I've had an interest in the world of rental properties for a long time. How great is it to be able to just pay a down payment and then have renters pay your mortgage, expenses, and profit with their rent! Huge bonus profit too if there's no mortgage to pay. As you make more money you can just use the money to buy more properties and your real estate empire grows and grows! You can even hire a property management company to take care of all the dirty work for you. Pay 10% or so of your rental income to have 100% of your time. Sit back and enjoy the payments coming in while occasionally throwing in an approval for big maintenance expenses. Lucky for me, I got to experience the property management side of the real estate industry first-hand when I worked for two different property management companies. During my time working in property management I also learned a lot about people and their attitudes and outlook on life, entitlement personalities, and the amount of responsibilities they want to take. I got to interact with various types of landlord and tenant personalities. I learned about and experienced the effects of the housing market on an economy, the pros and cons of having rental properties, and a lot more of what goes on behind the scenes for housing managers and landlords altogether.
In October 2015, I delivered a presentation for a university internship I was working at and afterwards, while walking back to my car I stopped in the student union building to get a drink and use the bathroom. I took a peak at a community board and saw a job offer that caught my eye. A local company was looking for a new couple to hire as resident managers. Rent, utilities, and a stipend all included as compensation if you live on site to manage their apartment community. What a deal! I've heard of these kinds of opportunities and my wife and I were interested in learning how to manage rental properties, so what luck that I just happened to stroll in to see this posting. After excitedly telling my wife about it, she called and had a brief phone interview. We went to an in-person interview together a few days later and met with our future boss at the location we would be managing. Our future boss let us tour the apartment we would inhabit if hired and we really weren't impressed by it actually. If it weren't for the perks of the job, we most likely never would've chosen to live there. It was a two-bed, 1 bathroom unit with the bedrooms and bathroom upstairs and the kitchen downstairs with a closet under the stairs. There was no washer/dryer. Instead, we had to take our laundry to the small community laundry room at the center of the property and pay $1.25 for a washer cycle, and $0.25 for every 15 minutes in a dryer. There was only wall unit air conditioners and electric baseboard heaters, no central air. The unit itself was very small and awkward to position furniture because of the wall units and heaters. It was very clean, just very small and cramped. It was all worth it for the job though. Plus, it also came with a good-sized garage close by.
We were extremely excited to get hired soon after our initial interview and couldn't believe our luck! We were also lucky to be on a month-month contract with our previous apartment, so it was easy for us to get out and move to this new community. We were given a VERY brief training to learn some basics and followed the example of how previous leases were filled out. The rest we had to figure out on our own and learn as we go.
This lack of training became a problem and it didn't take long before we experienced rudeness from our manager. We were asking her too many questions and/or filling out forms wrong. I took a deposit from a new tenant that was going to move in three weeks later and she, our boss, got upset and rudely said, "Clearly you guys aren't understanding this yet," so she scheduled to come out for more training the next morning. I don't remember what she said in that training, but my wife and I were still confused because she kind of rambled on tangents that wasn't actually a training or answering our questions. At the end I had to ask her a question, again, which was the whole reason she came out and didn't even answer it, so I asked again, "How long do deposits hold for? How soon does a new tenant have to start paying rent after paying a deposit?" The answer was one week. That's all I needed! All we needed was some answers to questions. We were completely new to this, so we had a lot of questions that a simple text or phone call could've answered.
Lousy training has bothered me throughout my life. Too many people are really bad at training and/or get frustrated too easily. It's hard for people that have been doing something for many years to imagine knowing nothing about the job or subject and start explaining things from the absolute basics. Yes, some people learn faster than others, but bad training annoys me. There's a difference between a person being bad at their job versus not being trained well to know how to do a job properly. The next level is when I've learned something well and train a new person, and then they now look better than me because they picked up faster by having a real teacher. Yes, because I TRAINED THEM AND ACTUALLY DID A GOOD JOB OF IT, UNLIKE THE WAY I HAD TO LEARN!
So on that tone, there are people in this world that are far too easily upset and they let their emotions effect their work and the people around them. When things go wrong or work is busy, they get stressed and they get mean. That's always bothered me my whole life because I have always been a pretty timid person that "freezes up" around confrontation and feel completely caught off guard. I hate that I do that. The problem in this story is that whenever something went wrong, our manager would get upset and look for things to blame, especially in other people specifically. Someone didn't pay rent on time? Our fault. Someone moved out and the place was very dirty? Our fault. Maintenance or other vendor didn't get there on time or do a good enough job? Somehow still our fault - or at least she sure made it feel that way. Sure, we are responsible for the property as managers, but we cannot control people's actions or monitor their living conditions at all times.
I also need to add here that this manager did strange, illegal things and discriminated a lot. She hated men, didn't like people from other cultures or ethnicities, especially blacks, didn't like "irresponsible" young people who are trying to figure out and manage life on their own, and didn't like young college kids who were given everything from their parents. We learned this when it came to screenings and investigating people she didn't like. When screening new prospective tenants, we did the viewings and took applications, but our manager processed them from the main office. She would always ask what the people looked like and dressed like because she wanted to know their character. Of course she wants as few problematic people living in the communities as possible, but there were several times she practiced illegal discrimination just because she didn't like something about someone, or there was another applicant more "favorable."
There were some occasions where she wanted to investigate a tenant's cleanliness, so when she visited our property and knew the tenant was gone, she would use her master key to peak in without consent. We were shocked to see that, but we're not going to report it since we needed that gig. She would refuse to let in single college student men, even if they paid all 6-months or more up front and parents co-signed, but let in girls with the same exact qualifications or less. They wouldn't allow more than 1 person to live in any of the 1-bedroom units unless they were married because couples, friendships, and partners break up too often and break leases. There were a lot of strange thing this lady did and it was annoying to hear her trash-talk all the tenants she had low opinions of and her disagreements with their life choices and circumstances. She only had respect for clean-cut people that make lots of money.
We didn't have very many issues working at this community. All the tenants kept to themselves and it was mostly single professionals because the property was only 72-units, mostly studio and one-bedroom apartments. Only four of them were 2-bedroom units and one of those belonged to us, the managers. The biggest problems we had were with old ladies. One lady complained about endless maintenance issues and often needed help with regular things. I was shocked at how many regular things she just didn't know about or never experienced in her 65+ years of life. She complained about a hole smaller than the size of a dime in her window screen because bugs could get in. The company didn't want to spend the money to repair it because it was so small and insignificant. She complained about landscapers blowing leaves up to her door, so I went to investigate and saw, like 3 small leaves in the entryway, not even yard dust. I took a picture and showed my wife and said, "This is the type of crap she complains about! Three leaves!" She wanted to rent a garage on the property, but we never told her one was available because she probably wouldn't be able to open and close it by herself. They were not automatic. She constantly wanted help changing bulbs or batteries, or looking into something. By the way, I was a little surprised at how many people were upset that we didn't replace burned out bulbs or dead batteries for them while they are living there. We aren't a full-service 5-star hotel and we expect tenants to take at least SOME responsibility for maintaining the places they live in. We cover all exterior and shared common areas, but in your own unit you can change your own stuff. One time, this same lady called to complain that the smoke alarms were broken. I could hear all of them going off over the phone. I walk over and there's clearly smoke in her apartment from burning something on the stove. She blamed it on the neighbor grilling on his patio upstairs. Maybe that was a little factor, but I doubt it. She was insistent that the alarms were broken or needed new batteries, even after I fanned the smoke out the door and window to stop the beeping. No Joan, they are working just as they are supposed to. There was smoke in here, so they were sounding the alert.
