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Throwing good rent after bad
October 21, 2011 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Our new rental house is turning out to be a ton of work (for us) a money pit (for us and our landlady) and just an all-around major problem. I need advice on when it's worth it to stick it out, and when to cut your losses.

My wife and I were living in a tiny little four-plex suite which cost us $1000 a month including utilities. That was a very good deal, even though the place was small, old, and dumpy. All at one time, our landlady filled the other three suites with noisy construction workers, we started finding little worms in all our laundry, and a friend who flips houses for a living offered us one of her places to rent. We took it.

Our friend, Alice, rented us a small little house that we absolutely adore, for $1200 plus utilities. This is at the upper limit of what we can afford. Several months previous, she had renovated the entire interior, and then moved her boyfriend in to take care of it. When we were deciding on the place, the boyfriend showed us around and we noticed a number of problems, all of which he promised to fix before we moved in.

We moved our boxes in the middle of August and began living there at the beginning of September. Alice gave us half-Aug for free. Immediately we started noticing problems. Big ones. By this time, Alice and her boyfriend had moved 3 hours away, and we had signed a month-to-month lease with Alice's mom, Pam, as our official landlady. Pam has given us carte blanche to get anything fixed that needs to be fixed, and she will pay for all plumbers/electricians/handymen, with no questions. Really wonderful. We have to make the arrangements and take the time off from work to have the work done. That would be ok if it wasn't for the sheer amount of work to be done. To wit:

1. The refrigerator did not work when we moved in and we lost $150 worth of groceries. We asked Alice to have it fixed by Sept 1 and she didn't bother. Two service calls and three weeks later, we now have a working refrigerator.

2. The dishwasher (a major selling feature for us) did not work for a month. Two service calls later and now it does work. It, however, falls over when you load it.

3. The jacuzzi (another major feature) broke the first time we used it, as did the sink in the upstairs bathroom, leaving us with no upstairs bathroom for a month. 3 service calls and now the sink works and the jacuzzi might.

4. The boyfriend did not clean when he moved out, and left loads and loads of garbage throughout the house and yard. We cleaned this.

5. The interior doors do not close. None of them.

6. There is no water access to the outside - the outside faucets have been puttied closed.

7. Windows not installed properly, cupboards never completed, shelves never completed, drawers don't close, basically all the hallmarks of a half-completed reno job.

8. The promised fence was never installed. We've had small things go missing from our yard.

9. On top of all this, our ceiling started to leak really badly and the roofer says it's so bad that the whole thing needs to be replaced. He couldn't even go all the way onto it to check it out.

So, up until this roof problem I had been planning to meet with Pam and ask her for a rent reduction. I don't know how to do this, how much to ask for, and she is so hard to meet with it feels like she's avoiding us. With this new set of problems, my wife and I are thinking that enough is enough and we should just leave. We are on a month-to-month lease so that is possible, however:

- We have a piano. This costs $500 to move. If we have to move again, we may just have to sell the piano.
- We have an aging rabbit. It's hard to find rentals that allow you to have pets.
- I am 4.5 months pregnant. If we don't move NOW I will not be much help at all.
- Pam has been more than generous in paying for all the labour to get things fixed. I don't think she realizes just how much time off from work we've had to take to get everything done.
- Most of the work has been done by now. Surely there can't be more problems to crop up!
- If everything worked, this is the nicest place we've ever lived in. It really is a gorgeous house.

I don't have anywhere else to go for advice. Please tell me what I'm missing and need to consider, and how you know when it's time to cut your losses.
posted by arcticwoman to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Honestly, the place sounds unlivable. Who knows what it will be like in the winter? In the grand scheme of things, the roof is going to take precedence over everything else. This is a repair that has to be done before winter. Besides that, is there anything else that is going to make living there difficult over the winter?

Having been in a similar situation (twice!) My advice would be to make sure the roof is fixed within the next four weeks, and stick it out over the winter, until you kind find another place to live.

Make sure the roof gets fixed, and present an itemized list to your landlord, and try to negotiate a reduction in rent. Use this saved money to pay the piano moving bill.

You could approach the rental tenancy branch (or whatever it is called in Alta) and get help, but the sad fact is you don't really have an exit strategy - there's nowhere else to go.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:40 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


When you have your child, would you be able to (mentally and emotionally) manage all the home difficulties as well as navigating that?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:42 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ask the landpeople what their recommendation is for getting the house fixed without your having to take time off of work. If they don't have one, move. Frankly, the place sounds like a (expletive deleted) nightmare.
posted by rhizome at 1:49 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think it's really just a question of having someplace else to go. I believe the rental market in Alberta (which is where I think the OP is from) is really tight at the moment.

I think it may be possible to move the piano for less than $500 (I used to move pianos when I was a mover, and it ain't rocket science), and it would be easy to sneak an elderly rabbit of all things into a new place.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:50 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


My initial advice is to find another place, you're not going to want to deal with this stuff when you have the baby and are swiped out from not sleeping.

