Monday, July 29, 2013

The Renter

Until Josh and I moved to Spain, it had been over 12 years since we had last been renters.  When we were 23 we bought our first home and never looked back.  So it was strange to be in a position where we wouldn't own the home we lived in while living in Spain.  But it was something that we knew we would adjust to over time.

Renting in the US is very different than renting in Spain.  I think it comes down to expectations.  In the US, I expect that for my dollar that I will get a certain quality, that there will be regular maintenance on the apartment/home, that the yard will be maintained, that appliances will work and that should there be a problem, the owner will take care of those issues.

In Spain, I set those same expectations only to find that in reality, renting here is not like renting at home.  First off, at home, the norm from a monetary standpoint is to ask for first, last and perhaps security if the renters look a little iffy.  Here in Spain, apparently there is a big concern for default or something because it's first, several months security and then what is called an aval or a reserve account that can be up to 6 months of your rent.  In the end for our new apartment, we fronted 5 months of rent. When we showed Josh's W-2 and contract the response of the new landlord was not that we were a low credit risk, but that we could afford to pay the aval and so therefore she would not waiver on it.

We have renters in both of our homes in the US.  We are most definitely absentee landlords since we can't be there if there is an issue.  However, we've worked it out with our tenants and so far things have been going smoothly, albeit a bump or two here and there.  But I think the difference between Josh and I (I can't say that this is the norm in the US because it probably isn't) is that our goal is that our tenants are HAPPY.  Happy tenants are paying tenants.  Something breaks, we immediately arrange for repair or work with our tenants to have it repaired at our cost.  This goes for appliances, heating/ac, yard maintenance, anything.  If it came with the house we accept it as our responsibility.  If it's yours, sorry, we can't help you there.  But if we provided it, we see it as our responsibility to fix.  Now, of course, if they broke something of ours, we would expect they would repair it, but I'm talking about things that happen from just general wear and tear.  For instance the tv stopped working in our cape house, turned out it needed a new bulb - we don't expect our tenants to pay for that.  However, if they threw a football thru the screen, that would be another issue....

In Spain, if it's not structural then the general consensus is that you pay for the cost of repair.  If my washing machine breaks, it's my responsibility to have it fixed.  If there is an electrical problem, then I need to fix it.  Our lock broke on our front door and I ended up out 300 euros to replace it, yes, ridiculous.  Just last week we had a leak with our hot water heater and I had to contact my realtor to find out if it was in fact our responsibility (because our landlord balked at the idea of paying and I wanted back up if she refused - she finally conceded.).  And our landlord couldn't really care less if we are happy or not as long as we are paying.  And we have no choice but to pay because the contracts in Spain are either long term or short term.  A short term is under 1 year.  A long term is 1-5 years.  Depending on the length of your contract, you are held to that amount and will need to pay out your contract no matter when you leave.  And speaking of leaving, giving notice is different too.  The norm at home is 30 days. Here the norm is 2-3 months!!

I expect after being away for a few years that there is going to be some general wear and tear in my house.  After all, it's been lived in.  When we do our walk through, I will take that into consideration. Here, we did a walk through in our old apartment and we left everything in near perfect condition with the exception of the walls which definitely needed a fresh coat of paint (they were white originally and well with boys and fingerprints, you can just imagine what they looked like after....).  Our landlord stated that all it needed was some paint and it would be fine - she would return all of our deposit back to us in full.  A month later, Josh was still emailing with her trying to get our second month back and then she came back with claims that the sofa had to be replaced, the oven was no longer usable (trust me, I don't cook much and it was brand new when we moved in - it worked perfectly fine) and painting of the entire apartment.  In the US this would not happen, we would have come to an agreement during the walkthrough and that agreement would be honored no matter what was found later.  You don't just go back on things because you decide later on that something is wrong.  You either state it right off, or not at all.  We lost a chunk of that second month because our landlord decided that she just didn't want to pay it back.

With this new (well, we've been here a year now, so not so new) apartment we are more hyper vigilant about leaving it the way we found it.  The kids broke a shelf today that we had installed in the wall in their playroom - something we'd eventually have to plaster over when we left - but they took out a chunk of wall with the anchors making it even more costly to repair.  The owner even supplied a CD of pictures.  However with 2 boys in the house, repairs could end up costly not to mention the amount we invested in the home to make it more livable (lights cerca 1970 are just not ok in my mind and had to be replaced).  It's frustrating knowing that a chunk of money is sitting out there that we will probably never see again despite the fact that we pay on time every single month and are responsible tenants.

It's just one more thing that makes life "interesting" here in Spain that I thought I would pass along.


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