Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mr. Weaver Bird at work

Hubby has named him "Bob the BuilderBird." Below you can see his nest (the lower one...I haven't seen his branch-mate yet).

Here he is, in all his glory, working on his house. What a gorgeous fellow!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

An Early Spring!

Well, the calendar notwithstanding (it is a full month yet until spring officially arrives), spring has sprung.

The recent rains have awakened the bougainvillea outside my bedroom window from its winter slumber and it has sent out a new spike fully 10 feet long, looking for all the world like a giant, thorn studded insect antenna jutting forth from the wall to which the vine clings. And there, midway down its length, hangs a bulbous green growth, a further harbinger of spring…a weaver bird’s nest.

A beautiful black-trimmed gold weaver bird male is diligently collecting grasses and delicately constructing this avian palace for his lady love. When he is finished, he will bring her here for inspection. More likely than not she will rip it to shreds, screaming her indignation at its imperfections, then she will huff off to another tree and await the rebuild.

I’m thinking this particular bird may be a bachelor male, since he has chosen to build his nest so close to human occupation. We have a line of old stone pines at the back of the property in which there is a twittering colony of thirty or more weaver bird families and why this young male decided to forego building his home where his mate would have girlfriends to gossip with from their front door is beyond me. No matter what he does to make this nest perfect, I fear he may be in for an unhappy time of it, unless he is lucky enough to have a sweetheart who prefers isolation to the hustle bustle of the established colony.

I have just taken another look at Mr. Weaver’s nest and discovered a nest further up the bougainvillea stalk…so, he has inveigled another young gentleman to build a nearby nest! This increases his chances of success as these birds prefer living in groups rather in isolation. But the construction of his nest must meet Mrs. Weaver Bird’s exacting specifications and these young males seldom get it right the first time.

Eventually, when (and if) Mr. Weaver Bird gets it right, his lady love will take up residence in her new quarters and proceed to incubate next generation. If she accepts the nest outside my window, I will soon be treated to the chitter-chatter of little bird babies calling for their next course.

I don’t care that the calendar says we have another month of winter to endure, Mother Earth and her furred and feathered denizens say it is spring. The wild calla lilies are blooming, carpeting the vleis with their creamy white cones, wildflowers dot the roadsides, moles are pushing up mounds after months of dormancy, and the lawn looks like a meadow. And the birds are nesting, right within eyesight of my bedroom window.

I love living here!

Photos by Stig Nygaard and smudger888, flickr

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Landlords are rich: fact or fiction?

My husband and I own rental property. Each time one of our flats comes up for rent, we show the unit to a horde of people and never cease to be amazed at their expectations and criticisms.

We aren’t slum lords…we have three units on a spacious property with a shared pool. There is parking behind a security gate. We pay the electricity, water, and trash for all three units. When we bought the property we spent 10% of our original 800K+ purchase price upgrading and renovating the property, including new carpeting and paint.

We have a mortgage on the property and, because in this country there is no such thing as a fixed rate mortgage, each time the prime rate goes up, so does our payment. The electricity rates were just increased by 34% and our mortgage payment went up five times in the last 12 months. We raise rents only when a lease is being renewed and our lease allows us to raise it up to 10%. Despite the increases in our mortgage repayments and the increase in the cost of electricity, when our last tenant signed his lease renewal, we raised his rent only 2.5%: our economy is shrinking, he’s a good tenant, and we don’t want to lose him.

Why would we do that? Well, an empty flat generates no income and we depend on the income from the rents to pay the mortgage. The two larger flats must be generating income in order to keep us from digging into our own pockets to make the payments. Good tenants are harder to find than bad tenants…and bad tenants cost us a lot of money in repairs, lost rent while a flat is being repaired, and even legal fees. We are motivated to keep a good tenant who pays his rent on time and keeps his flat and garden in good order, so we made his rent increase minimal so he doesn’t feel like he can’t afford to stay on.

Do people honestly believe that, because we own a rental property, we are rolling in money? And even if we were, why should our affluence mean a renter can destroy the flat or demand the outrageous? Surely the guy who owns the local luxury car dealership has a few coins to rub together…does that mean he should lower the prices on his cars for you or me? So why do people seem to think that because the landlord drives a Mercedes, he has plenty of money and it’s ok to trash the place because, after all, he can afford to fix it?

