Home Sweet Homo: Meet Your Landlord

Welcome to our Home Sweet Homo, the ongoing series where Hansen and Kristen turn a cardboard box into a home. Learning to be an adult is hard and paying to do it’s even harder! Thankfully we’re your Handy Homos, here to make U-hauling as painless as possible. Plus we’ll make sure you get your damage deposit back!

The semester’s winding down, summer’s starting up and Homo Depot’s opened their garden center! If you haven’t made plans to hightail it back to your parents’ or faraway lands, it might be time for you to make it on your own. Not only does summer give you the opportunity to walk around in your underwear without blasting the furnace, but you’ll finally have enough daylight to turn your hovel into the hovel of your dreams! But there’s one catch in all of this: your landlord.

You never know who you’re going to get in the risky game of Landlord Roulette. Did you luck out with an adorable hexagenarian that offers to build your stripper pole “maypole” and trades rent cheques for bushels of freshly picked grapes? Or are you on the other end of the spectrum and the guy cashing your cheque blames you for high heating bills, lagging WiFi and the sins of their previous tenants? Ugh, people are the worst. But unless you plan on living off the grid, you’ll eventually discover just what flavour of Shitty Landlord you’re dealing with.

The Snorlax: this landlord could not be bothered. I don’t have time to fix your lock, can’t you just use the front door as your emergency exit?

The Cheapskate:  this landlord refuses to invest any more money in their property because they only see you as a dollar bill. And just like a dollar bill, they imagine you’d be comfortable living in a metal drawer or a room the size of a piggie bank. Why do you want us to fix your heat register? Just wear extra socks!

The Other Roomie: this landlord has no sense of boundaries and hasn’t caught on that you are paying to live on their property. They often mistake you for a mischievous houseplant or their own child. You’re super quiet and you’re an amazing neighbour but I’ve started a contract writing for a TV documentary series, it’s a high pressure job and I work non-stop and sometimes, the gatherings are a bit bothersome of late so I was wondering if you could go to people’s place sometimes instead of entertaining here some of the time. Is that too forward of me to ask? I hope not. Other than that, I hope you’re enjoying the place and that the studies are coming along great.

The UnHandyman: this landlord has good intentions but seems to have learned their craft by watching Home Improvement reruns. Sometimes they outsource repairs to their equally unqualified relatives. Your sink’s leaking because you keep pouring boiling water down the drain.

The Pseudo House: this landlord is proud of their house and takes any criticism to a disturbingly personal degree. They’re glad to rent out their Beautiful Apartment to you, as long as you don’t touch anything. This apartment was in pristine condition when I rented it to my son four years ago. My hardwood floors are scuff-free, so I’d appreciate if you didn’t wear shoes on them.

The Voicemail … Beep.

You may not be dealing with one flavour of shitty landlord, but an assortment. The Neapolitan of Shitty Landlords! When they prove themselves to be lazy, cheap and incompetent, it’s tempting to write off your apartment and find another. But in a competitive housing market, you have no guarantee that you’ll find a place or that your next your next landlord won’t be the Spumone of Shitty Landlords instead. If you wanna put down roots, figure out what makes them tick so you can deal with their bullshit make it through your lease scar-free.

Before you go to the bargaining table, make sure you know exactly what you’re entitled to. Every jurisdiction has different tenancy laws, so it’s important that you know your rights. Signing your lease? Go over it with a fine-tooth comb and make note of what they’re responsible for in terms of bills and maintenance. Make sure to stash a secondary copy just in case.

Channel your inner Harriet the Spy and keep note of all of your interactions with a Google doc or calendar. Did they cash your cheque? Fix your stove? Enter your house unannounced? If you had a verbal conversation, send them back a written summary. Get a paper, pigeon or digital copy of all of your written agreements. This may sound like overkill, but paranoia and pessimism helps the world go round. Eeyore taught me that.

Help! I’m scared they’ll kick me out if I ask for too much.

Although it seems like you’re powerless, just remember that you’re the one paying their bills. It’s a big hassle to evict you and find a replacement, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep you around. My current landlord complains that his other tenants keep dying on him, but I have yet to learn the secrets of reanimation, so all I can do is nod. But what I can do is remind him on a regular basis that I’m a sprightly and young steady stream of income. Emphasize how much you want to stay there and how any upgrades ensure you will. If they’re still hesitant about major projects, you can always show how serious you are with a marriage proposal by signing a longer lease.

