“I like to think of my behavior in the sixties as a ‘learning experience.’ Then again, I like to think of anything stupid I’ve done as a ‘learning experience.’ It makes me feel less stupid.“ -P.J. O’Rourke
I was at a housing office today dropping off some “required paperwork.” As I sat waiting to review the issues that brought me there, I was forced to listen to a couple of young women talk about how they were going to hire attorneys and, “get their landlords.” Their complaints ran the gamut of being forced to get rid of pets (they were not supposed to have in the first place)… to the landlord’s refusal to repair a door broken by a boyfriend during a quarrel. Those Landlord bastards! The nerve of them! how dare they?
It is such conversations that so amuse me. For certain, being a landlord is a difficult endeavor. Take Manchvegas, for example where the city mandates Certificate Of Compliance Inspections (COC); A process that takes place every three years for those of us ‘evil bastards‘ who own multi-family residential housing. This can be an annoying process. One year’s COC inspection I was informed of a requirement to upgrade smoke detectors to the AC type with DC battery back-up. The current smoke detectors were already hard-wired so this wasn’t a difficult task. However, upon reviewing the building code, I found myself needing to call the building department for clarification. I was unable to find that specific reference. I was subsequently told the requirement had not been adopted yet. Guess it didn’t matter, though. I had already spent the 500 bucks to purchase the AC/DC smoke detector units and install them. For me this was an object lesson in (a) waiting for the post-inspection report to arrive in the mail, and (b) verifying the very issues cited in the report.
Window screens are yet another challenge. I mean, how stupid is that? Window Screens? But, a COC inspection cannot pass muster without the proper window screens in place. I always ensure window screens are in place for COC so that is not an issue. But, despite that, there are often tenants who are fundamentally challenged by the mere existence of window screens. They break them, lose them or destroy them. After I’ve replaced a couple and receive yet another request to do so, I demand the screen-challenged tenant “pony up” 22 dollars for an entire frame and screen replacement and 12 dollars for a screen replacement. The tenant gives me a bunch of indignant static. “It wasn’t on purpose!” he or she exclaims… Standing my ground and insisting, the tenant calls the building department to report my, “refusal to replace a missing window screen.” The building department subsequently issues a “violation of the COC:” “failure to have the window screens in place.” A landlord keeping proper track of expenses will quickly conclude that spending $700 per year on window screens is excessive and unreasonable.
Consequently, I have become a master-maker of custom window screens…but they still cost money and I have figured out that it will cost me more money to let the city take me to court over a window screen, (they haven’t yet) than to keep serially replacing them for jerk tenants who have little respect for the dwelling in which they live.
A tenant who placed a searing hot pan on a new linoleum floor asked to have the floor replaced. Telling him that he would have to pay for the ruined linoleum, his response was, “Not my problem…your problem.” That person now lives elsewhere. Because a tenant is responsible in paying his or her rent on time consistently every month will not guarantee he or she won’t trash your property.
To be fair, most of the inspectors with the city building department are stand up guys. As opposed to a couple of real jerks I absolutely cannot stand. I’ll lay odds the jerks survived the lay-offs and still have their jobs, though.
Pet owners are frequently a pain. I used to allow people to keep a cat or dog in their apartments. To me, this was a quality of life issue and having a pet enhances family enjoyment. Can’t do that anymore. A lease addendum restricts the breed of dog and size, yet Pit Bulls and Rottweiler’s abound; The lease addendum mandates that dog owners are solely responsible for cleaning up pet waste, yet I step in lots of it when mowing the grass; excessive barking and complaints of dog aggression come from other tenants, yet its a legal battle to evict on pet grounds. The lease addendum requires apartment renters insurance, up-to-date shot records and rabies certificates, yet I have to fight to get compliance and they allow insurance to lapse; An ongoing project of replacing chewed window moldings and clawed up door jambs haunts me; A trail of cat litter is left in common area hallways going out of the building because the disposal bag had a hole in it; plugged toilets result from people flushing non-flushable cat litter. Finally, when a dog bite occurs, do you think the attorneys contact the pet owner? NOPE! they contact the property owner. “Those mean, cold and uncaring landlords who don’t allow pets…” But pet lovers are not deterred. There is always the smart tenant who can find a Psychologist to write a sham letter diagnosing the need for a, “therapy pet” that falls under an ADA compliance mandate.
Want to purchase an income property? Better know what you are getting into before you do. Owning property in Manchester means the property owner will be taking a walk along the fee gauntlet. And, in this city one can always reliably count on an annual tax increase. Economics have no bearing here. Be it a good or bad economy, an annual property tax increase is nearly inevitable.
And, tax increases often come with little or no change in the quality of city services delivered. In fact, I have born witness to a diminishing in the quality of city services. Just the littlest of things. For example, I witnessed a city refuse collector, who, for his own gleeful self-amusement…and that of his co-workers, used an empty 30-gallon plastic trash can to chase down and trap my noisy little Jack Russell Terrier as he ran along the limiting boundary of his radio fence, barking enthusiastically at them. Trying to anticipate when they come, I try and keep the little squirt in, but that doesn’t always pan out for me. And people wonder why he is now a bit aggressive? Alas, My tax dollars hard at work.
With all of that said, I haven’t even touched on laws about lead paint measures. Better know something about those as well. There are good renters and there are bad tenants. If this is your first dance, there are two ways one can learn how to do this: The hard way…through trial and error, going it alone….that can be a costly endeavor and can bankrupt you; Or, you can do it the easy way: join the New Hampshire property owners association, learn how to screen tenants, become a savvy risk manager and know the Landlord and Tenant Law inside and out. By doing so, a landlord does not totally eliminate problems, but joining will substantially minimize and reduce your agravation, time and money spent dealing with these issues.