays.