Landlords Are Literal Scum

Of course the irony of me calling landlords “literal scum,” is that many of them actually view renters in the same vein. And, in both cases, there are likely a whole scale on which you could plot individuals who either landlord or tenant. Some are probably genuinely good people, just using their starter home as a way to make a little extra income in their retirement; and in the case of tenants, most are simply middle or working class people that find themselves the product of capitalism run amuck. There are always going to be slumlords, of course; and there will also be your occasional renters that burn cigarette holes in the carpet, and mix meth in the bathtub.

This is no different, though, than your average home owner. For every slumlord that expects others to live in mold and grime, I’m sure there are just as many voluntarily doing it themselves. And, well you know, people that make drugs actually are often homeowners, because — duh – who else can afford a house in this market?

If you are a landlord, this is of no offense to you. I’m sure you’re a nice person. But, if you continue reading this and see some of your own behaviors in what I am about to describe…

… well, it’s time to start evaluating your behaviors.

As many of you know, we’ve been looking for a new rental home for what feels like forever. In January our lease was terminated so that our landlord’s friends could move into the home we had rented and taken care of as our own for years; and because they callously refused to give us a little extra time to find a new rental, we wound up 45 minutes away from our home and community in a temporary rental that is looking less and less temporary by the day.

The process of finding a new rental has been less than desirable.

Security Deposits

It’s common knowledge, now, that a security deposit is really just a tip or a bonus that your landlord nickels and dimes to death at the end of your tenancy, so as to never have to give you a penny of that back. And say you are able to get some of that money back… Well your landlord put that in a bond, cd, or savings all those years and earned interest… and you? Well, you’re not going to see a penny of that (the interest earned on your money).

What’s absolutely bananas now, though, is that while people purchasing homes are getting into bidding wars over house prices; renters are now getting into all out bidding wars over rent, and security deposits. We’ve had several rejections now that were as simple as the other party was able to offer upwards of double or triple the security deposit.

Back of the napkin math, at the prices and the security deposit limits in California: that’s people offering $10,000, $13,000, in some cases even $18,000 for the security deposit, alone. Just to get the edge over other applicants. And while laws prohibit what a landlord can require, nothing stops them in any amount that they are allowed to take.

Maintenance

Maintenance is tricky in a rental because, while required to provide you with a habitable home, the definition of habitable is very subjective. When you sign a standardized lease, it’ll say something to the effect of: you accept the condition of the home as is. But most of the time, if the landlord even takes the time to show you the rental, they want you in and out in a matter of just a few minutes at the viewing.

We just attended a viewing of a home we did not get selected for last week, and the place was not only limited in the amount of time the irritable property manage let us look at it for, but it was a complete disaster. Had we been able to even see the counters, we may have uncovered major cosmetic issues; or holes in walls, or missing essentials. It was just that much of a pigsty, the previous renter being a real estate agent herself who apparently didn’t think renters deserved to actually view the condition of the floors or sinks. We left at the point when we needed to measure the room that our California King bed would go in, and the door wouldn’t even fully open because there was so much stuff on the floor. I guess to a landlord, if your bed doesn’t fit you should just sleep on the concrete tile.

I took some heat for complaining about this over on Facebook – busy mom, you should worry about the home itself not the mess. Well the issue was that the mess and the rush of the viewing made it virtually impossible to see the home itself, and potentially major maintenance issues. And maybe that was the point. Major maintenance issues often can’t be noticed until you’ve lived in the home for a while. At the temporary rental we’re in now, after spending just over two months here, we’ve discovered:

  • Mold and moisture in the floorboards
  • An electrical problem through the entire house
  • No working garbage disposal
  • Roots in the sewer line
  • And quite a few more minor things that are inconvenient, not dire, but for the amount we pay should be fixed

The problem with maintenance of course is several fold. First, it’s common knowledge that landlords retaliate for major maintenance issues, especially appliances that have to be repaired. In our prior rental, we suspect that at least part of their decision, or the way it played out, was retaliation for the fact that the oven broke and had to be replaced just a few months before they terminated our tenancy. Retaliation is – of course – illegal; as is outright refusing to make repairs. But what are you going to do? Go to court? Sue them?

Some states have laws that protect you, that allow you to claim what’s called warrant of habitability. You have several options, legally, at that point: you can move out without notice, repair and deduct, refuse to pay your rent… But under any and all circumstances, you’d better be prepared for attorney retainers and a court battle.

Back to the rental we are in now: we’ve already had one maintenance issue outright refused, and another blamed on us simply because they didn’t know about it until someone moved here. Bottom line? Landlords are literal scum, and expect their tenants to live among that which they leave in their trail.

They’re Doing You A Favor, Ok?

The most pervasive, and the same time backwards, attitude that I have come across over the last year is that landlords are doing us a favor by letting us live in their homes.

First of all, many landlords (again, not all; but many) are actually major corporations or big time, locally owned, commercial property management companies. These are not their personal homes that they lovingly cared for over decades and just grew out of, and decided to rent out instead of sell to help fund their retirement. Even single property owners that have no personal history with a home are becoming more prevalent in the rental market: it’s a money maker, after all.

At our last rental, the one we got booted out of, the owners had 10 other properties around the county, and had purchased the one we lived in and immediately turned it around to rent out without ever stepping a foot into the house.

But the idea of ownership is so uniquely built in to the fabric of our society… They’re doing you a favor, ok? If they didn’t own the home, you’d have nowhere to live. Right?

Wrong.

In California, as just one example, approximately 45% of the state identifies as a renter, which – obviously – is almost half the state’s population. But the issue isn’t that without ownership we’d all have nowhere to live; it’s actually that the owners (again many of whom are mostly just investors, property management companies, and large corporations) have an absolute death grip over municipal and county governments, and their lobby has profoundly limited even the amount of housing that is built for anyone – rent or buy. Have you ever looked at the campaign finance disclosures for your local elections? It’s typically one realtor and broker, property manager, and property investor after another that donates to local candidates, as well as the local and state real estate PACs that have the explicit interest of keeping the market hot in mind. Their sway – the NIMBYism, or practice of not wanting to build more and adequate housing in a timely manner, has created such an unprecedented crisis of housing availability that its effects are a little much to even wrap your head around: they’ve not only driven up rental prices, but they’ve created this environment of competition that leaves middle and lower income renters with few options, filling up short term rentals, local motels, and side streets with entire families living in their cars (or worse) simply because there just is not enough housing to go around.

Of course the irony is that were it not for renters, these types of corporations – the Blackrocks of the world; the small time property management companies and commercial investors; the realtors that are in the rental game too; and, single or limited individuals that have a extra property they do not need to use personally, so use it to help fund their retirements, vacations, or… whatever…

… well while they’re of the opinion that they’re doing renters a favor, the reality is that none of their profit margins would exist were it not for renters paying them on the 1st of every damn month.

And that is, ultimately when you get down to it, the rub of it all: that landlords and tenants both think the other is what they themselves may very well be. Delinquent. Doing you a favor. Scum.

But as a renter, myself, who has neither the money nor the interest in owning a home in this country, and this economy, I have to side with the underdog on this. Landlords are absolute scum. Maybe it’s unfair to paint them all with the same brush, but then that’s what they’ve all done to us. Two can play at this game.