Monday, August 14, 2006

More ll/t: the cost of doing it right.

I'm continually amazed (astounded? horrified?) by the parade before me of people who attempt to do the "easy" way instead of doing it the "right" way. This applies to landlords and tenants.

Landlord, if the tenant hasn't paid the rent and you want him/her gone, the proper method is to take the tenant to court. With a lawyer, total costs can be around $300 (yes, that's not a typo. I know some in the area charge $600 to $1000 for an eviction, but you can also find some charging $150 to $200). Still, $300 may sound like a lot of money compared to say, turning off the power and padlocking the breaker shut. Except, of course, that such actions are illegal in New York and the tenant can be entitled to treble (3x) damages for an illegal eviction. So instead of going to court with a possibly iron-clad case because rent hasn't been paid, this landlord is now looking at being the defendant in a suit for big damages. Likewise, if the building needs repair, don't try to claim it's all due to the tenant, because that's going to result in a court case. Stick to legitimate damages/costs and there isn't a problem.

Tenant, you too must learn to do things the right way. If the landlord gives you a notice because Great Aunt Milly needs to live in the place you've rented for 23 years, then move out without trashing the place and with your rent paid up. If you can't make a rent payment, talk to your landlord instead of dodging him/her. Give proper notice before moving out, and leave it in decent condition. And if there are sufficient problems that you feel justified in withholding rent, seek the assistance of the housing inspector to document the problem and don't spend the money unless it's to move elsewhere. "This place is falling apart, but I spent the money on a new pair of shoes," is not a defense that will get you far. Neither is spending on the money on a necessity like food or soap. It's rent money and needs to stay rent money, whether it's paid out or not.

Jamestown is currently locked in an unproductive cycle. There's a large percentage of landlords who invest in real estate like they invest in stocks--drop some money down and wait for the returns, without doing necessary upkeep and maintenance. There is also a large group of tenants who don't respect people or property. Neither is a majority, or even a plurality, but both have a negative effect on everyone else. Even lawyers, the courts, and policy makers become attuned to the negatives as a representation of the whole, and it becomes too easy to paint every businessman as a slumlord or every tenant as a crackdealing roach motel. Part of the solution, though, is for each person to take care of his/her personal business according to the law.


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