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Bert Stratton
The Landlord’s Tale « Back to Story

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Very funny article! I read the article in the NY times also and I forwarded it to others.

I am a lifelong renter (16 years now), my parents were renters also (so I guess that's 34 years living in rental properties). As an adult, I have had about 8 landlords, 3 of whom were shysters, and 5 of whom were decent, normal people. I have also had a lot of neighbor tenants, and I'd say about 25% were crazy or dishonest in some way. So, I have found that the ratio of normal people to the weirdos is about the same for landlords and tenants (about 3 to 1).

Because I've lived next to some really messed up people as a renter, I've always had some sympathy for landlords. I know that I could not do it -- some of these people would drive me nuts! Living next to them was hard, I can't imagine collecting money for them. It also always seems that the nicer landlords who are really trying are the ones who get taken advantage of the most.

As much as possible, I try to see renting as a business relationship. It is not always easy, because there is something deeply personal about the place you live. It's hard to be 100% rational and reasonable about it. A landlord sometimes sees certain things as just practical matters, like "oh, a window" whereas, when you live there, you are thinking, "this is MY home, I have to deal with it every day, this is not just any old window"

I think it's important not to have an adversarial relationship with your landlord. If they are really crooks, maybe you have no choice, but I try to see them as people who are doing a difficult job, and we have a contract. I don't resent paying rent, since I agreed to it, no one put a gun to my head. I also try to keep things in order and not damage the place, because I think that it's important to respect other people's property. It is pretty amazing to me that some people really think, "it's not mine, therefore it's not important, if I can get away with trashing it, why not?"

I hope to own my own home someday, but I have vowed never to be a landlord myself!
I downsized myself when my income dropped by 55% and my wife lost her job. I'm a renter, just like when I was 17. At 55, I replace ugly or broken fixtures on my dime. When the maint. yahoos go on permanent vacation, I buy a lawnmower and some weed and feed. I own a carpet steamer. At 17 I was a lot more frugal and probably not a big hit with any of my landlords. People are way out of touch the difference between earned and wants.
Hey, I'm a "nice-guy," musician, landlord, too. Best article on property managing I've ever read. You bend a little and people feel they have a little control and are more likely to comply/"buy-in." Talk about the school of hard knocks. After 20 years I finally manage much the same style. You gotta be able to laugh about it.....eventually.
I'm from neighborhood and a lifelong Clevelander and renter. What an absolute spot on riot of an article. May I suggest you enhance this endeavor. First, serialize it. The topics and angles are endless. Second, do East Side-West Side versions. Locals will laugh like crazy and the rest of the country will be entertained and informed. Thanks.
Wonderful read.
Love the tone: light and disconnected. Truly comic. This was a great read! Had me in stiches a couple times, especially with that nature observing tenant of yours. Delightful!
wow. like a breath of fresh air
Really liked this, and happened to catch your piece in the NYTimes this week, too. How cool is that for you! Nicely done!
My husband's landlord was fine, although I wish he could have done more with the crazy laundry neighbors. He did tell them not to start their laundry at 5:30 a.m. So they waited until 8:00 a.m. - every morning. They were immune to our pleas to please, please wait until later, at least on weekends. Sometimes, people are just jerks and there is nothing the landlord can do.

The whole story is here:
Question for Bert and his dead daddy? Both of you always reported the cash rent right? Taking unreported income didn't help you amass allthat property did it? And when you got a bargain on a purchase you never fave cash in addition to the recorded price? Of course not you and your pops were honorable men. Right?
Sounds like Lakewood is not what it used to be (LHS '64; Victoria Avenue, just north of Malleys, left for college and never moved back).

an understatement?

Your Op Ed really brought it to life, thanks for writing.
Compared to me, the writer is a big-time Landlord.
My mother passed away recently, and I rented her house to a young couple with a baby on the way.
After the first three months of reluctant rent payments, I never got another dime, but I did get lots of baby poop in used diapers thrown out of the upper windows. The other atrocities can't be discussed in polite company. Since this took place in New York City, where 'landlord' is held in the same esteem as concentration camp guards,
it took me eight months to get rid of this
nightmare. Now I'm the only tenant - I use it as my art studio.
I feel ya, Auntie. My experience with landlords in New York City is that most of them keep just barely on the windy side of the law. We would get down on our knees and thank the Maker for a reasonable guy like Bert, here.

One example: Mr. Nagin would adhere to the law that you have to paint the tenants' apartments every three years (if asked), but he only offered one color -- Battleship Green. If you wanted white, you had to buy it yourself (the law has since been amended to specify "white paint").

Our current landlord, Mr. Goldman of BLDG Management, owns several Thousand buildings in NYC, including our 1881 tenement, purchased in the mid-70s for $75,000. Eight units, plus ground-floor retail. He's been forcing people out so he can quadruple the rent, a violation of the stabilization laws. With rent stabilization, we pay $1500/month for 300 square feet, with no sink in the bathroom, and only two outlets in the entire apartment (everything's on-the-wall DIY wiring).

Without RS? he's been demanding, and getting, $3500 - $4500 for these same minuscule apartments, "rehabbed" with gimcrack appliances and paperboard cabinetry. By law, he's only allowed a 25% increase.

