Vishal Kapoor is a 25-year-old web designer who rents an apartment for himself in New Delhi while renting out his own place in Bangalore to others. From lawyers to shark agents, from cops to income tax uncles, he’s seen it all, done it all in the mad, mad renting world.
When you think of renting a place to others as well as renting a place for yourself, what are first things you worry about?
As a property owner and landlord, I’m terrified that my tenants won’t pay on time, won’t leave, will ruin the house or just neglect to maintain it. On the flip side, there’s also another unexpected problem – if you have tenants leaving the house too frequently, between broker commissions and repair costs it can end up costing more to rent the place than to keep it locked up!
As a tenant myself, I worry that my landlord will be too invasive, won’t return my deposit or won’t pay for repairs. I’m super wary of landlords who live too close to the house.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you as a landlord?
I discovered that one of my tenants was running a catering company from the kitchen! It took me many months to evict him, and even after that he wouldn’t return the keys to me because, maybe “the dog ate them”…yeah, he actually said that.
Craziest thing as a tenant?
One landlord asked to see one year of my bank statements before giving the house. One of my friends once woke up to find her landlord drunk and passed out in her balcony.
As somebody who’s seen both sides, do you have any tips for tenants on how to deal with terrible landlords?
Actually, it’s much better to be careful about choosing which house to rent…everything becomes much more difficult once you’ve signed the lease!
During the first visit I’m generally careful to meet the neighbors, make sure every tap and electrical point is working and keep an eye out for damp or mould — all this can be hard with brokers pressuring you to make a decision on the spot. I avoid houses where landlords don’t promise (in writing) to make sure everything is in working condition before we move in.
I think the lease agreement is critical. Don’t let brokers convince you to use their standard stock agreement – having clearly a worded contract that covers everything from repairs and damages to termination and payments is a real lifesaver. I always insist on above-board leases, where all the money is paid by cheque, the deed is notarized and everyone’s PAN number is written down – I feel safer that way.
Finally, of course, it comes down to trusting your gut. I’ve walked away from beautiful houses simply because the landlord gave me an uneasy feeling.
Some of my landlords have refused to pay for repairs, but I dislike confrontation enough that I’ve just paid myself and not told anybody who’d judge me. Some friends of mine have had awful experiences where landlords haven’t returned deposits, or evicted them with just a week’s notice. Nobody has really found a foolproof solution. The only thing that seems to work is to have a cousin who married a policeman or something…
What about times when you end up in terrible situations -- when landlords refuse to return deposits or pay for repairs? What do you do then?
I do initially panic. But then, often it turns out that there are solutions you wouldn’t expect.
For example, a friend’s landlady in a posh Delhi neighborhood refused to return her security deposit, claiming it had never been paid! Most of the advice my friend got involved taking big hulking men with her when she went to demand her money back, or calling lawyer friends to issue legal notices. I made an excel sheet of all the calculations for her to show her landlady.
But finally, she just chose to try to speak to the landlady and find a solution amicably. When she arrived, the landlady wasn’t around and she was greeted by the husband. Instead of telling him about the dispute, she just asked for the deposit as if this was the first conversation she was having about it. He wrote her a cheque without batting an eye and she ran straight to the bank to deposit it.
What about crazy tenants in your own place, how do you deal with them?
People tell me one needs muscle and ‘influence’ to manage property. But this ‘influence’ is such an unpredictable thing and I’m not sure most landlords have any.
So far, apart from some paint, plaster and a day or two with an electrician and plumber, our house hasn’t suffered much from tenants. But we’re still looking for that hassle free renting experience. From what I’ve seen visiting my property every few months, tight leases generally help but there are no guarantees.
You sound pretty gloomy for a guy who can rent his own place out?
Well, half the time it’s only taken me showing up at the house repeatedly to solve the problem...other times I’ve had to try more creative things.
I’ve asked brokers who look like they can bully tenants to help (of course, I’ve also been worried that they’d bully me too). I’ve brought older men who seem to command more respect to talk to tenants. Once I asked a relative to step in – someone who is a senior tax official. His visiting card has a rather fear-inspiring effect on most folks! I threatened legal action once, but didn’t have to actually go down that road...I’m not sure the threat of legal action is wise when you aren’t really prepared to follow through.
So which is better – being a tenant or landlord?
Are you kidding me? Both suck! The system is broken, isn’t it? Being on either end is shitty in this country – it all comes down to the fact that there’s so little recourse to the law. The law and the police are not reliable, and that’s the main hole in the system.
I really wish there was a private service that could take care of all this for me. I’d gladly pay 10 to 20 percent of the rent I pay or receive – to a reliable property agent or company or service that would take care of all this. I’m wondering why there isn’t an app for this yet, there seem to be apps for everything these days.
By Colin Chacko
Photo Credit: toothpaste for dinner