It’s a Learning Experience
This is what I tell myself when anxiety keeps me awake at night and peptic ulcers give me bad tummy aches. I’ve had anxiety-related insomnia a couple times a year since about 2009, when our real estate business started to get bigger than I was personally comfortable with. A house of cards that could come crashing down with one false move from my inexperienced hand. This is scary shit!
It’s also why most people don’t do it.
I figured out long ago, sometime back in childhood, that I’m not like most people.
The anxiety attack will creep up on me without warning as I’m drifting off to sleep. A scary thought pops into my brain. My eyes pop open. My stomach starts churning. I try yoga breathing, lying in corpse pose, counting slowly to 100. Often I’ll drift off for a bit, then wake up again with the same sense of dread. If I make it to 100 with my counting, I get up and do some work I had planned for the next day until I feel sleepy. I figure my day is shot anyway – I might as well get some work done now so I can nap later. Or if I feel it will help, I’ll get up and take a bubble bath - in the big soaker tub in my luxurious tile bathroom, which was once an unnecessary 4th bedroom before I redesigned the house we now call home. That often puts things into perspective. I manifested this bathroom, this tub. I can do anything!
I haven’t sought medication for this anxiety. It happens once, maybe twice a year, and only for one night. I know what’s causing it – I’m doing something really unconventional and scary with my life. I have all but walked away from my former career. That career left me unsatisfied, but I had put nearly thirty years of my life into it, and it was familiar. So every once in awhile the WTF-Are-You-Doing alarm gets tripped in my head.
In 1987, Susan Jeffers wrote a book called “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway” – a motivational classic I confess I’ve never read but its title has become my motto.
If you’re going to try your hand at real estate investing, or starting any kind of business, you need to learn to deal with your fear demon.
One strategy that’s helped me is to think of every problem or obstacle as a learning experience. If it’s the kind of problem that costs money I think of it as college tuition. An investment in my education toward my PhD in Being Awesome.
Every Problem Tenant is a Crucial Teacher
My latest “college professor” is a twenty-something tenant who believes she doesn’t have to pay her rent because there are maintenance issues with her apartment. Issues that are being attended to, and were responded to immediately when she called them in. Problem is she didn’t bother to call most of them in until she realized she didn’t have the rent this month. When she was informed by our rental manager that she would be evicted if rent was not paid, she decided to make it a case for the city code inspector.
This whole story will be a doozy to tell in a future blog. I don’t want to go into too much detail now because it’s still ongoing. But believe me all will be revealed!
This situation is nothing new – it’s happened to me a few times before and it’s happened to every landlord I know. This is something that a lot of tenants do when they don’t have the money to pay rent or they just decide they’d rather spend it at the bar. Logically I know I shouldn’t worry about it. I should just shake my head, wait for the eviction hearing and move on with my life. But this situation triggered one of my anxiety attacks.
I don’t like being called a slumlord. I don’t like lies being told to my face. I don’t like tenants who go around breaking things in the unit to make me look bad to a city inspector. I don’t like that she’s sitting in my investment property Googling “How To Screw Your Landlord.”
But it’s a Learning Experience. So I’m settling into Student Mode now, and that’s quelled my anxiety. I’ve slept peacefully every night since!
I want to see Pennsylvania’s Landlord-Tenant laws in action. I’m going to pull myself back from the situation, observe, and take notes like a good student.
The Implied Warranty of Habitability - An Oft-Misunderstood Landlord-Tenant Law
Last week I posted a link to the Implied Warranty of Habitability Law, which tenants believe they are invoking when they withhold rent due to maintenance issues in the unit. I’ll post it again here: http://www.palawhelp.org/resource/deduct-repair-tenants-right-to-a-safe-and-dec?ref=TgYL2
I think landlords and tenants alike need to be educated about this law!
The Implied Warranty of Habitability is designed to protect tenants. In Pennsylvania, tenants are entitled to rental housing that is in safe, sanitary and liveable condition. Most municipalities require a rental inspection in order to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy. If a landlord has that valid certificate, the unit passed inspection and is deemed to be up to code. (Yes, we have one.)
However, things do break and systems do fail, and it is the landlord’s responsibility to make necessary repairs to ensure the unit is safe, sanitary and liveable. But the tenant has some responsibilities as well, under this law.
The first responsibility is to inform the landlord there’s a problem. The landlord can’t do anything about a problem she doesn’t know about. And it does no good to call up 3 days before the rent is due to report a problem, and complain that you’ve been living with it for the last three weeks. If I just heard about it today, the last three weeks are not my problem – the law says so!
Another thing tenants should know – saying you called the landlord 30 times about the problem doesn’t protect your rights under the law, even if you are telling the truth. In order to insure your rights under the Implied Warranty of Habitability you need to let the landlord know in writing and send a certified letter as proof.
Tenants also need to give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem. If the heat is off and it’s during heating season, 24 hours is reasonable. During the summer months a reasonable amount of time may be 30 days.
Here’s another tidbit about the Implied Warranty of Habitability – it only applies to serious defects. The law does not require that the landlord provide a perfect dwelling. It doesn’t even require that the landlord paint the walls – a little known fact. Most landlords will repaint after a tenant moves out, or paint every few years in the case of a long term tenant, but we actually don’t have to.
Another thing – even if there is a serious defect, and even if your landlord is a complete douche and does nothing to fix it after you’ve informed him in writing and given him reasonable time to respond – you still don’t have the right to withhold your rent! The Implied Warranty of Habitability only allows you to deduct and repair – that means, you hire the plumber/electrician/HVAC professional/exterminator or whatever, for a reasonable rate, and you pay that professional out of the money you would have given your landlord for rent. Then you send the remaining rent money off to your landlord with a copy of the receipt. It doesn’t even get you out of your lease!
Of course, any landlord who would ignore a certified letter demanding reasonable repairs to a safety hazard is a slumlord in my book. In that case I would advise the tenant to file her own lawsuit against the landlord with the magistrate to break the lease. Still, you would have to keep paying your rent or at least put it in an interest-bearing escrow account – if the judge rules you still have to pay the landlord, then you have to pay. But that’s the right way to do it. And that documentation will go a long way to helping you get your next rental, as you probably won’t get a glowing reference from the slumlord.
Bottom line: If such a tenant applied for one of my units and had a paper trail proving the previous landlord really was at fault, and they followed the law to protect their rights, I would probably rent to them. If, however they came to me with a sob story about how their previous landlord was a slumlord who never fixed anything and that’s why they broke their lease and there’s an eviction on their record, they can go live elsewhere. Because this isn’t my first rodeo and I’ve heard that lie before!
I’m going to the eviction hearing. Already arranged for child care that day. The co-owner of the management company is going to do the talking. He and my husband made it clear that I should probably not speak. The magistrate isn’t going to like me trying to educate him about the Implied Warranty of Habitability. I get it. But I’ll have five copies of it in my dossier just in case, with all the relevant sections highlighted in pink!