The roof is the most concerning thing in your story. If the roof fails this winter it's going to be a big problem, if you do stay in the property try to get renters insurance to cover your losses if there is a failure. An option might be to get Pam to reduce the rent to cover a solid renters insurance policy until structural issues/etc are covered.

A failed roof outside of your property damage is going to be a problem as the house will be basically be uninhabitable, especially pregnant and especially with a baby. At this point if the roof gets fixed, look around for things that may impact having a kid in the place - does the house stay warm, are outlets grounded, can you reasonably bock off kid roaming territory? The roof will likely be a mold and mildew problem if it's not already, it needs to get fixed and remediated.

The place doesn't sound worth it to me long term unless you can make it work for beyond the pregnancy phase, when you have a baby that needs to be warm and comfortable.

Hope it works out!
posted by iamabot at 2:10 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't make decisions based on sunk expenses. You've already spent the time fixing everything that has needed to be fixed and there's nothing you can do to recoup that time. So, it is completely and utterly irrelevant to your decision making process. Let me rearrange your list to exclude sunk expenses:

1. The dishwasher falls over when you load it.
2. The jacuzzi might not be working correctly.
3. The interior doors do not close. None of them.
4. There is no water access to the outside - the outside faucets have been puttied closed.
5. Windows not installed properly, cupboards never completed, shelves never completed, drawers don't close, basically all the hallmarks of a half-completed reno job.
6. The promised fence was never installed. We've had small things go missing from our yard.
7. On top of all this, our ceiling started to leak really badly and the roofer says it's so bad that the whole thing needs to be replaced. He couldn't even go all the way onto it to check it out.

When I read your original list, I thought "wow, I can't imagine living in a place like that." When I read this list, I think "that sounds like a badly constructed place to buy, but maybe not too bad to rent". In fact, I think if you just don't leave stuff outside, you're now down to (mostly) cosmetic things that can be fixed on a as-time-is-available basis, especially given how generous your landlord has been. The roof is the only problem I see, but can (mostly) be mitigated by renter's insurance. Since your profile indicates that you are in Saudi Arabia, I'm not sure that's so much of a problem.

What you make of this is up to you. However, I would want the decision to be based on future costs, not sunk costs.
posted by saeculorum at 2:28 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


DTMFA, regarding the house. It's only going to get worse.
posted by Slinga at 2:34 PM on October 21, 2011


Leave NOW.

Having a baby in this kind of house will be a huge nightmare, even more so that just having the baby. Not to mention the fact that having things that work, consistently and without multiple service calls is something that will be very much appreciated when you are doing laundry at 2am.
posted by Leezie at 2:50 PM on October 21, 2011


Skip Pam; contact the friend you originally talked to. Ask them for assistance, explaining that wtih you halfway through your pregnancy term and Pam not responding to the roof concerns -- which obviously you can't get taken care of for reimbursement later, that would be ridiculous -- and so you want to know whether they can get Pam to pay attention to you.

Hopefully they'll be able to straighten it out -- perhaps Pam is just unmotivated, and her daughter typically steps in to keep her honest and focused -- and if not, then you can start talking about moving based on (as saeculorum says) future costs and inconveniences.
posted by davejay at 2:50 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would leave. If it was just the 2 of you, I might say stick it out, get the rest of the repairs handled, and ask for a rent reduction due to having to miss so much work.

But you're going to have a kid. The house does not sound generally safe OR child-friendly. With windows and doors improperly installed, someone might be able to take advantage of this to break in. Winter is approaching -- could the entire roof get replaced in time? If not, you have a potential roof-collapse situation over the winter. Is there other structural damage? What if a ceiling collapses? Cupboards that don't close properly are going to be safety hazards for your baby when s/he begins to crawl. A leaky ceiling could mean that there are rotting beams that are growing mold. Mold spores are bad for you and your baby.

So I would get out now. As KokuRyu said, even if you find a place that doesn't allow pets, you may be able to sneak it in.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:01 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since your profile indicates that you are in Saudi Arabia, I'm not sure that's so much of a problem

Saudi Alberta (heh.)

I think the landlord giving you 'carte blanche' do have things fixed is emblematic of pure laziness. Even my shittiest/sketchiest landlords have done the actual legwork in assessing and arranging repairs. I'd just print out your list at the top of the thread, hand it to Pam, and say "Here. You have one month to fix all this or we're leaving."

The place sounds like a nightmare, and I've lived in quite a few dives.
posted by mannequito at 4:17 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


As a pregnancy/newborn veteran: MOVE NOW.

We moved when our son was five months old and it was seriously crazy making to be so unsettled while also dealing with the unsettling-ness of having a newborn. Get your "nesting" done where your nest will actually be. You'll feel a lot better emotionally when the baby comes if you're really secure and comfortable in your house rather than waiting for that one more thing to be fixed.

