So Ya Wanna Be a Landlady?


SOMETIMES IT’S GOOD. When all the rent checks roll in promptly on the first of the month, and there’s a long spell without broken appliances or electrical issues or, God forbid, rats.

Sometimes it sucks. I must make it look easy, because recently someone said to me, don’t you ever have plumbing problems or roof leaks?

Of course. All the time. And worse. Old buildings need frequent maintenance and repair. We’ve had flooded basements and frozen pipes. A few years ago, we rebuilt the entire back wall of our 180-year-old building in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. The rear facade was peeling away, chunks of brick and window lintel falling into the backyard. We took out a home equity line of credit and hired an engineer and a contractor, who set up scaffolding, draped the building in blue tarp, and rebuilt the back wall brick by brick, replacing all the windows. All the tenants lived through it, by their choice (crazy!)

Mostly I love being a landlady, though the word suggests fuzzy slippers, hair rollers, and a feather duster. Things happen, and I address them. Quickly. I want my tenants to pay the rent lickety-split, so I fix things lickety-split. I’m getting better at it as I get older, partly out of a kind of maternal instinct. I have mostly youngish tenants, and I want them to have a nice place to live. So I try to take good care of them.

Right now the flagship of my real estate empire, a four-story 1850s mews house in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, is vacant. The last tenants, a Hollywood screenwriter who set up shop there with his family while working on a TV show, decamped last week, leaving behind a lot of garbage and dog damage, along with unopened bottles of very good vodka and wine and an array of cooking pots better than the ones I have. (Departing tenants leave very strange things. One woman left her parents’ wedding album and some gold jewelry.)

I spent all day yesterday, from 8:30AM to 5PM, taming the jungle that is the back garden in Cobble Hill and getting the place ready for the painters, who started today, and the housecleaner, who will follow the painters. I have the place listed with six real-estate brokers.

It makes me sad to see that house, where we lived for 20 years and raised our kids, empty. Soon it will be another family’s temporary home. They’ll live in it for a while and then move on.

I may not live there any more, but it’s still my house. I can’t imagine anyone loving it as much as I do.