Anyway. A good landlord is worth his weight in gold; a bad one makes your life a living hell.
What a great article!

Between Bert's writing and Peggy's plug, you've persuaded me to subscribe.
Randall S. Bock, M. D. February 29, 2012 at 2:05 PM
decades ago, renovated an urban warehouse for 3 loft-spaces: Everyone was happy enough living in freeform space, but when the building was sold, the tenants sued for their years of rent already paid, claiming parts (that they themselves had constructed) were not up to legal "code". Reverse bait and switch.
That was great. Thanks
Having been both a landlord as well as a tenant, my advice to any tenant is to do a walk through with the landlord or representative prior to occupancy, noting any wear or damages, taking pictures, and to do the same just before you turn back the keys upon moving out. Each political subdivision has laws regarding tenancy as well as organizations for both landlords and tenants.Know your rights and responsibilities.
Solid, great read. Very spare, yet intense. You should write more.

On the other hand, that screed from "Auntie Analogue"...
I've rented from landlords who've done nothing to end other tenants' noisemaking, filth-making, theft, verbal abuse, threats, and destruction - even after I'd summoned the police (who, of course, do nothing themselves except soft-talk an ultra-p.c.-on-eggshells "warning" to the offenders) on several occasions. Only one landlord has evicted a shatteringly 24-7 noisy couple, who occupied the unit above mine - but only because homeowners across the busy two-way street from my building complained to the police about the couple's and their ultra-low-life guests' ceaseless racket, and then only because one of those homeowners happened also to be a policeman.

Experience has taught me that each time I talk with a landlord to keep handy a full tube of lube. I've never destroyed or damaged any of the apartments I've rented and have always paid my rent on time, in full. Yet at least six landlords have gypped - no, let's be accurate, screwed - me out of my security deposits, and at least one sued me for massive nonexistent damages to the intact, clean unit I'd vacated - cost me a lot of unpaid time off from work plus a pretty penny to get a lawyer to have that case thrown out of court. Another landlord, who agreed to pay me $150 for the fridge in excellent condition that I owned and wanted to leave in his unit (convenient to me and to him since he wouldn't have to to find and buy and muscle into place another fridge to replace the one he agreed to buy from me) that I was about to vacate, waited until I vacated to take it upon himself to deduct $100 from the agreed sale price - he even had the gall to put this deduction, purely, he wrote, because he "reconsidered" the sale agreement, in a letter he posted to me at my new address, six hundred miles away.

So, no, I don't trust landlords, not as far as I can throw them, because more than less of them has with impunity pulled greedy rotten painful costly insulting tricks on me more times than they haven't. And I've also learned - the hard way, of course, that taking a landlord to small claims court is nothing more than a further waste of my time and my money - because even when judges have ruled against the landlord (every time, I might add) no authority forces the landlord to pony up the amount of the judgment: it's entirely up to the awardee to somehow make the landlord pay what he owes - and before any of those shmucks has paid me what they owe me, Satan will poop ice cubes.

Worse, in my present state of residence and in many other states the landlord-tenant laws were drafted by state legislators who are bought and paid by landlords, or the legislators are themeselves landlords. These thieves have drafted standard lease agreements that are, in fact, license to landlords to screw tenants and are drafted so that tenants' only recourse is in court; and, worse, most of these standard lease agreements contain airtight language that makes the tenant plaintiff pay the legal and court costs of the landlord that the tenant is suing. The game is rigged snugly against tenants and massively in favor of landlords.

Landlords' depredations are awful enough - don't even get me started on the even more predatory schemes and deeds of the property management firms that landlords hire and hide safely behind.

I've had city building department inspectors come to my digs, perform an inspection, and cite landlords for code violations ranging from the unsanitary to the shockingly unsafe (electrical and HVAC installation fire hazards, and such) and each time the landlord managed to weasel out of remedying these violations. In the each one of these landlords goto smirk at me with impunity, "You don't like it? Move out!"

And don't get me started on feckless, snooping, gossiping building managers and rental office stonewallers, or on ferreting, thieving maintenance employees. Then there's landlords' legendary tightwaddism - it wasn't rednecks who invented duct tape and chewing gum cheap-o, any-old-way, fly-by-night repairs, many of which yield results worse than the deficiency they were supposed to have remedied. One landlord replaced my apartment's superannuated, dilapidated, and defunct fridge - with, typically, a used "reconditioned" one he bought for dirt cheap cash from an underground-economy "appliance reconditioner," and after it had been put into place place I found its insides filthy and infested with German cockroaches - and this landlord refused pointblank to come to see this fridge and refused adamantly to replace it with a clean, uninfested one.

Worse still, look in any directory or advertisement for attorneys who will represent tenants in a claim or dispute against landlords - there are some lawyers whose ads state baldfacedly that they will not represent tenants. You'll have more good luck finding hens' teeth.

You, Mr. Strattton, might just be the only decent landlord in these here United States - if I and other readers are to swallow uncritically the apologia you posted here.

A good read, I like the style, can't think of the writer Mr. Stratton seems to resemble.
What a wonderful story. You have a gift. Please keep writing.