Granted, the BBB hears mostly from consumers who are “less than pleased” with somebody. Folks are more inclined to complain than pass along a compliment, whether we’re talking about car repairs or a retailer running out of stock on an advertised item. And maybe there’s something to be said about the unique ire that develops when you faithfully pay rent every month and can’t get the management company to bring in a professional plumber when your toilet does its best Old Faithful impersonation on Christmas morning. There are people who rent a home for the luxury of not having to deal with the repairs that are all-too-often part of home ownership or simple lawn care, and those tenants are the first and loudest to complain when something goes wrong. Shouldn’t they be?
I read a complaint from one such tenant this morning. The brief review of things is that she accepted a home for rent under the agreement that she would pay only half the usual deposit because the house was not cleaned and prepped when she moved in. She says she spent the better part of two weeks cleaning, painting, replacing light bulbs, and making the place livable. Somewhere along the past eighteen months she’s lived in the home without a lease, she claims that the landlord’s plumber hacked a hole in the bathroom wall that has gone unrepaired but somehow resulted in her garage being flooded whenever she does the laundry. The problem has gone unfixed for months, and, adding insult to injury, she received a notice with her “renewal lease” – remember, she claims not to have signed one in the first place – that she owes the management company the other half of the security deposit and needs to either pay up and sign the lease or move out.
She’s opting to move out. And she made it clear in her complaint that she expects the half of the security deposit she had paid refunded when she does.
Good for her, right? It’s not as if finding suitable housing in the Greater Oklahoma City area is a major chore. We have a wide assortment of houses and apartments ready for tenants at any given moment, and if you find one management company disagreeable, there’s probably another house within a few square miles under the flag of a different renter.
Here’s my problem with the situation, and I’m afraid you’ve read me on this statement before: Why isn’t anything in writing? I don’t expect a contract when I order a burger, although there’s a standard agreement that once I fork over my cash, something resembling a burger is going to find its way into a wrapper and maybe into a paper bag passed through the drive through window at some point in the reasonable future. I do expect a contract when I’m conducting some significant (and long-term) piece of business, and renting a house ranks at the top of that list. Rather than complaining about getting a lease a year and a half after taking up residence, I’d think that the tenant in today’s story should have been harping on the management company for a written agreement before she moved in. If not then, very soon after.
I have to wonder what the management company is thinking at this point. Did someone suddenly wake up and say, “Hey! We never got a lease on that property on the west side of town. Do you think we should do that today?” Not very likely. I suspect, reading between the lines of the tenant’s note, that when she had the plumbing work done, somebody opened a file and noticed that the tenant had no supporting paperwork. One could argue, I think, that without such a formal written document, the tenant has simply been writing a check to squat in the property. She has no documentation that there’s any more of a relationship between her and the home’s management. For that matter, who’s to say exactly how much that check should be every month? Without a written document stating what the rent should be, the landlord could pick a number out of a hat each month. Obviously, the responsibility for landscaping, repairs, plumbing emergencies and the like are up in the air. Taking the discussion to an outrageous extension, what if the roof blew away in the middle of a storm? Who’s responsible for those repairs? Without a lease, the nature of her dispute itself comes into question and, since there’s no starting point for the debate in the form of a contract, the landlord could argue his point until a new tenant takes the property.
Hopefully, the tenant who wrote the complaint will get her next lease in writing, including any discounts for her maid services.