When your landlord lives upstairs
It can be a renter's dream (personal attention, prompt repairs) or a nightmare (too much and too personal attention). Here's what to know before moving into that basement apartment.
It's the third day of the month and you realize you forgot to write your landlord a rent check.
Lucky for both of you, your landlord lives right upstairs. Paying rent is a breeze. If you ever get locked out, help is just a few feet away.
These conveniences are part of the reason Wendy Oakeson has enjoyed living in the same building as her landlord. She's done it three times now.
"Overall, it was a great experience," she says. "It's super convenient. If you have a maintenance problem, you just knock on their door."
But living in such close quarters with your landlord comes with its fair share of challenges. What happens when the landlord takes your parking spot, for example? Here's a look at the good and the bad of paying rent to the guy upstairs (or next door). (Bing: How to deal with a problem landlord)
Good deals and (potentially) good friends
One definite perk of renting a mother-in-law or basement apartment in a landlord-occupied building: "I've always been able to get better rent that way," says Oakeson, an office manager who lives in Logan, Utah.
"In many cases, with current homeowners being faced with income loss, foreclosure or short-sale-potential properties, they are instead opting to share their space, often sacrificing for themselves the main living area for the tenant, to avoid being completely displaced from their homes," says Ariana Loucas, a real-estate agent in Maryland.
Article continues below
Oakeson also says a landlord living that close to you tends to be more observant of your needs. In her most recent situation, she had a maintenance issue that was fixed within a couple of hours.
"He knew he needed to take care of us because we lived below him," she says. "A landlord doesn't want someone who's upset living that close."
- On our blog, 'Listed': Renters spending a bigger chunk of income on housing
New York City landlord Al Thompson rents out the other half of the duplex he owns and lives in, and says it's definitely convenient to be close when there's an emergency, such as a locked-out tenant.
"You don't have to send people over to fix things," he says. "In that case, the closer to the property you are, the better."
- MSN Money: Is it better to rent or to buy?
One of the biggest perks for Oakeson, though, is relationship-building. She continues to socialize with all three former landlords she shared space with.
"I've made lifelong friends," she says. "We're invited to their family events and we do stuff together all the time. We basically lived in their house."
It's the "becoming friends" part that could muddy the business relationship between a landlord and tenant, say lawyers Dave Crow and Janet Portman. Crow lives in a duplex next to his landlord, but says he always advises tenants against such an arrangement.
In Crow's case, the duplex he lives in was too good to pass up. Plus, he and his landlord have a cordial business relationship.
"The benefits come from the fact that he is a person who understands that it is more of a business relationship," Crow says.
But not all tenants and landlords living under the same roof can easily draw that line.
Whom do you complain to?
If your upstairs apartment neighbor doesn't do his share of the upkeep on the premises or blares the stereo at all hours of the night, you would typically complain to the landlord. He acts as the intermediary between disputing tenants. When that upstairs neighbor is the landlord, it's a bit more complicated.
Oakeson's worst experience living near her landlord came when her son, now 4, was a newborn. The landlord was newly married, owned the home and lived upstairs. Every night, Oakeson and her son were kept awake by constant "newlywed noise."
"How do you call him up and say, 'This is really loud and you need to stop'?" she says. "It was super uncomfortable. We left that place because it was so uncomfortable."
When your neighbor is the one in charge of your living situation, you lose your intermediate leverage. You're "giving up the hammer," says attorney Portman, who wrote "Every Tenant's Legal Guide."
And while maintenance and repair issues are usually made easier when the landlord is right there, there can be an added level of animosity if things aren't always resolved in a timely manner.
Oakeson recounts a time there was a drain issue in her laundry room. She talked to the landlord and he did the things he could do himself, but it didn't fix the problem.
"I got a little resentful," she says. "There was this leaking drain that wasn't a big deal to him, but it was to us."
The troll in the basement
On the other end of the spectrum is the landlord who is "too hands-on," Portman says. "He can become an obnoxious, intrusive landlord."
Crow says living so close gives a landlord "too much opportunity to snoop, visit without cause and blur the lines of what ought to be a business relationship."
