Landlord to tenants: Let's break the vicious cycle
Renters complain about landlords. Landlords complain about renters. If you're been on one side of the fence for a while, chances are you've dealt with someone on the other who burns your biscuits.
So I was interested in the response that one landlord wrote to a question of the day aimed at people renting their home out. Steve, who's from Baltimore and works at a university in town, owns a few rentals on the side and wanted to share an off-topic point by email. I figured it might interest you all, too.
Here it is:
I am a landlord. I believe I am a good landlord. My initial cause was to improve the reputation of landlords in Baltimore City while still making investment incentives for myself. After almost six years of property management, I'm gradually understanding how landlords and tenants in Baltimore get jaded, get sloppy, and ultimately, make their rental counterparts pay for their ignorance.
My current cause has evolved. I still want to improve the reputation of landlords. More importantly, I want to help landlords and tenants understand how things can get ugly and that, by one step in the wrong direction, a snowball of negativity can start rolling down a long hill -- an effect that can gradually grow and influence many landlords and tenants, though undeserving. As far as my investment is concerned, it's a losing one, but one I'm not willing to let go as a complete failure.
I bought three properties in 2005 and 2006. In hindsight, those were terrible years to buy property anywhere, but that is now water under the bridge. I try to make the best out of that fact daily and look to the distant future for a small chance of return. Although I put twenty percent down on each property, I would have to pay to sell them today. Many investors and homeowners in this position have gone the foreclosure route, but I guess I'm too proud, stupid, or stubborn to compound the national problem.
My properties are located in East Baltimore, specifically Eastwood, Dundalk, and Medford. I've put time and money into each property to make them nice homes for my tenants. I priced them fairly and always kept a higher level of quality in the homes from others in the neighborhood. I want people to know that I care and will go out of my way to make sure my tenants are happy. When I go on vacation or out of state, I make sure the tenants have someone to call that has keys to, and knowledge of, the property. Someone that will help them just like I do. I respond quickly and efficiently to service calls. Although I used to do some of the work myself, I rarely do anymore since I don't have the time. My tenants and I both have my list of preferred contractors to handle any situation or disaster. I am fair with my tenant selection, and believe everyone deserves a second chance.
My point is hard to say without seeming insensitive. As much care, thought, time, and money that I have poured into managing a property, I've come to realize that I cannot expect the same kindness to be reciprocated on my property by my tenants. Although I get emotionally involved in making each property a great place to live, I have to seal off those emotions when the tenants return the property half destroyed or pay late every month. I have even received apologies from previous tenants that did not have their security deposit returned. They knew the deposit money would not cover the damage they caused. They are almost embarrassed to talk to me. Is this a negative string of events leading back to a bad landlord? Did the bad landlord get that way by having their property trashed?
I do get positive feedback from my tenants. Two of them have told me that I was the best landlord they ever had. None of my current or previous tenants are angry with me or feel cheated. I have never evicted a soul. Something can always be worked out, and eviction is the hard way for everyone involved. It's not magic, it's common sense. Realizing that tenants may have misused your property because of a fellow landlord is an indirect, but perhaps more honest approach.
I'm not saying that good landlords should get a prize, but when I think about it, it's a losing battle, and not just for the landlords. I believe these actions cause many landlords that start out on the right foot to take each slight personally, and ultimately begin taking it out on the tenants in turn. That behavior, in turn, causes the tenants to treat rental properties with as little respect as they are shown by the bad landlords. It's a vicious cycle, and one that turns many good people into bad landlords and tenants.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? How do we move forward instead of backward?
Personally, I feel I have managed to come out on top. I tell tenants up front that although they may have had bad landlords in the past, that I am not one of them and that I am not alone. I tell them that I will respect them and make living at my property comfortable and stress-less. I tell them I expect them to keep my property in good shape, regardless of how they've rented before. I want them to be happy. I will forgive late fees if the tenant calls me with a valid excuse as long as the behavior is not repetitive. I do expect to be paid each month so I can pay the mortgage and repair expenses. When tenants leave, I ask them to give their next landlord a chance. I ask them to have the new landlord call me for a reference so that I can give them my spiel.
I want things to be better for both groups and will continue to work toward that on a daily basis.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Steve.
Renters and landlords: What has your experience been? Is there a vicious cycle at work?