As a Landlord, Your Job is to Do the Right Thing. Here’s Why.

As a Landlord, Your Job is to Do the Right Thing. Here’s Why.

4 min read
Jay Strickler Read More

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All of the stories below are about people in my hometown.  They are real, but the names are not.

There is a certain stewardship that comes with being a landlord. It’s an understood or implied role when you invest in houses or apartments. And it’s not optional. Part of the job is doing the right thing.

As landlords, we should not take the position lightly. We should not abuse the position by digging every last penny out of a person. Do not kick someone when they are down, but help them up – maybe just help them maintain. Do right by the neediest of people and be service-minded when it comes to their welfare. We can certainly afford to help.

Calamity

With 20 years of landlording and over 160 units, I have had tenants from all walks of life. With few exceptions, at some point or another all tenants need help, need consideration, or need empathy.

Jocelyn was a Section 8 tenant of mine that lived for about four years in a 3/1 that I own. She was always on time with her part of the rent. Always on time that is, until the police kicked down the door one night and arrested her and her boyfriend for selling drugs.

Easy answer, right? No sympathy. Pack up your bags and get out. You are of no benefit to me. Time to move on.

Related: Are You a ‘Slumlord’?

It’s not that easy for me. I couldn’t just put the property manager between Jocelyn and me to keep her problems at arm’s length. See, Jocelyn had 4 kids, all under about 9 years old.  Two of them had sickle-cell anemia and were in the hospital on and off the whole time she lived in the house.

So Jocelyn got my sympathy. She did not appear to be a drug user to me, although certainly suffered from depression. Her boyfriend took advantage of and bullied her. He lived in the house at the time and was the cause of the drug dealing issues. Jocelyn was somewhat (though not completely) an innocent bystander.

I made sure that she and the kids had a place to live for a rough 3-4 months by not kicking them out and taking whatever she could pay. I gave her money occasionally to order all of them pizza.  Eventually she returned to making her part of rent on time. Yes, I lost a couple of bucks out of the deal, but the kids kept their normal routine while their mom worked things out. It was the right thing to do.

give-back

Ms. Patrick lost a daughter who was about 10. Don’t even know the reason, but she called the PM terribly upset and just did not know what to do. She had no money for a funeral. 

Should I have filed for eviction and charged late fees? No, her rent was forgiven for a month and no fees were assessed to help out. It was the right thing to do.

Mr. Joe was in the local newspaper about a year ago.He was being featured as someone in the community who gives back by feeding hot dogs and other easy-to-make meals for hungry, mostly older folks in his neighborhood and church.

Now I make a point of seeing Mr. Joe occasionally and giving him a few bucks to help out. It’s the right thing to do. By the way, Mr. Joe is about 85 years young.

James and Martha rented a house on Eaves Road in a rural area. The volunteer fire department was not able to respond in time to same anything meaningful. They lost everything because they had not listened to our advice to put renter’s insurance in place. 

Should we have said “Sorry, not sorry?” Or ignore them? We did not ignore them. We did not say “I told you so.” We put them up in a hotel for a couple of night and then moved them into a unit that was available along with some donated furniture at no charge for as long as they needed it. I think they moved into a new home after a month or so.

These are just a few stories where I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. When you spend twenty years in the rental business and have over 160 units, bad things will happen to people. Life will happen to people. So much of what happens to folks can be the consequence of bad choices. But even though that is true, it is no excuse not to render aid and be compassionate when people genuinely need help. That is your cue to step up.

Care-taking

There in another way in which we are obligated to be service-minded as landlords. We provide a product to paying customers. That product includes a roof that doesn’t leak, an air conditioner that cools when it’s 100F outside, and a toilet that flushes. Though they are just houses to us, they are homes to our tenants – a most basic of human needs.

This may seem obvious but. . .

In my hometown there is a landlord we will call Slumlord Larry. Everybody knows him. Every banker. Every insurance agent. And certainly the city codes enforcement staff.  Almost every renter has probably run across him at one point or another.  He drives a trashy old pickup with a trailer (not hating on frugality here). Both are filled with garbage, leftover building materials and I suspect dead animals. He is a complete embarrassment to anyone that owns a rental property.

My daughter’s friend used to live in one of Slumlord Larry’s properties. It was an older mobile home on about an acre. Mom and Dad didn’t make much money, but the family was tight knit and they made it work somehow.

Related: Can Investors & Landlords Own Real Estate Anonymously (Or is Privacy Dead)?

There was a hole in the main bathroom’s floor that the family had to keep covered with a piece of wood because Slumlord Larry would not fix it. Every time it rained, the roof leaked into the house. The first few times they called Slumlord Larry and ask him to fix the ever-worsening leak. He promised to get by there, but never did. After apparently getting tired of getting calls to fix the water problem, he finally told them that if they wanted it fixed they would have to do it themselves. That was just wrong (and foolish) on so many levels, but it came down to Slumlord Larry not wanting to drop a dime on the trailer.

Don’t be a Slumlord Larry.

Even when money is tight, get the job done. We owe it to our tenants, not simply from a business and contractual standpoint, but from a moral and humanistic standpoint, to take care of the shelter we provide.

It’s the right thing to do.

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