Lessons From an Overfriendly Landlord
When I purchased my first property, a triplex row home in an outlying section of Harrisburg, I was very anxious to get to know my tenants on a personal level. I introduced myself and made myself available to them 24 hours a day. I listened to all their complaints about the previous landlord and his leftover maintenance.
When my father upgraded his computer, I reloaded his old one so the hard drive was clear and gave it to my one tenant’s teenage daughters so she could use it for school. It was the ‘caseworker’ in me that made me do it and from that gesture I felt good.
It seems that computer was a turning point for me in my career in property management. Not because of the incredible satisfaction I felt from helping someone less fortunate. Not because I gave a low income family a computer they could not have afforded otherwise. But it was a turning point because of the overwhelming sense that that teenage girl could not have cared one bit that her great landlord gave her a computer for free. This little teenage diva felt entitled to this hand out and in return didn’t have a thank you, or even a neck snap in return.
It was then I realized that I am a landlord first and “friend” comes somewhere down the list. I have to thank this teen diva for that awakening because it had made me aware of the line in the sand that I should never cross.
There are many tenants out there that feed off of landlords that want to be friends. Friends do friends favors… Like let them slide on the rent for a couple of days/weeks/months… They dismiss the hole in the wall from a frustrated fist. All this will lead you holding the bag when this pseudo friendship come to a halt and your nice little investment is looking very similar to a well partied college row home.
This do good, caseworker mentality that I had in the beginning was the reason my first troublesome tenants were able to string out their own eviction for well over 6 months. I did not want to be the one to kick this family of 8 out of the apartment. Notably, only 3 were present when they moved in. The rest of the family filtered in during the 9 months that followed. Claudette paid the rent on time the first month but when the bread winner boyfriend moved, out things went south quickly. Me, being in caseworker mode, tried to help her best I could but she fell 2 months behind in rent before I even considered eviction. I felt bad for them. I liked their little daughter who would hug me every time I came over. Looking back, Claudette probably put her up to it b/c she saw how children soften my heart. Eventually, Claudette was forced to leave and I was learning. As I was cleaning out, repainting and repairing the wrecked apartment I had lots and lots of time to think about those lessons I had learned.
Three years later and I have run across my share of “Claudettes” but now a big red flag goes up every time a tenant tries to get too lovey dovey.
Here’s an example. One day I was wearing an Eagles sweatshirt (the year they went to the super bowl) while fixing a leaky sink. The tenant, who already was on thin ice, saw her opportunity and seized it… “Eagles! Oh yea, a fellow Eagles Fan!”… With high five locked and loaded she came traipsing into the kitchen. Being a loyal E-A-G-L-E-S fan, I threw up my own high five…. CLAP! And I responded, “now Terry, where’s my rent?”
Long story short, as landlords we don’t have to be unapproachable and cold but we do need to be on the look out. We need spot the occasional parasite tenant who wants to feed off an over friendly landlord. The bank asks that you pay your mortgage by the 16th of the month. No amount of friendly chatter will get you out of paying the mortgage on time. And that same friendly chatter shouldn’t influence you in collecting the rent when it is due. Always be a landlord first, and a friend second.