One older lady was ok for her whole tenancy until one accident in the winter. She slipped on some ice getting to her car parked in front of her unit and then sent a notice to our company trying to charge us for her injury treatments and lost wages from missing out on work. That issue was handled by our main office, so I don't know what ever became of that, but I did hear that her work offered her a sitting position because of her injury and she refused it.
Snow and ice was a big annoyance for me when working in property management. People complained no matter what we did. The sidewalks and asphalt aren't heated. Ice melt and shoveling can only do so much. It's going to be slippery in winter! What do you expect us to do? Build a stadium-sized umbrella to cover the entire property!? We plow the parking lot, shovel all walkways, and use ice melt generously. There's nothing else anyone can realistically do about snow and ice.
There were also two entitled older women that were paranoid about everything. One lady changed her own locks, so management and maintenance no longer had access without her being there. Our boss was annoyed, but let it slide for some reason. I think this older lady was meaner than her. This bothered me because I hated that lady and wanted to see some punishment. Our boss gave her chance after chance to correct issues, but if it was a young man she would've fined them or evicted them without a second thought. When she couldn't evict them immediately, she just wouldn't renew their lease and force them out that way.
One woman was certain that someone was sneaking into her unit, messing with stuff, cutting leaves off of her aloe plant, and using red marker on her underwear. Truly bizarre. She even told us she left notes telling intruders how to properly cut the plant and other things to not cause more harm. She also had an 8-year old adopted or foster daughter staying in this cramped little one-bedroom apartment with her, who was suspect number 1 in my mind. They didn't seem to have a very good relationship.
Sometimes people insisted that they be present when a maintenance visit was scheduled or something required entering their unit. The problem is that our technicians or other vendors can rarely work with their schedules or times. They come when they come. When a technician/tradesman does need to come work on your property, understand that they are not just sitting around waiting for one job to come in. They have estimated windows of arrival because they don't know when they'll finish one job or how long the next ones will take. We'd get around this issue by serving a 24-hour notice of entry, to legally enter their unit when they're not there. I was baffled by the suspicions people had in thinking we or other people were up to mischief going into their units, but then I read stories and see videos to know that this stuff actually does happen! I guess I understand the worry, but it was still annoying for me as a manager just trying to do an honest work.
There have been some tenants I've worked with at both jobs, who put in a maintenance request every time they find a scratch, bend, or any kind of slight defect. Some wanted us to upgrade equipment and remodel parts of their units just because they want better stuff even if they've only lived there for a few months or barely more than a year. Please understand that it is expensive to call in any sort of maintenance technician or tradesman. There are MANY things that you need to be or can be responsible for and buy or fix on your own. Sometimes when tenants start having financial issues and being able to come up with rent money they start complaining about problems and poor conditions in the place they live. You chose to live there and were permitted to check it out before moving in. You submitted a move in inspection. If everything was good enough for you at that time, then it should still be good now unless YOU damaged it; and don't try to withhold rent until the owner fixes things. That doesn't work and you will lose that fight unless something drastic has happened like the roof blew off and you made the proper requests for problems to be addressed.
Moving on: I remember one guy gave his 30-day notice to move, but then later asked to extend it by a few more days. Our manager was annoyed, but obliged and rescheduled turnover work. On the day he was supposed to turn in keys, we never got them. Our boss called in the evening to ask if keys were turned in yet and was upset at us that they weren't. What were we supposed to do? Harass this guy and be all up in his business? I guess, but he wasn't answering his phone or door anyway. I finally went over around 11pm at night and used our master key to look in and see what's going on. The unit was empty, so I went back to get my initial inspection stuff to prep for turnover like we are supposed to, assuming he left and just forgot to turn in keys. I was just about done with my paperwork when I hear the door creaking open. Just as I feared, in comes the tenant all annoyed to find me in his unit. We had a little argument about how he was supposed to have turned in his keys by now and he insisted that he still had until midnight to use up the full day. There was no formal notice since he verbally changed the date with our boss, but I think he was technically right. I deescalated the situation because I didn't really care, I just wanted to do my job and go home - it was late; but then he wouldn't stop talking to me about random stuff so after about 40 minutes of talking I'm like, "Look. I'm sorry about coming in here early. I'm glad we could talk, but it's late and I want to get back home. Just finish whatever you need here and drop the key in the drop box." I heard the keys plunk into the box about 15 minutes later.
There were a few times when people wouldn't turn in keys until late and it bothered me because our boss would be nagging us about getting the keys; but I didn't want to stay up 'til midnight hoping they'll drop them in. In one instance, a girl was supposed to already be out the night before, but when the blind cleaners came in the morning the door was still locked. After people move out, we unlock the door for vendors to come in and out to do their work. So I walk over there after seeing that keys were not turned in and knock on the door. No answer. I then slowly let myself in while knocking and holler in, "Hello, management!" I finally hear a groggy, "Hello" come from the bedroom. I politely explain that she was supposed to be gone by midnight with keys turned in, so now we have people here coming to take her blinds and clean them off site. We give her a moment to get presentable since she just woke up, then she lets them in to take the blinds and be gone. She finally left about 45 minutes later and we didn't charge her for the extra day, which is what normally happens when holding over after your lease and notice are expired. She got a free night on us instead of a hotel I guess. I didn't care at all besides the embarrassment of trying to get cleaners in when she's still in there and was sleeping.
There are some inconveniences to being an on-site manager. People can come to you outside of normal business hours for little inconveniences. One guy locked himself out and called our manager who then told us we needed to go let him in. It didn't matter that we were in middle of grocery shopping. We had to leave immediately to go home and let him in because she didn't want to. This made us especially annoyed because that manager also pretended to be tough and say people were out of luck if she wasn't available, yet we couldn't live by that same standard for after hours non-emergencies. One lady locked her keys in her car, which also had her unit key, so we had to let her in to her unit at 6:30am so she could get her spare car key. She did this on two different occasions. One night, the power went out for the whole neighborhood, so of course we started getting knocks on our also dark manager office door asking why their power is out and when it will be back on and that they expect a credit on their rent because of this. "I'm sorry. We live here too and are also sitting in the dark. The whole neighborhood is out, so it's not an issue with our property. The city is already aware and working on a solution. I don't know anything else and no this temporary outage does not qualify for a rent credit."
After this first exposure to property management, I started to see some of the crap that landlords have to deal with. Being a tenant for a few years before, I also knew what was frustrating when things weren't taken care of such as community amenities and cleanliness. I did my best to keep the property clean, including cleaning out the dumpster pens so loose garbage wasn't just laying all over the ground in the pens. I also kept our community laundry room clean and if any machines broke down I got a repair scheduled ASAP. I still don't like that companies insist on maintaining contracts and hate month-to-month. I know they want to guarantee rent for 6-months or a year and turnovers are costly, but people still break leases for any number of life circumstances changing anyway. Plus, if you do it right, turnover work is easy to schedule and shouldn't require a lot of work if you have decent tenants. I really liked how this company started with an initial 6 or 12-month contract, then it just carries over on a month-month basis after that. Every 6 months or so, rates would go up. Sometimes there was a discount if you signed another 6 or 12-month contract instead of staying month-month.
The rent increases always bothered me too and they always will. Unless you're doing some serious remodeling, the costs for the property rarely go up as much as the owners like to make it sound. I know this because at my second property management job I saw what the costs were. Owners initially buy the property and make a decent percent return from the start. Raising the rates just makes their profit margins bigger and bigger to make more and more money from their rental property. It's ok to raise it a little for inflation, taxes, and to anticipate repairs, and remodels, but even old properties were charging higher and higher rates just because they could. I get it. If I had the opportunity to make more money for nothing I'd be tempted as well, but it really sucks for the whole community in general to have higher and higher housing costs.
