Affordable housing does not exist in Key West. At least not by the standards of the rest of the country. The combination of low wages, high demand, and the desirability to live on this little 2 x 4 rock at the end of the world has created a shortage of livable places to house the workforce and those who simply want to come and live in the islands.
The city and county governments pay little more than lip service to the problem. They create committees and commission studies while publishing complicated formulae demanding a certain percentage of building be committed to lower income housing, but the developers and lawyers always come up with ways to skirt the rules. And since said developers are the ones putting down the money for building, they rule the land. Rarely do the government officials rule against them.
The reality is most people on the island can’t make a decent enough wage to afford a place of their own. Rents are way out of reach for most of them and with wages showing no signs of getting higher, people have to get creative when it comes to finding a place to live. Piling 3, 4, or more roommates into a small apartment, or living on a boat, which is slowly getting to be more difficult, living in an rv which is no cheaper than a conventional place, or living out of their car, which is illegal of course. Some are willing to live up the chain of islands where rents are a bit cheaper and put up with the long commutes up and down US 1 everyday. Some live in the Miami area, taking a nearly 4 hour one way bus ride to work. Some even remain homeless, sleeping at the shelters whilst working during the day. All so they can say they live and work in Key West.
The landlords, on the other hand, seeing a profit in rentals, have also gotten creative. Renting out rooms in a normal household is the most common. But I’ve seen ads for nothing more than a couch off to the side in a living room going for as much as a private room. Some have converted garages, even garden sheds in the backyard into little ‘efficiency’ apartments, hoping code enforcement won’t come around anytime soon and shut them down. Some offer a cabin on a boat or the extra bed in an rv, but all are overpriced, and few offer little more then a roof over one’s head and maybe a toilet to use. Many of these places are in disrepair, leaky, moldy, and full of bugs. Most of the places for rent in Key West would not be allowed anywhere else.
The situation is only getting worse. The rich are steadily taking over Key West and pushing more and more of the lower income population out. They don’t care where said lower income people go, provided they still show up to clean the rooms, pick up the garbage, and serve the wealthy at the restaurants. As long as they leave the island at the end of their shift.
Nothing in the short term is going to fix this. The city and county worship at the feet of the rich, the greedy, and the developers who pour way more money into the islands than any bartender, tour guide, or retail sales weasel. The wealthy rule and no one can stop them. Eventually they will probably be able to fence off Key West and only the rich and the service people will be allowed in. Just like Ocean Reef at the other end of the Keys. The day is coming when Key West will only be accessible to the privileged few.
But for now, things are what they are. There are still people who come to the island even after reading my (Warning: Shameless Plug to follow) semi best selling ebook: Moving To The Florida Keys, available on Amazon. There are still semi affordable rents here and there but one has to be quick and have cash at the ready to grab one of these deals. So, while nobody can nor will do anything about the affordable housing situation, let me turn this sure-to-be-award-winning-post to those mentioned in the title…the beloved landlords of Key West and the Florida Keys. Those of you whom rent out all these luxurious accommodations to us, the great unwashed. I got some tips for you. And some rants.
I understand the concepts of supply and demand. When you have one unit of something and there are 10 people who want said unit, the price is going to go up. This works not just with rentals but in any industry. So, this will not be rant over the prices of rentals in the Keys. They are what they are and the market will determine what they are in the future. So forgetting the prices, let’s look at a few other things, shall we?
Let us begin with the ads. Most ads for rentals are done online now. Craigslist, a few Facebook groups, and similar websites. For the most part, these ads are free to run. Meaning they cost nothing. So why, when you post an ad for a place to rent, do you not provide as much usable information as possible? It’s not like it’s any more difficult to type in all the information but something more than, “Room for rent. Call for info.” would be appreciated. How about including things such as, oh, I don’t know. Like:
- The price. How much do you want for rent and how much for rest? First/Last/Security. This should be mandatory for any ad. No price and we assume what you are renting is too expensive. If you are afraid to post the price of your rental, what else are you hiding?
