November rental advice: Why it pays to have a great landlord
Readers share tales of landlords who care, and we dispense some advice on how to find one of the good ones.
The hallmarks of great customer service are the same wherever you go: quick response time, easy payment plans, even the occasional gift just to say, "Thank you for spending your money here."
So why wouldn't landlords treat their tenants, those folks who pay them many thousands of dollars a year, to the same schmoozefest? Turns out, plenty of landlords do. And they say it pays off.
In last month's rental-advice column, we offered renters tips on how to screen their prospective landlords, a step that's arguably far more important than checking for bathroom leaks and parking spots.
We follow that up this month by showing how such diligence can pay off, with readers' stories about great landlords. Consider it inspiration for anyone who's dreading the next apartment search. We also asked landlords for their input: What is a tenant's best move in landing some great management?
Kindness through bad times
A few years into her tenancy at a Los Angeles fourplex, Carlita Ellis lost her job. Relying on unemployment insurance and temporary work, she scraped by. At least she didn't have the added stress of late fees or eviction fears.
Her landlord, Eddie Hernandez, worked with her on a biweekly payment plan, and he never considered charging her fees. It may seem like a small thing, but Hernandez's tenant has never forgotten his compassion during those tough times.
"He gives people second chances," Ellis says. "He understands the economy, and how everyone's trying to make it. I know he's helped some of the other tenants."
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To be clear, the great landlords we spoke with aren't cash-rich, and they certainly aren't giving away rent, although Hernandez says he has provided financial assistance at times and feels fortunate that he's able to do so.
But what Hernandez and others do share is a desire to work with -- not against -- their tenants, even though they've had their share of irresponsible renters. They tell tenants to call the moment there's a problem, whether it's in the unit, on the grounds, with a neighbor or with the rent.
Recently, one of Hernandez's tenants called him to say she had seen a neighbor put food out, apparently for wild animals. "I was able to jump right on that before it became a bigger problem," he says.
Another tenant alerted him that the timing on Hernandez's sprinkler system might be wasting water.
"If I was a jerk of a landlord, they wouldn't care less. They'd say, 'It's not my property, I don't care,'" Hernandez says. "But if you treat them well, they're going to be looking out for your property. And it's going to benefit them, as well."
Hernandez, who also has a full-time job, rarely has a unit come open. His tenants stay for years. When one does have to move, the apartment is filled within days. He charges high market rent, but puts money into exceptional building upkeep. One tenant addresses her emails "to the best landlord ever."
"If you're going to go to a store and you like the customer service, you're going to continue to be loyal to the company," he says. "I kind of use the same philosophy with my tenants. I want them to feel like they're getting great customer service from me."
Good landlords offer great service and respect, no matter what
Tom Steeves, a landlord with 80 units in the Boston area who has been in the business for 33 years, says he loses $30,000 to $40,000 a year due to unpaid rent and frivolous lawsuits — the equivalent of half a month's rent on all his properties.
By the 15th of each month, half of his tenants have still not paid the rent. He says he makes only a paper-thin profit at year's end, although he reinvests in properties and is building substantial equity, and he works a separate, full-time job.
"It's very hard to be a good landlord. It's a very tough business," Steeves says.
Nonetheless, he says he'd be making less profit if he didn't tend to the property, answer his phone and respond quickly and respectfully to all reported problems.
"I never accuse the tenant of anything," he says. "Someone calls with a leak, I immediately call the (assistant), she sends a plumber out."
He charges below-market rent for some of his longtime, elderly renters, and he says he will always work out a payment plan with those who are struggling.
"The more you give, the more you get back," he says. "If you try to be fair to people, even when they're unfair to you, you'll get back. I say, 'Just call me. I'll work it out with you if you call me.'"
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A helping hand
Jonette Ulmer, a single mother in California, worked out a payment plan with her former landlord but still often came up a little short. Because the landlord was so kind to her, she moved out on her own, "because you can't keep taking advantage of someone's good nature."
Although the former landlord has never asked her for the amount owed, she is working to pay it all back. "I can't even stress enough how thankful I am that he was so generous with me," she says.
The landlord not only kept up the property, he kept out any disruptive tenants and was always quick to respond to complaints. The remaining tenants kept meticulous care of the units, Ulmer says.
Reward for good tenants: Cheaper rent
In Oakland, Calif., Michael Kaiser-Nyman had a landlord who lost six weeks of rental income as he waited to get excellent tenants. When those tenants were still great tenants after one year, he would lower the rent. That's right, lower the rent.
The landlord lived nearby, cared for the common areas himself and fixed any problems immediately. He brought his tenants food from his garden, and gave Kaiser-Nyman and his roommates a ham at Christmas. He would occasionally drop off a note, saying they were great tenants. Needless to say, the good service was returned with meticulous care of his unit, Kaiser-Nyman says.
"I think he's able to get good tenants because he treats them so well," he says.
