Monday, January 25, 2010

Signs of the times

Walking through New Paltz this rainy morning (it's what able-bodied, community-minded folks like to do from time to time) I see that my handmade sign that reuses an old plastic sign fared better in last night's weather than either of the large, wooden ones erected in opposition on Chestnut Street. (The two that are nailed illegally to a utility pole near 46 North Chestnut did just fine, but I will be calling Central Hudson to see if they intend on removing the signs from their private property, or if they'd rather publically oppose the project.) In particular, the shattered 2x4 on North Chestnut will have to be replaced, and that's going to cost money.

One thing most people in New Paltz don't know about me is that I was a landlord. Before I owned a home I had four multi-unit buildings (8 units in all). It was a small operation, but I completely understand what it takes to make a living as a landlord. It was probably tougher for me to make a buck than a serious landlord, because I'm not very good with tools (I had Henry Papka of In Living Color take care of most of the tougher work; his prices are reasonable and his results are excellent for all handyman stuff), didn't have much of a cushion to ride things out when I had a vacancy, and I couldn't really save money by buying supplies in bulk. I did review tax assessments of my properties to make sure they weren't being assessed at too high a value.

Probably the biggest reason I wasn't making money hand over fist as a landlord is because I did actually keep up with maintenance. I know a lot about the rental buildings in New Paltz, and I know that they (usually) comply with the bare minimum required. My wife lived in an apartment owned by a prolific landlord in this are for seven years, and after complaining about a dangerous maintenance situation for three of them she asked him to fix it before she would accept another rent increase. He decided to evict her instead, and has since only rented to college students, who don't complain so much. I've had access to many more buildings that confirm that her experience was no fluke.

I guess it's just cheaper to oppose giving our kids a safe and effective learning environment (which the state is requiring, after all) than to use that money to keep one's tenants safe and comfortable. At least that's my view as someone who has been both a landlord and a committed member of my community.


Rick said...

But if you suggest that the building codes be enforced you'll be accused of being anti-student since it's assumed that a landlord who has to sink a dollar into upkeep will raise rents by at least that much. The vocal minority of students who constantly push the idea that there's a conspiracy to rid the village of students are outnumbered, I think, by the ones who know they're being screwed because renting in NP offers no good options.

Martin McPhillips said...

When I lived, like an animal, in the second floor apartment over 69 Main Street, about four nights a week the live music from the (then) bar below kept me awake until at least 4:00 a.m. This was just after my confinement at SUNY ended and I had decided to stay on in town. The upside was that as an inveterate reader I was forced to develop the ability to concentrate through all the noise. That was a luxury apartment compared to some of the other places I lived, before and after. Part of my problem was that I couldn't afford a car at the time. A lot of people I knew were renting all over the place, from Highland to Gardiner (hence the once famous Highland-Gardiner annual football game) to High Falls to Modena to Tillson and Rosendale. Although at one point while I was still at SUNY, with rides available from housemates, I lived across the river and through the woods in Hopewell Junction.

So, there's nothing new about students scrambling for sometimes barely habitable places to live, though the rise in popularity of Ulster county real estate has certainly made it a more expensive proposition.

If the college was willing to enroll more students who were commuters, while that would increase traffic a notch, it would relieve some pressure on the student rental market.

Anonymous said...

Landlords are not benevolent community servants, they are business people and expect a rate of return on their investment or they won't be in the business at all. Students are willing to put up with lower living standards for a lower rental price. Improving properties OR raising taxes must lead to higher rents for students and others. This is free enterprise. If you don't like it, have the government build the rentals and manage the business. We've all had a taste of that and most people reject it. I am a landlord making a small return on my investment and am even losing money if you take into account that the value of my property has gone down in recent times. Sorry, I am not going to shortchange my family to subsidize renters. If I change my mind, maybe I'll move to communist China! P.S. Terrence, why didn't you remain a landlord and subsidize your tenants?

Anonymous said...

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Rick said...

Yes, anonymous, that's what we're calling for here...Communist China-like housing!!! No one is suggesting that landlords shouldn't make money. I'm just saying that they should follow the law. It's like any other business. Those who follow the laws are at a disadvantage compared to those who flout them. The problem then becomes lack of enforcement. If I owned a clothing store and paid rent/insurance, etc., wouldn't I have the right to complain about the guy who sets up a sidewalk table and illegally sells the same items for 1/2 price? Everyone claims to be the "good" landlord, yet you're all so damn defensive and anyone can walk around the village and see that there are countless s---holes that are plainly in violation of the code. Will no one claim those?