Friday, July 31, 2009

The Would-Be Landlord

We were strongly cautioned against renting to a friend. People in the know told us very firmly that if we rented to one of our friends, we would end up regretting it. One ill-time clogged toilet, a broken window, a damaged appliance, any of those things could happen and would end up derailing our friendship, we were assured by other friends who owned rental properties. We listened, disappointed, but grateful for the advice from our friends who were seasoned landlords.

We talked to our friend, and she agreed, although she seemed saddened. She ended up renting a different house next to a man she refers to as The Sobriety Challenged. We soldiered on trying to find a tenant for our home. There are no shortage of people trying to rent the place, but those very same friends with all the landlord experience forgot to fill us in on another aspect of rental properties.

This is the conversation I had recently when my phone rang for what seemed the one thousandth time:

"Hello, I'm calling about your house for rent. Can you tell me how big it is?"

I proceeded to have a friendly chat about square footage, security deposits, number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

"That sounds great! Could I set up a walk through?" She could, I assured her. "By the way, do you take pets?"

"We do, small dogs and cats are fine."

"Great, that's great. I've got a Jack Russel Terrier." Aw, isn't that nice? "Oh, and do you take felons?"

I responded thusly, "Wwwwhhhhaa....?"

"Felons? People with felony convictions?"

"I hadn't really given that any thought..." And I was on the verge of losing the power of speech when I realized the nice terrier owner was using a plural, not a singular. "I'm sorry, more than one?"

"Yeah, it's kind of a long story..."

Jeez, I'll bet. "You know, we do plan on running background checks."

"Oh. Credit reports, too?" She sounded dismayed. "We haven't had the best luck."

Oh, to put it mildly, it sounded as if that was the case. I exited that conversation as quickly as possible thinking it might have been a joke, certain it had to be a fluke. It wasn't.

Between the two of us my husband and I have fielded a half a dozen requests to rent to people with a variety of criminal records, and not some youthful car boosting sort of stuff, either. One woman probably did permanent damage to my psyche when she asked, half way through inquiring about the house if I would mind if she told me something. Even though I was leery I gave tacit agreement, which I very quickly withdrew when the words "registered offender" left the woman's mouth.

Our rental house is nice, we lived in it for ten years, in a quiet working class neighborhood. It's got the original 1912 woodwork and stained glass, it's hardly in some Skid row area. Now, we have had perfectly normal, nice people call. It hasn't just been a parade of terror, thank goodness.

But here, if you are ever a prospective landlord let me tell you what the people so anxious to make sure I didn't make the grave mistake of renting to my friend, the cellist, didn't bother to tell me:

If you include a number with your rental offering, don't answer the phone when people call. I'm serious. If it is a legitimate inquiry the individual will leave a message with a call back number. This will help you avoid calls that are just too weird to even detail. When people ask for information on the rent, give it to them, but add this key phrase: "No multiple leases, and all tenants will have to pass a credit and background check." Better yet? Include that wording in whatever ad you run. Even if you're paying by the word, it will be worth it.

Sounds cold doesn't it? It probably is, but it will save miles of wear on your sanity.

By the way, my Liberal conscience was suffering slightly at the thought that I would reject people out of hand for mistakes in their past. Doesn't everyone deserve a chance to right their previous wrongs? I do believe that, but here's the thing we very quickly discovered, there's a reason that prospective tenants will bring that up in an initial conversation: they've done something pretty darned scary. Really. Just trust me on this. Chances are good they are bringing that up because it is required by law that the police know where they are. Eek.

I did eventually take to task one of the friends who warned me against renting to wild players of string instruments.

"So, you could have mentioned the entire thing with Felons!"

"Oh no. I thought you'd know! I thought everybody knew that."

Well, I do now.

The other thing is that if you are trying to rent a house, you will also receive a lot of calls from people hoping to score a deal by buying the place at a substantially reduced price. If you don't include the phrasing about background checks in your previous conversations, you'll be highly tempted to take them up on it.


Jo said...

Oh, what a hoot! Well, at least the good thing about renting to a friend is you will have vetted them first... No scary surprises there -- most of the time, anyway. But yes, the quickest way to end a friendship is to become "roommates" with them. A little too close for comfort, perhaps...

Land of shimp said...

The old "familiarity breeds contempt" at play in the roommate situation! We were told, and it does make sense, "Listen, renters do some damage, it comes with the territory but if it's a friend, you'll resent it on a different level."

It does make sense, but after some of those calls? Yeah, I think that may have been enough to cure any potential resentment! My goodness.

Have you ever had one of those moments where a word used in a conversation is so unexpected that even though you know full well the meaning of the word, it has no meaning? The word "felons" was quite a bit like that!

Jo said...

"Felon" would do it for me. :-) Also "registered offender". Did you ever see a movie with Melanie Griffith, Michael Keaton and Matthew Modine, called "Pacific Heights"? If not, you should rent it. Nightmare!

Romantique said...

Wow, thanks for giving me a glimpse of the other side! I've always been a renter as it's just made more economical sense and so far I have been really lucky with Craigslist (though I always do a lot of research and calling). Good luck with the search! Have you ever considered an agent or agency or does this just complicate things too much?

Land of shimp said...

Thanks for the movie recommendation, Jo! I've never seen that, but I will put it in my Netflix queue! I always appreciate a good movie recommendation, although judging from the description, I should wait until we have tenants firmly settled!

Romantique! Good to see you, you busy woman! Yes, you can hire property managers, but that really works best for people who are out of state, and can't manage their properties, or have multiple properties. The cost of a property manager really only becomes sensible when you've got a host of them.

The weird thing is that we're not really doing this for profit. As in, we're not going to make one, at all, there's actually going to be a cost to us each month. You've actually been in the house in question, we're trying to hold on to it because that's the most financially advisable thing in the long run, even if there is a short term cost.

Also, frankly, my son adores that house and until his future has a bit more definition -- he's still very much interested in ending up in Vancouver -- I'm holding onto that house.

Since you were also the person who was with us up in Vancouver, Romantique, I'm sure you can appreciate the appeal :-)

Romantique said...

Yes, I do understand the appeal and am tempted myself! I was in Seattle for business two weeks ago and loved it there too...reminded me a little of Vancouver but still preferred Vancouver.

I found your old house charming and when you had mentioned getting another house, I was a little sad only because I know how much work and love you put into it. But I also understand why you would want a place with a pool and lots of space!

Sorry I haven't called - today's my last day of work before vacation so I'll definitely be giving you a ring very soon. I've been looking forward to this vacation for months!

Land of shimp said...

That's okay, I know you've been crazy busy, and it's been kind of a mad rush around here too. I look forward to hearing from you, but mainly just make sure to take a break! You need one :-)

Hehe, well maybe you didn't like Seattle as much because they've been having a stinking hot summer there! Holy heck, the Pacific Northwest is melting on us! I know what you mean though, Romantique, every now and then you visit a place that is actually special. I think Vancouver is one such place.

What makes it funny is that we both live in (well, near for me now) cities that are much admired.

By the way, if you look up there are some comments from a poster named Jo, and her blog is A Majority of Two -- and she's from Vancouver :-) Her most recent post talked about the Art Gallery there.

(Sorry to talk about you as if you aren't here, or can't see this, Jo. Romantique was with my family when we visited Vancouver last year, and we all fall in love with it)

Land of shimp said...

Fell. Fell in love with it.

Tenses matter. Oops!