I'm going to go on a long tangent now about the economics of rental properties:
How the market works: When a property fills up to 100% or very close, they like to see if they can push that price further to make more money. It's a common practice of supply and demand. When there are less units available they make them more and more expensive. The concept of something viewed as rare and hard to come by make it easy to charge more. You see this in many other industries. An increase in costs like property taxes, insurance rates, and maintenance projects are usually only a small factor in rising housing prices. Rental housing companies often do market research to know what similar properties are charging and how full they are. If they see other properties with higher rates and are pretty full with occupancy above 95%, then they can charge similar rates. The prices really start spiking up when a lot of people start moving in and there's a shortage of housing. If most properties are full and waiting lists are growing, you can charge really high and there will still be people desperate enough to pay the high price to get in. Soon all the properties are going to be charging higher prices just because they can. People will pay what they have to to not be homeless or living in a high crime, slum shack. When there's no competition to lower prices because everything's full, prices will continue to go up, forcing more people to work 2 or 3 jobs or cohabitate with roommates just to rent somewhere.
It takes a lot for rent rates to go down. Building more apartments is probably the only real solution. If there are more units for people to choose from then vacancies will be open for longer and longer periods of time. Landlords want people in there paying rent as soon as possible. The turnover time between a previous tenant leaving and a new tenant moving in needs to be as short as possible to make the most money. When vacancies are open for longer periods of time because there isn't a high demand due to more places available to live, you will then see reduced rates and specials being offered. A move-in bonus or special is essentially lowering the rent rate if you spread out the reduced cost over a 6 or 12-month lease. It's a marketing tactic to lower costs and be appealing without looking like the cheaper alternative.
The free markets would conclude that more housing needs to be built to offset the high housing costs. They are correct in that more competition can bring down prices, but if there isn't room or time to build and keep up, then there needs to be other solutions. Building too many luxury apartments doesn't help either. Rental prices are pretty high in the city I live in, so I was happy to see a large complex planned for construction. To my disappointment I found out shortly after that they are going to be more high-end luxury apartments. I feel like that's all they ever build these days. Housing prices are too high? Let's build more luxury units that cost $1,300 or more for just a 1-bedroom! I guess it's better than not building anything though because then the wealthier people that can afford these luxury apartments can compete for those and make room for others to have the "standard" apartments. If wealthy investors and companies can't build or won't build, then the housing crunch goes out of control, resulting in more people trying to cram into units together just to afford it and have somewhere to live, or make an hour and a half commute or longer just to afford housing further out.
Rising housing costs is a pretty normal thing in the real estate world because of the supply and demand economics as I explained, but it's a problem for society if we do not build more. It’s good for rental property owners (usually wealthy people – not always, but usually wealthy people), but bad for everyone else. Tenants aren’t making more money, but their housing costs keep increasing. They might get raises, but not as much or as fast as how much property owners raised rates at both places I worked for in property management. Thus, the poor and middle class continue to be squeezed of life. When rent goes from $625 to $650/month that is now $300/year that these individuals will no longer be able to use elsewhere and their standard of living is diminished. $300 may seem small to some, but when this is combined with costs of other things going up as well it becomes a significant problem for many people because their pay isn't going up to match it. Maybe they did get a raise, but now the new people at entry-level jobs and salaries are having a much more difficult time affording the things they need. The $25/month increase in rent isn't really a lot, but the real problem is that I've seen it go from $650 to $1,000 or more in just three years.
I believe an economy can be ruined or severely stagnated and limited solely by housing costing too much. When a larger and larger percentage of the population's paycheck gets sucked up in rent, there is less to be circulated to drive business - especially if many property owners are located out of the area and take the money elsewhere instead of spending back into the local community. Even if the property owners did spend it locally, I still think the economy would be stronger if more people had more spending power than only a few spending more and controlling the majority of investment and market actions. More disposable income everywhere would help drive more business growth and investment. I don't advocate for communism trying to make everyone equal, but I do advocate for at least a healthier distribution of wealth. If I were to graph it, the distribution of wealth would be poorest on the left and richest on the right side of the bottom line. Society would be better off with a line representing the distribution of wealth that steadily increases from the poorest to the richest, instead of a nearly-flat line until a giant spike for the top 10% of wealthy people. I believe fixing the housing affordability problems would be the best place to start for maintaining a healthy economy. The cheapest rentals available in a market should not be already sucking up more than 30%-40% of people's income on just housing alone.
There are people and politicians out there pushing for rent control policies to fix the maximum amount that can be charged for rent. This is a simple government idea for a solution, but it does nothing to address the real problem of too many people wanting or needing to live in a certain area and there isn't enough housing. Build more housing and they'll have to put pressure on lowering rates or go without getting any rent at all because they're charging higher than other places. A Universal Basic Income is another political idea being discussed, but without some serious changes and enforcement in other areas all it would do is inflate housing and other industries heavily impacted by scarcity. If people started receiving an extra $1,000 a month they might want to use it to move to nicer areas. Just as I described, when the nicer areas fill up they're going to charge higher and higher, thus making the UBI ineffective for many as it'll all just be absorbed by the new, higher housing and other costs.
Another point to add to rising housing prices is because Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) locals are not allowing new communities to be built. They want to keep the open land instead of building new housing developments. They don't want to see new high-rise multi-unit housing in their skylines and blocking their views, or increasing traffic in their area. Ever wonder why the progressive, tech-y, and "weird" places are so expensive to live compared to other cities? It's not just the love of the culture or jobs bringing people in and raising the prices, it's the people themselves. One reddit user commented the following on a "City that thinks it's 'weird' starterpack" thread:
"Most of the OG eccentrics and hippies that gave the place its 'quirky' identity back in the day are now home-owning NIMBY squares who are terrified of change and mob every city council meeting to lobby against anything new or different despite still self-identifying as progressive and tolerant. Thanks to their efforts and an economic boom or two, there is a housing shortage, rent is stupid high and there's a shitton of homeless people — which includes the rest of the OG eccentrics that didn’t 'make it'.
Source: grew up in Quirky Berkeley"
This concludes my long tangent about the economics of rental properties.
Back to my history and experience: After graduating from college I kept looking for an entry-level job for a real career in finance, but I still needed an income to pay bills in the mean-time. The current gig at the first property management job with free rent and utilities, plus a stipend was nice, but it all added up to the equivalent of about a $9/hr full-time job. It's kind of a small amount of pay, but was nice because it didn't really require much active work. The office was connected to our home. We didn't have many expenses because they were covered by this job, but we also weren't making much money to do anything. I needed an income to provide for our family, so I applied to another property management job that started at $14/hr and got in. I only wanted to stay there until I got a better job in finance or maybe grow into a bigger property management firm that could pay a good salary. I was hired on as the manager of a 112-unit apartment complex and I was excited for the new experience. It expanded on what I was already doing to now having me be the one to schedule maintenance, do billings, and manage applications whereas our manager was the one doing all of that at the previous job. I had a lot more control and I was annoyed at my previous boss because she would be cranky, frustrated at things, and complain about being busy all the time, but now that I pretty much did her same job for another company, I found that it really wasn't hard. I found property management in general to not really be that hard. It can be frustrating and stressful when dealing with problems and angry people, but it's mostly pretty easy just to be organized and make a few phone calls for stuff. When the properties were filled up it was very easy - even boring. I had plenty of time to surf the web, watch videos, whatever.
