ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Like lawyers, used-car salesmen and probably journalists, landlords haven’t always had the most positive public image over the years.
While Hillsboro’s Ken Koslowsky isn’t on a crusade to turn landlords into saints in the public’s mind, he does try to manage his rental properties in ways that don’t fit the negative stereotypes.
He and his wife, Carla, have owned rental properties for some 23 years in Hillsboro and currently own 10 houses plus a four-unit apartment.
Like any business situation, landlords need the monthly rent to keep afloat, but when it comes to choosing renters, the Koslowskys’ basic currency is trust.
“We’re probably more lenient than most people would be,” Ken Koslowsky said.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m willing to give everybody a chance, because there are some potential renters who have a reputation that I know already, or have heard about, or seen in the public records.
“I don’t necessarily accept just anybody, but almost anybody,” he added. “That’s part of a life philosophy, I guess. I’m basically willing to give most people a chance. Sometimes you get burned. I guess that’s part of my faith, too.”
On occasion, Koslowsky said he has forfeited his usual request for the first month’s rent in advance and a security deposit when he has felt the situation of the potential renter justified doing so-as in the case of a difficult domestic situation that requires an immediate move, or if a person is just starting his or her first job and doesn’t have funds to live on yet.
“I’m inclined to let it slide until payday,” he said. “We can list all that out in the rental agreement.”
Generally, Koslowsky said his faith has been justified. In more than two decades as a landlord, the vast majority of his renters have respected the rental agreement he has made with them.
Over 23 years, he has been forced to evict maybe a half-dozen renters out of the hundreds he has dealt with.
Koslowsky said good renters are people who do what they say they will do in the rental agreement they sign with him-that is, pay the rent on time, keep the property clean and reasonably well-cared for, and don’t bring in pets without first talking about it with him.
“I’d say probably 75 percent are pretty good renters,” he said. “The other 25 percent would have varying degrees of problems. Some of them are just slow paying, but I’m not really concerned about getting my rent eventually.
“Others on the far end of the scale do cause problems with noise or pets or just a lot of traffic in and out of the house-where there’s partying or something like that.”
In as much Koslowsky wants to trust his renters, he hopes his renters trust him to live up to his side of the agreement to the best of his ability to do so.
“I guess in as much that I’m willing to be a little bit lenient in renting to somebody without a lot of hassle, I hope they realize that I trust them, or am willing to give them a chance-and I hope they’ll do the same for me when a repair situation comes up.”
Making timely repairs when significant problems occur is at the top of Koslowsky’s list of qualities of a good landlord.
“You have to look at it a little bit from the renter’s viewpoint,” he said. “A good landlord has to be willing to deal with problems in a timely fashion.
“I wish I could say that I’ve always gotten everything done as soon as I intended to,” he added. “Some of it is an emergency breakdown-and-repair situation. But some is more long-term stuff, and that doesn’t always happen when you would like it to-for one reason or another.
“I don’t have a whole lot (of renters) who get ticked because I don’t get there soon enough, but once in a while it happens.”
Koslowsky said unless a person is willing to ensure that important repairs get completed in a timely fashion, he or she probably shouldn’t be a landlord.
“There are some people who have the talents to be a landlord and some who don’t,” he said. “If you’re doing most of the repairs yourself and you’re not willing to get real dirty sometimes, it’s not for you.”
A broken waterline in a crawl space under a house-especially in the middle of winter-is one of least pleasant situations for a landlord to deal with, but that’s no excuse to put off repairing it.
“That’s real messy to crawl around in and fix, but it’s got to be done,” he said. “Somebody’s without water until you get it done.
“Some of those things definitely don’t happen at opportune times, either,” Koslowsky added. “Sometimes it has to be dealt with right away, and not when you prefer to put if off to.”
Koslowsky said he does a lot of the minor repair work and routine plumbing work in his homes, and he’ll change a few electrical outlets and switches when necessary. But beyond that, he depends on professional help-if he can find it.
“One of the headaches from the landlord’s point of view is that a lot of repair work turns out to be a little job here and there, and sometimes it’s difficult to find somebody to do that kind of thing,” Koslowsky said.
Regardless who does the work, Koslowsky said it does help to have experience with home repair.
“Even if you don’t do the work yourself, you kind of need to be able to evaluate what needs to be done or how extensive it needs to be,” he said. “Sometimes it’s surprising how big a job can be.”
For all the fulfillment that comes from providing people an affordable place to live, being a landlord is still a business enterprise for the Koslowskys.
They got into the business in 1980 because they saw the economic opportunity.
“It just seemed like a good way to spend a little free time and eventually build up some equity in something,” he said. “Other people do it in different ways-like sideline businesses of some kind or another. This just seemed the way for us to do it.”
He said when they bought their first rental house, capital-gains deductions on investment properties made such transactions even more inviting. Those deduction disappeared for a time, but have since returned in a slightly different form.
“It is a business,” he said. “We haven’t gotten into it for sentiment or anything like that.”
When a potential investment property comes to their attention, “it has to pencil out or we haven’t done it.”
But with their current portfolio of properties, “It’s got to be an awfully good deal to catch my eye,” Ken Koslowsky said.
Likewise, if a property isn’t in Hillsboro, it isn’t inviting to them because of the inconvenience of distance.
“Even Lehigh is too far to run for a repair,” he said. “That’s nothing against Lehigh. I just want it closer.”
The Koslowskys have also sold properties over the years when renters ask to become buyers. They’ve been in the middle of enough real estate transactions to feel comfortable negotiating most deals themselves, although they still use legal services as necessary.
“I don’t have anything against real estate agents, but we’ve been in this business long enough, and I’ve bought and sold enough properties that I don’t feel we need them,” he said.
Even the sale of their properties is an extension of Koslowsky’s basic working philosophy.
“The appeal for me of that kind of thing goes back to the trust factor,” he said. “I would like to think that I’m the kind of potential seller that if somebody’s thinking of buying a place from us, my reputation is such that they feel they can trust me to work out a deal with them and I’ll do what I say I’m going to do.”
After 23 years, Koslowsky said the most significant change he’s made in his business practice is using a written agreement with his renters rather than an oral agreement and a handshake.
But he confesses to at least one other change, too.
“I would say I’m probably less patient now with late payment-although some of the renters who are behind would probably laugh at that statement,” he said. “I’ve let them go probably longer than they expected.
“I’ve come to the realization that not only do they have certain rights, but I as a landlord do, too. The law is available to me to remedy non-payment situations, for example. I don’t put up with as much foolishness, I guess, as I used to.
“Part of that comes from the realization that when I’ve got this kind of renter in there that’s causing this kind of problem, out there someplace is somebody else who would love to rent that place and is not going to cause those problems.”