Landlord or slumlord? The downsides of private rentals


Much as I hate paying fees to rental property managers (here, rental agents do not do anything to help you as a renter, like assist you in finding somewhere to rent – they only serve the landlord) for the privilege of being allowed to rent a place, there is something to be said for dealing with professionals over the long term. Problems get fixed quickly and with minimal fuss.

For example, it would totally have been worth it to me to pay a damn fee to avoid these nightmares we’ve experienced:

Incompetent landlord #1: The Apartment

You might recall that we once spent a year in an apartment and hated it. Suburban apartments are usually kinda ghetto. Soundproofing sucked and it was impossible to have people over, ever, or you’d get in trouble for being too noisy. We were forced to use a certain utility company (one I’d never heard of) who charged stupid prices for electricity. There may have been a small roach problem. And like basically all new intensive construction, it had weathertightness issues – earlier this year the entire building basically disappeared under what looked like Gladwrap while they reclad it.

We also had a pretty crappy landlord. It was fine up until we left – then they withheld money from our bond. Why? We had been paying rent in arrears, they said, and thus owed the last week’s rent. Uh, HELL to the NO. Nobody – and I mean NOBODY – ever pays rent in arrears. Rent is always paid in advance – at the start of the week, for the week ahead. Landlords and agents simply wouldn’t have it any other way. I was so stunned I couldn’t reply. I don’t know what they were playing at. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity, the saying goes. Maybe this was their first time as landlords. Either way, once they ‘consulted’ their records they realised their mistake.

The other reason they withheld money came down to a handful of ridiculous complaints. Dust on the outdoor balcony. Lint in the dryer. Rangehood hadn’t been cleaned underneath (okay, that one was fair – I’d never lived anywhere with a rangehood before and it simply didn’t even occur to me).

I was pretty pissed off and decided to take the matter to mediation – which was a complete waste of time. Within a couple of minutes it was suggested we split the difference 50/50 (literally, $50 and $50) and that was that. I’d taken the time to bus all the way out west and it was over in less than five minutes.

I would do things differently today, but 20-year-old me was young, naive and confrontation averse – I thought it would be worth taking the time to go to mediation with a third party.

Incompetent landlord #2: The House of Horrors

The house we moved into straight after that apartment was a nightmare. We lived with a couple of T’s friends, one of whom turned out to be the flatmate from hell and will never repay me the money he owes me. It was cold and damp and our bedroom, a converted garage, was the coldest and dampest room of all. For the first time, I had to deal with mould inside my wardrobe and on my clothes. Our front window had no security whatsoever; we had to secure it by jamming a piece of wood into the track so that it couldn’t slide open unless you removed it. It was also in a super ghetto area, but nobody would rent a decent place to us (students and entry level workers). After looking for months, this was as good as it got.

While we initially dealt with an agency  – not one of the big name companies, though, and weirdly it didn’t charge a letting fee – once the landlord lost his job he got rid of the property manager and took over the job himself. And it went downhill from there

He wanted to increase the rent approximately 25%, which I talked him down from. (My first ever negotiation!) And being out of work, he dragged his heels on fixing all the things that started going wrong with the house.

The floor of the shower cubicle cracked, which he tried to blame on us. It turned out the shower hadn’t been properly installed. Duh.

The power bills started going up…. and up… and up. We couldn’t figure out why. And then we lost hot water completely. Turned out these things were related. It wasn’t a quick fix, either. We had to deal with only cold water for a couple of weeks. I was too chicken to ask him to help out with the increased power bills, since they were due to the hot water cylinder and not anything we’d done – though I doubt he would’ve agreed, since he could barely afford to fix the water.

The wallpaper on the other side of the wall from the shower in the bathroom started flaking and peeling off in ever-larger chunks. Again, due to dampness stemming from issues with the bathroom installation. By the time we moved out, that wall in the living room was basically bare.

Finally, the roof sprung some sort of leak. Of course, he tried to blame us. Which was insane.

Given all these issues, we might have had cause to break our lease. But at the time, I was under huge pressure during my last year of uni, dealing with T’s unemployment, and working all hours. I simply didn’t have the mental capacity to take on that drama. Instead, I took showers at work and ignored what was happening around me at home.

Would you rather deal direct with landlords, or property managers?

12 thoughts on “Landlord or slumlord? The downsides of private rentals

  • Reply Fig November 4, 2014 at 08:46

    It sucks that renting a place can add so much unnecessary drama to your life. My favorite rental situation so far has been dealing with a real estate agent who was acting as a property manager. Things got done so quickly and efficiently and it was a great situation. I’m in a less ideal one now dealing directly with the landlord (who is pretty much a slum lord with 100+ rentals) and it’s not so great. I’m hoping eventually I’ll actually buy!

  • Reply Tracey November 4, 2014 at 11:06

    I think I would much rather deal with a property manager – on both sides of the fence actually (both as tenant and landlord). It’s good to have a neutral 3rd party, but only if they’re good at their job. Same with buying/selling a house. I would be too nervous dealing with a private sale and having to negotiate. Much easier handing everything over to a real estate agent.

  • Reply Sense November 4, 2014 at 14:18

    Weird, I am the complete opposite–I love private landlords! The management companies always seem so cold and indifferent to me, like they view me as dollar signs only, not a living, breathing person.