We had to evict a tenant last week for harassing and intimidating the tenant of another flat. He had been in the unit for four months and when we took possession on Tuesday, I reeled from the shock of the condition of the place. What part of “no smoking in the flat” did he not understand? The flat reeked of stale cigarette smoke…and rotting garbage. Yup, the kitchen floor was littered with trash and a black bag emitted the unmistakeable stench of decay. We had the handyman in to do an assessment and the quote we received covered a full month’s rental…seems they somehow managed to put four cracks in the toilet and replacing that will eat up half the deposit alone. In fact, the damages came to 25% more than the deposit will cover…and he was only in there four months!

A previous tenant was upset with us because we would not dance to her tune…how dare we not build her a garage for her BMW (at a cost equal to a full year’s rent)? How dare we expect her to pay her rent on time? How dare we expect her to refrain from smoking, to water the garden, and abide by other terms of her lease? She quit paying her rent, using the money instead to pay for her new rental and lied to us saying her clients hadn’t paid her. When she moved out, she left the flat in shambles, having caused damage more than double the amount of her deposit. Five months of litigation later, she finally paid up (when the Sheriff came a-knocking with papers to seize that BMW and sell it at auction to satisfy her debt), but in that five month period we had to liquidate some investments to come up with the cash to do the repairs and pay the lawyers. Yes, we recovered the legal fees and were reimbursed for the repairs, but our investments…and their returns…were forever diminished.

I am far from an elitist…I’ve been damned poor in my life, which is what motivates me to be as kind to my tenants as business considerations will allow. Good tenants get treated with special care…we want to keep them and it is worth it to us be flexible in dealing with them in order to keep them. But there are people whose expectations are just ridiculous:

One prospective tenant gave us a hard luck story hoping to get us to reduce the rent for her. “Would you consider reducing the rent?” she asked, naming a figure fully 25% below the asking price. “Sure,” my husband said. “Just as soon as the bank reduces my mortgage by that much.” Unspoken by either my husband or me was the concern that, if things in her life were as tough as all that, is she a good risk with regard to us receiving our rent each month?

Another asked that, if she rented both the two bedroom unit and the little studio cottage on the grounds, would we give her a discount on the rents? Her proposed discount would give her the cottage for nearly free…and remember, we pay the full utilities on all the units! She seemed quite unhappy that we wouldn’t go for her plan.

There were the people who said they would consider renting the big flat but only if we would put security fencing around the pool. Sorry, the flat has a fence all the way around it and if you cannot mind your child and keep him inside an already fenced yard, what makes you think a security fence…and my cost, no less…will keep him out of the pool?

Mostly, however, we get people who want something for nothing. They think the rent is too high without bothering to calculate in the amount of money they would have to pay for electricity. They think that they don’t need to take care of the unit or the garden because we have the money to pay for fixing it after they leave. Even if we do have that kind of money, why does it make it OK to damage the property? And what about those screams of indignation when they hear their deposit is being nicked for pay for it?

If you are one of those people who thinks your landlord is a bottomless pit of money, give some thought to the idea that, if you are late with your rent, he might be late paying the mortgage payment on the property that you live in…and enough of those could see his mortgage foreclosed! Is your landlord slow to fix something? Well, he could be the lazy sod you think he is…and then again, maybe he has to wait for payday to be able to buy the materials to fix the thing that you broke.

But he drives a Mercedes, you wail…his wife wears fine jewellery…they live in an expensive neighbourhood! So what? What does that have to do with your obligation to pay your rent on time, abide by your rental agreement, and maintain your unit? Landlording is a business, it is not a social connection or a charity. If you don’t uphold your end of the bargain, you can make it difficult…even impossible…for your landlord to hold up his.

To expect a person to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a property and then allow you to live there for next to nothing is simply not reasonable. Your landlord most likely has a mortgage on the property you live in and he needs your rent in order to pay it. If you think your landlord is a rich, greedy old SOB who can afford to wait for your rent until you feel like paying it, or who can afford to fix the things you so carelessly damage, you’re probably wrong. He has a budget and cashflow considerations, just like you do, and depends on your rent money to make sure the mortgage on your home is paid each month.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Whatcha gonna do??

