Thursday, June 19, 2008

I saw this article on MSN recently which sort of stuck in my craw a bit.

Here the article speaks of the renting of an apartment as a brutal task, but I don't think they parse the transaction in fair terms. I freely admit we live in a world where slumlords are more than happy to bilk tenants for all they are worth while not providing the services and facilities as promised in the contract. However, every major city in the USA has a health department and most of these cities have renters' rights organizations who come to the aid of renters for little or no money. Landlords who do not deliver goods and services as promised contractually should be subjected to the maximum penalties for reneging. As intimidating as the rental contract may be, it is as much for the protection of the tenant, if not moreso, than it is for the protection of the landlord/property owner. Renters should be aware of this and do all in their power to hold bad landlords accountable. However, most apartment communities fall in the middle of the road between the high-end luxury accommodations and the outright slum, so hopefully most of us will never have to deal with a nightmare scenario rental.

From the article:

It begins with a strip-search of one's personal data, a "privilege" for which the renter pays via a $35-plus screening or application fee, moves through an automated revenue-management system that imposes upon him the highest possible daily market rent and ends with add-ons such as mandatory renter's insurance, multiple pet fees or extra coverage for the owner's pool lest another tenant cause damage.

In truth, since I first rented an apartment more than 20 years ago, I always have understood a screening of my personal data and a check of my references would be included in the administrative process of determining if I were a good candidate for their community, as well as my ability to pay. What is so difficult to understand about this? Staff need to be paid for the time they spend vetting applications. We also pay a fee to a credit reporting service through which we check the applicant's history. This is reasonable. Why should anyone be indignant about proving themselves worthy of access to hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars' worth of property? When I hand a person the keys and the gate opener, I need to be absolutely confident that this new tenant will be respectful of their neighbors and of the community and property in general. I think our application process is the best method available to be worthy of the confidence other residents have placed in these apartments.

I don't use the credit number system as assessed by the credit reporting agencies, but instead have a process by which I contact employment and rental references, and check the credit report. If a person has outstanding medical debts, for example, we overlook those particular debts. That's a judgment call, and I think it's a kind and fair one. Perhaps my community is the exception, but the final call is mine to make, and I'm glad of it.

The article goes on to breathlessly proclaim that the following are realities just around the corner as made possible by online data:

Rents that change from day to day
Rental-specific credit scores
Checks of criminal, sex-offender and terrorism databases
Checks of housing courts, eviction notices and rental histories
Income verification that can include pay stubs, letters of employment and tax returns
Fees that effectively raise monthly rents

Um, okay.
Rents that change from day to day-- If you are in a binding lease agreement, the property is bound by law to provide your apartment at the agreed-upon rate and for the agreed-upon term. This may be the most misleading portion of this article - it implies that like the price of gas, the amount you pay for your apartment may change from day to day. I believe what they actually mean is that the community may change the rate for future rentals from day to day. This is natural. You may have signed a 2 or 3 year lease, yet the taxes on the property may have increased to such a degree that higher rents must be charged, and thus the person who moves in to a unit identical to yours may be paying significantly more.

Rental-specific credit scores-- I don't know what they mean by this, but some apartments do report to credit agencies when a tenant has stiffed them
Criminal checks-- If I'm letting some random bloke from off the street move into the apartment next door, wouldn't you prefer I vetted him/her to see if they are a sex offender, for example? The fact that my community excludes people with violent or sexual felonies is a plus, in my opinion. Martha Stewart could live here. Mike Tyson couldn't.
Checks of housing courts/rental histories - So? Your history indicates your likelihood to pay and in many ways tells of your character. I'm an open-minded person, and I know that people can change. If they have a bad rental reference, I'm willing to hear them out and have in some cases concluded that the record did not necessarily reflect reality. In the cases where I have erred in favor of the applicant, they have always proven my leap of faith well-founded.
Income verification - Duh, ability to pay. If you are self-employed and I can't contact your human resources department, then I need some tangible proof to demonstrate to the property owners that you, indeed are who you say you are and are able to afford to live here. Those income-related documents also demonstrate that you didn't make your money by running a meth-lab, most likely.
Fees that effectively raise monthly rents - I quite agree that the upcharge for things like vehicle parking fees can be over-done. I once chose NOT to lease an apartment I really wanted because they charged $65 per vehicle for residents to park on the property, even though they were in an underpopulated industrial area with boatloads of space available. But that is the marketplace-- I took my business elsewhere, and that is everyone's prerogative.

I suppose what bothers me more than anything is the perpetually whiny-arsed worldview that every transaction involves a villain and a sucker. There is a vast array of rentals available in every American city, and if you take the time to shop, you'll find a place that suits you, I guarantee it. That is how the marketplace works. If you take the time to look around and educate yourself, there is no reason you can't find a perfect place. ALSO, look for inroads with the leasing agent or manager to open up possible negotiation. I have sometimes taken a little off the rent occasionally, or have thrown in a free covered parking space or found small ways to make the move-in easier for the new tenant. Sometimes someone asks for something I simply can not give, but I will try to find other ways to help. Perhaps instead I can change fixtures which will be improvements which will remain after you leave--please feel free to ask me to install a new dishwasher, stove and/or refrigerator. Remember that every decent apartment community expects to replace these appliances sooner or later, and this can be a great way to enhance your rental experience while not hugely impacting the landlord's bottom line. It never hurts to ask, and I want you to choose my community, and I do genuinely want my residents to be happy.

The sad fact is that if economy is your prime consideration, you will make some compromises in the areas of comfort, luxury and even possibly safety. This would also be a great time to consider that if you opt to live in a state which allows you the right to protect yourself in your own home, then your home will be as safe as you make it. I recommend Texas, in particular.

In conclusion, I think that rather than parasitic, the tenant/landlord relationship is best when viewed as symbiotic. Renters need a place to live, and landlords provide same. Yes, someone is making money in the process, but often times less than you might think, and the tradeoff is that you as renter are not dealing with tax issues, city code compliance and the host of other tediousness that is involved in keeping a property of any size running and legal. The landlord who agreed 10 months ago to the rate you are paying may have had a massive property tax hike and they are paying increased energy costs to keep the community utilities running, and all this must be paid for on the rental income they agreed to in 2007. Caveat emptor applies as much now as ever. True, renting an apartment is not of the gravity of buying a home or a car, but it is where you'll hang your hat for 6, 12 months, or more, so it behooves you to take the time to really poke around and investigate what's out there. By all means, trust your gut instincts and don't rent from someone you feel is disingenuous. But more than anything, look at it as an exciting opportunity to try on a different slice of life than you have experienced before and without the scary connotations of the longer-term commitment of maintenance etc. of buying a property of your own. Unlike the trials of home ownership, in most apartments when your terlit or your A/C go on the blink, well, that's the landlord's problem. I call those very easy terms, indeed.
Written by phlegmfatale
12 cared enough to comment!

Name: Phlegmfatale
Location: Elsewhere, Texas, USA

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