A Landlady’s Woes

LEST YOU THINK it’s all done with smoke and mirrors, let me re-cap some of the things I’ve had to deal with in the past two months as the owner of four very old houses (two in Brooklyn, two in Philly) and a landlady with 10 rental units:

  • Finding tenants for a very special four-story, 6-bedroom townhouse in Cobble Hill. (Actually, they found me, via this blog.)
  • Painting the interior of that house ($6,000), removing several years’ growth of ivy from the back wall ($1,400), and otherwise getting the place spiffed up and ready for the incoming family.
  • A punch list of additional repairs with which my new tenants very politely presented me, requiring the services of plumbers, appliance guys, and a handyman.
  • A late-night call from tenants in Boerum Hill who’d blown a fuse while trying to air-condition and microwave at the same time. (Yes, a fuse — the only apartment in the building that doesn’t have circuit breakers.)
  • Next door neighbors in Boerum Hill who are convinced their basement floods in heavy rain because of the placement of my drain pipe. (Unresolved.)
  • A notice from the City of Philadelphia telling me of a leak in the water main from the street in front of my South Kensington house to the building’s water meters. Cost of repair, which is my responsibility (as it would be in New York): $2,800.
  • Vacancy in rear unit of the Philadelphia double-trinity house, but not for long: it’s on the verge of being rented to someone who lived in that very unit years ago, when the building was owned by the woman who sold it to me. He saw my listing on Craigslist, recognized it immediately, and is excited about moving back to the same space, renovated and under more responsive management.
  • Persistent roof leak at my 1810 Queen Village building, now reaching down past the top floor apartment to the apartment on the floor below. Tenants tired of catching rainwater in pots. $4,000 estimate from the roofer.

It seems that a lot of old-house maintenance issues occur in high summer and the dead of winter, when extreme weather causes flooding, freezing, and so on.

Then there are the problems brought about by extreme economic conditions, or perceived such conditions. The latest doozy is tenants in Brooklyn asking for a 20% rent reduction in mid-lease because they’ve heard there’s been a softening of the rental market. (Would a landlord ask a tenant for a rent hike in mid-lease because of a bullish rental market?) No doubt there’s a glut of product in some parts of town: mostly unsold, newly built condos now being marketed as rentals. There’s no glut of unique 4 BR brownstone duplexes.

I said an unequivocal ‘No.’