Many readers of this column may not be aware that my partner Michael and I own a couple of rental properties here at the beach. We were fortunate enough to have gotten in last century before real estate prices went through the roof. We also help some friends manage their private rental properties.
I keep dreaming about moving permanently into my little cottage where I’ll write stories and live off of this modest rental income stream. Then the alternator blows on the convertible one afternoon on Route One the day after the air conditioner on the DC2RB commuter car quits. Next I discover a hole in the sole of my Gucci loafer right before heading off to a swank cocktail party in The Acres—thank God for duct tape—and I realize maybe I ought not quit my day job. At least not until Letters ups my pay per article, or perhaps until I pen a best seller about my adventures in renting. That’s not a bad idea because I have stories….
Just last week, a family renting our Dewey Beach house called with a problem. The grandmother was refusing to get out of the back seat of their white Lexus because she objected to the fact that the downstairs bedroom she was slated to stay in had once been a back porch. That’s true. But how did she know? Seems the step down from the living room into the bedroom was a dead giveaway.
That’s not all. She was also upset because there wasn’t a clothes-drying rack in the bedroom. This granny didn’t believe in tossing her panties into a washer or dryer. A cheap $20 rack from K-Mart and an apple pie from Fifers did the trick, and we finally lured granny out of the car.
That very same weekend we met a renter with a mopping fetish. She had to clean the kitchen floor every night, she explained, or she couldn’t go to sleep. With tears running down her face she explained how the Swiffer dust mop in the closet just wouldn’t do. She required a Bona brand hardwood floor mop. Call me cruel, but there was no way was I going out into Route One weekend traffic in order to scratch her itch. I felt terrible leaving her sniffling in the kitchen. Not!
Yes, there are some odd renters out there. But let’s not forget the other side of the coin: the property owners. I’ll never forget the owner who threw a gallon of bleach into a hot tub because the renters claimed it hadn’t been thoroughly cleaned. This while they were sitting in it!
This same owner—who will not be named—refused to fix a broken built-in oven. Instead, she hoisted a used one up onto the kitchen countertop, set it on top of some bricks, and then framed it out in plywood. “You wanted a working oven, now you got one!” She also employed a maid who—swear to God —wore cha-cha heels and cleaned bathrooms using only her hands, hot water, and paper towels.
I’ve got another granny story. This one involves an owner who hid the fact that her house had a leaky roof. A very nice family of renters went out for dinner one night and left granny propped up comfortably in a La-Z-Boy lounger watching television. Not long after they left, the skies opened and it began pouring rain, a summer downpour, practically a monsoon. A couple of hours later, they returned to find water dripping heavily from the ceiling in several places including on granny who couldn’t get out of the La-Z-Boy.
It gets worse. The water was dribbling onto her from an overhead light that was on! We moved granny and rushed around setting up pots and bowls everywhere to catch the water. The owner, when finally reached, acknowledged a couple of little leaks, but only when a heavy rain came from the west and then suggested the tenants might be overreacting in order to get a discount on the rent.
While some tenants overreact to little things like crickets in the kitchen or a condom wrapper and a pair of dentures found under a bed—not the same bed—other tenants appear absolutely clueless. One middle-aged couple overlooked mice. There were mouse droppings everywhere in the kitchen, including on the toaster! Perhaps they thought they were sesame seeds from a bagel?
I’m telling you, it’s crazy out there and it shows no sign of letting up. In fact, I must wrap up this column and go deal with a tenant who is afraid of extension cords. A rent boy’s work is never done….
Rich Barnett is the author of The Discreet Charms of a Bourgeois Beach Town, and Fun with Dick and James. More from Rich Barnett.