I read an article this morning calling for a 90-day or longer “rent strike,” which seems to be a classed-up way of saying even if someone can afford to pay their rent, they’re not going to do it. The assumption of this movement is that property owners across the country should just absorb the cost of housing for people who can’t or won’t pay.
Until a few months ago I was the smallest of small time landlords – having one condo unit that I rented out. Over the years of owning the place I squirreled away enough operating funds that I was able to make repairs and hold two or three months cash reserve to tide over those months between the departure of one tenant and the arrival of the next. In my very best year, I cleared $1495. Most other years I was lucky to break even or be a few hundred dollars in the black when we did the final accounting. There were more than a few years when I had to augment the rental income with cash infusions from my “day job” to make sure all the bills got paid.
That’s all a long way of saying that expecting landlords across the country to carry the freight of a rent strike indefinitely is absurd. Even assuming the property owner has a “day job” what they’re suggesting would have driven me into the loving embrace of the bankruptcy court at about the ninety day mark.
The big bad landlord these people want to screw over isn’t only the 10,000-unit holding company or Bank of America, it’s also the retiree who lives down the street or the working man across town who took a step on the property ladder by buying a trashed property and fixing it up. I’m well aware that blood from a stone isn’t a possibility, but the fact that social media is running amok with people who want to portray withholding all rent, especially by those who have the means to keep their obligations, as a heroic act of rebellion is just infuriating.
There’s an unfortunate assumption that if you have rental property you must, by some unwritten rule, be rolling in cash. It’s been my experience that there are really only two ways to strike it rich through rental property; either you have 100 of them to smooth out the cash flow from month to month or you operate more as a slum lord than a landlord. Those two possibilities, of course, are not mutually exclusive as it is entirely possible to do both at once.
Where you’re never going to strike it rich is in owning just one. The good years are the ones where you break even after expenses. The great years are the ones where you get enough of a tax deduction to maybe show a tiny slice of profit. For the most part, what comes in goes right back out in maintenance expenses, management fees, taxes, mortgage, insurance, and home owner’s association dues.
Owing a rental is like owning a bulldog in a way – both are things I wouldn’t recommend anyone try for themselves. Avoiding them both will save you a whole lot of heartache… and I’m not just saying that because my property manager called tonight to tell me the heating system is shot and needs to be replaced the same week I’m planning on financing knee surgery for a dog and two weeks after paying off a contractor to make sure a river doesn’t flow through the garage and cause my basement to become an indoor swimming pool.
Enough all ready. Fate, chance, or whatever gods control such things are really starting to get on my last nerve. Sigh. I’m never going to get my new bathroom at this rate. Sadly, I’m not a slum lord. Heat is important. And winter is coming.
With the potential future sale of Casa de Jeff de Cordova, one of the myriad of pain in the ass things to do is transfer the light, gas, and water service back into my name. That should be easy enough to settle with a phone call to the intrepid people at Memphis, Light Gas, and Water except of course that nothing that needs doing is ever actually easy.
It seems that the bill from the last month I lived in Memphis was never actually paid and has been sitting in their delinquent account file for the last 3+ years just waiting on the moment I would call to make it right. We’ll forget for a moment that I never actually received a bill for this amount and that as far as I can tell, no effort was made to send it to my forwarding address. I’ll take the burden of responsibility for that. Fine.
Now, these many years later, here I am attempting to make good on my public debt. In speaking to the customer service agent, I’m told that the only way to pay a bill in the delinquent file is to present myself at the offices of Memphis, Light Gas, and Water to genuflect and hand unto them cash, a money order, or a cashiers check for the princely sum of $110.87. No payment by phone. No payment online. Only hand delivery at the office will do with no possibility of exception for those who may now live 850 miles away from that charmed city on the banks of Old Muddy.
I’m trying to get myself right with these guys. All I want to do is give them money. You’d think they might make it easier on a guy than forcing him into a convoluted process that involves overnighting a cashiers check to a realtor he’s never met in person and hoping that she’s able to do the leg work on his behalf. The alternative is a one day round trip flight to Memphis wherein I will spend $1000 in order to pay a $100 debt.
Even sitting here in the comfort of my own rental kitchen, I can’t manage to avoid the utter asshattery of what is clearly demonstrating itself to be one of the world’s foremost bureaucratic organizations. And God knows as a cog in Uncle’s great machine I’m in a position to recognize both asshattery and bureaucracy when I see it.
