Take two rental scenarios.
We own a tiny house in France. Tiny. Sweet but tiny. On a river in a village in the sleepy south west. We figured, because the numbers look good on paper (never, ever trust anything that looks good on paper, never) that in order to pay off our not insubstantial mortgage we should rent it out. Permanantly. So we would avoid the headache and the expense of furnishing it, the hassle of holiday deposits and broken glasses. On Paper, remember?
We found a tenant quickly. Fanny. (I am not joking). Fanny and her family hadn’t been in situ for a month when the complaints began rolling in: the electricity was a problem, the bills were too high, the house was too cold. (All this despite putting her signature to a legal document in which she confirmed the house was ticketyboo and the electricity consumption ok). I arranged artisans, conducted lengthy and expensive and mostly incomprehensible conversations with EDF.
Fanny kept fannying around. And complaining. And not paying her rent. And, worst of all, disallowing access to all the aritisans I neatly lined up to sort the problems out – electricians, plumbers, painters, carpenters. Fanny took her dissatisfaction to the authorities. They indicated the house had some real problems and gave us a month to rectify them. I tried to tell them that’s what I’d been doing all along. If they understood me, they didn’t listen. Fanny fannied about some more and wouldn’t let the builders in until the authorities insisted she must. She did. Finally. With two days to spare. Her pet ferret on the loose, along with five dogs, 3 cats and a couple of birds (‘may we bring one dog’ she’d enquired at the outset, ‘of course’ we agreed. One), bit the builder’s mate so he excused himself for a tetanus jab. The builder hurried the work and – not surprisingly – it didn’t pass muster with the authorities.
The house has been condemned, unsellable, unrentable, still mortgaged to the hilt.
And now, and this is the only good bit, mercifully empty. Fanny has fannied off to wreck some other poor unsuspecting landlord’s life whilst enjoying the rent refund I am legally bound to pay for a year.
We live in a rented house in the outpost. A small uninspiring bungalow built by the British administration in the fifties. It belongs to a Tanzanian who purchased it from the railway authorities back in the broken old eighties for a song. When we viewed it, it was beyond decrepit, the ceiling was falling in, the electrics were shot, the plumbing was collapsing, it was – in a word – uninhabitable. What if, we suggested, we renovate the house and deduct that from the rent. The landlord smirked and rubbed his hands together gleefully. OK, he agreed. You pay, I’ll organise the fundis, ‘yours are not good’, he added.
So we did. A budget was agreed and wefunded a verandah, the repairs to the ceiling, the electrics, the plumbing, the bad paint job, we teased the little house back into some semblance of habitability. I landscaped the garden.
All done it was agreed rental was sorted for six years and that there should be no rental increase until the renovations had been paid off.
Less than three years down the line and the landlord has doubled the rent. Doubled it. Overnight. You can’t do that we said, askance, and referenced him to the legal document we had signed at the beginning of the lease. ‘I can he’ said ‘it is my house and I can do what I like”.
Have you seen the house asked my husband, the roof is falling in, the rains pours through; the ceiling is jaundiced with huge brown stains the size of a dining table and it sinks despondently and dangerously, the walls streaked with muddy tears.
Every rainy season for the last two years we have draped the house in United Nations Blue plastic to help keep it water tight. To little effect. The plastic wears thin and the wind whips it to useless ribbons.
The landlord came to inspect the damage, sucked his ugly teeth and said, ‘this problem with the roof is your fault; you put the blue plastic up there’. But we had to, we insisted, ‘hah’, he said, ‘you broke the roof whilst you were climbing on it’.
Like I said: it all looked good on paper.
And why can’t I have me as a landlord?