When I started at the new apartment complex in January, the previous manager left with a lot of vacancies, troubled accounts, several move-outs coming up, and she wasn't very organized in general. One of the first things I did was change up the whiteboard in the office. The previous manager would just write notes on lines of items needing attention, open units, whatever. I changed it to try copying what I had at my last job which was basically a map of the property made with thin, black tape and filled in all the info of building and unit numbers, plus the last name of the current tenant that occupied it. This helped me learn the property and easily see who was where and where the open units were. I left a section for other notes but started making everything else digital.
I felt like I was being a very good manager. I was solving problems, keeping the place clean, and even lowering rents for people because we had a lot of vacancies, more coming up, and it was mid-winter. The owner of the property was freaking out because of all the empty units and had my blessing to lower rates or run specials to get people in. Some of the rate changes were pretty significant too, like a $900 one-bedroom down to $765. I personally believed the rates were too high to begin with compared to the quality and location of what they're getting. However, a year and a half later as mostly Californians were arriving in droves, those rates all spiked back up.
This company did not have a very good cleaning or landscaping crew. They kept trying to keep everything in-house to make more money, but they were just bad at it. The owner didn’t want to spend money on it either, so whenever I had some free time, which was often, I forwarded the office phone to my cell and went out on the grounds. The garbage pens on the property were overflowing all the time, even with them being emptied three times a week. I would pick up and sweep up any trash on the ground and throw it in the bins, then sometimes I would bring soapy water and actually brush the pavement underneath to get rid of stinky, smelly, garbage juice that stained the ground. I did some weeding on the property, often changed burned out light bulbs, and even picked up dog poop on the grounds. I made sure the clubhouse and gym were clean and orderly. A treadmill had a broken part, so when maintenance was taking too long to fix it, I just learned how to do it and fixed it myself. All these things annoyed me as a tenant in the past, so I wanted to make a difference by being a manager that actually took care of things.
A part of me enjoyed fixing things, learning how they work, and learning how to do a few handyman maintenance things. The most common problem people reported was a kitchen sink drain disposal not working and these are usually very easy to fix. Every single time it was because something jammed it up like a piece of plastic, small pebble or metal piece, whatever didn’t grind up or flush on down the drain. Most of the models had a slot on the bottom under the sink to manually spin the blade in either direction with an allen wrench. This usually dislodged whatever the blockage was and I could pluck it out of the drain. There is also a little red reset button to push sometimes after clearing it and then it worked just fine. Other models didn’t have those features, so I had to use a stick to carefully dislodge the jam, but same story. Me doing this for people saved them, the renter, a $75+ charge for not having to call in a maintenance service. There’s a lot of things people can safely and easily do in their own rentals that will save a lot of money and hassle, just by looking up how-to videos on youtube. I don’t know why more people don’t do that. Some companies will fix things free, but others do not. You have to be careful to clarify who’s footing the bill for maintenance stuff. This company I was working for loved to charge people for everything they could and I wanted to help people avoid that.
Another fairly common problem was clogged vents. People don’t always properly clean the lint out of their dryers, so they clog up the vents. One guy cleaned his dryer regularly, but we found that the hose connecting the dryer to the wall outlet was badly clogged. The heaters also needed a clean vent. In the summer, bugs and birds would build nests in the dormant heater vents. I cleared out a few old nests and fixed heater problems that way too, again saving lots of money on service calls. On two or three occasions we had an issue of an air conditioner not working. I learned from a technician an easy fix is sometimes the unit has frozen over from a combination of excessive use and a blocked air intake. We just had to clear the intake vent if there was a blockage and run the unit on fan mode only for an hour or more to defrost the unit, then it worked fine again.
Two more maintenance things I learned was how to adjust the temperature in a water heater and how blocking windows for darkness is bad if done improperly. A tenant complained that the water wasn’t getting hot enough for their liking, so I looked up the model and a video of it to learn to do it myself. All I had to do was unscrew a panel and use a screwdriver to turn the thermometer setting a little hotter. Easy. For the mold issue, a tenant was moving out soon and found mold in their bedroom window sill. They were using blankets to completely seal up the window to darken the room. The problem was that it still gets humid between the blanket and window, so with no ventilation, mold or mildew was growing in the now moist, warm windowsill. Of course they tried throwing it all on us to fix the mold problem, but they caused it directly because of their actions, so they were charged the cost to fix it.
A big problem I dealt with early on was that the previous manager signed a contract with an obscure construction company that was hard to find any information on. They housed a bunch of their workers in, I think, 5 units. When I came in I found that they hadn't paid rent in like 3 or 4 months. The first thing I had to do was try contacting them. None of them responded and they all only spoke spanish, or at least pretended to not know english. The next step was to post a 24-hour notice of entry to investigate what was going on. Most were abandoned, but one still had guys in it and another had a young family. One of the workers made a shady deal to illegally sublet the apartment. This new guy paid the previous worker scammer a deposit and some rent and then the scammer bolted, but the new guy had keys and moved into the unit. We had to make a lot of adjustments to get this new guy, his wife, and young child onto a proper lease and convert him to an actual tenant. He's lucky we were able to work with him because sometimes people that fall victim to this type of scam just get the boot.
I had to post an eviction on the last one and notice of abandonment on the others. We never received a notice they were vacating or had keys turned in and my investigating of the abandoned units found a few things in the cupboards and fridge and some small, cheap furniture items still there, so technically I couldn't just change the locks and throw it all away without proper notice and time. Eventually, we were able to get all of the units cleared out, cleaned up, and re-rented. The turnovers for all the units and the months of missing rent cost the owners a lot and despite hiring an investigator to find and sue the company owner, I don't think they were successful in doing so to recoup any of it. Too bad.
Another early issue I had to deal with was finding that some people paid cash for things that didn't get recorded properly. Their accounts were accumulating late fees because it's an automatic system. Luckily for all of us, they had receipts to prove they were current on everything and always were. It definitely looked like the previous manager was engaging in some crooked theft activity or grossly mismanaging and failing to document things. Of course the tenants were upset when I told them of the situation and I knew what happened was very wrong, so I'm glad it all got sorted out. I was shocked at the lack of controls in the business and that nobody caught these problems until I came in and started sorting through stuff to get organized. From what I heard from a tenant that was close with the previous manager was that she stopped caring and became dissatisfied with the company.
The freedom to run the place as free as she wanted must've been nice. I would've loved that, but I would've done a good job. Of course, now that the company was aware of the messes that were made, I wasn't going to have the same freedoms. In fact, the controls clamped down so hard that it actually hindered my work. Any change or authority to do things had to pass through 2 or 3 people first. The fact that policies were constantly changing every few months made it a disaster of organization. Even though they've been in business for 10 years, this company still didn't even have solid lease terms and policies figured out. It wasn’t even minor adjustments either. I can understand things evolving to a certain degree over time, but we were often undergoing big policy and lease changes and often trying to implement new programs, some for ease and efficiency, bust mostly attempts to make more money. Tenants saw right through the schemes too as attempts to money grab. Such a headache! To make things worse, a new person was hired and basically given authority to make changes to documents and processes that would improve company efficiency. The company owner loved what they did and constantly praised them publicly. Of course they’re doing a good job! They were given the power to make changes and had the freedom to settle issues and fix things! They were being praised for doing the job just like the owner wanted because the owner gave them everything they needed to do it. They made the exact changes the owner wanted and got praised for it!
