A Landlord's Paradise

In the process of moving from Arlington to DC this past week, I've been able to see the groups of twenty-somethings coming over to look at the house I've been renting for a year. It's also given me the chance to reflect on why the rental market around here can be so frustrating. It's not that rents are high, per se. When it comes to location, you get what you pay for, and I fully appreciate that reality. What kills me is how much leverage landlords have over tenants, and how badly some of them exploit it.

(from freya.gefn on Flickr)

I rented a room in a single family, 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house along with 3 other twenty-somethings. The location was good, as far as being within walking distance of a Metro station (about .6 miles, depending on which route you took), but the condition of the house itself can best be described as "poor".

The appliances are ancient, the electrical wiring is questionable at best, the garage door never worked quite right, and the house is badly in need of a coat of paint, inside and out. The furnace klunked out in the middle of the winter, as I'm told it has in the past, and the oven died a few months later. The landlord deals with these emergency situations, but doesn't do any other preventative maintenance, or take on any "value added" projects.

We rented the house for $3,500; the landlord is now showing it for $4,000. Potential renters spend an average of 10 minutes looking at the house. They glance around, comment on the size of the bedrooms; but they don't ask hard questions, and maybe that's because they know that there's no point, because if they don't pay $4,000 for this place, somebody else surely will.

What's frustrating about the rental market around here isn't that prices are high, it's that ruthless landlords have little incentive to put any work into their properties. Instead, their financial goal is to bring in as much cash as possible, spend as little of it on the property itself, and eventually dump the house back onto the market to let the new owner clean up the mess.

If our landlord is successful, they'll bring in $48,000 in income on this property next year, virtually none of which will get re-invested into the house. That's what's so hard to swallow.