Are good people always good landlords and tenants?

by Tracey Goodrich on August 12, 2013

drama theater masksAlthough life and people are really complicated and dynamic, I want to talk about them in terms of basic polarities or opposites. These two recent articles from WCCO and KSTP News present some familiar dichotomies: The rotten tenant vs. respectable homeowner and then: The capable and independent homeowner vs. invasive and controlling government. My contribution to the mix is: “Good” people vs. “Bad” people, and where they intersect with these other ideas.

Some people are good and nice, and others are not. Some happen to be landlords and others happen to rent. I suppose it’s possible, although very unlikely, for bad people to be good landlords or good tenants, but it does seem to be very common for bad people to make bad landlords and bad tenants. What also seems fairly common is for good people to be bad landlords or bad tenants.  What makes a good person a bad landlord or a bad tenant? Well, let us dig into that just a little.

While I admit that I am not a perfect tenant, I think I do a pretty decent job at it. Yes, I dare say that I am both a good person and a good tenant. I pay my rent on time. I tell my landlord when something needs attention, and I do my best to maintain the areas of the property that I am responsible for. I also try to be respectful, courteous, and even friendly to my neighbors. If I did not do all of these things, maybe I would still be a good person, as the Helmses claim of themselves in “Thinking of Renting…”, but like the Johnson/Machts claim of the Helmses in the same story, I would probably not be a very good tenant.

When I think of my neighbors, I (a renter) understand that I have a personal stake in whether or not my landlord (or even another one in my neighborhood) chooses good people as tenants, or even people who are just good tenants. Some people might be surprised to hear that it absolutely matters to me (and other renters) that the people living in my building are as courteous to me and my property as I am to them and theirs; that they take pride in our shared spaces by treating them with some care and attention. This matters to me because it directly affects my own sense of security and personal safety, as well as my ability to have peaceful enjoyment of the home and community I am part of. I think there are many renters like me, in spite of there also being those out there who are not. I can say with some degree of certainty, that we (renters), want to be surrounded by good people, regardless of whether they are homeowners, landlords, or renters. I can also say with some certainty that all people share this interest, not just renters.

While I share this same interest with my landlord, one important difference between us is that a landlord is the only person who has control over who he or she rents to.  In this case, it matters less to me whether or not my landlord is a good person, than it does that they are a good landlord. Also unlike my landlord, it takes far more work and creativity with far fewer resources for me (a renter) to research who I should rent from, than it does for the landlord to choose who to rent to.  Landlords have many tools and resources to choose from that assist with legally finding good tenants. The consequences that come from whether or not they choose to utilize these resources, stretch far beyond their own interests; they affect everyone in the surrounding community.

Mr. Brehm in “Anti-crime course required…” seemed pretty confident, in my opinion, that his only responsibility was to himself, and not to his property’s neighbors or to the city, whose job it is to protect both his self-interest as well as theirs. I have no clue whether Mr. Brehm is a good person or a bad person, but his perspective on landlording is one that demonstrates to me (a renter and neighbor) that he might not be a very good landlord.

Once a landlord (the only person who has control over who to rent to), begins to collect rent, he or she is operating as a business. Businesses are regulated by governments in order to protect a variety of interests, because the consequences of operating a business are far greater-reaching than the scope of the consumer and the service provider (the tenant and the landlord). The consequences of problems that arise between landlords and tenants can and do often spill into the larger community, affecting other renters, neighbors, and the localities that spend time and resources dealing with those often messy and persisting problems.

With shared interest comes shared responsibility. We all have a shared responsibility to be well-informed, to take every opportunity to learn how to appropriately and legally protect ourselves from “bad” people, knowing that we will inevitably have to deal with them and the fallout of their actions from time to time (no matter how responsible we may be).  Since none of us lives in a vacuum, the responsibilities that we each take (or do not take) in our own housing situation, no matter what our role is, absolutely matters to everyone around us. So, it is up to us to remember that our only responsibility is not just to “not be bad,” but we all also have a responsibility to be “good.”


Image from 2008 City Pages cover story

Earlier this month the City of Minneapolis won it’s Minnesota Court of Appeals case against landlord Spiros Zorbalas, resulting in rental license revocations for three of his properties. With these three licences set to be revoked, a city ordinance may be enforced that will bar Zorbalas from operating any other rental property in Minneapolis—affecting over 700 units in 35 additional properties. Obviously, this could have drastic effects on thousands of Minneapolis renters if those revocations are enforced and tenants are ordered to move out.

This recent decision follows another case involving approximately 17 properties owned by landlord Ronald Folger, who is facing similar license revocations for all of his rental properties. Tenants in these properties were notified that they may need to vacate their apartment at some point in the near future.

How can tenants deal with landlords who refuse to respond to repair orders? What role can residents of these properties play in inspections and license decision-making processes? What rights to tenants have when a rental license is revoked? How can tenants and city inspections departments better hold reckless and irresponsible landlord accountable before facing the possible displacement of residents?

The answers to some of these questions may be easier than others—tenants do have the right to go to court if their landlord ignores their repair requests, and residents can play a role by engaging their local city officials. In some cases, landlords who do not have a rental license may have difficulty legally collecting rent and tenants might be able to break their lease (you should consult an attorney for your own situation). What do you think should be done in situations where tenants may facing poor living conditions, but also are in need of affordable housing? How can this rental housing be maintained so residents are not displaced and do not have to deal with disrepair?

Are you a resident of one of the affected properties? Comment below about what you’ve experienced and/or what you want to see happen, submit your story online, or email us privately if you need advice or if you have questions.


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