- Location. An exact address is not vital but at least give a nearby street, intersection, or something to let us know about where said property is located.
- What is included. Amenities, furnishings, etc.
- Utilities. What is included and how much. A best guess here even works.
- Lease terms. Are you renting long term? Short term? Monthly or weekly?
- Pets? I understand. Pets can be a nightmare for landlords while others are pet friendly. Just be up front about what is or is not allowed.
- Access to other areas of the property. If you are renting a room does the renter have access to the kitchen, living area, backyard, pool, or other parts of the property? If not, say so.
- Parking and vehicles. Space is at a premium on the island for a vehicle so let anyone know what the terms are.
- Pictures. Nothing says more about a property than a good set of images of said property. Show all angles and as many views as possible. Take good, clean, simple images with no fancy photoshop. Please don’t give me the fucking tired old excuse of not being able to add photos to an ad. It’s so goddamn simple to add in photos these days anyone can do it. Especially if you are posting on FB. If you do not have the simple technical know how in the year 2016 to post a photo on the internet, you should not be handling something as complicated as a rental unit. Post some fucking pictures. If the place is a dump or a mansion, the pictures will tell all. Don’t concern yourself with how somebody might perceive your rental. What is a pig sty to one person, could be the ideal living situation for another. Let the market determine who will rent from you. Be honest and up front with what you have. As we use to say in the motorcycle industry, there is an ass for every seat.
- Background check and references? Proof of income? No problem. Want to charge for said background check? I don’t think so. You want to find out about me? You pay for it. Want my social security number? Go shit in your hat. You can find out enough about your renter without it. Try learning how to internet. It ain’t rocket surgery. Type in somebody’s name in your favorite search engine and you’ll be amazed how much free stuff you can find out. And by the way, background checks work in both directions. You demand information on me, I will do the same on you. So don’t ask for information on us which you are unwilling to provide on yourself. It works both ways. Yes, I understand. Key West has it’s share of, ‘unusual characters’. Druggies, drunks, drama queens, and dumbasses. But they exist as renters and landlords. It’s a crapshoot sometimes but you still ain’t getting my social security number.
- Provide some contact information. And please, none of this, ‘no email’ or ‘text’ only bullshit. Make it easy to contact you for more information by providing as many options as possible. Yes. I know. The scammers. They are out there and you get tired of the same crap every time you run an ad. But they are easy to spot and ignore. The easier you make it for someone to get ahold of you, the more better chance you have of scoring a juicy new renter.
- And finally. Communication. When you run an ad and people inquire about it, have the fucking decency, manners, and politeness to actually reply to them. Even if the place is already rented, let them know. Nothing is more frustrating than answering an ad and getting no response whatsoever. We are human beings, interested in what you have to offer. As least show some respect and follow up with a reply. And please delete your ad when the place has been rented. It only takes a minute to do so.
Here is the thing, oh mighty landlords. The more information you provide in your ads, the more you can weed out the undesirables and narrow your prospective renters down to a select few who would actually qualify to rent your fine abode. So when you run these ads, take a little more time and effort to provide useable information. Remember this:
We are looking for an affordable place to live. We need certain bits of information to determine if your rental fits our needs. We are not interested in playing a game show where we have to guess what is available or play phone tag trying to get simple answers to simple questions. The more information you, the landlord provide upfront, the easier it works out for both sides. When you run an ad be prepared to take the time to answer any and all questions when we come a knocking or calling or texting or emailing or whatever. Make a list of questions and answers and have it ready when the time comes to meet with your prospective tenant.
Ok, a few more rants. Yes, I’m on a roll here and not letting up.
Let’s say you have found a tenant. Now it the time to be up front about everything. House rules, do’s and don’t’s, everything, no matter how small a detail. Who is responsible for cleaning the bathroom. What temperature should the ac be run. This is when the small things matter. If you don’t cover the rules and details now, don’t try and change things down the road, or at least not without sitting down with your tenants and discussing said changes first. If you have a lease agreement, make sure EVERYTHING is in writing and in the lease in plain language. If you don’t have a lease, put something in writing and have the tenant and yourself sign it, even get a notary or witness to sign also. Verbal agreements don’t mean shit.
