Why is the landlord trying to hide?
July 3, 2009 6:10 PM   Subscribe

Property manager hid that other duplex tenant is property owner when getting me to sign lease.

My partner and I signed a lease for a duplex back in early June, and we move in mid-July. When we were looking at the unit and signing the lease, the property manager, who handles all aspects of the property, from renting it, to maintenance, etc., told us about the "other tenant." She said it was a retired woman who likes to socialize with whoever lives in our unit, bringing over food and whatnot, and that she used to live in a neighborhood full of wild college students, so that she's cool with some noise (there are no shared walls, though). She also said that the owner is wanting the "tenants" of each unit to start sharing the cost of the landscaping costs after we move in, even though the owner paid the full cost before. There are other examples, but she definitely made it sound like some hands-off owner existed out there who rented the two units in the duplex, one to this retired lady, and one to us. The name of the owner on the lease was a company name that sounded like it could be a person's name.

I've worked for realtors and real estate lawyer in the past, so whenever I move somewhere, I look up the property in the online tax rolls out of curiosity. I hadn't done so before we signed the lease, though. Checking it out the other day, I realized that the "other tenant" was actually the property owner!

I have a hard time trusting property managers/landlords after having many bad experiences renting in college, so I find this to be a bit of red flag. While I can think of several legitimate reasons why they would do this (didn't want to freak out potential tenants, landlord wants to be friendly with neighbors without being treated like a landlord, etc.), it just seems wrong not to disclose this. Another red flag is that the previous tenant actually broke her lease and we are replacing her. The property manager said it was because she was moving in with her boyfriend. Now I am suspicious.

After this long description, I have a few questions:
1) Is this a situation that anyone else has heard of? Property owner living on the premises hiding that they are the owner?
2) Should we play dumb or address this somehow with the property manager when we go get our stuff to move in. I was thinking we should ask about the owner to see if she continues to lie, or if she's honest. We don't want to confront her about it, because we don't want to get off to a tense start.
3) I have the prior tenant's email address because their ad seeking a replacement was what I originally responded to. Should I email her and ask her if there is anything we should know?

Perhaps I'm just an overly cautious tenant, but I'm sick of being treated like an idiot by property managers. For all we know this is totally innocent, but we get a bad feeling being deceived about anything that we are locked into for a year.
posted by ishotjr to Law & Government (20 answers total)
 
Well, if previous tenants had a minor problem (say a plumbing issue or wanting new carpet or fresh coat of paint) and they knew the other tenant was the actual owner, they might try lobbying the owner directly. If the owner is retired and wants to be hands off and let the property manager handle things, this could be annoying. Just trying to offer a scenario where it's more about privacy and not a nefarious reason.
posted by sharkfu at 6:40 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seconding shark-fu:

I used to own a several duplexes in a row on a street in Philadelphia (I purchased them all from the previous owner in a "block")

Because I lived in one of the duplexes, I used a company name and a property manager because I didn't want to be harassed about the clogged toilets or the broken tile type stuff during a block party or a get together. I was in college at the time and just wanted a nice little check from property management without the hassles. A retired older woman might want the same thing. I'd keep this knowledge to yourself and see how it plays out.
posted by emjay at 7:00 PM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


1. Never heard of it happening before. Usually when the property owner lives on the premises they don't use a property management company. Weird.

2. Address it if it's bothering you. Nothing wrong with saying that you know the other tenant is the owner, and it seems like the property manager went out of their way to not disclose this. Considering the prop manager mentioned that the neighbor likes to stop by with food and be social, the neighbor's status as the owner is pretty relevant considering that most leases require 24 hour notice for the owner/property manager to enter the premises. You don't have to accuse them of what could be construed as a strategic lie of omission, but you can ask them why they didn't disclose this. It's possible the owner is a lonely woman who worried that the lease/notice to enter rule would eliminate her ability to socialize with the neighbors. Whatever the case is, before you speak to the property manager, work out whatever terms will make you comfortable. For instance, if you're prone to slacking on housework, you can add a clause about not being responsible for assessments gained though unofficial visits (without 24-hour notice). My sister is a slob and had this problem when she rented a duplex from the owner who lived on the other side. Actually, her landlord crossed boundaries by entering at will. I don't think that clause is unreasonable. My mother worked for a property management firm and one property owner used to go over every couple weeks and walk around the property, inspecting the yard and stuff, and often would knock on the door just to say hello. Obviously the tenant was less than pleased and my mom had to call the owner and tell them what they were doing was against the terms of the lease.