My second year at the company was getting worse with controls. I felt like I was fighting with my own company more than just managing properties. It took so much time with discussion meetings and paperwork turnover to make little adjustments like removing fees or something because the system was so automated and management loved to stick it to people hard. I always felt like they were being unfair to tenants in any way they could to make a buck and punish people for not abiding by every word of the 30-page lease. The most common problems were turnover charges and lease renewals. The company had no concept of “normal wear and tear.” Even if the unit was properly cleaned, they’ll still send in a cleaning crew for a two or three hour minimum just to make sure it is indeed clean and the renter pays for it out of their deposit. Many or most maintenance charges were billed to the tenants’ deposit as well, so it was rare to get much of your deposit back, if anything at all. People complained all the time, and even though I agreed with them, I as the property manager had to face their fury. There was nothing I could do to change it because that’s what my boss decided the policy will be.
Lease renewals were my favorite glaring example of hypocrisy. If a tenant had an old lease that my boss didn’t like because it had certain lines that worked in the tenants’ favor, he said it was an old lease that had no value anymore and we are signing a completely new lease, even though they’re staying in the same unit, managed by the same company. However, if there were changes that worked in our company’s favor, such as changes that added charges, then it was a standard lease renewal and they need to pay for the changes to their lease even though the new lease is changed a little just like the other scenario. For example, a tenant wants to add a pet or additional people at their lease renewal because they’re signing a new lease for the renewal which originally didn't have extra costs. My boss would charge them the fees for changing the lease because it’s considered a renewal; but if there were lines that served in the tenant’s favor like a line stating rent cannot be raised by more than 5% and my boss wanted to raise it 10%, it was excused that they are signing a whole new lease, so they will have to pay the increase after “renewing.” I guess it makes sense because we can just evict the tenant to get a new one paying the higher rate, but this case actually happened and it bothered me - a lot. Are some of these things my company did illegal? Probably, but no one has the time, knowledge or money to go about pursuing a lawsuit for just a few hundred dollars or less in charges.
There were a few people that made legal threats, but we just ignored them. They never followed through except for two occasions. The first was a paranoid woman that stopped paying rent and basically ghosted us. She was evicted and then quickly moved out last second before we changed locks and took possession. She left a mess in the property. There were old, leftover parts of furniture that needed to be removed and she painted sections of the exterior without permission that needed to be fixed. She wanted to pick up her deposit, but when she opened her envelope to see that she owed us quite a bit of money instead (missed rent payments, late fees, eviction fees, cleaning and maintenance fees) she angrily called in and threatened to sue us and hung up. Digital phone slam! Sure enough, a few weeks later we get a court summons. After gathering all of our backup documents in preparation to defend, I attend court on our hearing day and she didn’t even show up! The case was immediately dismissed and that was the end of it.
The second case was more interesting. We had a problematic tenant in the apartment complex that was late on rent, or I should say just didn’t pay rent for 2 months and was in middle of the eviction process. Their apartment flooded pretty badly one morning because the guy used the toilet, which clogged, and went to work before anyone else woke about an hour or so later I guess. When I got the call first thing that morning just after 8am, I went to investigate and found that the little chain in the tank connecting the flush lever to the drain flap was a little too long and got stuck under the flap, allowing water to endlessly flow from the tank into the bowl, which was clogged, so it overflowed and flooded the place. It was also a second-floor unit so there was damage below. I don’t remember the total cost of the damage, but of course it was a few thousand dollars. The owner was going to cover half the cost because of the long chain issue, but they were still charged the other half for causing the clog and letting it flood for so long. They disagreed with having to pay at all, so they sued our company to remove the charges and pay for their furniture damages.
The court visit wasn’t as interesting as I expected. The judge heard both sides of the arguments and it didn’t look good for the tenants who have caused a minor flood before and had many delinquent account issues. He agreed with the owner in covering it 50/50, so we won the case. The rest of the issues of eviction and collections was a separate issue for another day. To end it all, the woman had an outstanding arrest warrant for something, so the judge had the officer arrest her and taken away right after his decision. It was pretty funny to me to not only end this problem with those tenants, but that she showed up to court, lost her case, and was taken away in cuffs.
One of the first angry tenant issues I dealt with within my first two weeks was a truck that got towed. We shared a part of our lot with another business that was very strict about their parking spaces. They even had it painted on the ground but people still parked there and got towed. It happened three times while I was working there. Tenants or their guest would come to me all upset about it, but it was easy for me to defer them to the other business that towed them. In my first case, the guy tried for half an hour or more to prove that he was safe parking on the lot and they had no right to tow his truck. Obviously he was wrong and there was nothing he or I could do to stop it. I never ordered any cars to be towed while I was working there. People rarely parked in places they shouldn't, but even if they were, they were gone within a few hours anyway. I had a personal policy to not tow until after I placed a 24-hour notice on a vehicle unless they were blatantly blocking a red zone like in the way of garbage removal or something important. I didn't want to deal with the headache of more angry people and charging someone hundreds of dollars for a first-time offense. If the same vehicle parked in someone else's spot more than once after being served the first time I would be much more willing to have it towed, but I never had that problem.
Everyone's a good tenant until they pay late or have issues. When people would fall on hard times or have requests to fix issues, I would often be reminded about how they've been good tenants and they want some sort of reward because of that. Yes I can be helpful to first time offenders for minor things, but EVERYBODY is a good tenant at first and no, you cannot do random favors that aren’t asked for like cleaning the property in exchange for me to look the other way when you're late on rent or a complaint is filed against you.
There were two or three times when tenants missed rent and when I called to check in I was told they’ve been wanting some maintenance things done. We do have an easy system for maintenance requests, but some issues are not as urgent as others. Some owners will agree to fix things up and others won’t unless they HAVE to. Again, withholding rent or other payments due will not work. You will get screwed worse in the end unless you REALLY know the law and know what you're doing. It's always amusing to me when people get upset about problems on their account and make comments that they're going to be looking for other places to live and moving out. That’s great news for me! A problem tenant is letting themselves out the door! Going to leave a bad review? Fine. I’ll just leave my owner remarks about how you screwed up and were a bad tenant. Nobody cares. All those people that withheld rent for whatever reason always lost. They were all evicted and now had a tainted rental record. They never had the money to pay and were just making up excuses to try and stay longer or get a discount.
Even if they had the money, the simple act of turning it over to pay the rent proved difficult for some people. Many people waited until the very last day and the very last hour to pay rent. This was a problem sometimes when the software automatically assesses a late fee and then I have to argue with my own company to get it removed because they slipped it under the door or paid it at 11:59pm and it didn’t load until 12:01am. If the first or fifth lands on a weekend or holiday and you're paying with a check or cash, you need to pay ahead of time if this office is closed. If you don’t pay it online and demand to pay in person when the office is open again, you’ll be late if it's not already in the box. If you don't get paid until a few days after the due date, that's your problem to figure out. The landlord doesn't have to accommodate your pay days or job losses or any income changes. You must be responsible for your own budgeting and make sure that rent gets in on time.
When I was working in the on-site office as manager of the apartments complex, several people would try to use the excuse that I wasn't in the office for them to pay rent, so it was late, even though there's a rent drop box right by the door. Rent does not need to be paid IN MY HAND! It can be paid online or left in the drop box. You not feeling comfortable leaving it in a drop box or paying a $2 on-line portal fee is not our problem. It is free to pay in my hand if I'm there, or you can pay for free in the drop box. Should the drop box ever be broken into, the thieves wouldn't be able to use the checks written to us anyways and we don't take cash payments. You would get a chance to write a new check without any late penalties.