Help! This isn’t up to code.

I once had an UnHandyman that consistently outsourced repairs to her favourite sketchy contractor. Any complaints of drafty windows or leaking faucets quickly devolved into tear-filled laments about tapping into her retirement savings and having nothing to show for it. Although it’s precious that your Other Roomie wants to confide in you, you weren’t asking for a guilt-based friendship, just a new tap.

Score brownie points by doing your own maintenance. Take the initiative to patch your own holes, paint your baseboards or re-caulk your bathtub instead of waiting on your Snorlax. You’ll gain your Pseudo House’s trust for larger projects while investing little in terms of time or money. Hansen and I will show you just how easy it is.

Only call once you’ve researched the solution. It’s easy for repairs to fall by the wayside if your Cheapskate imagines they’ll cost too much. Unless your house is on fire, you can spend a few extra days talking to pros before you get your landlord involved.  Take a trip to Homo Depot or google your problem so you know what needs to be done and how much it should cost. If you have the means to do it yourself, tell your UnHandyman how much the components will cost. If your Pseudo Home insists on doing it themselves, give them a deadline along with the contact information of a professional. If they won’t repair your sink in a timely manner, Mr. Rooter will!

Give them a sweet deal. When it comes to upgrading you apartment’s amenities, the Cheapskate will always look at the price instead of the review.  Before you buy yet another shitty showerhead, price out higher end models so they can settle on the option you wanted from the beginning. Make use of Homo Depot’s comparison tool to emphasize the savings or make your own spreadsheet if you’re comparing between companies.

Help! This place is hideous.

If you signed your lease without negotiating clauses for the terracotta walls or sunflower wallpaper, you might fear that you’re doomed to a Blossom themed kitchen for the rest of eternity. But if you find the place revolting, chances are they (and their next tenant) will too. Go into Used Car Dealer Mode and sell them on the potential lying beneath your kitchen’s hood.

Aren’t you just dying to pay rent at this place?

Do a walk-through with your landlord and see what they nitpick. If they mention thet ugly carpet or peeling paint, jump on it! You might discover that they have new laminate in their budget, but their previous tenants never complained. Let your Pseudo House know you’re willing to take one for the team and suffer through the inconvenience so they can have a nicer apartment. If you’re a really amazing haggler, you might be able to negotiate a lower rent while tolerating “unlivable” conditions.

Look how organized Wild Ink Press is!

Let them see your plan in action. Put all of your Pinterest procrastination to good use by creating an inspiration board for your renovations. Find a paint colour that you like?  Take it a step further than a swatch and virtually paint your kitchen with a colour visualizer or Photoshop. If your flat’s stuck in the wrong decade, include articles proving that modern touches will increase its rentability. If you’re switching out hardware or fixtures, install the knob or light so they can see the difference makes. Not only will an inspiration board let you flex your scrapbooking muscles, but it’ll give you a clear attack plan and prove your commitment. Just keep in mind you might need to explain Pinterest in layman’s terms if your landlord “lives in the middle of a field without any internet access because of lightning.”

Help! I don’t think they’re gonna pay me back.

Everytime I go to Homo Depot for a new fixture, I cross my fingers that my Cheapskate won’t renege on his agreement. If you’re worried they won’t follow through, get your agreements in writing and half the cost up front. Look into each store’s return policy and only buy items that are refundable. If they’ve made no indication they’re going to pay you back for the remodels, only purchase items you’ll want to take with you and replace their shit when you move out.

Do the reimbursement work for them. If your landlord has agreed to pay for repairs, there’s a good chance they’re claiming it on their tax return. Make it easy for your Snorlax by submitting your receipts with an itemized expense report. When it’s time to hand in your rent, give them a call ahead of time with the exact cost of repairs down to the cent. If your Cheapskate has “forgotten” their chequebook, have next month’s rent ready minus the amount you’re owed.