3. I would do that, but if they're on the hook for unpaid rent till someone moves in, I don't expect they'll be honest if there were real issues unless you've already signed the lease and moved in. If they're financially responsible till you're officially in the unit, they'll be looking out for their interests before they consider yours. You'll probably have better results if you email after you moved in and ask about how to best manage the situation, or the things you need to be aware of. As I type this, I can't help but wonder why the previous renter didn't tell you that the neighbor was the owner. That's either an indication of the fact that the owner does not act like an owner, or the owner was so horrible (either as just a nosy neighbor or as snoopy owner) they didn't want to discourage you from renting.
posted by necessitas at 7:20 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why not do as you suggest, email the prior tenant, and also just call the property manager and ask? You can do this first through the property manager and then through the landlord, totally without being confrontational. Make it a matter of curiosity "I noticed this was the case and I don't recall you mentioning it, was there a reason you were uncomfortable sharing that info with us?

I'd keep this knowledge to yourself and see how it plays out.

I disagree wholly with that perspective - people who are fortunate enough to own buildings - especially more than one! - especially while a student! - might not have the perspective that we renters have. I lived in a building once where the landlord didn't disclose that her mother in law was our upstairs neighbor, and that freaked me out enough! I personally do not like to live with a landlord on-premises, so this would be important information for me.

Without knowing WHY they hid the information, I don't think you should move in - because once you do, you're stuck. Of course, with the lease signed, you are MIGHT be already stuck but it's a lot easier to get out of a lease that hasn't commenced when you haven't yet moved in. Sure, people have proposed innocent reasons, but there COULD be nefarious ones, and it would be dumb to pretend everything was normal.

I'm not casting aspersions on anyone involved, but in general, landlords and tenants have different views on landlord-tenant law, relations and propriety. I've met a lot of landlords who seem to think they deserve to know what color underwear I prefer, just because I pay for temporary sole possession of land they own.
posted by bunnycup at 7:21 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Considering the prop manager mentioned that the neighbor likes to stop by with food and be social, the neighbor's status as the owner is pretty relevant considering that most leases require 24 hour notice for the owner/property manager to enter the premises.

This is a really good, important, basic point that I wish I had been clever enough to raise. You should weigh it much more heavily than the "Hey, everything is probably fine, IGNORE THE LIE!" advice. This is just the kind of issue that a landlord might gloss over, but can be critically important to a tenant's feeling of privacy and rights under the lease.
posted by bunnycup at 7:24 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. The one about not bugging the owner about maintenance issues is definitely a valid point that I hadn't even thought about for some reason.

The property manager also lives around the corner from us, which has its advantages and disadvantages, but the owner being at the same address is a little freaky for us.

With the lease signed, and the pro-landlord laws in our area, we are most definitely stuck. However, we don't see this as a dealbreaker, just as something we are a bit worried about. Neither of us are incredibly outgoing, and the whole neighbor-dropping-in thing was a little concerning to us, but we liked the place so much (it's pretty much perfect for our situation and a rare find that would have been grabbed out from under us quickly if we hadn't moved fast) that we figured it was worth it. Hopefully it still is.

Man, oh man, we are so buying a house as soon as we can afford to so we can stop playing these games.
posted by ishotjr at 7:29 PM on July 3, 2009


Personally, it's your money and your life, so if it troubles you sufficiently to ask us about it, I would ask the property manager about it. I've lived in apartments so far, but when I rented a townhouse (also in Texas, based on your tags), I asked the owner and realtor every question I could think of and wouldn't sign the lease until I was OK with it. Frankly, I do not want to live with the property owner sitting around the corner. If I were in your position and just found this out, I would be beating on the management company and quite possibly backing out, even at the expense of a deposit if necessary.

> Man, oh man, we are so buying a house as soon as we can afford to so we can stop playing these games.

Yeah, but then you get all these other games that are even less fun to play, and you're stuck if your next door neighbor turns out to really suck. At least with this situation you can tell the nice old lady to bugger off and if it really bothers you, move in a year.
posted by fireoyster at 7:44 PM on July 3, 2009


Response by poster: I was thinking this, too. Like, we'll ignore it for now, but if she causes us any issues, be like, "Look, we didn't want to make you feel weird, but we know that you're the owner, so [insert recourse here]."
posted by ishotjr at 8:17 PM on July 3, 2009


There are easy, simple ways to raise this without being a pain or making it obvious.

“Oh, hey, Ms. Property Manager! Yeah, our move in is going great! We love the place—it's gonna be a great home. We've got most of our furniture in; we're really looking forward to our first night in the place…and we found out that we're going to be neighbors with the owner—that's great! I'm sure that'll be very convenient, and she sounds like a really nice woman; the whole situation sounds great.

“Oh, by the way, I hate to even bring this up, but sometimes we like our privacy; she doesn't tend to come over unannounced, does she? Yeah, I figured she didn't—sorry to bother about that.

“Anyway, we're really looking forward to moving in. Thanks!”

