The reality for many people living in big cities these days is that houses cost a lot. In our city, half a million dollars might get you a home in quad-plex or a unit in a long row of houses. If you’re lucky, you get an 8×8 backyard for your money. Many of those homes only have driveways long enough to park one car, and the garage isn’t really suitable for parking unless you’re paper-thin and your car is very, very small.
So, we rent. With renting comes a host of problems. Landlords who hide the fact that the rental is only for a year because a family member is on a job posting elsewhere and will be returning to reclaim the house in a year. Landlords who invested in the house when prices were half what they are now who want to cash out on their investment, forcing you to move. Landlords who are young and didn’t bother to educate themselves on the laws of renting in the state or province that you’re living in, and those who know the laws but blatantly ignore them.
Tenants can be faced with an overbearing landlord who insists upon ‘inspecting’ the unit every 2 months, insisting on looking at problems with the home before calling in the plumber for that flooding toilet, landlords who get upset because you have too many pictures up, and those who get upset if they come for an inspection and your children’s lego is all over the floor because, well, they were playing with it.
All of this is only secondary to trying to get a rental. In this city, good luck. In our province, it’s illegal to discriminate against families with young children, people with disabilities, people with Service Dogs, people who have no credit yet because they are young and just starting out, people who are on disability, welfare, or pensions, or people they just don’t like the look of. Asian homeowners here usually only consider Asian applicants, African-Americans will often only consider other African-Americans, and so on, and in the part of the city that we live in, most of the properties that are rentals are not owned by Caucasians. We just re-entered the rental game a few years ago when we had to sell our home to move closer to a children’s hospital, which was :45 minutes away from our house. We applied to a whopping 36 properties, and in about 60% of our walk-throughs, the non-Caucasian owners talk extensively to prospective tenants well into or even past our appointment time, give us a very short tour of the house, and then turn to the next non-Caucasian applicant after our brief, five-minute tour.
We had one landlord give us notice to move out after just a year because their daughter was returning from a consulate overseas where she was an attaché, even though we asked specifically if the house was going to be re-appropriated for any reason and were reassured that it would not, and that it was a long-term rental property. Now, we have landlords who have literally called or emailed us almost every day since we moved in. They were upset because they didn’t want pets in the home (illegal in our province) and they met our Service Dog, and advised us that we didn’t have permission to have him in the home. Discrimination. Then their realtor called us to advise us that since we hadn’t gotten permission from the owners to have the Service Dog in the home prior to move-in, we had to get rid of him. Um, what? Also illegal. We were then advised by both that we were NOT to have any ‘pets’ in the home. Also illegal. A landlord here can even stipulate in the lease that no pets are allowed, and it is absolutely unenforceable, because…it’s illegal.
We had a running toilet on the main floor and in the upstairs bathroom that we asked them to address, and a month later we had an appointment. I was expecting a plumber, but instead, the owners showed up, looked at the toilet, said, ‘yup, it’s running,’ and then we had to wait another week and half for the plumber. While they were here, they were demanding to see a shower head that I had replaced in the ensuite because the old one literally fell off the first time I used it. I was chastised for fixing it, so I told her, okay, I’ll put the old one (which was cracked where it screwed on in 3 places) and you can have a plumber come in and fix it. No, she said, I just want to see it. I advised her that I had a sick teenager sleeping in the room in his underwear. She insisted and said ‘I don’t mind.’ I said, well, I’m pretty sure he would. Her brother, the co-owner, had the good sense to say, you know what, some pictures would be fine. They were so upset about the fact that I had replaced this shower head, yet they never offered to pay for the one I put in. The list goes on…and on…and on…
So what’s a renter to do? After yet another email addressing the same issues yet again, I wrote back to him and told him that I felt that they felt very insecure about having renters in their house, and asked what I could do to ease their minds. We had a phone conversation as a follow-up to my email that ended without much resolution, so I drafted another tonight. These are the steps I proposed to build a more trusting relationship:
- Limiting contact to only new business
- Open communication about any concerns on either side
- Each of us referring to Landlord-Tenant laws before addressing issues with each other
- Respecting our need for autonomy, and only coming to inspect the property twice a year instead of six times a year
- Not discussing issues in front of the children
- Not re-visiting problems that had been resolved already
I wish I could tell you that this was my list of solutions that worked, but I can’t; however, I did get an agreement on all six items. The relationship between landlords and tenants can be tricky, which is why I prefer to rent from someone who uses a leasing agent, but beggars can’t be choosers. If you find yourself in a situation like this, it’s really important that you respect your landlord’s concerns, and discuss matters calmly and respectfully. Phrase language using ‘I’ statements instead of accusatory statements, such as ‘I feel uncomfortable having inspections six times a year,’ vs. ‘you’re disrupting our family by coming in here six times a year.’ Make constructive statements, such as ‘I’m concerned about how much our water bill will be,’ vs. ‘well, now our water bill is going to be through the roof.’
On the other hand, if you have a slumlord, you need to go online and familiarize yourself with the law, then use it to ensure that your living environment is safe and functional. Broken showers, toilets, bathtubs need to be addressed in a timely manner, as do roof leaks, shaky bannisters, or broken appliances. If you’re stuck in a lease with a slum lord, unfortunately, you may have to go to court to force your landlord to take action, or, if the situation permits it, to get out of your lease altogether. If your landlord is a slumlord, you’re really better off going through the hassle of moving than trying to live in an unsuitable unit.
The moral of the story here is to speak softly but keep a copy of the landlord-tenant laws in your back pocket. If at all possible, try to foster a positive relationship with your landlord, but if that fails, or you have a slumlord, maybe it’s time to consider moving on.