Have you and the tenant go over the property in minute detail. Note any and all damage before they move in. Take photos of everything and keep said photos in a file along with the lease so they can be referred back to later.
Remember, a security deposit is exactly what it implies. It is to pay for any damages which may occur during the course of the lease. A security deposit is NOT free money in your pocket to be kept. Don’t even think of running around pointing out minor scrapes and scratches as an excuse to keep a deposit. If the place is in like condition or more better than when the rent started, you WILL refund the deposit back to the renter. If not, be prepared to have a fight on your hands. I once rented a crap apartment out on Stock Island at a marina. I got evicted when they announced the building was to be torn down in a month. The fat ass landlord tried to keep my deposit claiming I didn’t clean the place to his satisfaction when I moved out. Remember…they were going to tear down the building. I got my money back but not without having to make a threat or two. Be prepared to refund the deposit when the time comes.
Discrimnation is a dirty word anymore. People will scream foul for any perceived discrimination going beyond the usual race, color, creed, etc. It’s a tough line to straddle when you want to rent out to certain people. I’m not talking about race or the usual but other things. I’ve seen some ads wanting only ‘christian’ or ‘spiritual’ renters. Some advertise as ‘gay friendly’. At the other end of the scale are those places which are ‘420 friendly’. A buzzword for pot. Last I checked, pot was still illegal and advertising such is asking for trouble. It’s your call and your house but remember, it’s your responsibility if the narcs come a knockin’. Key West is a party town, we all know it, but if you don’t want a party in your rental, say so. I’ve seen more than a few ads which are nothing more than come on’s to get a sexual partner to move in. Use a bit of common sense here. It’s tough to advertise to a certain group of people who share your views on life, the universe, and everything, so tread carefully. It’s ok, up to a point to want certain types of renters. But be aware some may perceive your desires as discrimination against them.
If you have rules you want the tenant to follow, make sure you are following the same rules. Don’t tell someone they have to be quiet all the time and then run your stereo or tv at full volume at all hours of the night. Don’t forbid pets and then have a yapping mutt running around barking at everything. Don’t say no visitors nor parties and then have drunken orgies every night, unless I’m invited, then orgy away. Seriously, though. Live up to the same standards you hold your tenants to.
Respect your tenants property. I know you own the rental property but when somebody rents they have certain privacy rights. Don’t enter their space without them being there or without permission. Do not take nor damage their property. Remember, to you a tenant is just a monthly check. To the tenant, the place is their home for as long as they are renting there. Let them live like human beings. You are the landlord and nothing else. You do not rule over your tenants. You live with them. Be respectful and don’t try to push your way of life into theirs. As long as you are upfront about the house rules, everything else should be fine.
And take care of your property. If you have bug infestations or leaks or malfunctioning toilets or whatever, take care of it. Fix things when they need fixin’. If a tenant has broken something, by all means, hold them accountable. If you are going to do upgrades, let the tenant know what is going on and if it will affect their staying there.
If a tenant is causing problems, be it not obeying the lease rules or not paying the rent, don’t be afraid to call in the local authorities. Even if there is no eviction, you’ll have a record of the offense. By the same token, if you are somehow screwing over your tenants, or making the place unliveable, don’t be surprised if the cops come a calling for you. It works both ways.
There is no getting around the fact the rental situation in Key West and the rest of the Florida Keys sucks. It is what it is for now and we all have to make the best of it if we want to live and work there. But to you landlords out there, you can make this so much more better by doing the simple things I outlined above. If you are advertising a place, make the ad inviting and informative. Sell it, don’t just advertise it. Be honest in what you are offering and communicate when somebody enquires about said offering. The high prices are bad enough, no need to make renting in the Keys an ordeal by making it difficult to even find a place. Work with us and we’ll work with you.
Don’t sit on your asses and laugh renters. Next post will be for you.