1. Landlording. It’s one of those things that seems like a much better idea before you actually do it. There are those occasional times when everything is good – the rent is paid on time, nothing breaks, and for at least one month you can show a positive cash flow. Then there are all the other times – when you’re replacing a stove, having the whole place painted, fixing problems that people cause because they don’t give a damn since it’s not really “theirs.” Worse, you’ll catch those months when you’re between tenants and every nickel being spend is being taken out of hide. You’re doing all that in the hopes of making it livable as quickly as possible so the cycle can start over and there can be more repairs, more late rent, and more trouble all over again. Let the record show that I’m throughly looking forward to the day I can get out of the landlording business almost as much as I’m looking forward to the day I can get out of the being a tenant business.
2. Permission to speak freely. Jeffreytharp.com has been, is now, and will always be a place that reveres the basic principles of freedom of speech. Since turning the switch on this site, I’ve never had to drop the ban hammer on anyone. I hope that I’m never given cause to do so. With that being said, I’m starting to hear the barest rumble of a rumor that has the potential to curtail what I am at liberty to post and discuss here with you. Whatever comes, you have my personal promise that I will continue to use this site to advocate those issues about which I feel strongly, to discuss the day to day stupidity of life, and yes, even to provide commentary on those things that others wish would just be left alone. I don’t come here looking for a fight, but if one finds me here I suppose I’ll have no choice but to close with, engage, and decisively defeat the threat. Easier said than done, I’d imagine, but still worth doing.
3. Always needing a third thing. It’s not OCD, but having a third annoyance for the week always feels like it round out the post. Sometimes, though, I don’t have a third thing so much as I have a dozen small things that individually wouldn’t rate a mention. That doesn’t make for great reading and it makes for even worse writing, so I’m making an executive decision to skip the third thing tonight. So there.
This rental house on the Elk Neck peninsula was supposed to be an expedient. It was available immediately and met my criteria of having a fence and room for the dogs. With a kitchen and bathroom that I can only generously describe as “dated” and with what I still think of as an oddball three-level layout, it was really the only option I looked at because it had the supreme virtue of being available. That’s a bit of a concern when you’ve driven halfway across the continent and every stick of your belongings are following along less than 24 hours behind you.
I never intended this place to be a long term commitment. The plan was to do a year and be out to something bigger, better, and more importantly, something my own. Of course the housing market continued to tank, the notion of taking on a 3rd mortgage got even more farfetched, and inertia set in. Let’s just say I couldn’t (and still can’t) muster much interest in packing everything up and just moving from Rental A to Rental B. If I’m going to jam everything back into boxes, it’s going to be to go somewhere with a little more permanence… and between pay freezes and impending furloughs that’s not happening in the immediate future.
Once I managed to get the asshat property manager out of the way and started dealing directly with the owners, at least the “retail” side of being a renter again got easier. That counts for more than you’d think… which is why I just renewed the lease out through June 2014. It’s not optimal and certainly not where I expected I’d be three years on. I’ve come to think of it as the blood sacrifice I’ve had to pay for getting my feet back on the good earth of my native state. At least that’s the story I tell myself to keep it from being too aggravating.
1. Last minute discoveries. In an abundance of caution, I reviewed the major book retailers one more time last night and found, to my horror, that there is, in fact, a paperback on the market using my working title almost word for word. It’s not available as an ebook and I guess that’s why I missed it when I was doing my initial research, but there it is sitting on Amazon, priced at $64 and ranked at #3,184,365 in books. To say this sent me into a mild fit is possibly an understatement. So yeah, it’s back to the drawing board for a title.
2. Rent. I’m not a fan of renting. I’m less of a fan when the rent goes up. Sure, I know it’s been the same for two years, but with the real likelihood of needing to slash 20% out of my expenses for the next six months, even a minor increase is going to have an outsized impact. Like businesses everywhere, it means I’ve got to come up with a way to pass that cost on to my customers, because I’m certainly not going to take the hit from my own bottom line. I’m going to pass that rent increase right along to my own renters when their leases expire and thus the circle of pain continues for everyone.
3. Memory. I don’t know if it’s because I’m trying to keep up with a couple dozen things at once or if it’s early onset Alzheimer’s, but I don’t seem to be able to remember a damned thing lately. Writing it down helps, but only when I remember to write it all down in the same place rather than leaving a trail of random Post It notes in my wake. Either my brain needs to get itself in gear and start carrying the load or I need to come up with a better written system to keep it all straight, because right now I’m missing stuff and that makes me crazy.
Last week, one of my mortgage payments went down. Thinking I would do the prudent thing and reallocate the surplus to paying down the another that’s at a higher rate, I logged into the online banking center and changed my autopay settings on both accounts. At least that’s what I thought I did. In reality, I set a brand-spanking-new automatic payment for each of the two mortgages in question. That wouldn’t be so bad, of course, if you caught your mistake right away. It turns into a bit more of an issue when you miss the mistake for a few days and the bank deducts twice the normal payment from your account and leaves you with a balance of $4.37.
