Thursday, February 23, 2023

Thoughts on Being a Landlord, Five Years Later

After renting apartments for 11 years, about 5 years ago my family moved into a home that we bought. It was a one family apartment, but we split it into two apartments, one to rent out and one to live in. When we purchased our home, it was still in the building stages, so we were able to design it in a way that it would need as little construction possible to turn it into a two family house. Officially when we were given it by the builders it could only be one house, and only after divide it into two, but we could do many of the preparations beforehand.

The things we did to make it a rental unit already by the builders while under construction were as follows. We turned our kitchen into a bedroom (so we'd have a three bedroom apartment) and the dining room/living room into a kitchen/living room/dining room, and we made a place for the washing machine and dryer. The upstairs that was supposed to be 4 bedrooms was changed the most- we made 3 of the bedrooms smaller so that we could drastically increase the side of the other one and get rid of dividing walls to turn it into a living room/dining room/kitchen to the extent that it is bigger than the living room/dining room/kitchen in the apartment I live in. We got rid of the laundry room to make the main room bigger. And we put a water and drainage line into the area where the kitchen would be. Another thing we made sure to do was to separate the electricity and water lines so that we could put a water and electric meter separate in the apartment, as well as allow the tenants to heat up their own hot water and not share a tank with us.

Once we moved into our apartment, we hired a contractor to finish up the work. He put in a wall at the top of the stairs to separate the apartments, broke a hole in the wall for the door that led to the outdoor stairs, and added a hot water tank for the apartment. Then my son and I built and installed an Ikea kitchen, then had the gas company add a gas line into the apartment for the kitchen.

It was a large investment at first, but it has paid off. I'm able to keep the rent in the apartment relatively cheap, around the same or even less than the apartments of similar sizes where I live. In the 5.5 years that I've been a landlord, I've kept the price the same, even as prices here go up.

I've thought of getting landlord insurance, and before doing that make sure to compare landlord insurance policies and pricing, because unlike some terrible landlords, I make sure to actually fix things that are broken. My policies as a landlord are summed up under 3 rules. 

  1. Don't be anything like my previous landlords.
  2. Don't be an a-hole.
  3. Treat tenants the way I wished my landlords treated me, and as well as I'd treat my own family.
My landlord refused to fix a leak in our bathroom ceiling making our place constantly moldy and that bathroom unusable. The same landlord once made us go an entire winter without hot water, refusing to fix it, telling us we should just ask a neighbor how to use it properly, because we probably are just doing it wrong, and when we found our own repairman, after months of sponge baths with water heated in a kettle, he refused to pay it back, saying that he didn't order the repairman. 

Another landlord refused to fix our floor that was so broken that we got cut from the floor tiles on a regular basis, even after we vacated the apartment for a week and got the place ready for construction when he told us he'd be bringing someone in. He also didn't find a solution to stop massive amounts of water from pouring under our front door every time it rained.

Because of this, I make sure that if there is ever any problem in the apartment, I call a repair person that day. Because it is my responsibility to keep the apartment in the same livable state that it was when the person moved in. All working utilities. 

There was only one time that it took me longer to get something fixed. Since it was a brand new apartment, there were some issues that the construction company was legally responsible to fix, such as the time that there was a leak in the ceiling when it rained. I called and called multiple times to get the contractors from the construction company to come fix it, and they came a few times (and needed to arrange it with the upstairs neighbors whose porch needed to be fixed to prevent the leak). But now the time period that the building company is responsible for repairs on the apartment is over, and landlord insurance may be more worthwhile to consider.

In addition to my previously mentioned issues with my former landlord, some big issues came up when we tried to leave the apartment, and some issues came up with my former tenants when they wanted to leave the apartment when they purchased their own place. In both of our former apartments, we left the lease early, and it is the accepted practice in my country that you can leave a lease early as long as you find replacement tenants. In both those places we found replacement tenants and the landlords refused to let them take over our leases, for absolutely no reason, and then we ended up needing to pay rent for the empty apartment for months after we left, until the end of the contact. With my tenants, when they bought their apartment they assumed they could leave the apartment before the end of our contract as long as they gave us three months notice, even though that is not the law here and wasn't in our contract. 

Because of my experience in those three cases, with my current tenant, who is also a close friend, we made sure to prevent any misunderstandings come up vis a vis the lease, and made sure everything was discussed beforehand and written out clearly, so there's no confusion. We went back and forth multiple times over the lease to discuss potential issues that may arise, and made sure to address them. 
For example, we included a clause about leaving early, what would happen if I needed them to leave early as well as what would happen if they wanted to leave early. If they wanted to leave early, it specifies how much advance notice they need to give me, and that they are responsible for finding a replacement tenant. It also specifies that if they do find a replacement tenant, I have to have a very reasonable reason to reject them, and whether something is reasonable or not is to be decided by a specific arbiter mentioned in the contract.

There also is a clause that if certain things break in the apartment, I will fix them, but if the repairman determines that it was caused by the tenant, they are responsible to fix that. I have a trustworthy repairman who I call and has been clear with us about whose fault something is, and when something is partially mine, partially theirs, he breaks down the price for the tenant's responsibility and mine. (When there was a leak because something was thrown down the drain and clogged it, causing it to overflow and then leak through the badly grouted floor, the cost to remove the clog was given to the tenant separately from the cost of mine to fix the leaky floor.

I hear in various places, often on social media, terrible things about landlords, how they're scum and evil, and all sorts of terrible things. I honestly don't understand this hate at landlords directed at everyone. Being a landlord takes a lot of responsibility, and sometimes you can just sit back and let the money come in (and in most cases just go to pay the mortgage, it isn't free money), but it can also be quite expensive when you need to repair things out of the blue. Like anything else, being a landlord is a job, and yes, it makes money but includes responsibilities. Without landlords, people who can't afford to buy a home would be homeless, especially since it's not like the government gives out free housing to people who can't buy, and landlords don't deserve hate simply because they are landlords.

However, there are really terrible landlords out there, and that isn't ok. But there are also terrible people and terrible landlords are just one type of them. But you can be a good landlord too. As always, the golden rule works here- treat others as you want to be treated. That's what makes someone a good landlord. And that is what I try to do, to be the landlord I wished I'd had. 

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