Landlord-Tenant Relationships Don’t Have to Be Adversarial

I recently received an email from a reader asking about how to deal with a big, corporate landlord in another state giving smaller, more responsive landlords a bad name. Unfortunately, there are bad apples in every profession, be they police officers, teachers, lawyers, politicians, and even real estate agents. Having said that, when you hear about how terrible someone is, you’re likely getting only one side of the story—not always, but often.

Here at Selzer Property Management, we do our best to be fair to the tenants to whom we rent houses and apartments, as well as the owners of those properties. Both sides need to feel they are getting a good value out of the arrangement. When tenants give up their hard-earned money, they expect to receive a place to live that remains in good repair. Property owners need to feel they are being fairly compensated for giving up possession of their property.

In California, landlords sometimes get a bad rap. People think if you own a rental property, you must be a rich, uncaring jerk—the Ebenezer Scrooge of the business world. In fact, many of the people I know who own rental property depend on the income from that property to pay the bills, not only bills related to the property, but medical bills and other expenses. They would not call themselves rich by any means.

And the margin on owning rental properties is diminishing quickly as state and federal regulations prevent property owners from increasing rent to keep up with the costs of owning and managing property. Rent control may sound great when you have a place to live because your monthly payments won’t go up, but when you’re looking for a place to live—as many are in the Ukiah Valley—it’s disastrous. Just ask anyone looking for a rental right now. There’s nothing available, and there’s no reason to believe that’ll change anytime soon. Builders are not constructing new rental properties. Locally and statewide, we are way behind on keeping up with the demand for homes.

If you are lucky enough to find a place to rent, how can you be sure you’ll get a good landlord? You can’t. If you’re a landlord, how can you be sure you’ll get a good tenant? You can’t. However, both parties can do their homework about past behavior, and then start their relationship with a written agreement that spells out all the particulars: when rent is due, how much it is, when it is considered late, how much the late fee will be, whether pets are allowed, whether utilities are included, who and how many people are allowed to live there, and more.

When we receive complaints at Selzer Property Management, they usually come from people we chose not to rent to. Of course, not all our renters are happy all the time, but I find that landlord-tenant relationships tend to go better when everyone’s expectations are clear from the outset.

Most property management companies understand that being fair and honest with everyone makes sense, not only because it is the legal thing to do, but because it is just good business. We really want our tenants to stay with us for the long haul. When we respond to maintenance requests quickly and keep monthly rent at market rates, people continue to rent from us. Otherwise, they find someplace else to live, and that costs us. Turning over a property means lost rent, the cost of refurbishing a unit, and the cost of advertising to let folks know we have a place available—and the staff time to make all that happen. The other cost is the loss of repeat business. Renters who do not feel they have been treated fairly do not come back to us for their next home, either to rent or buy. That’s expensive.

So, whether you’re a landlord or tenant, just be up-front and honest. It pays off in the long run.

If you have questions about property management or real estate, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you have an idea for a future column, share it with me and if I use it, I’ll send you a $25 gift certificate to Schat’s Bakery.

Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 45 years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *