In the early hours of this morning, the penny (cent) dropped in my head as I worked to unravel the relationship challenges that I had been having with my landlady and my own tenant over the past few years. Due to changes in my personal life circumstances I had become both a tenant and a landlady in one fail swoop.
Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, this one is for you. If you are a homeowner/occupier currently sitting at the ringside in the comfort of your own home-seat, watch this bout closely as you too might, one day, be in one of the corners of a title fight (relax…I don’t mean your house title).
LANDLORD -v- TENANT
Getting into the ring as tenant, I was in a daze of contentment. The space was ideal and ticked all the boxes for the work-school-shopping-entertainment-security-privacy requirements. The décor matched that of my own dearly departed from home so much, it was as if I had painted and finished it myself! And the rent [whispers in case the landlady hears this part], was well well reasonable for the nicely landscaped community the space occupied. So I went into the space (read ring) with my head in the clouds. I did feel a few jabs in the early stages, like the refusal to repaint the weather-worn windows, but I ignored it assuming that, like myself, my landlady sounded (I had never met her) like a reasonable woman and would take care of it in due time.
Seconds away, round 2!
After a month or two in blissful occupation, I made what I thought was a reasonable request for a repair and was flatly refused. Right jab to the left jaw. I asked again, nicely, explaining why it was necessary and reminding that it fell within the landlord’s remit/responsibility. Harder left jab to the right jaw…it stung a little, but peace-and-love me decided it wasn’t worth the contention and stepped back against the ropes, did a cute Ali shuffle and did the repair myself.
Well, don’t worry, I’m not going to take you through the whole bout, suffice it to say that the interaction became more and more challenging as the relationship continued. As the tenant, I conceded many blows that my corner insisted I should counter, but I wrote it off as ‘the price you pay when ‘yu inna somebody else yard’. I knew there was a lesson for me to learn in this situation and I paid attention… hard!
TENANT -v- LANDLORD
Lesson time. Then it came to pass that I too joined the ranks of ‘Landlady’. The property that held so many beautiful memories for me and my family, the one I virtually built brick by brick in a project that ‘made a woman of me’…was being let to a ‘stranger’.
After the negotiations, contract signing and hand over of keys, all executed via the agent, I soon got my first taste of being in a relationship with (what I once called) the tenant from hell! Good Lord, no-one told me that one human being could be so….so….’ningy ningy’ (Jamaicans know full well what that term means, but for any non-Jamaicans reading this blog, it means a persistent, pest-like behaviour akin to a mosquito that won’t quit!). It seemed like every nail and nook in my beloved house displeased my contractual partner and I am sure I was hearing from him daily at one point via e-mail, text messages and (when I finally relented and gave him my phone number) a few phone calls. I very quickly began to regret becoming a Landlady! Left jabs, right hooks, upper cuts…you name it. This tenant had me up against the ropes and my only response was to defend and cover my face. It was really stressing me out as the proverbial non-confrontational person that I am. Trust me, I run from contention like Bolt from the starting line!
Now, while the common denominator in this age old relationship is the property, the asset, the building that one party owns and must protect and the other wants to enjoy to the fullest, the underlying issue is money-spending. The outgoing of rent from the tenant and the outgoing of repair expenses by the landlord. Both want to keep the amounts to a minimum for the optimal benefit to self. Yes, selfishness can play a big part in this union.
Anyway, just so this story doesn’t become too long, I, after over a year simultaneously ‘fighting’ in the landlord and tenant rings, had a revelation last night! A shift in perspective that sounded like the final bell. I am stepping out of the ring. Where there is no war there can be no losers. Having just returned (after a year’s absence in a blissful tenancy experience), to the same accommodation, with the same Landlady, with the same reluctant attitude to repairs, I have decided to change my approach. I now plan to outline that it is in both our interests to maintain and upkeep the property, so rather than seeing one another as contenders for some mysterious boxing match, I will offer to compromise and seek a win-win outcome that keeps both parties happy. As for my tenant, I now understand that he is not from hell at all, he is just better (read persistent) at articulating his needs for a comfortable homely existence in the house I once called a home. Nothing wrong with that desire at all. I share it.
LET’S WRAP THIS UP…
LANDLORDS – the bottom line is that the more you care for, maintain and repair your property, not only are you improving landlord/tenant relations…you are also increasing the value (and future rental income potential) of your prized asset. Be wise and invest the deposit you received, then put aside at least the first month’s rental income to take care of the incidental matters that are sure to arise during a tenancy. This is as much a note to self as guidance to you, ’Mr. Landlord’. Don’t ‘squeeze up’ yourself and be mean/tight when it comes to putting things right with your own asset. And don’t grumble and complain every time the tenant makes a request (even if he calls or messages you EVERY DAY!). Just breathe and say…”this is improving my asset for the long run”. Say it twice if you need more convincing.
TENANTS – your time now. Your landlord is human. Some landlords are more giving than others, so as well as the property, find out a little bit about the landlord (if you can). At the end of the day, put yourself in their shoes when you are requesting repairs or complaining about a matter that is down to wear and tear, or is-you-mash-it-up! Be reasonable and tactful in your choice of words. Landlords can be rather sensitive about their place and get defensive when you refer to their property using terms like ‘pop dung’ (broken down)…even if that is exactly what it is. They are even more touch if it is ‘pop dung’ due to years of their neglect.
Landlords…Tenants, step out of the ring. See one another as allies in the enjoyment of the property in question and not opponents. Shift your thinking and you will change your experience. Tenants, take special care of the property you occupy and landlords, take special care of the tenants that are giving your property daily TLC. I can’t advise on those that are tearing it apart…you need a lawyer (or some ‘heavies’) for that one!
Now a transformed tenant, excuse me while I go write my sugary-sweet and sincere email to my landlady offering to pay the rent for the full month even though the space had not been adequately prepared for my return. My dear Landlady had offered to suspend payment (after my first ever rather strong e-mail to her) until the space was made fit. But I have a heart. I know she depends (budgets) on the rental income…as we (landlords) all do. I understand her situation. I’m going for the WIN-WIN solution. When my landlord prospers…I prosper. All relationships teach us lessons about ourselves. From this day forward I vow to be an even better landlady! Don’t tell my tenant this though, his modus operandi to date would have him request that it be written into the contract document and make reference to it at some future (opportune) moment in our discourse. You think I’m joking don’t you?!
ICING ON THE CAKE
Oh, one final thing, landlords…the other vital component of protecting your hard-worked-for (or inherited) property asset is to INSURE it! One earthquake, hurricane or fire will do more damage to your asset than any tenant possibly could!
And tenants…you would be surprised how much the total value of your contents stacks up to. Goodness knows how we amass so much in such short time-frames. Take out a contents insurance cover…just in case. The building might not be yours, but you worked hard to furnish and equip your rented space!
Ask one of Sarifa’s team members to set you up with a Homeowners Policy. I know what just ran through your mind! Can you afford NOT to? Is the question you should be asking? Think about it…
Final bell!! All are happy!