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Of Housing and Tenants

I grew up in a family that made money in real estate. Not huge commercial deals, but residential housing that people called home. I bought my first house before I turned 24. I paid cash. The place needed a couple of year’s worth of “sweat equity” invested into it, but with the help and guidance of my parents, the house has remained an asset to this day. For nearly twenty years I have been renting space to others, either to house-mates or outright to tenants for properties I own. There have been times that I have had to rent space to live, usually when I am getting settled in a new place. Sometimes the space is less than ideal, like the tool shed I lived in for my first five seasons on Martha’s Vineyard. This has given me a unique perspective, given the disparity of incomes on the island I call home, when it comes to finding a place to live.

When I decided to return to college for another degree, I decided to rent out my house to finance the tuition and associated costs. I had a few tenants apply, and unfortunately chose a couple that in hindsight had every intention on trying to impress me while lying to my face. I now refer to them as “the gypsies”. Aside from trying to pay me half the rent the month after they moved in, it always seemed that more relatives were “visiting” every time I came to collect the rent. When they fell two months behind, I used every connection I had in city hall to force them out without legal action. Basically, I made it impossible for them to sell their “used” cars from my property, thereby taking their ability to run their “operation”, making life miserable for them. They left a week or two later, luckily for me.

Given that “once bitten, twice shy” adventure, I fared a little better over the years with different tenants, but when the current recession hit, my tenant at the time was already in dire straights. While being a landlord is seldom easy, I would like to think that I am not only fair, but I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. When someone tells me a reason why they will be a little late with the rent, I would like to believe them. Sometimes the experience becomes more like scolding a child for not doing homework. Such was the case when I finally told this tenant she had to vacate. There comes a point where there are too many excuses, you are too far behind in rent, and you have no chance of “catching up”.

Here on Martha’s Vineyard, housing is a bit more complicated. There are summer rentals (vacation homes), summer housing (temporary living quarters), winter rentals (off-season vacation homes), year round rentals (toss up), and people that own their homes. After my time living in an unheated tool shed, I bought a house. I housed people that worked in my office in the summer months, for a nominal weekly fee. Ten or twelve weeks out of the year the house was crazy, but it was necessary.

When I had to rebuild after a house fire, I designed an apartment into the new house. The unit would offset the inevitable higher mortgage, taxes, and insurance. I had the zoning board approve the unit I spent more than $30K on its design and construction, and priced it for a year round tenant. I have run the gamut from perfect tenants to the tenants from hell, fighting and screaming; finally stiffing me after the summer was over. I have helped a few friends with a place to stay when times were tough, but for the most part, the rental unit is a business deal, not a freebie or a “money maker”.

Prospective tenants sometimes ask if I would accept less than the asking price, or if I could just do a seasonal rental; sure, as long as the bank accepts a partial mortgage payment and seasonal payments. While we’re at it, let’s see if I can skip paying taxes and insurance on a duplex, eh? The point is, I busted my ass to make this whole property ownership thing work (and continue to hustle to keep it as so many others lose what they have). There are so many people that seem to think that the rents charged are just not affordable. Well, mortgages, taxes, and insurance are not freebies; they are a serious commitment that involves a responsibility that most tenants have yet to understand, let alone accept. If it was easy, we would all own homes.

Currently, my apartment is part of the Dukes County Affordable Housing Program. My apartment had to be inspected and approved, the tenant went through a thorough screening process in order to be approved for the program, and everything seems to be working out, going on two years. My house in Connecticut is still available for rent, however. After a year and a half of renovations from the last tenant’s “occupation”, it is ready for another roll of the dice for a tenant that can prove an ability to pay the rent and produce references, that are not friends or relatives, willing to vouch for their integrity. Sometimes renting to tenants really does feel like gambling with your hard earned assets.