(Or even worse: realizing that you have to move and doing so with a five month old. Which I recommend to exactly no one, ever. Just don't do it.)
posted by sonika at 6:53 PM on October 21, 2011


Yeah, move now. Is your landlord going to do the cheap cosmetic fix, or the expensive fix that gets to the root of the problem? Will the cosmetic fix hold for more than a couple of months? I've just spent three plus years renting a place with similar problems and my list of needed repairs just keeps getting longer (not shorter). I know this place better than my landlord now, and he used to live here.

The dishwasher probably just needs two screws. If you open the door and then look at the top of the dishwasher there should be two brackets pointing out into the kitchen. Put a screw through each of them. Make sure to use screws that are short enough that they don't pop out of the counter. If your counter is granite or something else you don't want to screw into, the brackets sometimes can be moved to the sides of the dishwasher for mounting to the adjacent cabinets.
posted by postel's law at 8:15 PM on October 21, 2011


How much is the piano's replacement cost? How much do you use it and does it really mean something that special to you? This seems like an albatross and you shoudn't keep it just because of past sunk costs. Only keep it if (a) it is an important centerpiece of your life and (b) it would cost more than $1000 to replace, because you will have spent that much on moving it if you move it again. I wouldn't get hung up on this piano question.
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on October 21, 2011


It doesn't sound like there is that much left to do. But it does sound like you need to have a serious talk with your friend about getting the place finished. Why not just find out what your friend's budget is, make a list of what needs done, get a bid or two, and have the work knocked out in the next month? Or if they don't want help getting this project truly livable at this time, then move. But what you want done are fairly small-ticket items except the roof, which just absolutely needs to happen.

For instance, for something like $200, somebody could probably come in, sand the doors to the point that they can close, and be done with that. And if the washer falls over for you, it will fall over for the next person, and replacing it will be cheaper than multiple service calls anyway. Given your landlord's blank check on repairs, I'd just go ahead and do some of these things.

But if your friends have the budget for you to do this all at once, I'd probably get bids from roofers, and then find a handyman who can handle the rest. In the budget, I'd include a small contingency fund ("oh you wanted gutters too??"), and add in a ten percent project management cost for yourself (perhaps in cash, perhaps as a rent reduction). Run the bid by them to make sure, and then just get all of this done. Oh, and have them sign a commitment not to sell it, raise your rent, etc., for one year so that you know you can enjoy the fruits of your effort. They are renovating it, so if you're willing to be their project manager, they ought to appreciate that. If you don't want the hassle, I'd give the list to your friend and ask her if they could get someone to do it quickly.
posted by slidell at 7:38 PM on October 22, 2011


Also, if they can't pay for a new roof, just go now. That could become a bit of a nightmare.
posted by slidell at 7:39 PM on October 22, 2011


Pam has given us carte blanche to get anything fixed that needs to be fixed, and she will pay for all plumbers/electricians/handymen, with no questions. Really wonderful. We have to make the arrangements and take the time off from work to have the work done. That would be ok if it wasn't for the sheer amount of work to be done.

That's not being generous, it's being irresponsible and lazy. She owns the property, she's responsible for its upkeep. You technically have no stake in the property. She shouldn't be making you do any legwork at all, but instead you're doing most of it. Get yourself a keyboard and start looking for another place. If you like the place that much, give her a month to fix everything (including the roof) just in case you're really not able to find anything in time. The roof thing really worries me.
posted by bleep at 1:58 AM on October 23, 2011


I have a new baby. I am imagining those early days, getting him to nap and finally having a minute to do the dishes, only I can't close his door and then the dishwasher falls over.

Don't do that to yourself. Move.
posted by that's how you get ants at 3:01 PM on October 24, 2011


Thank you for all the advice. We talked to the landlady and she has made immediate steps to get the whole roof replaced. She has also agreed to be available (or find someone to be available) when contractors need to be let in.

I know that most of you have suggested moving, but we've been renters in this town for a long time and have what we think is a pretty realistic idea of what our alternatives are. We've had landlords who've sent their elderly parents to fix foundation cracks, landlords who've refused to do anything about the cat pee smell from the previous renters, and then tried to blame us for it when we left, one landlord was a lawyer and in return for getting clients off drug charges the clients had to do maintenance work on the rental units. The fact that Pam is willing to fix things and willing to pay someone professional to do it is a minor miracle, and we've decided it's worth the hassle. We have decided to stick it out for the winter and reassess in summer/fall, even though we'll have a new baby and moving will certainly be MUCH harder then.

Thank you for reminding me that there is no sense in thinking about the sunk costs - only the future ones.

It's a good reminder to think about the piano in those terms too. My wife's piano-playing was the first thing I fell in love with about her, although she no longer plays. We've talked about getting rid of it over the years and I've never been able to bring myself to do it - my rationale has been that we will never again find the money in the budget to buy something so luxurious as a piano. If we get rid of it we will likely never own another one. Thinking about how much we've spent to move it, though... we could have easily bought a better one. Or an electric piano, so she can play with headphones on and not feel self-conscious. Hmm. Don't be surprised if there's an AskMe coming up on how to sell a 100 year old piano.
posted by arcticwoman at 2:10 PM on November 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


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