    I’ve only ended up living in private LL places and had great experiences (save for one) up until this year. I love knowing who owns the house I live in, hearing the old stories about what went on in the place before I lived there, and developing a relationship with them. My next-to-last LL used to bring me champagne and/or chocolates, and we’d have a good girly chat about life every time she came into town to inspect the flat. My current LL offered to edit my PhD thesis when I write it in a few years, and loves to know how I’m doing on that as she is also in the midst of her (second) PhD. She’s taken all my preferences for changes/fixes to the house on board, like I absolutely HATE the half-glass partition in the shower (it doesn’t hold in all the water, is impossible to clean, and is terribly awkward to maneuver around) and she’s agreed to tear it out and install a shower curtain rod instead. Love her!

    Of course, LL previous to this one (the one I inherited from a house sale) was an abomination to LLs everywhere. I think it is one of those things: when it is good, it can be REALLY good; when it’s bad, watch out!

    I love it when you talk housing in Auckland. 🙂 I feel not so alone in the not-being-able-to-afford-a-house thing.

  • Reply Genie November 4, 2014 at 15:51

    It really depends on the landlord right?

    I currently have a private landlord and there are good points and bad points. Good is that anything he can fix himself gets done right away. Anything that is beyond his expertise doesn’t get fixed.

    But I’m grateful that never in my 10 years of renting have I ever had a flat inspection. I have friends that get them regularly so I guess that’s nice our landlord doesn’t care.

    Living in large flats, I’ve lost my bond plenty of times. Sometimes we’ve had to argue our case, other times we just left them the money. I’m always the lease holder and the problem is usually with my flatmates. It’s annoying as hell but what can you do?

  • Reply Athena November 4, 2014 at 17:00

    Wow. After hearing both of these nightmare experiences, I am thinking you might have better luck with a property manager. It will hurt paying the extra fees but maybe you might have better luck. I know all the stress you’ve been under lately so maybe paying a little extra for some piece of mind might help. Hang in there friend. *hugs*

    • Reply eemusings November 4, 2014 at 18:15

      Our last 2 have been professionally managed (getting harder and harder to find private rentals these days) and it has definitely been worth it. Our current one is probably the biggest agency around and they really are outstanding to deal with.

  • Reply Revanche November 4, 2014 at 20:14

    I’ve always had private LLs and the mileage varied widely. Most of them were reasonably responsive except this last one but we also weren’t great about communicating needs either so their leaving some repairs half done isn’t a huge surprise. Aggravating but not the end of the world. It’s worth just putting up with it because rent in the area for an equivalent space is at least 50% more. Of course I say that because I’m also not living in that property anymore, I just pay for it. I don’t look forward to the day I have to deal with making new arrangements for them.

    On the other side of the fence, since I’m not even a fraction as handy as some family members, I’m happy to have a property manager on top of it because they’re basically on call 24 hours. That’s not something I’m prepared to do myself but I want my renters to have that option as needed.

  • Reply Myles Money November 5, 2014 at 02:00

    Agencies provide a buffer between you and the landlord and a good one can be invaluable: they’re impartial but they want a quiet life, so when soemthing goes wrong with the apartment it’s in their best interests to have it fixed (at the landlord’s expense). The landlord also has a duty to keep the place habitable, and you can withold rent if it’s not.

  • Reply Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank November 5, 2014 at 22:55

    Depending on the landlord, I believe it is. Some landlords are hard to deal with, but there a few good out there. It’s just a matter of luck and timing on what rentals or services we get. But, it pays off when we really know what exactly we are looking for.

  • Reply Young Millennial November 6, 2014 at 02:52

    I have had my fair share of bad and good rentals. In Toronto, the cheaper the place is, the worst you are treated (duh) by both landlords and property managers. When we moved out from one apartment, my wife kept being charged rent on her credit card (we thought it was a convenient option and we got some cashback) and the management company did not respond until we took them to court. Other places took their time responding to mold issues and never did a proper job taking care of issues.

    Once we had some money to rent a nice place it was absolutely stunning how much better your life became when property managers and landlords dealt with you with a good level of professionalism.

    When our hot water heater stopped working, we had a new one in less than 24 hours on a Sunday. Our rent was increased at a laughable rate of less than 0.5% per year. Both the property manager and landlord were always available to answer questions and were very accommodating when we bought a condo and needed some extra time on our last day to move out. This is one of the reasons why I choose to pay more for housing.

  • Reply Sally November 6, 2014 at 09:01

    I prefer direct – the landlord we had in LA was totally rude but always took care of stuff quickly. The one year we lived in a big apartment complex it just took longer to get things done and the rent was $300 higher just because it was in a complex with amenities. But we have very good tenant and housing laws in California, so you guys have a totally different ballgame!

  • Reply cantaloupe January 17, 2015 at 00:59

    I had amazing landlords in NYC. By which I mean I never ever had to talk to them, which is exactly how I like it, haha. We just fixed everything ourselves. Because there really weren’t any big maintenance problems. Except the bugs/rodents which they were really receptive about. They sent a bug guy at regularly scheduled times. But again, they didn’t even talk to us then, the bug people talked to us, haha.

    At my current apartment I have no idea who my landlord is, but the doorman is the ones who fix things/bring the people to fix things. The doorman is the slowest one to get anything done. But it does eventually get done… eventually…. seven years late… We have a drip from the ceiling in our kitchen but I really can’t be bothered to even call him. We just put a bucket under it and we’re hoping it doesn’t get worse in the next six months before we move out, lol.

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