I was also very annoyed at how many times people incorrectly filled out checks or money orders, or paid the wrong amounts. I couldn’t get ahold of them after emailing, calling, and leaving messages, then they complain about all the late fees and problems. It was so frustrating because I’m trying so hard to be on their side to make sure everything’s right and so they don’t get unfair hefty charges, but it sometimes felt like they were purposefully being difficult with their screw ups and lack of communication. Don’t wait until the very last second to pay, pay the right amount, and don’t ignore me trying to reach out to you when there’s a problem. I’m reaching out to avoid problems. Many other managers, including my boss, love to trap people and make them suffer the consequences for not handling things on their own in the proper way and on time. “It’ll teach them,” they say. My future boss at another job also subscribed to that method of training. Let people learn through mistakes and get them in trouble. If it’s a hard learning, they’re more likely to remember. I hate this method! People MIGHT learn better, but it also breaks down the relationship and makes people resent you when you simply could’ve been more proactive in giving advice on how not to fail. Be on their side.
I was always on the tenant’s side as much as possible. I wanted to be very fair and give people a good home with things taken care of and no problems, but I also hated conflict so I did everything I could to avoid it and sometimes people just have to own the penalty charges. I can’t completely bend the rules or hide charges in our software because I still have my own boss to report to and, like I said earlier, they really clamped down controls. I tried everything I could reasonably do to help tenants avoid problems and charges, but doing favors for people sometimes backfired. Not only did they often become repeat offenders, but it also gave me a headache trying to cover my tracks for when I was able to help the first time and they were never grateful I helped in the first place. I took a chance on renting to a young couple one time because I knew they were desperate to get a place. The problem was that they BARELY qualified, they were renting an expensive 3-bed/2-bath unit when it’s just the two of them, and I knew they would struggle with the rent if they weren’t careful, but I wasn’t going to stop them if they think they could make it work. Of course it failed after a few months, they broke lease, moved out early, and issued the penalty and cleaning charges. I really hoped they would make it work, but I wasn’t surprised. I felt guilty for allowing them to get in, but they did technically qualify – barely. Of course the parents were mad about all the charges, but they probably should’ve advised the kids to make better choices in picking a place to live.
One subject that angered people in different ways was pets. I can’t believe how many people have pets and how many pets some people have! Pets are scary to landlords because of the damages they can cause and issues with neighbors. Both dogs and cats will sometimes scratch and chew the floors, baseboards, walls and doors, and just stink up the place. There were three or four times we had to completely replace the flooring in rentals because the cleaners could not get the smells out. The renter was charged the pro-rata charge for replacing flooring early. We had a rule to replace old carpets that were worn out every 7 years. If we needed to replace them sooner because the tenant and/or their pets damaged them, they would have to pay the balance of the remaining time. For example, if it cost $2,000 to replace the carpets and they were only 4 years old, the tenant would be charged $857 for the three years of use left in the carpets (2000/7 x 3 years left). My wife and I don't like cats. They're cute creatures, but almost every house we go into that has cats stinks!
Dog poop all over the grass on the property was always a problem. It was difficult to find out who was leaving it and we tried a few tactics that helped a little, but it was incredibly annoying. So many people are such irresponsible pet owners! There were only about two cases of noise complaints for barking dogs, but that was also a problem that I couldn’t do much about. I’m not going to put listening devices out to prove the neighbors’ dogs bark too much, but I can talk to the tenants about it at least. We also had to make a new community rule requiring all dogs to be on a leash in public for two reasons: 1) Too many people were letting their dogs out to relieve themselves unsupervised and 2) Not everyone feels comfortable with loose dogs approaching them and pestering them, their children, and especially people with dogs that don’t like other dogs up in their space.
So people had lots of dog complaints, but new prospects also complained about our pet policies. They were frustrated and cried about how unfair it is to limit the number of pets you can have and what size or breed. I made the policy clear to this one guy when he first came in, but then in middle of the viewing, this “son” that he previously mentioned that would be living with him was actually a pitbull dog, which is prohibited. He then proceeds to explain how good and well behaved his dog is and how it’s like a son to him. He was literally referring to it as his son the entire time up ‘til now. I’m sorry, but no. Did you think I can just let you sneak it in and explain to everyone else that it’s ok because he loves his pitbull so much even though it’s not ok for everyone else? No!
Another interesting debate in this area is pets vs children. Some people complain that children can cause more damage and noise problems than pets, yet pets require their own deposits and extra rent. It's an interesting argument and having had young kids myself I know children can cause some damage to properties. However, I still agree with the standard that more often than not, pets cause more problems.
Now the worst scenario with pets I’ve dealt with, started with a problem crazy-lady whose husband recently moved out and she started inviting scuzzy-looking people over and missed rent so she’s facing eviction. I was at a meeting in our main office in town when a tenant called in. One of our employees took the call and we hear her say, “Ok then you need to hang up and call the police.” She then comes and tells me that a someone shot a dog on the property.
There was police and an animal control truck already there when I arrived. Police were taking statements and the situation was under control, but the people outside were all shaken up about what happened of course. So the scuzzy-looking guy that was illegally staying at the trouble tenant’s place brought in a scary-looking pit bull that got out. The dog ran out and proceeded to bark, snarl, and lunge at people unfortunate enough to be out at the moment. The dog also picked the wrong people to mess with as its final victims. It jumped all over one couple and became more aggressive when they tried kicking it away. The husband had enough and decided he had to shoot the dog with the pistol he carried on him to end the threat. He was actually pretty shaken up and didn’t want to from what I’ve seen and been told by people, but he felt like he had to.
The fall-out from this was that we reiterated our pet policy with everyone, evicted the problem tenant, and deal with new complaints about people not feeling safe because of the shooting. One old lady came in and cried about how it’s not right that the other person could shoot the dog, he didn’t look harmed, and it’s against the lease rules and city rules to discharge a firearm. She wanted them evicted too. I was actually surprised by how many people came to the defense of the dog! On a side note, I don’t actually know if it lived or died. It was alive when the owner placed it in the animal control vehicle, but after that I don’t know if it lived or died later. Since the guy acted in self-defense the police issued no ticket or penalties to the shooter, but did take his weapon for a time for evidence or some sort of legal reasons. I agreed with the police and so did my boss that they were right to act in self-defense in that moment against a loose, aggressive dog. People do not have to wait until they’re bitten, mauled, and torn up to prove they need to kill an animal for their safety, but of course there should be witnesses to account for whether or not people are just shooting animals they don’t like. I was not there to witness what really happened, but a few others complained about being attacked and threatened by the dog. Several people in the community were divided about whether it was right or wrong to shoot the dog and both sides were upset.
The tenant being evicted was taking her sweet time and not appearing to leave on her own, so I had to have the court deputies served their official 24-hour notice and when that expiration time approached, I had to call them in to let them know we needed them to enforce the order because they still haven’t left on their own. That morning the tenant did finally bring in a small rented truck to move stuff out, but I didn’t trust they’d actually turn over possession or get out on time and this needed to end today. She came over to the office with her two young boys to fake appeal compassion from me to allow more time, but I wasn’t having it. I was so sick of this lady and wanted her gone! I told her I can’t giver her more time, the deputies are taking over and coming to enforce their notice. She scowled and cursed me and pulled her children away as she left as if she was protecting them from me like I was a horrible, dangerous person. I feel bad for those kids. Life is so unfair to all the children that have to grow up in broken homes with parents that can’t manage their lives. This lady wasn’t just a mother down on her luck. I would actually work with people like that to help them. No. She was defiant, breaking several rules, refusing to cooperate, very likely using drugs, inviting people over that made the community feel unsafe, and stirring trouble with neighbors.