You'll know before you get to “oh, by the way” what the situation is if you watch closely; if she seems okay with you knowing that you're sharing the duplex with the owner, then go from there and, before you move in, swing by the duplex and introduce yourself extremely cordially to the owner. Expect the best and be friendly; if there will be problems, you'll know right away.

If, after all, she seems cagey and nervous when you mention you've discovered the owner is your neighbor, well…check around a bit and look up the previous tenant and find out what happened.
posted by koeselitz at 9:14 PM on July 3, 2009


bunnycup writes "I personally do not like to live with a landlord on-premises, so this would be important information for me. "

This is why, the owner doesn't want to devalue the property (few people would see this as a bonus worth paying for and some would avoid the unit) and I've never heard of a requirement to disclose that the owner or a relative lives on site. The assets of the person living next door isn't really any of your business.

necessitas writes "onsidering the prop manager mentioned that the neighbor likes to stop by with food and be social, the neighbor's status as the owner is pretty relevant considering that most leases require 24 hour notice for the owner/property manager to enter the premises."

And because she is your neighbour you can just not let her in or even refuse to answer the door. The law is there to prevent landlords from letting themselves in or demanding entry from a position of quasi authority and would still apply in this circumstance (unless you are in the habit of giving your neighbours keys to your house which might make things murky).
posted by Mitheral at 9:34 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


With the lease signed, and the pro-landlord laws in our area, we are most definitely stuck.

Please do not jump to this legal conclusion before consulting an attorney.

However, it may be she wants to be friendly with those she lives around and doesn't want to have the whole landlord thing between you.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:02 PM on July 3, 2009


ishotjr, you said you looked up the online tax rolls out of curiosity. where do you do this?
posted by ifranzen at 2:04 AM on July 4, 2009


I am / was in this situation now / then...

The place I'm renting now, I learned after a while that the owners lived in the apartment above. The whole place was managed by someone in their family, and the manager didn't mention them when I moved in.

When I understood the owners lived above, I didn't give it much thought except finally understanding why they kept the place so tidy. They were really nice and quiet people, and with their age, it was obvious they wanted someone else to handle the management.

After they passed away, the building was kept in the family, but their apartment was sectioned into better student friendly apartments, and the building hasn't been as looked after as well as it was when they lived here.

I wouldn't hesitate to move in again to a place where the owners lived.
posted by gmm at 4:45 AM on July 4, 2009


I really think you should contact the former tenant. I can't imagine ever minding getting a letter from someone moving into one of my previous homes, and in certain cases I would sure have a lot to tell them.
posted by hermitosis at 6:21 AM on July 4, 2009


ishotjr, you said you looked up the online tax rolls out of curiosity. where do you do this?

It's a matter of public record. Just go to the county assessor's office.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:53 AM on July 4, 2009


This is why, the owner doesn't want to devalue the property (few people would see this as a bonus worth paying for and some would avoid the unit) and I've never heard of a requirement to disclose that the owner or a relative lives on site. The assets of the person living next door isn't really any of your business.

Of course this varies on a state by state basis, but I believe (but take this with a grain of salt as it's been a LONG TIME since I touched property law), that there is a duty to disclose conditions which devalue the property which the purchasor/lessor would not, on "reasonable" inspection be able to discover. For example, I once got out of a lease because the landlord failed to disclose facts which affected the unit in WINTER, after I inspected it and moved in during the SUMMER - no way I could have known, and the LL's lawyer agreed I had the right to terminate the lease (since the problem was not disclosed and could not be fixed). I'm not sure this would be one of those types of conditions, but to me - personally - it would make me uncomfortable from day one. If THIS negative fact was hidden, what OTHER negative facts are hidden? But I will agree that I am a ridiculously suspicious person.

I was thinking about this overnight while I couldn't sleep, particularly OPs first response that this issue is not a dealbreaker for their family. My response then would be: Good, that's probably reasonable (more than I would be), but double-check your lease to see what the "owner entry" clause looks like, and if it needs to be revised or a note added based on the now-disclosed facts, politely ask for same.
posted by bunnycup at 7:24 AM on July 4, 2009


ishotjr, you said you looked up the online tax rolls out of curiosity. where do you do this?

It's a matter of public record. Just go to the county assessor's office.


You can also use PropertyShark.com to look the records up online, for some states and some major cities (LA, New York, Miami, etc.). Registration required, but it's free.
posted by Asparagirl at 8:34 AM on July 4, 2009


Response by poster: ishotjr, you said you looked up the online tax rolls out of curiosity. where do you do this?

My county has the information online. Not every county/municipality does.

Please do not jump to this legal conclusion before consulting an attorney.

I used to work for a real estate attorney who dealt with these types of situations. There is no way we could get out of the lease without paying a handy sum either to the landlord or to a lawyer for getting us out of it. We'd also have to find a new place to live, and since my city is very much still a landlord's market, especially in late summer, it would not be easy to find something comparable during this time of year. Like I said, it's not a dealbreaker, just concerning/annoying that we were basically lied to.