Help! They aren’t doing anything

If you’re at your wits’ end dealing with The Voicemail and your upstairs neighbour letting their dog pee off their balcony and into your rosemary, it might be time to pull out the Calling the Authorities trump card. It’s easy to put on the Big Girl Pants, but can you deal with the consequences if things go awry? Do you have a place to stay if things get uncomfortable or aggressive? Can you deal with a black mark on your rental history? If the problem still outweighes the risks, be prepared for a terse conversation or a messy showdown.

The passive aggressive jerk in me always wants to go out in a righteous blaze of glory, cancelling my rent checks and violently shaking my finger until they see the error of their ways. Do not do this as it’ll weaken your case. Keep sending those cheques until a higher authority agrees that your landlord is a scumbag.

It’s best to stash your valuables and important documents with a friend before you pick up the phone. Send all your correspondence by registered mail or fax so they can’t feign ignorance. Make your case by showing a detailed timeline of repair requests, missed meetings and cashed rent cheques. If they still don’t respond, up the ante by sending your next letter via notary. Call up your housing registrar to learn how to escalate your claim and terminate your lease. It’ll make for some bad blood, but if your documentation’s in order, you can prove to you next landlord that they were a jerk and you’re still a shining example of responsibility that other tenants aspire to.

Now go out there with your shiniest smile and charm the pants off of your landlord. Or let us know how you dealt with your particular flavour of crazy.

Profile photo of Kristen

Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 140 articles for us.

23 Comments

  1. Thumb up 2

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    I’ve had all of these landlords before and I’m sorry to say that generally your best option is tough it out until the end of the lease and then just GO.

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    As a professional landlord or gaylord as I prefer, I can tell you asking for a rent decrease in exchange for tolerating “unlivable” conditions while doing non essential repairs is a sure fire way to not get offered a lease renewal. Don’t forget that in a tight economy with raising tax levels many “income properties” are a break even endeavour with a small operating budget. If you have a landlord that is understanding enough to put whatever revenue they can spare into non-essential (as in not required by your region’s tenancy regulations) or aesthetic upgrades AND listen to your input that is a unicorn of it’s own. Gift horse, mouth time here. That said most regions of Canada (I don’t know about the states) legislate rent reductions in exchange for any time any one or more clause(s) of a lease isn’t upheld. If it takes a week to fix your stove and the stove is particularly mentioned in your lease you don’t have to pay rent that week. Not a good card to play frequently but if you’re having problems with a “Snorlax”, citing them once with the tenancy board for thinking you can live happily without a stove is usually enough to get them moving more speedily in the future. Also most regions/municipalities require a permit for anything beyond flooring, fixture changes and paint these days to prevent “The UnHandyman” and the danger these folks create. Reporting of violations is usually anonymous to prevent unjust eviction.

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      I guess it depends on the landlord situation. I imagine a lot of landlords only see their properties as income, but I’ve met quite a few that bought a property for retirement and wanted tenants to offset the renovations costs.

      My girlfriend has been living in a converted bank building that’s “under construction.” The landlord gave it to her at a discount because it had yet to be modernized like the rest of her units. She’s probably paying 25% less than the rest of the neighbourhood and all she has to do is have a contractor come over every few months.

      Some of my handier friends (contractors and cabinet makers) had their rent offset in exchange for repairs. Admittedly it’s not free but the barter worked for all parties involved. But that’s not to say you have to be especially skilled. I had a set of elderly landlords that paid professionals to maintain the property since they weren’t physically able. When they needed someone to repaint the baseboards the previous tenant destroyed, they reduced my rent that month as payment.

      I’m not saying that it’s a sure-thing, but when it comes to small repairs, some landlords are willing to make concessions instead of hiring professionals at a higher rate. If you can do maintenance around the house to show you care and actually have skills, you can gain their trust.

      Admittedly it will put you in a situation where they’ll want to cash in on their rewards once it’s complete. It may mean that your lease won’t be renewed again or that they’ll raise your rent (following tenancy laws), but those are a constant risk regardless of whether home improvements have been done.

      And I definitely agree that you can’t call the authorities repeatedly. I should have used a different analogy to mean it’s your last resort. (Hail Mary pass? Red Pill?)

  3. Thumb up 3

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    I woke up to someone knocking on my bedroom door this morning and I was a little confused. Apparently my landlord forgot to mention he was coming by with a contractor and then let himself in when I didn’t wake up. Not gonna lie, freaked me out a little haha.