When the deputies arrived she swore at me some more and told them how horrible I was. I just didn’t respond. There’s no point and all it would do is escalate the situation. They gave her just five more minutes to leave while we changed the locks with a maintenance tech, then they made sure she was off the property before leaving. In the early morning hours of the following day, she and that guy came back and tried breaking into the back door of her unit but were ran off by another tenant that caught them in the act. She was given the opportunity to come back for what little was left of her stuff, but never responded and her stuff just got scrapped during our standard turnover cleaning and repairs. This lady was charged with it all for being such a pain: missed rent plus the late fees until eviction, court charges and legal fees for full eviction with deputies, unauthorized pet charges, unauthorized guest charges, cleaning charges, and all the repair costs, especially for the damaged door from the attempted break-in. Good riddance!
I used to watch some shows about people being evicted and they almost always acted surprised like they had no idea it was coming or assumed something was being taken care of. No, it’s never a surprise. There are lots of notices and communications that lead up to that point. Plus, an eviction means you won’t get a good reference, but if you let go all the way to court you’re going to have an actual record of it, not just a bad reference, and you’re going to be forced out anyway. It’s much better to leave on your own and not let it get to that point.
Since I worked in property management, I learned a little bit about section 8 and section 42 government housing subsidies which are supposed to give aid to people struggling with finding a decent home on low incomes. Like many people, I don't like Section 8 because it's a clunky mess of organization, bureaucracy, and paperwork. I definitely understand why so many landlords refuse to take it. The second property I worked at was accepting it, but we started to phase out the program because of the headache.
The tenants were required to pay a set amount of their portion of rent and the section 8 program sent us a check to cover the difference. We didn't have a lot of section 8 users and many of them were decent tenants. However, there is a negative stereotype about section 8 people which is another reason why landlords don't like it and the stereotype exists for a reason. It's often true. Again, many were good, but there were still several section 8 tenants that caused problems on the property. They had struggles with alcohol and/or drug abuse, relationship problems with loud fighting inside and outside their units, cleanliness issues inside and outside their units, and even though their rent is subsidized there were some that still often struggled with paying even their small portion of rent on time and had trouble following other community rules.
I started to dislike using section 8 vouchers or company housing contracts because they became more of a burden. They basically had their own lease that we had to accommodate to and restricted our own control. Anytime there were lease changes with renewals, rate changes, or other issues they had to be notified like two months in advance with more paperwork and dealing with the long wait-times between correspondence. The bureaucratic protocols just wasn't worth it. It was much easier to just fill the unit with a new tenant on our own lease and enforce our own changes. We had a contract with a local trade school as well that was frustrating. The school itself paid the rent and was basically considered the "tenant," but they had special lease addendums that allowed them to house their students without us doing any vetting. The only problem I really had was noise complaints and extra vehicles on the property. Why do apartment complexes never seem to supply enough parking spaces? There should always be at least two or one and a half spaces times the number of units. Anyways, besides those complaints it was still just annoying to go through third party people and protocols just to manage our own units and tenants.
When I eventually moved away and started looking for my own place to live, I came across some Section 42 properties. I visited them because they looked nice and had great rates, but found out that you can only qualify to live there if you earn below a set income. It was pretty low too, but I don't remember the exact amount. From what I understand, Section 8 just sends the landlord a check to make up the difference in rent so poor people don't have to pay as much, but section 42 sets an income limit that only people with low incomes can live in, but they are responsible for all rent and obligations on their own. The property company agrees to keep their rates far below market rates and abide by this standard of only allowing lower income tenants in exchange for a reduction in taxes which makes up the difference they would've earned otherwise at normal market rates.
I am more supportive of section 42 properties because they seem a lot easier to manage and instead of paying out money the government mostly just goes without earning the taxes on the property it would normally get; but I've been wondering - why can't the government OWN some rental properties instead of subsidizing them? Do they already do that at all? Someone please explain if so. Not only could it provide more affordable housing to those that need it most, but it could also maybe be a source of income for the local government. Right?
One more situation I want to address is roommates. There were three times we had units rented with roommate situations where roommates would fight, break up, and move out. The problem is, they signed the lease together so they’re all equally responsible for the full payment. If one leaves, it screws over everyone including the one that left. This is why the first company I worked at didn’t allow it. It’s annoying to deal with and you have to manage their drama if it happens. In one case they made it work by going through the proper channels of having a replacement apply and be approved by us and paid to add them on the lease and properly remove the previous person. In the other two cases they couldn’t find a replacement, so the others had to soak up the cost. For one, she only had the one roommate and paid the full rent herself. I felt bad for her, but she paid two months on her own then her lease was up and she left in good standing. The other was a group of four where one left only 4 months into a 12-month lease. The others paid the extra cost for 3 more months then couldn’t take it anymore and all broke lease by moving out early. I still gave good references to the three, but the fourth person that left was also sent a portion of the bill for leaving early and the late fees for the last month they were late.
My final comment on renters is about complaints. In apartment communities, there's only so much a manager can do when it comes to enforcing noise complaints and pet problems. If you live in an apartment, you will hear noises! You share walls and they were not built to be studio soundproof! If you can't live with that and can't resolve problems with your neighbor(s), then you will need to move - preferably to your own home away from neighbors. Many of the people that constantly complain about noise or other issues, will complain no matter what. A cricket can chirp outside their window once at night and they’d be calling it in. A lot of people are shy and timid and don't want to confront their neighbors about issues, but you need to at least try to stick up for yourself first. If anything, it will help your case if the situation needs to be escalated to management. Most people are more reasonable than you think if you just try talking to them in a friendly manner.
Know from the manager's perspective that it is fairly difficult to legally evict someone before their lease ends for any other reason besides staying after a lease has expired, or for not paying rent, or for blatant lease violations with evidence. Managers don't have eyes and ears everywhere at all times to prove the violations and people can’t be trusted. Too many fake stories are used for stupid things people don’t like and just want to get rid of their neighbors. Unless there is hard proof of people in violation, there can't be any real action besides maybe choosing to not renew a lease when it comes due in the future. If there's a violation issued and the offender challenges it, there's nothing to stand on besides someone's word. If you live in an apartment you will hear noises!
The main, underlying problem to everything I’ve dealt with in property management is that too many people do not take personal responsibility for consequences to their actions and do not make rational judgments. A young woman would complain to me about having a hard life and blame the world and various factors for not being able to keep a job or afford rent and whatnot, but maybe it's because she is 20 years old with two kids from two different, non-existent fathers, a new boyfriend every 6 months, and switching jobs every 6 months. I don’t care what you do with your personal life as long as you fulfill your obligations and stop blaming the world at some point. There are still some things you do have control over despite having a rough past. Just because your work hours were cut, doesn't mean your rent amount can be cut as well. It's unfortunate, but now you make me to be the bad guy as if I’m a horrible, immoral person just because I enforce lease rules. I don't own the property. I can’t help people even if I wanted because of how the system works. I can't go to my boss and the property owner and tell them I let one person cut back on rent just because of a hard time - which hard times seem to keep happening to a lot of the same people.
Dealing with Owners
Now back to my job timeline. I worked at this other apartment complex for a year and then was moved to the main office to manage mostly single-family homes and a trailer park. I was used to only dealing with one owner of the mid-size apartment complex, so it was a little frustrating dealing with multiple owners now, managing the properties of all the people renting out their houses. Many people have stories of bad tenants and unusual events, but you rarely hear about dealing with owners.
