In Defense of Landlords: By a Long-time Renter

rent lease contract

As a long-time renter, I’ve got over 20 years’ experience with landlords. Some are great, some are awful.

What I have even more experience with, though, are fellow renters’ thoughts about landlords.

I’ve had slumlords and I’ve had perfect landlords. The “gift” of bad landlords is that you learn what truly bad living arrangements are like and it’s a lot easier to appreciate an unspectacular rental situation with your standard property manager. I find a lot of problems arise when renters don’t understand what they’re entitled to in their rent. They can have unrealistic demands and a lot of bitterness can ensue as a result.

Different spaces have different standards

On the unreliable demands front, let me tell you about where I live. There’s an outdoor space that isn’t technically included in our “living” space, so it doesn’t have to be maintained to living standard. According to code, the fire escape stairs need to be safe to use, and that’s all. Some of the tenants rail against the landlords for not “maintaining” these spaces better so that they can be a fancy sunroom.

The thing is, we all knew what the situation was when we moved in — it’s a fire escape, not a sunroom, and repairs are not made because they do meet minimum code even if they look a little ramshackley on the outside. Expecting the landlord to change and get generous about it is like getting married to someone you only “like” but plan to change so they “evolve” to your standards. That’s a recipe for a failed relationship, either way.

Gouging versus reasonable increases

I can’t speak to universal rent laws, but my regional laws include maximum rent increases tied into the rate of inflation, so it’s a floating annual rate. A lot of locals wrongly believe it’s a flat 4% maximum, but the government tells us annually what it is — and for 2015, my area has a 2.5% maximum rent increase allowance when you’re already a tenant.

As most areas have renter protection for rate increases, it’s worth noting what it is where you live. Last year here, it was a 2.2% maximum rent increase. My landlord imposed only a .07% increase on my rent, a total of $10 a month.

When talking with a neighbor, they raged about their annual increase, slamming our landlord for “gouging” them. People, when property taxes tend to go up, energy costs go up, and maintenance is an ongoing issue, a token annual increase is not “gouging,” it’s business. Those extra funds aren’t “extra,” they’re how a landlord keeps in the black.

It’s business, not personal

The problem I find is that too many people slam landlords for “greed,” but a lot of them don’t treat the landlords fairly either. Lots of folks feel entitled to leave suites painted some crazy color, filthy, or they leave junk behind, saying “Oh, the landlord can sell it.” Well, you thought it was junk, so why wouldn’t others? Repairs, haulage, all these can add up to hundreds of dollars every time. It’s no wonder why landlords can get a little cheap when it comes to your demands, especially if you’re a new tenant.

old sofa discarded

They’re running a business, not trying to be generous and give you free things. They didn’t sign up to play Santa Claus just because it’s gonna be your home. You would never enter your local supermarket and expect them to give you a break or shower you with extras, so why do renters expect landlords to be generous?

Knowing your rights protects you

The most empowering thing I ever did was to download my regional tenancy act and learn what my rights were and who enforces them. It turned out my old slumlord manager broke the law by dropping a can of Raid at the door and telling me that’d solve my cockroach infestation.

One quick call to my city inspector’s offices resulted in a city inspector on-site within two days and pest control in my home within four days.

Knowing your rights will tell you what you’re entitled to, but also clears up feelings of entitlement on other things. You may think your ratty old kitchen floor needs replacing, but odds are, if structurally sound, you’re stuck with it. Knowing this before you rent a home makes all the difference in your expectations down the line.

If you’re unhappy with the condition before you move in, you likely won’t have legal right for improvements once you’re in the home. Cosmetic appearance is seldom enforced by law, unlike structural integrity and pest control.

In my new home, I’ve had infestations of ants, flying termites, silverfish, and now ven a mouse. That’s life in an 80-year-old building. Luckily, when I call my landlord or email them, pest control is onsite within 24 hours. Better than the law requires, and all that I, as a renter, can hope for.

Mind your manners

If you ran a business and had angry customers accusing you of cheating them, gouging them, and other seedy behavior, you might be less inclined to help them resolve their problems. Why would a landlord feel any different?

Some neighbors are shocked at how quickly I get resolutions on my problems. They think there’s vindictiveness against them, or that I pay more rent and get better service.

The truth is, I never, ever phone my landlord. Why? It’s too easy to get emotional when I’m living in my problem. Instead, I opt for email. I say “please” and “thank you.” I don’t get emotional. I point out the problem and say what I would consider a solution, and that’s it.

Someone usually deals with it within 48 hours. They’ve rehung a door, fixed a bathroom wall, tightened a kitchen faucet, sent out pest control four times, installed a security light outside my bedroom, and a few other little things — and I’ve only lived here for 16 months.

Other neighbors call, leaving after-hours voicemails, barking demands. I create a tactful, legal record with a time stamp, and never have to wonder if I said everything relevant.

The two-way street

Once you realize your landlord is a business person and your rent is a business transaction, it’s easier to be more objective to what you’re entitled. Knowing your rights protects you, but also makes unrealistic expectations clear too.

If your landlord is behaving within legal parameters and imposing rent increases under the law, it’s time to stop demonizing them, and start appreciating those with fair, legal business practices. Next time your landlord tells you a pragmatic “no,” it might help to remember that it really isn’t personal. It’s business.

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