Avoiding Landlord Stereotypes

by | BiggerPockets.com

Simon Lagree Had it All Wrong

Without doubt, being a landlord requires a certain mindset. Before actually owning rent houses, I was certain I didn’t want to participate based on our first experience as tenants. Right after the wedding, the mister and I moved into a lovely little duplex on the edge of town. We stayed 2 ½ years, paid on time each month, never caused damage or broke a single rule. And yet there was no doubt that our landlord was the adversary-he made sure we knew from day one.

When sewage from the entire complex started backing up into our bathroom, his reply was typical of what we’d come to expect. He told us it was a ‘city problem’ over which he had no control. When the excrement seeped through the wall, soaking the living room carpet on a regular basis, he said we’d best get the rent in on time regardless. After 3 months of dookie, we finally left in the middle of a one-year lease. Our loving landlord threatened to sue for the six months remaining and refused to return our deposit.

The Landlord Stinx!

Of course not all landlords are rotten, but enough are that certain stereotypes have grown up around the profession. Just as the words ‘Used Car Salesman’ and ‘IRS Agent’ bring vivid images to mind, landlords suffer from the reputation of being heavy handed, greedy, and suspicious. There’s a certain everyone’s-out-to-get-me mentality that smells up the name.

Unfortunately, sometimes everyone *is* out the get them. Tenants with no respect for private property, governments that assume landlords are milking the poor, state legislatures that want to ensure deadbeat tenants have a place to stay (whether they actually pay rent or not)… no wonder some landlords wind up jaded.

If this were the only way to do business, I’d go back to running likker. But over the years, we’ve found another way… a balancing act of authority and business-like professionalism backed by a well-written lease.

Don’t Smile Until Thanksgiving

I’d like to propose another model based on my first grade teacher back at good ol’ Freeman Elementary, Mrs. Locke. She was ancient–probably all of 30. Her flaming red hair and Yard Stick of Doom had a class of 28 little wildcats quaking in their loafers. She stood over the class, hands on hips and proclaimed her authority with The Look.

She repeated the rules… and repeated the rules… and repeated the rules. And we followed the rules because we respected her. She was not our friend. She was not our pal. She was The Teacher. She could do awful things like send us to the Principal. She could put our desk in the hall where everyone that walked by bore witness to our shame. And if all else failed, the worst punishment of all–The Paddle (which, come to think of, she never actually used.)

Back in the days before smiley-stickers, good teachers knew how to control the classroom without drama. To establish respect, the teacher needed to be seen as an authority figure with actual power. Rules were made, rules were written on the blackboard, rules were obeyed.

Or Else.

So in the same spirit, I present:

A First Grade Teacher’s Rules of Landlording:

  • Remember who you are. You own the house. You make the rules. You are The Landlord.
  • You are not your tenant’s friend. Don’t pal around with someone you might have to evict.
  • Maintain a presence without being oppressive. You either have authority or you don’t. Bluster, swagger and heavy-handed bluff will cause tenants to lose respect (and makes you look silly.)
  • The rules are the rules. Repeat the rules, follow the rules, don’t bend the rules-ever. You’ll be sorry.
  • Everything needs to be in writing. You can’t send someone to the office without a note and you can’t evict someone without documentation.
  • This is a business-act professionally at all times including the way you dress. (Mrs. Locke had the best bouffant hairdo in the whole school…we were very proud.)
  • Reward good tenants. You want them to stay, right? Let them know you appreciate the care they give your house.
  • Refine your lease as you go. If you find your kiddies are bringing Hot Wheels to class, institute a no-Hot Wheels rule. If you find your tenants park Hot Wheelz on your grass, put a No Hot Wheelz on the Grass clause in future leases.
  • Adapt and overcome. Learn from your mistakes. Cut your losses and move on–just don’t make them again.
  • Don’t be defined by what you do day-to-day. I ran into Mrs. Locke when I was in nursing school-no missing that red hair. Turns out she had a life outside of first grade. Who knew?
  • Remember: People are just people–if they’re honest and trustworthy, they will remain that way once they’re tenants. If they’re liars and cheats they will lie and try to cheat you too-it’s nothing personal.

Which leads to: Nothing is personal. It’s just business.

Random picture of JoJo on the couch that has absolutely nothing to do with landlording.

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  1. Sounds like you had a “crappy” experience with that first place you rented! Seriously though, you are so right about being a landlord. One thing that I found out about myself was that I was too much of a “nice guy”. I quickly found out that you can’t be that way. Now I use a property manager for all of my rentals and there are strict rules that need to be followed. Much better results!

  2. Steven Boorstein on

    It funny, my first thought of a landlord was that of Mr. Roper, too. Some “seedy” character who carries a plunger attached to his belt. That’s one reason it took me five years from thinking about being a landlord to actually buying a property and doing it.

    Your rules are great and well founded. I tend to be a little softer on tenants than some landlords. Sometime it creates problems and sometimes I think it actually leads to better tenants. (Any rules you institute can’t go against your basic nature… otherwise it won’t be enjoyable and will actually be stressful to you.)

    Thanks for the reality check.
    Steve Boorstein
    Landlord Business Insider

  3. Yeah thats the thing, putting it into practice is the most difficult part. Especially when it comes to people its so hard to maintain the “rules” while still maintaining your humanity. It seems like unforseen circumstances and pity always lead to rule breaking.

  4. why would i want to be friends with my tenants anyway? I have actual friends already. Doesn’t mean i can’t be compassionate. But its a lot like having kids. When it comes down to the bottom line, its better for them and you to be their parent than their friend.

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