I've met some rental property owners who had expectations that just aren't compatible with reality or were even prohibited by law. Many owners I've worked with want to push the rental rates as high as they can go and want very strict qualifications to get the "perfect tenant." They want the perfect tenant that will pay the most, but they also aren't willing to wait and let their property sit vacant until they get that match. These are conflicting problems. If you want to charge really high rents, then your chances of units sitting vacant longer and evictions/early terminations go up with it. Even good tenants sometimes lose jobs and have life emergencies causing them to break lease under the pressure of high rents. Owners want to have strict standards and get the best tenants, but if you're going to turn away all the other applicants then you have to be willing to wait and have your property sit vacant until you can get that ideal renter.
Owners often say they want all collections to happen promptly and enforced strictly. All rent needs to be collected on the 1st through the 5th and late notices and fees go out on the 6th. "No working deals and payment plans with tenants." However, once they are made to understand that being very firm and strict with this often means having to deal with evictions in the courts, they'll back off a bit. Evictions frighten owners just as much as tenants because then they are afraid of court costs, legal battles, and possible damages to the property from angry tenants on their way out. I tried to work with tenants as much as possible being firm, but fair; but it’s a careful balance and as I reflect back on my experiences I think it probably would be easier to just stick to the firm rules. The cost of evictions are higher than working with a tenant, but it can be more of a headache trying to manage payment plans with a tenant when you can probably just put a new one in instead.
When a tenant is sent to collections for leaving or being evicted with an outstanding balance owing, I was told that chances are pretty slim that owners will actually get much of that, if anything back. If so, you only get a little bit here and there for a long time. Collections are very regulated and don't produce results nearly as well or quickly as you'd hope. This leads me to believe that people actually can get away without having to pay the full price, as long as they're ok with their credit taking a hit.
I was surprised by how upset property owners would get over maintenance issues. Yes, of course you would like to never have to pay for the upkeep of your property and be a slumlord, but if you want to charge these high rates and stay within legal limits and whatnot, you have to pay to upkeep your property. I thought it was understood that owning and managing property would include maintenance costs, but I was surprised at how many times property owners were devastated and upset at even minor repairs. They didn't budget for it and were relying too heavily on their one rental house for income.
There were other times that property owners wanted to fix things themselves to save money, but they weren't very good at doing things properly or in a timely manner. I've seen owners try to bill and charge tenants for the upgrades and remodeling of their property. No. They're already paying your mortgage and taxes for that sweet, ever-growing equity. They are not obligated in any way to pay for your elective property improvements on top of that.
Some people own rental properties and probably shouldn't because they can't financially support the investment. The last place I rented before buying my first home was owned by a family that were presented an opportunity to buy the rental house from a relative. The problem was that they didn't have the finances to maintain it and pay for it when no tenant was there. They worked really hard to do maintenance upkeep themselves and they were good at that at least, but they struggled managing the financial side of it. Should any costly repairs be needed or long turnover time between tenants, they'd have to get a loan to cover the costs. When I was managing rental houses, one older woman used the rental income from her property as her retire income to live on. The long-term tenant she had moved out and we couldn't place a new tenant because the house was in such bad shape, needing a lot of repairs she couldn't afford. She was very upset and eventually had a friend come to do repairs and I was laid off before finding out whatever became of that situation.
The last interesting experience I want to comment on is my involvement in managing an old trailer park. It wasn't a park with an office or amenities, but tracts of land with plots for home hookups. The owner was a big company that wanted to develop the land, but didn't want the bad publicity of evicting all the residents. The homes on this lot were old and not up to code for transporting on the streets - not that any of the residents could afford to anyway. My job was to manage the property like any other and make sure rent is collected and all lease rules are followed, but also to encourage people to leave. We made deals with people such as free rent for 3 months if they sign over the title to their home and leave. We needed the title to own the home and approve of its demolition and removal. A few people took it and left, but many others wanted to stay. They put a lot of money into their homes and were now being forced to leave it because they can't afford to move it anywhere if it even could be moved. I felt bad for everyone in that sad situation.
The worst part about managing this park was that it was onboarded from another company and it was not managed well, or at all, for many months. Most places didn't even have a lease on file, account balances were all over the place, and there were several problem tenants that were always paying late, or not at all, and a few people we could never get ahold of and questioned whether they were even living there. Some homes were abandoned, but we didn't have a title or contact for the actual owner, so that was a mess to figure out too. I watched this John Oliver video about parks screwing people over and I found it very sad and frustrating. I can relate to knowing what it's like for people to be trapped and screwed over.
I worked at this second property management job for a year and a half until I was let go due to the business shrinking. Unfortunately, I didn't secure a new job in time and it wasn't for a lack of trying. I wanted to get out of there much sooner and even went to a few interviews, but I didn't get hired anywhere so I got to experience being laid off and unemployed for the first time in my life. Two other people were laid off at the same time as I, then two years later everyone else until they were left with just the owner and his wife, plus a receptionist. I don't feel that bad for their business failing because there were a lot of things going wrong in that company with bad business decisions, certain things they did with mistreating employees, and their terrible policies that hurt tenants and sometimes owners.
The company owner made some bad business deals by growing too fast and hiring too many employees and buying a whole batch of management contracts from another shady company that severely mismanaged their properties, and then left all those problems for employees to deal with on their own. It was a small company and employee turnover was pretty high. Most employees there had no prior property management experience at all either. The management contracts purchased were never properly onboarded, so their lease information was missing or incorrect, many had delinquent accounts and missing deposits, and many properties haven't had an inspection for a long time. A year later, as problems started flowing in and untrained employees left dealing with it, plus the ever-changing company policies, the problems grew and property owners became upset. Most of it was the previous management company's fault, but my company's owner didn't do enough to fix it. Since the housing market was very hot, almost every single contract he purchased just the previous year ended up being closed by owners choosing to sell instead of dealing with more rental management problems. The company was small to begin with, already had a bad reputation, no marketing to attract new properties to manage, and hired too many employees. We had monthly meetings to go over how things were going as a company, so that's how I saw the writing on the wall. I was disappointed in being let go, but not surprised. I was more troubled by the fact that I was never able to get into a real job that led to an actual career in the mean time.
I actually enjoyed property management and learned a lot from it. Property management as a service doesn't make very much money because it's usually less than 10% of the rent amount charged to the owners. Property management companies for the most part only make good money by charging expensive fees to tenants, managing a lot of units, or just owning their own properties themselves. I wanted to own my own rental properties some day, but I learned that it doesn’t make a lot of money unless the mortgage is paid off and you picked up the property for cheap and can charge a high rent rate. I've found several REIT investments that give you a better return for your money than actually owning property yourself and there's no management hassle with maintenance or tenant issues. The only problem is that you don't have control over your own investment.
I am very against raising rent on current tenants that are renewing their lease unless costs absolutely require it, not just because the market allows me to. Housing is skyrocketing, but wages are definitely not. Sure the market rate is going up 20% (or whatever high number) each year, but the tenants' income is certainly not - or at least not nearly as much as housing costs are.
When I worked in property management I would raise rent rates between tenants but still keep them a little lower to be competitive and fill empty units faster. If the previous tenant moves out, then at least the new tenants would choose to move in under the new rate since they are already in the market and planning for it instead of raising rates too much on current tenants, causing them to be forced out or screwed trying to make it work to stay there and souring the relationship.
If they were longer-term tenants, I'd raise it by maybe half of what the current market increase is every 2 years with plenty of advance notice. I tried my best to not raise rates on the first renewal. Turnovers are expensive. It's easier to have a good relationship with tenants and keep them longer this way. You can bring up rates slowly with the long-term people, but still grow your income when there are turnovers.
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