What I Learned as a Landlord

For the last two, three years, I suddenly found myself as a landlord not long after my family bought our second house where I currently live. The first tenant as a summer intern at our company. He stayed for about two and a half months – the duration of his internship. He was later hired by our company and now works in the Chicago office.

About a year later, another fellow employee moved in. He stayed for just under two years. In July, he will be married and thus needs his own place to live.

Both of them stayed in our spare room. We charged combined rent, utilities, and internet. (It’s not like we have a meter specifically for the tenant.) As an unspoken rule, we also shared food.

What did I learn?

  1. Obviously, you have to like the guy. After all, you have to see him all the time in all conditions from when he’s getting ready for work to eating dinner and also at work. Fortunately, both of these guys didn’t work with me or my brother in the same department. You don’t have to have him to take a personality test – Meyers-Brigg, MMPT, etc. Because I am not an absentee landlord or doing an Air BNB, this is important.
  2. Also obviously, it’s about the rent too. Here, even if you like him, the core of the relationship, you are still the landlord, the property owner, and he is still the tenant and thus have to pay you. You don’t have to be a jerk in collecting the rent, just set out the expectations and definitely, absolutely sign a contract.
  3. This leads me to the next point: expectations. The cause of all conflict is unspoken rules and assumptions. Because you don’t know his family background immediately, this is why you have to set forth, in writing, the house rules. Rules like:
    1. Quiet hours. Yes, the walls are thin so loud calls and music have to be restricted.
    2. No overnight guests and you’re responsible for them.
    3. Granting access to the housekeeper or any maintenance officials to your room.
    4. maybe personal cleanliness too.
  4. There are some verbal expectations, like turning off the lights.  Or which day is laundry day. Or paying for extra food, like when ordering out. One piece of advice someone gave me was to quash any behaviors you don’t like as soon as possible. It is your house too. Like smoking (thankfully, neither person smoked).
  5.  Little things versus saving the relationship. See #1. Remember he also has to like you too. And I’m sure there were little things that I did that annoyed our tenants. They just never complained. If there were little things that you could let slide, then as Paul McCartney said, Let it be. Or my favorite, Elsa, who said: Let it go.
  6. The final piece of advice came from another friend who owns several pieces of property in Minnesota and is a landlord said to treat this like a “side gig” – another source of income, like a second job where you’re the boss, but with all the gravitas of your main source of income. He got that sense when he read The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines.


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