I think at this point, it seems best not to say anything unless we get hassled and then show our cards. My experience is that if you piss off the property manager, they can make your live much more difficult, cost you money, etc. Sadly, landlords have a lot of power here, so if you're a tenant, you're basically at their mercy unless you can afford legal representation and have the time to hash it out.
posted by ishotjr at 9:10 AM on July 4, 2009


A landlord who has to live next door to their tenants is likely to be very particular about the type of tenants they let to and not just rent the property to anyone who can afford the money.

If the place is well-maintained, you may have found yourself one of those rare landlords who is pure gold and who will go above and beyond what they are legally required to do, especially if you are good neighbours.

Is the land-scaping costs thing written into your lease or not? Things could get awkward if it isn't because you're not likely to have a lot of control over those costs in this situation. It's become a conventional way of ensuring that rental properties are maintained to a given standard here now, whereas once upon a time it was a cost borne by the owner if the tenant failed to maintain the grounds, but you really want your contribution spelled out in your lease.
posted by Lolie at 11:18 AM on July 4, 2009


And because she is your neighbour you can just not let her in or even refuse to answer the door. The law is there to prevent landlords from letting themselves in or demanding entry from a position of quasi authority and would still apply in this circumstance (unless you are in the habit of giving your neighbours keys to your house which might make things murky).

My concern for ishotjr is that she has already indicated that she's not overly outgoing and the neighbor wanting to socialize IS concerning to her. It's not always easy to ignore neighbors when you're not in the mood, and it's even harder when you feel like your social skills are going to make a statement about you as a tenant. I've only had to deal with it in limited situations, but it's pretty annoying. The owner of my house moved out when I moved in, but he's still close with the family who lives across the street. Apparently the owner used to pay the neighbor's kid to cut the grass. I did not know this when I moved in, and I hired a lawn service from a craigslist ad and pay $15 every other week. After the lawn service came out for the first time, the neighbor's kid came over to inform me that he had always cut the lawn so it would only be fair if I continued to pay him to cut my lawn (lawn care is my responsibility per my lease, method of lawn care is my choice and there isn't so much as a suggestion about using the neighbor). Since I don't care who cuts my lawn, I asked him how much it would be, and he said $35 each time. I told him how much I was paying and if he wanted to match it, that's great, otherwise I'm sticking with my service. He refused, I thanked him for the quote and that was that. The next day my landlord calls me and asks me to "be a good neighbor" and use the neighbor's kid. I explained the price difference of $40 a month, nonetheless he repeated his request. I said I'd be happy to if the kid matched $30 a month instead of $70 a month, or the landlord took $40 off the rent to make it even. Neither was going to happen, but my landlord expressed disappointment and said he had hoped I would have been a friendlier neighbor. Annoying, right? Since my house isn't in a popular rental area and it was vacant for months before I moved in, I'm not worried about what will happen at renewal time. It sounds like I ishotjr's rental market is quite different.

If ishotjr's owner/neighbor is very social and wants neighbors with whom she can socialize, who will be happy accepting her food and visits, she probably won't be pleased with ishotjr if her attempts to be social are largely ignored or not reciprocated. If she's just a neighbor, no big deal. We don't have much control over who are neighbors are. If she's the owner and social neighbors is a priority to her, she can make things difficult at renewal time (assuming ishotjr plans to be there more than a year) if it's a desirable unit and she knows she can rent it out quickly to people who might be more social. The last thing you want is to feel like you have to invite your neighbor to all get togethers and dinner parties because they'd be hurt if you didn't and, as the owner, might consider the slight at renewal time.

Ishotjr - I really don't see what you have to gain by being silent about it, it's not like some power card that will make any difference one way or another if/when you "have" to reveal it. I can't think of any situation where just saying "oh yeah? I know neighbor is really the owner" will make you come out on top. Even if it's a situation where the "owner" has a complaint about something she could have known only by being the neighbor, wouldn't it be better to get the information out in the open to prevent that situation from happening to begin with? Letting the property manager know that you know the neighbor is the owner does not have to be combative or cause problems. You seem to be the kind of person who values straightforward dealings, and you are bothered by the omission. It can be as simple as polite chatter at move in time, you can just casually ask if the property manager has always managed the rental unit for the neighbor or did the neighbor manage it on her own at one point. The property manager probably won't ask how you know that the neighbor is the owner, she'll probably just answer the question and make a mental note that you know who owns the property, and then you can all move on knowing everything is out in the open. As long as you aren't accusing the property manager of omission or anything like that, why would she get mad because you know that the neighbor is the owner?
posted by necessitas at 1:22 PM on July 4, 2009


« Older Too many netbooks!   |   Expelling a board member Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.