    Honestly I’ve definitely had roommate problems but never had a landlord issue…

    • Thumb up 8

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      Most places I’ve lived require a landlord to give 24 hours notice before entering your dwelling. You should look into that and if it’s the case, mention it – it might prevent repeat incidents.

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      I was awakened when someone from maintenance walked INTO my bedroom one morning. It was 5am and I was dead to the world since I’d taken Ambien at 2am. Turns out they’d been banging on my front door for 10 minutes and figured I wasn’t home when I didn’t answer (ummm, hello? IT WAS 5AM. I WAS ASLEEP.) Anyway, it turns out that in my lease it says they are able to enter the unit without notice if it’s an emergency. The problem was that my old water heater had corroded so badly there was water leaking through the ceiling two floors below me. I was still pretty drugged so I told them as long as they didn’t ruin any of my shoes (the water heater closet is in the back of my walk-in bedroom closet, which had piles of shoes all over the floor at the time) they could do whatever they needed and that I was going back to bed. And I did. I managed to sleep through them removing the old water heater AND installing the new one. I mean, I was seriously OUT – when I woke up again there was a VERY loud industrial fan in the closet to dry out the part of the carpet that got wet (but all of my shoes were fine!!!). It was a pretty bizarre day, but at least I got a brand-new water heater.

  4. Thumb up 3

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    My best landlords were my aunt and uncle but they did have a tendency to show up for my reason.

    Everybody else sucked. I’ve lost thousands, no joke, to landlords who just didn’t return deposits (one kept it because I moved out when the bathroom ceiling collapsed and the apt was full of mold, one said she couldn’t rent it fast enough so she kept the money, some others have deducted excessive amounts for “the oven is kinda dirty” after I scrubbed the hell out of it. We sued the second one, we won by virtue of her not showing up, and then when we garnished the money from her bank account she finally showed up to court and said we sued her, not her company. So the judge made us give the money back and by then I lived in another state and my old roommate couldn’t handle going through all of it again by himself.

    There are a lot more things but basically, maybe…7 rentals after moving off campus, most places have sucked. Either weird intrusive landlords or zero maintenance and then getting ripped off later.

    I hope other people have better luck.

  5. Thumb up 1

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    I have never ever gotten my deposit back from a rental. Maybe I’m just too destructive on my apartments/houses, or I can never resist putting holes in the walls to hang pictures.

    Question: How can I get my landlord to put a bike rack into my apartment complex?

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      Sounds sassy but the first step is really just ask your landlord for a bike rack, maybe they’re not an avid cyclist and haven’t thought of this need. From there follow the O/P’s suggestion and make a plan, what do you hope for, heated, indoor, how many bikes, sheltered, where? There’s a few decent sites online that have good examples of “commercial bike racks” similar to the ones cities/public buildings install. If you get resistance on the cost (don’t forget to factor in installation) talk to your neighbors, I’m always more motivated you allocate funds to a project if many tenants will benefit not just one.

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    Thanks for this, I thought I’d struck gold when I signed a lease for a privately rented house. The landlord built it himself and is very defensive about it, but it really needs work, despite the fact that he spends every single daylight hour in the backyard maintaining the garden. After 4 years, my roommates and I have come up with lots of creative ways to fix a dodgy rental and deal with a loud and ever-present landlord whilst still looking a whole lot more appealing than him having to find a new tenant. I do this because I REALLY hate moving and I think my local real estates might secretly all be evil demons who get off on telling people that there are 35 other applicants who can pay more than them…

    Anyway my point is, there’s lots of great stuff around that can make most weird landlord/rental situations a whole lot easier to deal with. I recommend blockout curtains, a good set of headphones and getting to know your dodgy rental well enough that when you end up at the hardware store trying to explain what the thingy that you need to buy is, you don’t leave the attendant in a fit of rage.

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    I should note that I, as well, am a gaylord/landlord and wanted to address a few of the things here. My background: I’ve got one investment property in the states, which is a few blocks down from my personal residence, and I lived in that investment property for 5 years before renting it.

    I think a lot of these suggestions about researching problems before going to the landlord about them and researching updates that you as the tenant want are great. If my tenants came to me with ideas I’d certainly at least listen to them.

