Lessons Learned

You know what? It is nice to post about something besides school. I am slowly but surely realizing that I am getting my life back. Like this Friday, I can sleep in as late as I desire, lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling fan if I want to. I won’t, but it kind of rocks to know that I can.

Anyhow, I have mentioned before that we have had a time of it with our former landlord. I won’t share all the sordid details because A) Many issues are still unresolved and B) It pains me to relive much of it. But I will offer a brief synopsis and dish on lessons learned.

Basically we found our last house via Craigslist and loved the vibe of the post. It was very “us.” When we met the owner, we loved her. She was kind, open-minded and very flexible about issues such as rent payment (could we pay several months in advance with the help of student loan stipends? But of course!). So we entered the arrangement feeling very warm and fuzzy about it all – based on what our landlord told us, the feeling was mutual.

The problems began when we started having basic maintenance issues with the house, which is about 70 years old and in my non-expert assessment, has all the original wiring and plumbing. We couldn’t seem to come to an agreement about how to fairly distribute the costs of repair – it seemed that there were a lot of conflicting assumptions. We assumed that since she was the landlord, she was responsible for the maintenance. She assumed that because we caused the “wear and tear” after 9 months of living in her old house, we would pay for at least half.

It would be kind to say the house is quirky. We lived with the inconveniences for a while but a few months before graduation, we sat down, crunched numbers and realized that at the rent we were paying, it just wasn’t worth the quirks. And then came the firestorm. First, we started feeling enormous pressure to help her sell or rent the house as soon as we were gone – it was clear that she couldn’t afford to have it empty, nor had she anticipated that we we would leave after only a year. There was a lot of back and forth about our responsibilities and her expectations. Which happened in the midst of my last three weeks of school and graduation. There was also a series of misunderstandings that resulted in incomplete resolution of our move-out responsibilities, which further led to a series of rather angry and pointed emails authored by yours truly. I’ll admit it wasn’t my finest moment, but I was also completely freaked out.


So where does that leave us now?

Awaiting final word on exactly what our final deposit refund will be, with very little understanding of how this all happened and what we should do about it.

It also leaves us with a new outlook on the process of renting:

  1. Warm and fuzzy only gets you so far. Having a kind landlord is a wonderful thing – it means there is great potential for a fair and even creative process. But only if that process is well-documented and clearly outlined. Assuming that all will go hunky-dory just because we’re all nice people is a grave error that we made. It’s still a landlord-tenant relationship, which means your goals are different from theirs.
  2.  This is a corallary of the lesson above. It may actually be beneficial to rent through a property management company or from an individual who views the relationship as a business transaction. They’re more likely to understand the importance of clear agreements and communication. They’re also more likely to have a clearer understanding of local real estate law because they’re trying to CYA just as much as you are. When I was a homeowner, I used a property manager because I lived far away from my house,  and we also rented through a similar company a few years ago. There were a few administrative headaches, but I felt more protected as both a tenant and a landlord.
  3. Document, document, document. Take pictures of everything when you move in and when you move out. Keep notes on all conversations. Keep receipts of everything you purchased related to the home in case there is a chance of being reimbursed (better to agree ahead of time on reimbursement policies). Keep a file. Make sure you have copies of your lease for your own reference. Document, document, document.
  4. Insist that all communication be in writing. We really messed up on this one. Even though we live in the 21st century and wifi is everywhere, and even though she owned a smartphone, for some reason our landlord preferred not to email. She said it was easier and more relational to talk on the phone and/or trade voicemails. This bit us in the ass at the end, and from now on I am insisting on a paper trail for all further correspondence. It goes back to lesson #1 – warm and fuzzy doesn’t cut it in a business relationship. You need to have any agreement you made clearly written down, even if by email. Not only so that you can go back to it for future reference, but in case you have to go to court (God forbid!).
  5. Being a tenant can be just as risky as being an owner. Yes, you don’t have property taxes and home ownership headaches to deal with, but if your landlord flakes, or screws you over, or even simply miscommunicates, the experience can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. I’m persistently anxious about the “resolution” that we are anticipating this week. After our experience last weekend, I am somewhat pessimistic that we have a ways to go.

At this point, I’m also anxious to be done. This whole experience has caused me to lose a little bit of faith in humanity. Not just my own – I know I was unnecessarily angry. But I am also more likely to question the motives and integrity of people who appear at first glance to be wonderful and kind. I don’t think our landlord is a terrible person any more than I think that of myself – neither of us have handled this well, in my opinion. But I do wonder … stress can make good people do and say ugly things. And we live in a stressful time. So how do we survive (or, God help us, thrive) in a world that so acutely tests us and our coping abilities?

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