As a landlord, it’s best to dumb yourself down

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They say assumptions are the mother of all stuff ups and as a landlord you shouldn’t take for granted that your expectations need to be clearly communicated. Take the tenant who figured her Great Dane would be suitable for an inner city flat that had strict size and weight restrictions on pets.

If you’re not familiar with Great Danes, picture a canine version of a larger, dumber and slower pony. What they lack in grace they make up for in slobber production and a largess unsurpassed by any other hound.

I personally love this breed of dog, but think they’re woefully inappropriate to be housed in a shoebox apartment without access to grass, sunlight and fresh air. To me, it’s like imprisoning an incredibly tall person in a toilet cubicle for 23 hours a day. It’s just not fair.

So when I read a column about the ‘complexities’ involved in a case were a tenant signed a lease with permission to have a dog at the premises, I almost choked on my Pop Tart. The piece dealt with the critical issue of ‘how big is too big?’ to which the common sense answer surely must be ‘GREAT DANE’.

I mean… duh! Right? But I’m not surprised. My experiences with tenants to date have left me so unashamedly cynical. In fact, I’ve just turfed two particularly slack renters and spent the past few weeks cleaning up their reign of destruction, so my inability to trust in fellow humans has only diminished.

But I digress.

I’m not alone, it seems. A few years back, a uni friend decided to rent out a room in her house to make her mortgage repayments a bit cheaper. She put an advertisement on the internet, describing herself and her property. There were plenty of photos and the honest admission that the room was “a bit on the small side”.

A few people came through, whom she cutely described as ‘intense corporate girl’, ‘foreign student’ and ‘motivational speaker’. She went with the student – a shy but polite fellow studying accounting. They spoke about respecting each other’s space, keeping noise down and chipping in for bills.

He moved in a week later, arriving with his furniture just as she was ducking out to work. They exchanged pleasantries, she met his two friends and off she went about her day. When she got home that night, her new housemate’s pals were still there hanging out. Probably helping him unpack, she thought. How nice!

A week later, they were still there. A bit miffed, she knocked on the guy’s door one afternoon to chat about it. When he opened it, she spotted not one but three beds in there. It seems her new boarder had assumed he was renting the room only and therefore free to do what he pleased with it.

He was gone the next day with two co-occupants in tow.

I did something similar last year, against all better judgment. I had a spare room going that was of no use to me and figured a few extra bucks would come in handy. And they did. Problem was, the guy who took up the quarters needed gentle reminding about everything from vacuuming his carpet, say, once a month, or taking his rubbish bag a little further than the kitchen floor, perhaps to the garbage bin itself.

When he left, I was relieved. It’d been like I was raising a bizarre, adult-sized child, which was certainly no fun. Plus, I really enjoyed the freedom of living in a pants-optional residence once more.

I was recounting a few of my experiences to a friend recently – a seasoned landlord – and she told me her secret to success is to be painfully thorough in explaining what she expects from her tenants. She even goes as far as stipulating how often they should carry out certain household chores, like washing the windows and dusting for cobwebs.

She manages her properties herself and therefore carries out her own periodic inspections. As she tells each new tenant, if she thinks they deserve it she’ll ‘reward’ them for meeting or exceeding her expectations. It might be in the form of a voucher, gift basket or four-week rent discount of $10 per week.

But as my friend aptly puts it, if you want folks to be on the same page as you, you’ve got to write that stuff down.

Shannon Molloy is the deputy editor of Australian Property Investor