Since almost every bill I have is set up to automatically pay every month, I rarely look at the actual accounts any more. Which helps explain the near-epileptic fit I launched into when the bank sent me a friendly “low balance” email this morning. I’m glad to say that the bank was more than accommodating at getting the situation resolved, but that didn’t really help me feel like any less of a tool. Although I’m still glad I found out today and now three days from now when I stop by to pay the rent. Since I spend most says ranting about it, I thought it was only fair to call out my own bout of criminal stupidity. And now you know the rest of the story.
The transition from homeowner to tenent hasn’t been what I would call smooth. As a homeowner, I probably established what most would consider slightly exagerated expectations for service and reliability. When things broke, they went to the top of my list of things to fix, I either went to Lowe’s for the appropriate equipment and supplies or called in the trades to get the job done. As a tenant, obviously the process is a little different. I call the property manager and leave a voicemail. I wait a day. Then I call again and follow up with an email. Then I wait a day. Then I call again and usually manage to talk to him on this third attempt where he says “oh yeah, I’m working on that. I’ll be over tomorrow.” And then we wait some more.
As it stands as of this morning, I’m waiting on six different things to happen: 1) The former tenant’s junked Ford Expedition is still sitting in the driveway. That was supposed to be moved out sometime around June 6th; 2) The 19 inch television sitting on the deck that the property manager says he wants to take to his hunting camp. It’s been rained on three times in the last two weeks. Yeah, that will probably still be sitting there a month from now; 3) The wire dog run was supposed to go at the same time he picked up the Expedition; 4) The garbage disposal went out early this week. He still hasn’t acknowledged the messages I’ve sent about that; and 5) The $100 washing machine that he said had been rebuilt will do everything a washing machine is supposed to do… except drain the water once the tub is filled. I left a voicemail about that yesterday, but when I drove by the manager’s place on my way to the laundromat yesterday afternoon his truck and boat were gone, so there’s not much chance he was paying attention to that; 6) The moldy wall has been nicely cut and hauled away – but that leaves the small matter of having a large part of the basement I can’t do anything with until, you know, it has actual walls again.
The actual owner lives in Germany now, so once I dig up his address Monday morning I’ll get a message off to him. I’ve tried being the good neighbor, but since that doesn’t seem to get results worth a tinker’s damn, I’ll have to start being the sonofabitch neighbor who beats on the letter of the lease. This should be fun.
The house hunt was over before it began. A few weeks ago I spotted a place online (thanks Craigslist) and through the good graces of family in the area, was able to have it checked out in advance. It’s not palatial and is hard to compare to my own house that time and money were poured into, but it’s four walls, a roof, and enough fencing to keep the dogs contained. It’s in a subdivision sufficiently rural that i can see why they call it Ceciltucky. That, at least, was exactly what I was looking for after five years inside the Memphis city limits. In most respects the term “serviceable” comes to mind.
I’m not in love with the place, but it’ll make a good jumping off point for my reentry period. I’ll pick up the keys Sunday and hope that a truckload of stuff will follow shortly behind me. It will be nice to start seeing what the new normal looks like.
Some time around 10:00 PM CDT yesterday, the total number of views for 2011 climbed past 2479. There’s nothing particularly special about that number other than the fact that it is also the total number of views Get Off My Lawn had in all of 2010. With the fifth month of 2011 barely halfway through, I’m very pleased with what has the potential to be a doubling of views year-over-year. Of course that largely depends on my continuing to write and your continuing to have at least a passing interest in whatever happens to be on my mind when I sit down at the keyboard. I know that little “about” tab at the top of the page says “I’m not writing for an audience,” but if we can level with one another, no one puts something on the internet without at least hoping for an audience. If the metrics are any sign, it seems that I’ve found my niche. Fortunately, snark is a strong suit for me.
In fairness, this is more a post in tribute to you readers who check in every night or a few times a week who keep those numbers up. Now that we have the worst of this job search fiasco behind us, I hope you’ll be entertained with the growing saga of how to find a house to rent when you have two larget but harmless dogs, the pain and agony of dragging a couple of thousand pounds of personal effects halfway across the country, and starting yet another job for which I have no actual education. It should also be interesting to lean if I still remember how to live on the east coast, fight may way along I-95 twice a day, and kick the pace of life up a couple of dozen notches. Trying to figure out how to pick up life where I left off five years ago should prove hours of entertainment for all of us.
With the move date closing in, I won’t promise to keep up the every night posting schedule, but what does make it to the screen will have a story worth telling.