    However, the tenant actually doing the updates is something that I, personally, would balk at. Now, I know a lot of landlords don’t care too much about the interiors of their houses, but some of us do. When I lived in the condo I’m currently renting, I spent MOST of my free time there undoing all of the shitty half-assed work the previous owner had DIY-ed and then re-doing it the right way.* Letting another person continue on with updates with no supervision is something that personally makes me uncomfortable. However, I’m the type of landlord that would offer to help the tenant so I could do that supervising. That’s a win-win for everyone.

    And that’s not to say that the tenant could never earn my trust to do their own updates. If you can prove to me that you are capable of doing home improvement/repair up to my standards, then we’ve got ourselves a great situation. With the right tenant and the right amount of trust involved, this would be greatly beneficial to both parties, but do understand that this is going to take some work on the tenant’s part to earn that trust to do those updates.

    Finally, the longer term of a lease a tenant signs, the more likely I would be to work on establishing a relationship base to build towards this trust. If you’re signing a year lease and then don’t renew, why should I bother letting you change the place around? You’ll be out of it before we get the work done anyway.

    Just some thoughts! Looking forward to the DIY posts! I’m a BIG Nicole Curtis fan. And not just because Nicole Curtis looks like Nicole Curtis.

    *Do not EVER, EVER paint water-based paint over oil-based paint (for example, on cabinetry). You will ruin your landlord/the next owner’s life and it will look terrible when it peels. That took MONTHS to fix.

    • Thumb up 1

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      My one landlord’s solution to everything was caulking. Broken tile? Caulking. Dripping tap? Caulking. Cracked grout? Caulking. It was a weird situation because we knew actual remedies, but he still had his “tried and true” method. So admittedly he was a bit taken aback that we tried to correct him, but after we explained the more aesthetically pleasing/reliable solutions, he came around.

      (And how the heck am I only learning what Nicole Curtis looks like now?)

      And thank you for the oil-based paint PSA! More people need to know about that.

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    I think my only true horror story was when the hot water tank (in the ceiling, for some reason? Sketchy sketchy plumbing) leaked, shorting out the electricity. Result was more than a month without either electricity or hot water, because the landlord kept trying but failing to fix it. I asked for an early exit to the tenancy or a break in the rent since I was paying for utilities that were non-existent. Got nothing at all, and had to live without the hot water and electricity until the end of my tenancy. Gyms are good for something.

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      Ugh that’s terrifying! I had one apartment with a leaking shower that absolutely destroyed the foundation. They ripped apart our house and my roomies and I spooned on a futon for 3 weeks straight with industrial fans and dehumidifiers blowing. Unfortunately I was not a gym member at the time.

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    I have to contend with the Other Roomie.Thankfully he’s benign and could even be accused of meaning well if one did know better.90% of the time I’m away at work or some other place so I only get to experience him im small dosages,which is tolerable.It’s get’s trickier during holidays when I have look at him fulltime. Advice for dealing with a Roomie; tread diplomatically and you’ll survive to see another lease;)

  10. Thumb up 3

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    I’ve had really excellent, generous landlords and have ended up doing odd jobs for them such as vaccuuming the hallway once a week, shovelling snow, gardening and the garbage when one was on vacation. They’ve also asked me to clean vacant apartments for them to prepare for the next tenants. It’s really cool because I get to see other apartments in the house. Also I get paid really well for this work and it’s not hard work to do. It gives me a sense of pride of where I live, helps out with the cost of my rent and builds relationship with them. I am totally grateful for the work I’ve received and I’m glad I offered to help. Thanks!

  11. Thumb up 1

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    My current apartment is a hovel. It’s managed by a local real estate mogul-millionaire who refuses to do basic, but necessary repairs.

    It took the company a month and a week to “fix” our gas oven (which is included in our rental agreement). After three weeks oven-less the repair guy botched the repair job then lied to his boss and told them he had fixed it. LIES. We called the building manager (who is a busy, but decent guy) and he had a professional come just over a week later.

    We had no power in the two bedrooms for three weeks this winter because the repair guy (same guy who attempted to repair the oven) didn’t know how to use a fuse box and wouldn’t let us go downstairs to fix it ourselves.

    At least we don’t have bugs.

    I’m moving out as soon as I find something better within my price range. I refuse to spend another winter in this place.

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