The “Charge” of Landlording
Landlords and tenants – A “Charged” relationship?
The landlord-tenant relationship concerns shelter, a fundamental human need shared by all.
For landlords, however, shelter can be difficult to provide. Clashes with tenants over rent levels, repairs, access and eviction are just a few examples.
The common interests they share, however, provide a counterbalance. Landlords and tenants need each other to:
- Enter into a tenancy contract exchanging money for housing
- Be reliable in fulfilling this contract.
- Share responsibility for the upkeep and security of the property.
Stated differently, when one party doesn’t meet the needs of the other, crises may result, such as when:
- Tenants live in substandard apartments,
- Landlords lose thousands – if not their own housing — due to unpaid rent and property damage
- Tenants get evicted without a plan to relocate.
Because each depends on the other to cooperate, and can wreak havoc on them if they don’t, the parties are interdependent. Although interdependence is a given for most relationships, the ability for landlords and tenants to wreak havoc on each other if each doesn’t meet the others’ needs creates a unique risk which I call the ‘charge’ of landlording. Whereas for landlords the risks can be quite dire, and deserves attention in and of itself, for purposes here I will focus on the issue of homelessness.
When a food store refuses to let someone take food with them because they can’t afford to buy it, that customer can usually – whether by food pantry, soup kitchen or overnight shelter — get food. Although the loss of a job or a divorce can also wreak havoc, the individual can often enough maintain their stability if they can stay adequately housed. Absent a safety net for vulnerable tenants, however, the risk of becoming permanently unstable due to homelessness makes the landlord-tenant relationship unique.
Whether or not a tenant’s circumstances are self-inflicted, however, the unique risks they face can test a landlord’s resolve and pull on his heartstrings. Despite possible economic loss, foreclosure or even bankruptcy themselves, many landlords put their own self-interests aside knowing homelessness may result. Whether based on their desire to help or on economics, many try to avoid evicting tenants as a first step. The unique risks faced by tenants thus empowers landlords to help in ways they might not do otherwise – which adds to the ‘charge’.
Helping as a balancing act
Because landlords are uniquely positioned to understand and respond to the profound challenges faced by tenants at-risk, they can make an enormous contribution to their tenants’ stability. How to best respond raises its own set of questions, however, namely:
- How much flexibility is appropriate? When might our own acts of flexibility contribute to solving issues like rent or access versus avoiding dealing with problems that will only escalate later?
- What kinds of responsibility or behavior ought we to expect from tenants or landlords as part of this “bargain”?
- How can we distinguish between helpfulness that inspires a positive response and helpfulness that furthers “dependency”?
Effective communication can help
Although for each landlord the answers will be different, these questions clarify the need for landlords to get help when conflicts exceed what they can handle. Especially when the anger rises and words fly out that could escalate disputes needlessly, where can landlords turn for assistance? Although lawyers can provide valuable assistance, they often aren’t used due to the expense involved – or because they’re not the right tool until eviction is the answer.
If you’ve been too busy getting repairs done or keeping the books to focus on communication, you’re in the right place. If you’ve wondering how to be reasonable without being ‘fooled’, you’re asking the right question. You can get the help you need on rehab, finances and the like — but risk everything if people problems are mishandled. People problems can drain your energy, rattle your nerves and empty your pocketbook! Absent skills for communicating and resolving conflict effectively, landlords risk losing not just the rent but possibly their buildings!
Many of the approaches presented in The Good Landlord will be useful not only for landlords but for others involved with rental housing, namely: building managers, real estate brokers, service providers, advocates, policy makers and, of course, tenants. But the primary audience here are landlords seeking to increase their income with minimal costs in time and money.
Because Relationships Count …
The emphasis in The Good Landlord Blog is on the creation and maintenance of healthy relationships. Why? Because healthy relationships shape perceptions of what is possible, and can produce behaviors that get positive results. Healthy relationships will:
- increase the reliability of transactions and agreements,
- expand your options when addressing difficult situations,
- improve joint problem solving,
- increase mutual respect
- reduce the need for costly, time consuming evictions or legal action
In other words, developing healthy relationships can mean enormous savings in time, money and stress.