friend of mine… acquaintance…someone I heard of, is about to experience some major upheavals in their island dream. Said person has been living in a rented spot here on the rock for well over a decade. He has paid his rent on time and made numerous improvements to the property including a new dock on the canal, a hot tub, along with landscaping, and other niceties. All on his own dime. While the actual structure is an old trailer, the entire property is really a pretty cool little spot to live in. It’s comfortable with nice views, relatively quiet, and he is about to lose it all.
His landlord, who lives next door came by recently and said that in about a year, the property would be going up for sale. He wanted to cash in and head back to the mainland. Not a big deal, a year gives one plenty of time to make arrangements to find another plot of paradise. But, less than a month after said announcement, he started bringing in prospective buyers. Now the tenant is living under the expectation of having no more than 30 days notice at any given time to move out.
Yes, I know, there is always a chance that the new owners will allow him to stay, most likely with a substantial increase in rent. But that is unlikely. The trailer is in poor condition. It’s full of mold, termite damage, and rodent infestation, as are many of the surrounding homes. It also sits at ground level meaning it is prone to flooding in a storm. And in case you haven’t heard, flood insurance has gone up to the point that it is unaffordable for most people to own here in the Keys. It’s also doubtful anyone will finance a mortgage on a property in such condition, despite all the extras that have been put in. So whomever purchases said properties will most likely do so with the intent of tearing down the existing structures, and putting up a new place. Meaning said tenant will be gone.
There are also some legal questions that will arise from this. The tenant made multiple improvements to the property over the years, as I mentioned above. The landlord is advertising the property as including said improvements. But since the tenant did the improvements on his dime, who actually owns said improvements? Do they indeed belong to the tenant, or are they now considered a permanent part of the property? If the tenant takes down said improvements and sells or otherwise disposes of the materials, is there an issue there? Or, would the landlord be obligated in anyway to compensate the tenant for the improvements from the proceeds of the sale? Keep in mind we ain’t talkin’ about some fresh paint on the walls or new carpet on the floor. We are talking real things like the dock, the hot tub, new appliances, and a host of other things. All added in over the years. It’s a substantial amount of money and when the sale begins, things could well get very ugly. The tenant is resigned to the fact, no matter what happens with the improvements issue, that it is time to find a new place to live. And he is now finding out about the sad state of unaffordable living accommodations in Key West.
When we talked recently, the tenant expressed surprise and dismay at the state of housing here. “$1200 doesn’t even get you your own bathroom”, he said. Trust me, I am more than aware of that little fact. He, like many others has been relying of the ever popular Craigslist in order to find a new place to live. While CL does have listings, he is also finding out that most of said listings are scams and bullshit. People trying to rent out properties they don’t own, or that do not even exist. Demands for exorbitant fees like first/last/security or paying for background checks. And that’s not even taking into consideration the high rents for places that would not pass code anywhere else. Unfortunately, the resources for finding a place are limited beyond CL. If you happen to know a realtor that sometimes helps, but most realtors in the islands are more interested in vacation rentals which get way more money than year round monthly rentals. And if you happen to rent out to someone who is a problem, it’s easier to get rid of them than trying to break a lease. So short of knowing someone who has a place for rent, the options are not as varied as one would hope.
Adding to the tenants woes is the fact he is the exact polar opposite of yours truly when it comes to possessions. He is a bit of hoarder and many a time has chided and teased me about living out of a bag. Now he is seeing the error of his ways, but you don’t change over night. When he does move, it’s going to take some mighty large vehicles to get all his stuff out of there. He will never reach minimalist nirvana, like I have, and it will be huge impediment to making a move to a new spot.
And, there is one other mistake he made that is now becoming apparent. Despite all those years of living there, despite all the rent payments, despite all the improvements to make the place a home, he is being treated no differently than a vacationer down for a weekend. He owns nothing. The place he lived may have felt like home to him, but to the landlord, he was just an income stream. Now, he is in the way. “Thanks for all the rent checks and keeping the place up nice and all, but time to leave.” There is no loyalty when it comes to real estate and renting. Landlords care about one thing and one thing only…getting those rent checks every month. The fact that the tenant happened to actually take care of the place was just a bonus. Now it’s time to sell and retire to someplace affordable. The tenant is feeling a bit betrayed, like he was scammed. But in reality, he made the mistake of thinking that the landlord cared about him as a person. And he doubly made the mistake of thinking that all those rent checks gave him some implied ownership of the property. Wrong on both counts. So now, he must upend his secure life, and start anew.
I learned a very long time ago what the realities of renting are. I’ve managed, since about 10 years ago to avoid getting tied down into any kind of long term leases, and by way of alternative living, and a healthy dose of minimalism, been able to stay fluid, mobile, and ready to move at any given moment. My recent trials and tribulations over the last year regarding, “the other place” are a good example of why I feel the need to be ready to move at a moments notice. I always assume, that no matter how nice or secure or cheap a place is, someone or something will come along and force you out. So I make a habit, every damn day, to take a brief moment to check the listings on CL, it’s getting easier to spot the scams, keep my eyes open, and always, always, always, be looking for something else, be it another marina, another boat, an rv, or whatever. I look at all options, even ones I would not have considered years ago, room rentals, short term, whatever. You never know when something more better may come along. It may sound a bit paranoid but it’s been my experience to not settle in to anyplace for too long lest I make the mistakes of said tenant above.
In my case too, renting is the only option at this point in my life. Buying a place make no sense for me whatsoever. Finances for one would prevent me from getting anything. Buying a place is far easier than selling later on and there is always the chance of buying a place, and finding out too late that it is not what you might want. And seeing as how I have no real heirs, no kids, no wives, (at least none that are alive and willing to testify, hehehe) so if and when I decide to move on to the land of the dead, who would end up with said property? Most likely the non deserving government. So I will limit my ownership to a boat or rv, and rent from there.
As for the tenant, and many others who I have met here at the end of the world, affordable housing remains the number one impediment to enjoying life here. Rents are way too high. The properties are garbage, at least the “affordable ones”. Landlords know that if you ain’t happy, there are 100 more behind you waiting in line to take over the rent.
If moving down here is still on your bucket list you would do well to seriously look at the state of housing on the islands. Start with my (shameless plug) book, Moving To The Florida Keys, which has substantial chapters on affordable housing and alternative living like boats and rv’s. This ain’t bullshit, it’s real. You will make $10 an hour down here and pay out $1500 a month to rent. Forget about the middle class, “‘merican dream”. It ain’t happening unless you are extremely wealthy, and then you probably ain’t reading this blog anyways.
But what applies down here can apply to anyone who rents as opposed to owning. Greedy landlords will dump your ass out on the street the moment they detect that they can make more money from somebody else. Years of paying rent and staying in the same place mean nothing…absolutely nothing. You own nothing and have no say in what happens to the property. Any improvements you may have made will be money you spent and received nothing in return.
Never get too attached to anyplace. Keep your lifestyle minimal, fluid, and mobile and you will have way more options when the time comes to move on. And besides, who would want to stay in the same place all their lives and stare at the same walls every day? You can do that when you get to old to travel. Renting does have it’s pitfalls, but with the right attitude and some fine tuning of your lifestyle, it can work way more better than owning. And it will allow you to live in places you never thought you could afford. Like Key West.