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Week of Reflection

This next week there will most likely be a number of religious services, ceremonies, vigils, etc. These organized events will be well attended by many people; some that may have lost loved ones, others that feel remorse, a few that will go just because they feel the need to show respect. Yes, this week will mark the ten year anniversary of the September 11th attacks by religious extremists that vowed to destroy or change our way of life. I will not be attending any of these events. Instead I will use this week for personal reflection.

Depending how well you know me, you will either know how I feel about religion or you will not. Basically, I study the Tao Te Ching. It is not a religion. It is a philosophy. The Tao is a collection of principles that apply to nature and the way things work in nature. To judge me based on the fact that I might defy your religion would be to admit your own ignorance to accept the beliefs of another, which is what brought the September 11th attacks to us in the first place; think about that.

So, this week I will disconnect. I will not be on twitter. I will not post on facebook. I will not be texting, sending instant messages or email. Instead, I will use all of that time that I would spend on that digital media reflecting on things; past, present and future. I will consider people that I have lost to violence, illness, and time. I will take hold of the memories of I have of those people and not forget what they brought to my life; the good, the bad, the thoughts and feelings.

Sometimes we live life at such a speed that we forget to live in the moment. Every now and again we lose sight of the fact that just because we have all of these digital forms of communication, we are not really in touch. Take some time this week to get in touch; with those that matter to you, those you have lost touch with, and especially yourself. There is no person more important in your life than you. Reflect upon that.

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So, I’m writing this blog on a word processing program. See, in parts of Maine this far North, there is no cell phone coverage. If there is no signal for my BlackBerry, there is no texting, there is no IM, no tethering for internet access. Basically, I am disconnected from any associated social media via the internet. I think I have needed this for some time. Sometimes I think too much. Henry Rollins has this song that sums it up called “Disconnect” but be prepared for some pretty harsh music. Otherwise, you can continue reading here for a similar sentiment.

All summer I deal with so much personal interaction from clients that I feel burnt out at the end of the day. I might watch a movie or listen to the radio, but seldom, if ever, got out to interact with still more people. Come September, I hate most everyone and it shows. I stop calling friends and family sometime in August. I am either working or sleeping. I rarely socialize in the off-season, so I live like a recluse until sometime around October. Sure it has not been a healthy lifestyle, but if I did socialize in the state I am in at that time of the year, I would be rude, abrasive, and downright ornery. I just want to be left alone. I hate talking about “how things are”, because it is such bullshit. If I were to tell it like it is, I would sound like Holden in “Catcher in the Rye”, and I really do not want that to be the case.

The older I grow, the more patient I become. I tend to blurt out less provocative comments that would be viewed as offensive and I also have learned to be more tolerant of others. Still, I have also felt less of a need to capitulate to those people that feel I owe them explanations for the way I am. I also trust less. I care less of what others think of me on a personal level. I am who I am, take it or leave it. This angers some people, but I cannot imagine why. I recall in college when a professor asked for own opinions on a chapter in “Anna Karenina” and promptly proceeded to tell each student their voiced opinion was “wrong”. When we all protested her castigation, she was adamant that she was teaching us our opinions, and we would do well to listen to her. No thank you.

I have constantly fought against being categorized and labeled. I feel like people want everything to be neat and organized when it comes to others’ opinions and responses, as long as it suits their purpose and allows them to feel good about themselves. Well, I don’t want to pretend that it’s all okay when it’s not. “How are you?” is just a greeting like “hi”, so don’t feel so smug when I respond “fine”. It is not really fine and you don’t really care that it is not, so just drop it.

Now I understand that I just needed some time away from all of that crap. I needed to just be filled with “nothing” for a while; a steady stream of white noise from all that I know. No contact with people that want to hear my thoughts so that they came manipulate them into their own views and opinions. Sometimes I feel like I am trying to look up into the sky during a downpour, rain droplets pelting my eyes, and still I try to gaze toward the heavens, only to be met with an unending torrent that obstructs my view.

In order to think thoughts that are indeed my own, I need to clear my mind from all that is there. I need to disconnect myself and reformat the hard drive that is my mind. So there it is; my sanity in a nutshell. Shutting down; disconnected.

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