Remembering What Job One Is

I’ve had tenants come and go. It’s all a part of the business of renting. I’ve only had to evict one tenant and others left for general reasons ranging from needing more space to a roommate breakup. But I’ve also had my fair share of tenants point the finger at me and slander my name to the neighbors. Why? Because they were forced to move due to their inability to pay the rent. So of course, it’s my fault. “Don’t take it personally”, I can hear many of you say.  But it’s not about taking false accusations personally, it’s about respect. Respect for being a human being. Respect for all the times you’ve cried about your money woes and landlords did their best to work with you. Respect that what is an apartment to you the renter is a business to a landlord and mortgages aren’t paid with apologies. Respect that despite a tenant’s refusal to abide by the lease or pay the rent, landlords still have to by law maintain the building. Respect that while they give 0% of the rent owed, they still live in 100% of  a landlord’s unit. Respect that they could’ve been out in the street years ago but we chose to see a human and not a dollar sign. And for all these issues, landlords deserve better. We deserve to be respected because we are also residents just like tenants. I don’t expect groveling but an appreciation in the form of respect is needed.

Every time a landlord goes through such an experience with a tenant, it takes a toll on their humanity. And their compassion erodes into an iron steel will that becomes unbendable and unbreakable. In a society where tenants and pro-tenant organizations are complaining about rising rents, it’s imperative that the Single Property Landlord have a clear lens and a sturdy focus. Yes, rents are high and yes, wages aren’t matching them, but that’s not the Single Property Landlord’s problem. Business has to get done whether a tenant pays the rent or not. And that cold and callous truth should focus us even more. Put compassion where it belongs, volunteering for your favorite charity or mentoring a young mind. But job number one is ROI and cash flow when it comes to your business. 

This is THE Landlording Class? Really?

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.

The Blame Game…

I recently read an article today titled “Renters Are Shelling Out a Bigger Share of Income For Housing Than Homeowners” which outlined the financial woes of Jane Doe Renter who is spending a huge chunk of her  income versus Mr. Homeowner whose mortgage costs are actaully decreasing.  Much of this article’s intel seems to be at odds with what I see in the real world, as I know plenty of homeowners who mortgages are taking a big chunk out of their incomes.   Hey, life happens and the numbers that won you that bank loan may not be the same five to ten years later. But what got my feathers ruffled was the implied tone which once again pits the “poor and disadvantaged” renter against the “fat cat” homeowner, a seemingly common theme in our society.  To be fair, the author did state later in the article that the individual’s daily wage wasn’t keeping up with the increasing living costs but the damage was already done in the court of public perception.  Bottom line, the homeowners are taking it easy while the renters are struggling.  And for the landlord, the perception is even worse. It’s funny how society doesn’t take into account the responsibility and accountabilty of every homeowner.  What it takes to get one’s finances in order, to save up money for a downpayment, delaying gratification to realize the dream of homeownership over a vacation or new car. And being handed the keys is just the beginning.  Maintenance, homeowners’ insurance, not to mention unforseen problems like a pipe bursting.  And if you’re a landlord, Pandora’s Box is about to reguritat. Adopted tenants (a mistake I hope SPLs never makes!), unit turnover, the dreaded water bill… Yet the homeowner tackles it all on with grit and determination to breath life into their hopes and dreams.  But no one applauds the homeowner for such, everything is only seen through the lens of the renter.

I agree with the author, today’s wage is the culprit. But there is another villian that needs to exposed and dealt with.  The sense of entitlement of renters.  I believe every human being has a right to housing but not to location.  Many of us would love to buy off the rack on Rodeo Drive, but our money decides whether we shop Walmart, Macy’s or even the exclusive boutiques on Newbury Street within Boston’s pricey Back Bay neighborhood.  Each retailer offers good quality apparel for certain price points and soceity accepts this reality no questions asked.  There is no legislature demanding Barney’s New York to sell their merchandise so all can afford them despite clothing being a necessity like food and shelter. But legislature is coming down the pipe like a roaring train to control rents in many cities and it will be the single property landlord, the one without the deep pockets who will get shafted.

#Thankful

The title landlord is usally synonymous with words like slumlord and greedy leaving many single property landlords (SPLs) feeling pressured to prove they are anything but.  However, the reality is WE are needed and an important part of the residential process when it comes to housing, especially in states like Massachusetts where multifamily properties make up a huge percentage of residential homes.  But this isn’t about boasting or needing anyone to grovel at our feet.  Instead, I am reflecting on the blessing that a mulitfamily is and what it says about those of us brave enough to take on tenants, building maintenance and housing laws all while paying a mortgage and living our own lives.  It’s no easy feat to do what we do and still live to tell the story.  Why? Because we’re not just managers of a building, we’re also indirectly counselors, social workers and even teachers.  Tenants enter our properties with extreme experiences and some none at all and we as landlords embrace it all. From the young single mother who has no clue who to contact for her heating bill to the parent fearful of being evicted due to financial woes to the older tenant on a fixed income with medical concerns.  All this and more is laid at the feet of the single property landlord.  And we absorb and manage it all while trying to balance the huamnity before us and the fiscal demands of staying afloat. That is the courageous beauty of being an SPL.  A beauty that speaks of our grace, patience, dedication and determination.  A beauty I am thankful for.

Fair Housing… But Fair For Whom?

On Tuesday, August 22, the City of Boston will be holding a Fair Housing Public Hearing for all residents.  It gives tenants and landlords an opportunity to raise their voice regarding the issues and problems they see and want changed or at least addressed. I’m sure I will see and hear many tenants give their perspective of housing issues which is their constitutional right to do so. However, what I have yet to see at such events is a swarm of Single Property Landlords fighting for fair rules to govern fair housing. Many times SPL’s are ignorantly on the side of the tenant, advocating for them much to my chagrin and outrage. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against tenants but I am for SPLs knowing truth and having the courage to stand for that truth.  We have constitutional rights too.  The bottom line is that Fair Housing only benefits the tenant but that can be changed IF all owners (Single Property Landlords and Real Estate Investors of mulitple properties) stood together.  The laws are ever changing and it’s each SPLs job to keep up.  What was legal yesterday is illegal today. How do you get around the question, “How many people will be occupying the unit?” if it’s deemed discriminatory?  How do you deal with tenants smoking weed now that it’s “legal”?  The definition of disability is enlarging  – what does that mean for the SPL?  Don’t rely on an outdated handbook given to you by HUD or the city, come and learn and raise your own concerns. Let the city know you matter and that they have a responsibility to you as well.  This is not the time to let someone else do your fighting for you.  Many of the Democratic Party made that same mistake on election day and you see where it got them. I’ll gladly give up a few hours of my time, tussle with 5:00pm traffic to make my voice heard and stand up for my rights as a property owner…will you?  See you there!

Fair Housing Public Hearing, 700 Boylston Street (BPL) 6-8pm