How did that Cyndi Lauper song go, back in the 80’s? It was something about how girls just want to have fun, and when the singer comes home in the wee hours of the morning her parents tell her off for wasting her life, but in her mind she’s just acting in accordance with her nature. There are people who really just want to play and have a good time, and who really don’t want the responsibilities that go with home ownership or even an apartment rental. So long as they have a place to stay, they’re happy.
Carefree, low-stress, low-responsibility types can make outstanding tenants provided they are coherent and responsible enough to hold up their end of the agreement with you. They have to pay their rent on time, clean up after themselves, and not trash the place or create large amounts of extra work for you. So long as they do that, it truly doesn’t matter whether they’re only working a few hours a week so as to devote more time to yoga or to playing the ukelele.
One of the things I’ve had to be careful not to do is to project my ideals or beliefs onto my tenants. Just because I went after a high-powered job doesn’t mean that everyone else should, or that they should be punished for not doing so. Definitely people need some kind of credentials or skills to allow themselves to earn a living, and a high school diploma is among the most rudimentary sort available. But if someone decides to become, say, an outstanding guitarist or animal trainer, schools don’t necessarily offer a degree in that. A generation ago, it didn’t occur to anyone that it was possible to make money as a database administrator, computer security expert, or search engine optimizer. Yet these are now exciting, highly compensated fields. Similarly, there are niches for people who bake cupcakes, make jam, and design coloring books for a living. So long as they’re willing to work and to align their skill sets with the public’s demand, they will be able to pay their bills.
So long as my tenant operates within the law, how he or she pays his or her bills is none of my business. That being said, if it reaches the point where someone in my home is not paying their bills– particularly the rent they owe me– or operating within the law or the House Rules, then one of my duties as a landlord is to speak up and correct the problem. I have to hold the tenant accountable for his or her actions.
The first step in holding someone accountable is to not let them dodge you. When a tenant is doing something he or she shouldn’t, one of the first things that tenant does is to become scarce and hard to find. If your tenant is suddenly never crossing paths with you, it is not a coincidence. They are hiding something. Whether it’s something you care about or not depend on what it is they are hiding.
I really don’t care about my tenants’ love lives, where they date, how and where they choose to socialize, and what their hobbies might be. The only time their habits become my business is if they affect the tenant’s ability to pay the rent on time or hold up his or her end of the contract.
One of the weird things about landlord-tenant law is that, unlike regular contract law wherein one party’s failure to uphold the contract releases the other party from its obligations subject to the Parties Remedy in the Breach, landlord-tenant law has a specific set of steps the aggrieved party must go through in order to dissolve the contract. So just because a tenant doesn’t follow the House Rules, behaves disruptively, wrecks or takes things that don’t belong to him or her, and violates other substantive parts of the agreement, it doesn’t mean that the deal is off and I get to boot that person out on his or her rump. I’ll deal with that issue in Part II of this continued article.