Landlords to tenants: Check this
So, great landlords, what would you tell tenants about ensuring that their next landlord is one of the good ones?
- Check the landlord's financials. "That'll tell you right off the bat if it's a good landlord," Steeves says. "That'll tell you whether they step up to the plate and have good character."
You won't have the landlord's Social Security number for a quick credit check, but you will have a name, an address and public property and court records. Visit those government offices. Clerks can help you find public information on lawsuits related to payment problems. CheckYourLandlord.com, a private company, can check records for a fee.
- Snoop around. Look for signs that property is well-maintained. Then, "talk to the people who live there," Hernandez says. "That's probably one of the best ways to get the landlord's status."
Can an owner be anonymous?
Last month, an MSN Real Estate reader asked what a tenant should do if a property-management firm won't disclose the owner's name.
We thought this an interesting, if not odd, situation, so we called the National Association of Residential Property Managers. T.J. Guyer, vice president for the Northwest region, said it's common for professional property-management firms to withhold both owners' and tenants' names, for privacy and security reasons. For all intents and purposes, he says, "we are the landlord."
That said, his own company might not even know if a landlord was facing foreclosure.
A prospective tenant, will, however, have the property address. Who owns that property is a matter of public record, obtainable either online or in person at the county courthouse. Do the legwork there.
Questions? Comments? Do you have a question about renting or a suggestion for a future topic in this column? Submit either in the comments section below or on Facebook, or email email@example.com. Brief questions have the best chance of being selected.
Four years ago this past July, my husband and I put down $10,000 on a 2-year lease-purchase on a very nice house. The agreement called for a portion of the monthly rent to be applied to the future down payment, along with the $10K. At the end of the 2 years, we could not qualify for the loan because my husband had been laid off and we didn't have the income. However, we continued to pay the rent and stay in the house on a month-to-month tenancy.
A couple of months later, we accidently discovered the landlord's mortgage on the house was being foreclosed because he had not made a payment on it for 18 months! When we told him we knew about the foreclosure, he tried various ways to get us out of the house but none of them was legal, so we stayed. After the house was sold at the foreclosure auction, we were contacted by a local realtor who had been assigned to the house by FNMA. We were allowed to stay in the house while we negotiated a lease with FNMA.
Throughout the process, we were advised by an attorney familiar with both Colorado law and federal housing law. We were able to afford this help because we have a Legal Shield monthly subscription which allows us unlimited conversations with a qualified, competent attorney at no additional cost. If you don't have a subscription like this, I suggest you get one. We pay $35.95 per month. Well worth the small cost to have the comfort of being able to get good legal advice anytime we have a question. See GreatLegalPlan.com/sw for more info.
You're complaining about having to pay property taxes? Pleaaaase! You're doing that when you pay your rent. You don't think the landlord hasn't added that to your monthly rent? Plus property taxes are tax deductible and you can just use your April tax refund to pay for that!
Let's do the math: In 15/30 years, my house is mine's. In 30 years, you renters will own Jack!
Twice in my lifetime I purchased homes, once in Scottsdale, AZ and once in Kingwood, TX. I had to foreclose on my first home because I lost my job one month aftter purchasing it, and my inexperience in the real estate dealings didn't allow me to find ways out of the problem.
My second home was purchased by my employer, who wanted me to move to Texas, saying that he would give me 3 years to put it on my name, while I would make mortgage payments to my firm. Well, after one year they said that I had one month to swich the property to my name and, after doing so in a rush, with very bad financial terms for me, my company told me that they were changing the type of business they were in and that I would not fit in the new model. After trying desperately for 1.5 years, I finally lost the house and my family and I were homeless for one year.
I am determined to buy another property, eventually, but until then I rent, and in all places I have rented I have received compliments and thanks from my landlords, for returning their property in better shape than I received it.
As renters we must understand that the owners of the properties are placing trust in us when the deliver their property.
Of course, if one rents from a slumlord, one can only expect slumlord quality and behavior.
1. Won't give you the addresses of some of the other properties so you can check in with those tenants. Ask how maintenance issues are handled like bug spraying. Ask about response to repair requests. Ask how snow cleanup is handled.
2. A walk around the grounds finds a lot of cosmetic problems with the property. Behind the broken/split siding is mold. Some with shingles missing off the roof...
3. An apartment viewing with a lot of broken stuff in the 'show ready' place.
4. A walk around the grounds and a peak into some windows with a ton of junk on the balconies shows hoarders living there. These people bring in the rodents and bugs.
5. Rock bottom rent in a nice area.
6. A drive around the parking lot shows only older model cars.
7. A visit to the place late on a Friday or Saturday night has parties going on into the wee hours.
8. A visit early in the day has a large group of men hanging around bothering people. These guys are usually drunk.
9. Is there fecal matter on the sidewalk? Are there dogs left out on patios or balconies?