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Landlord & Maintenance

getting ready to paint walls

This morning in landlord news there are a bunch of tenants complaining about the maintenance in their buildings and houses they rent. This is not a surprise to me. There’s a few reasons why tenants complain about maintenance. There’s also a few more for neglecting maintenance in the first place. In my inimitable style, I’ll tell you what they are.

Tenant Complaints

  • The first reason tenants complain is because they have a legitimate concern. Something’s broken and need to be fixed

  • The second reason tenants complain is that they can’t pay the rent. Almost every tenant that I have seen at the Landlord & Tenant Board has claimed that the apartment they live in is deficient in some way. In most buildings there is a process, such as filling out a form, to get your maintenance done. Usually in these cases no such complaint has ever been filled out. The reason tenants complain in this way is the same psychological reason that your friend will pick a fight with you and fail to repay the money you lent him.

  • The third reason some tenants complain is because they feel like they are entitled to something they aren’t entitled to. A while back there was a rash of tenants complaining about the AC not being turned on during unseasonably hot weather. This was before the 1st of June. In Canada the HEAT must be turned on until June 1st according to the law. The same day this story hit the news in Toronto, it was snowing in Calgary. Building heating and cooling systems are not like your window AC. They’re huge machines and take days to turn on. Then there was the tenants who don’t even have AC in their building complaining. I’m sorry you’re hot but you don’t pay for AC. Your rent price doesn’t reflect the cost of utilities to provide you with AC. Go pay more for a place that does or shut up.

Some tenants have a huge disconnect between what they pay for and what they are entitled to. Your landlord cannot pay for the same services for a $650 apartment as a nice $1500 per month new condo. Get a grip already!

Some landlords don’t do the maintenance that’s required. Here’s why.

  • They paid too much money for the property and they just don’t have the income to do so. It’s incredibly expensive to keep up a building and small investors are being deluded into thinking that they will make money just buying a property due to appreciation. Even if it works out and the property appreciates in value, the landlord can’t spend that money unless they refinance and if they do they have an extra monthly payment. The proper safeguards need to be built in during the purchase process. Cap rate calculations need to include a vacancy, property management and maintenance percentage. In Toronto that’s about 22% of the gross income.

  • Rents are too low. Good guy landlords don’t give their annual rent increases. Their expenses have increased every year. They don’t have the money either. I was just emailed a listing where one tenant is paying $575 per month for a one bedroom. That’s the same rent as when they moved in 18 years ago! As much as tenants hate rent increases, landlords need them to keep up with their expenses. This year in Ontario, landlords are getting a .008 increase (less than one percent) The electricity cost alone has gone up 25% this year.

  • Too cheap! Landlords are incredibly cheap when it comes to staff and contractors. Some of them just won’t do the work until they find someone with “reasonable” prices. Their idea of a reasonable price doesn’t reflect reality. Instead of hiring decent contractors who have WSIB and insurance they hire contractors who can’t add. They’ll hire illegal immigrants, unlicensed contractors and the cheapest possible labour. If they can’t find someone who will do the work for free or even for less than free after expenses, they just don’t do the work.

  • They don’t know about it. Some tenants don’t complain. One tenant of mine called me one time and left a message that he had a little leak. It was stated in as mild a manner as possible. I scheduled him for an inspection a few weeks later. When I got there there were buckets all over the living room and plastic draped over everything. The flat roof over his unit had failed under the deck. It had been going on for months before he called. Another tenant I had never even mentioned that she had the worst case of cockroaches ever. It was disgusting. I only found out when she moved. Another case like this was discovered when a maintenance man went to check up on a stove complaint. The maintenance guy opened the top of the stove and about a hundred cockroaches came out. A unit like this will infect every single apartment around. Their neighbours complain and we’ll spray them. Meanwhile the source goes unabated.

  • They don’t care. These landlords are just psychopaths. I’ve met a few.

  • They spent the money. When the building was young it was relatively cheap to maintain. The building is 20 years old now and things like kitchens, baths, building envelopes and boilers are reaching the end of their natural life. They didn’t keep enough dough and now they are hurting. Condos have also made this mistake. If you see an older building with $700 plus maintenance fees and no amenities, this is the problem.

I have found that the best maintained places are small investor owned and the owner does most of the work himself. They take real pride in their place. A tenant can get real value there. God help the tenant that starts to not take care of this place. The hounds of Hades are calm and kind compared to this kind of landlord when their place is being neglected.

If you’re a tenant you can expect to pay for good service and maintenance, after all your landlord has to! Nothing is free for them. The plumber, carpenter, painter, advertising, property taxes all have to be paid by your rent. These days many small investors have been sucked into buying income properties that don’t pay. They’re banking on appreciation. They are in fact subsidizing the rental market. One of the guys I do property management for pays about $100 per month per suite. He has three. Any repairs or maintenance also come directly out of his pocket.

In short tenants need to be prepared to pay extra for great well maintained apartments and landlords need to be prepared to spend the money on needed maintenance. Complaining about your greedy landlord is not always correct. Your landlord is not prepared to take on a second job to pay for a brand new kitchen for you when you don’t want to pay a cent extra! I fear that the problem is only going to get worse as more small landlords feel the pinch of no appreciation coupled with increases in interest rates.

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