why townships need rules on rental properties

I had a dream last night that time had reversed and I was back in my old garden apartment in Lower Merion Township. It was more of a nightmare because the dream was water was leaking from the ceiling, which means the apartment above. Drip drip drip.

Now that actually happened when I lived there from the bathroom above into my apartment. It meant an open ceiling for a while. I say a while because the leak wasn’t handled by an actual plumber but a random handy person so it also took forever to fix.

As a matter of fact, every single time something was wrong, it was a fight to get a real person qualified to do the job. Yet we all stayed in these apartments because they were in a safe neighborhood in a decent municipality. And comparatively speaking, affordable and pet friendly. And the first floor units all had walled garden spaces. Sort of a late mid-century California style apartment buildings. I stayed for the location and that I could have a little garden.

But the landlord was kind of odd. They are all dead and building long sold to someone else, so I can actually write about this now.

It was a constant dance to stay on the good side of the landlord. And heaven forbid if you knew one of their kids they were mad at or on the outs with. You kind of got punished for that. I actually did get punished for that for a while. Like when the landlord threatened to evict me because he had been told by a nosy neighbor across the driveway my dog was barking. I had to buy a nanny cam to prove my dog’s innocence. Ends up the dog was barking because the nosy neighbor was peeking in my windows when I wasn’t home. If I had not been friendly with one of the kids he was on the outs with, he would have ignored the nosy neighbor because he liked dogs. The dog did me a favor in the end because who knew there was a peeping Tom?

Deferred maintenance was an understatement. Some people had front doors that were not even outside grade. Two women in the complex had doors that had holes and didn’t lock properly. We all had bars cut for windows and sliding glass doors because none of the locks worked. It was a marvel none of us were ever burglarized. I had windows that didn’t lock next to my kitchen door. Not that it would have been a stretch for anyone to break the non insulated glass of those windows and just reach in and open the door.

The landlord for the first couple of years I was there had these weird meters attached to the forced hot water lines that fed the baseboard heat into the apartments. That was how we were charged for heat in the winter, only the way the meters measured was kind of random and we found out somewhat illegal when a woman who’s dad was a judge somewhere upstate complained. The landlord was terrified of anyone connected to the legal professions so magically the meters went away and were never used again. And if you dated a lawyer, etc. you were totally left alone and always got what you needed fixed done.

The heater was a marvel. It was original to the building and amazing it ran without exploding. It was so bad no heating professional would certify it every year and apparently that was something that should have happened. Somehow Lower Merion Township missed that. Or more likely the landlord just ignored them when they did do rental property inspections because they didn’t have enough manpower to follow up. It was literally just one person doing inspections in a municipality with a LOT of rental properties.

We actually loved when our buildings were on the township rental rotation which was every other year or so. When the buildings were inspected that is when we had hope for repairs. Why? Because repairs were not in the deferred maintenance handbook. Not every apartment even had working smoke detectors unless we bought our own, which I did.

Every apartment had an in theory working fireplaces. Only the fireplaces were never cleaned or maintained or routinely inspected, so I never used mine after the first winter. A friend in another apartment actually discovered that they couldn’t use theirs because the flue would magically slam shut sending embers flying and another apartment had a blockage up the flue.

Every apartment had air conditioning. Except that they were the giant in the wall units which were increasingly hard to find and didn’t work half of the time or even well. You learned how to replace your own filters and unplug when the air conditioner cords got too hot. But if a unit failed and it was summer good luck. I had one fail in one room and it was not replaced the spot was simply boarded up. Good thing I lived alone and could deal with one less unit, because technically it was the second bedroom in the unit.

And then there was my kitchen floor. It bowed slightly and flexed which meant something was wrong underneath. I think it had been termites, but I forget now. If enough people had bounced on it at one time, I always wondered if it would collapse into the basement. It failed rental inspections multiple times over the decade plus that I lived there, landlord was cited but there was never follow up by the township or fines levied. Again, so many rental residential properties to inspect in a big township and only one person to do the inspections.

In the winter one of the things that the landlord really hated was hiring good snowplow guys. They hired the fifty cents variety so half of the time we all just had to shovel ourselves.

Yet we all stayed in these situations because it was hard to find decent apartments that were affordable. And that is still the case today everywhere. You trade off safety in your living space for affordability and a decent municipality. And landlords take advantage of that. Good rental landlords are the exception rather than the rule, even with complexes. That is still the case today.

And a lot of municipalities out here in Chester County don’t necessarily have defined rental ordinances. A property might get inspected for use and occupancy when it changes hands from owner to owner, but if it’s a rental property they might not have a clue as to what goes on otherwise. And if you complain to a municipality a landlord takes it out on the tenant.

And look at developments that are not necessarily rental developments. There are townships with townhouse developments that are turning increasingly renter versus owner occupied. The homeowners associations aren’t keeping up with this and neither are the municipalities. Which is one of the reasons I never buy the hooey spewed by developers talking about the wonderful developments where people live forever. They are actually creating transient communities where people have investment properties. They are not living there.

When you look at all the slumlord rental properties around in places and then you look at all of the damn apartments and packed in like lemmings townhouse and other developments, you wonder who will keep track of all the rental units? Often that’s a very good question because again, municipalities keep approving all of these developments yet once they get past the short term high of ratables, who will make sure everything stays as it should? The answers might surprise you.

When I have pointed out slumlords out here in Chester County and suggested that municipalities need residential rental ordinances and even off campus student housing ordinances I have taken heat. But if you have ever been a renter you know how important this is. Not everyone has the luxury of owning their own home, and I think we are seeing more renters because of the sheer volume of development.

There is also very little out here in the way of affordable housing, which also presents its own set of issues as a renter.

So that’s it from me on the topic.

Happy Sunday.