A few days ago I went to the Post Office. It’s located in a mall and as I exited my car, I had to turn to find the source of loud voices, as did the man exiting the car parked right beside me. Walking towards us was a young couple, arguing in full voice. As my neighbour and I watched, the young man reached out and grabbed the woman, wrapping his arms tightly around her and stopping her from walking. She struggled violently and broke his grasp, then resumed walking towards the mall entrance, but he caught up with her and grabbed her again, restraining her. She again broke free and resumed her forward progress and while he caught up with her, he apparently saw they had witnesses and this time kept his hands to himself.

As the pair walked past us, the man from the next car looked to me and said “What was that all about?” I shrugged and replied “I don’t know, but if he touches her again like that, I’m calling a cop.” My neighbour nodded and we maintained our watchful positions until they entered the mall where the security staff could watch over her.

We have a tenant who is harassing another tenant and we are preparing to evict him. She has a restraining order that he has violated at least twice, and he has been arrested and briefly jailed. There is nothing compelling us to evict him, but his behaviour does violate his lease and we feel that she should not have to lose her home in a place she loves with neighbours who are her close friends because he can’t behave in a civil manner. We served him with notices of breach of his lease and an advance notice of our intent to cancel his lease (in keeping with terms of the lease) and he claims he will be seeing an attorney to fight it.

On an internet forum I frequent, one of the members has recently begun soliciting funds for a charity. At first blush, this might seem innocuous…even laudable…but on closer inspection the “charity” appears to be a scam. Inspection and careful perusal of the associated website revealed a lot of fluffy chatter about the founder’s “cause,” but no explanation as to what that cause might be. No charter, no plan, no pictures of needy victims…just garish photos of a blowsy blonde wearing an excess of clotted make up and trying to look sexy, plus a lot of poorly written hype using too many exclamation points.

When asked to explain her “charity,” its purpose and beneficiaries, Blondie dissembled frenziedly, using a lot of ALL CAPS and even more exclamation points. A great deal of drama ensued, polarizing the participants into “tell the truth” and “quit picking on Blondie” factions. Finally, in a flurry of breathless all caps and punctuation marks, Blondie obliquely acknowledged that the charity was, in fact, herself.

Suggestions that Blondie cease soliciting funds until her charity was legally sanctioned fell on deaf ears. When one of the more erudite members of the community called the fund-raising campaign a scam and threatened to contact Blondie’s state attorney general and lodge a complaint, the “quit picking on Blondie” faction revved its objections to a fever pitch.

I was astounded! Here was an internet scam growing before our eyes, the founder of which admitted that the pseudo-charity was for the purpose of lining her own pockets, and people were strenuously advocating that the whistleblower mind her own business!

Are we our brother’s (or sister’s) keeper? Has the world changed so much since I learned to tell right from wrong that people feel perfectly justified in publicly restraining an unwilling partner, seeking redress for an eviction caused by documented harassment of another, or proudly revealing…and publicly soliciting support for…an admitted fraud?

And why are such acts finding support? This, perhaps, is what baffles me the most.

The man restraining his girlfriend was viewed dimly by my fellow parking lot denizen, but a person doesn’t behave in such a manner in public without feeling justified in doing so. What has gone on in his life…what kind of support has he received…that allows him to think it is perfectly acceptable to restrain an unwilling and struggling woman, in public or in private?

The tenant has been arrested and his victim has a restraining order against him. He has violated the restraining order on at least two occasions and has admitted it. We reminded him of his obligation to not intimidate, harass, or otherwise disturb the peace of other tenants, per the conditions of his lease. So what kind of support has he received for this kind of behaviour that he thinks a court will grant his bid to remain in the flat and continue to harass the victim who lives next door?

And the internet scam…why on earth would a bunch of apparently intelligent people support the person perpetrating the scam instead of the person who reported it to the authorities? Instead of castigating the perp, why are they perceiving her as being “picked on” when she was asked to stop? This makes me feel like I have fallen down the rabbit hole…it makes me question my perception of right and wrong…it makes me wonder if I am out of synch with a world in which right and wrong have swapped places while I wasn’t looking.

I still stand ready to do the right thing…but can anyone tell me what the right thing is anymore?

Photo by navets, Flickr