Saturday, April 12, 2014

Visit with a tenant

We've had a water leak at one of our 8 rental units in my mom's home town, and though we've dealt with the major issue, we suspect a toilet or two might be leaking. Over the years when she was more hands on in the business, mom developed the practice of going in and showing renters how to use red food coloring to determine if they had a leak/faulty clapper. When we were up there the other day, we went into a unit and engaged in this little educational effort.*

One lucky tenant was at home, as if just waiting for us. My description here is not meant to be judgmental, I'm just trying to catalog as much detail as I saw. Most of us fortunate enough to have been blessed with income, education, and/or assets (and they do run together, don't they?) don't spend a lot of time with those who don't.

She was sitting near the door, watching Korean soaps on an old Wintel machine, eating an orange or maybe a clementine or something. She has another laptop sitting on a wheeled walker thingie near the door. She was heavyset, probably technically obese. When I shook her hand, it was calloused, so it was clear she had done more manual labor than I had in her life. The apartment was hot and stuffy, on a beautiful spring day. And dark, with something covering the windows.

In the kitchen I saw white bread, not perfectly ripe tangerines or whatever she was eating, pasta, and potatoes. Aside from the desk chair she was sitting at while watching the soap opera on maybe a 17" monitor, there was no TV, and maybe two other chairs. But her internet service was pretty good. I don't remember if there were any books.

We went through her bedroom into her bathroom. It was really pretty dirty. Mom put red food coloring into the back reservoir of her toilet while we looked down at the toilet bowl to see if any came through. But the toilet bowl was really dirty, and the light in there was not great, so it's not like there was a perfect white backdrop on which to see red leaking through.

This tenant is on Section 8. This means that, in her case, about 2/3rds of her rent comes from a Federally-supported program. On the one hand, that gives us incentives to vote for Democrats, who support the program. In the larger picture, we'd rather see strong economic development to help this woman find a better job so she wouldn't need the Federal program. On balance, it didn't seem like she had the happiest life.

*Part of the backstory is that, while landlords cannot legally charge for water, we can and really must try to put incentives in place to keep our interests aligned: we need tenants to pay attention and tell us when there's a leak or other problem, or water bills can go nuts, and money goes to the water utility instead of to maintenance or upgrades of the property.

No comments: