Renters vs. owners: misconceptions

In our last home, after a rare Southern snowstorm, our teenager and his friends constructed a five-foot snow penis in in the front yard. Late that afternoon, a pair of neighbors knocked on the door, complained loudly and angrily, and then kicked over the snow penis and stomped on it. I would have been happy to take care of the situation myself if they’d asked nicely (it admittedly was inappropriate), but these guys were belligerent and nasty. When we asked them to please leave our yard, one of them asserted that we couldn’t tell him to leave because “you’re just renters.”

This is a great example of the widespread misconceptions about renters held in some communities – primarily those where the majority of homes are owned rather than rented. Here is another one I’ve heard:

When was the last time you ever heard of a bunch of renters making the neighborhood better? Renters seldom (never) add value to a property and rarely (never) maintain the property as well as an owner.

Here’s the problem with sweeping generalizations like these: They are often untrue, and do more to perpetuate negative stereotypes than to improve anything. Renters do indeed have the legal right to ask an uninvited visitor to leave the property, and they do often care for the homes they live in at least as well as owners do — if not better. Our family has improved the majority of the rental homes we’ve lived in. We professionally repainted almost every room in our last rental house, replaced 1,000 square feet of flooring in a previous one, and we have fenced in the back yard (at our own expense) in three rental homes so far.

I’ve been asked how I explained making all those renovations to the landlords. You don’t explain it afterwards, you ask permission ahead of time, or negotiate it up front before signing the lease. In the best circumstances, renting is a partnership between renter and owner, and we’ve been pretty lucky so far. I think part of my attitude comes from being a former homeowner — when something needs to be done, you just do it. When it’s someone else’s house, you talk about it with them first and work out something that benefits both sides. Yes, we’ve lost money improving property that isn’t ours, but if nothing else, paying things forward is always good house karma.

In Atlanta, the number of renters is increasing rapidly, and due to the recession, many of the new renters are like us — displaced homeowners. These are mature, responsible adults who often treat their rental homes as their own. It should be common knowledge that renters don’t necessarily neglect their temporary homes, and conversely, owners don’t always always care for their properties well. I can only hope that there are fewer misconceptions in other cities (such as New York) that traditionally have a large majority of renters. Stereotypes will always exist, but this one needs to die. Don’t hate the renters, folks. Homeowners build naughty snowmen too.


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