In a tenants-rights blog he maintains on his law firm's website, Crow talks about one variety of overly nosy landlords: the troll in the basement. As Crow puts it, a troll is someone "whose quest for the American dream to own his own property stretched him so thin he had to move into the garage."
He describes such trolls as nosy, but not mindful of your needs. This may be an extreme example, but intrusive landlords are not uncommon.
"The problem when the landlord lives upstairs or downstairs is it's so easy for them to come and knock on your door, and the law says they can't," Crow says.
Depending on your state, a landlord is required to tell you when he's going to be coming on the premises, and to give a certain amount of notice. It's easy for a landlord to ignore those rules when he can just walk downstairs and knock.
And knowing that the landlord might stop by any time changes the way a tenant views her own home.
"We inherently kept our portion of the home spotless because of the thought that they could come to our door at any second and come inside," Oakeson says. "We don't want them to be upset and think we're trashing the place."
Back in 2003, I rented a room from a retired lady. Just a room, 11 1/2' x 11 1/2', with a closet, a dresser, and a bed. Cheaper than *any* apartment in town (and a lot nicer), and splitting the bills. Nice neighborhood, big deck and fenced-in back yard. Shade trees, and half the driveway so I could park off the street. Before I moved in, she asked how long I'd be staying; I said 6 months to a year, maybe.
I'm still there, and probably will be until one of us dies.
Yet another MSN's perpetuation of the "all landlords are evil" theme.
Most of the horrid situations, in reality, would be happily accepted on a contingency basis (tenant pays nothing) and won in short order...
Keep it up and there will be no small landlords, just big Landlords that follow all the rules, and charge the MAX.
Disgusting "evil landlord" meme! (and article).
Income restricted building: NEW RULES..no time on when to Paint Aprt. or replace carpet( 5-10-15years). invation of privacy (landlord ask for medical record, prescription , income, assets etc. no regular maintencane ( maintence men busy with move-in move-out) or parts on order all the time(no Parts in stock).renters "need flood insurance in highrise cement building>(.8 inch of concret between floors?)a A yearly RENTINCREASE (MSHDA + HUD= =blessing) when the market is way down?Since the time of "converterbox TV Antenna delivers only 5 channel and no Lobby picture for tenat to "see' WHo to buss in!
FresH AIR intake only 'work" once in a while. mold and mildew obove sealing tile..hall aircondioner" running " niosy .. but not cooling or clean No filter replaced ..
disable person not in disable suitable aprt. (kitchen cupboard to High etc)etc ...Inspection by HUD , MSHDA, City and county, firedepartment (helathdepartment at least once a year)..so how come this place NEED SERVICE A S AP>NOW..
Perfect Troll Story:
We used to have a neighbor down the street with a beautiful home that they rented from an elderly man just up the cul-de-sac from the main street. When they put out almost all of their belongings in a huge weekend-long garage sale, we asked what was going on. Turns out their landlord was an invading control freak! He kept a key to the house and would repaint their walls, reorganize their garage, put his things in his garage, throw out their things, and park his car in their driveway without giving them warning. She confessed that he even showed up after they had gone to sleep and they woke up to him staring at them at their bedside. We all know that what he did was illegal but what are you to do? Calling the cops on your landlord would surely sour relations with, what seemed like, a sweet old man. She was so terrified that, after their second child was born, they were getting the heck out of dodge (merely a year after the rent agreement was signed). Since they moved out he hasn't been able to get one tenant to move in and now the place simply looks abandoned on a street bustling with children and families.
Makes me glad that our landlord lives 30 miles away and is neglectful instead!
I rented a dormered attic apt. above a shut-in woman who was so big she couldn't do anything. When I would come home for lunch, inevitably my phone would ring. "Betty" would need something from the store, and could I get it on the way home. When I gave her said item, she would not give me the payment, but tell me to take it off the rent. I have money for rent, I need my money for me, like NOW. It was horrible. If I didn't answer, she would open her door to the stairwell and start screaming my name at the bottom of the stairs. When I decided to move out, (she was now calling me at work to bring her stuff home) I asked her when I would get my security check, and she stated "when the apt. gets rented again" beeeep. wrong answer. I got my boyfriend to come over with a crew one morning after I had got another place and we had me moved out of there in 1 hour. She had to use my security as my last months rent since I kept putting off paying her.