You really don’t think I was going to ream a new asshole for the landlords in the Keys and let the other half off the hook now did you? Nope. This is an equal opportunity ass reaming and for all you renters and prospective renters, time to bend over and spread your cheeks. Not those cheeks, the other ones. Ok, let’s get to some proper reaming.
We all know the situation in Key West and the Florida Keys. Affordable housing is unpossible to find. At least what we, the great unwashed perceive affordable housing to be. Wages in the islands are low, what housing is out there is substandard, and the landlords are all greedy.
Let’s try to remember something first. There is one overriding factor in all this mess. The law of supply and demand. For those of you unfamiliar with this, the most basic of concepts in economics, it works like so. If there is a large supply of something and a low demand for said something, the price of said something will come down. By the same logic, if there is a shortage of said something and a large demand, the price goes up. Guess what the supply and demand is for housing in the Keys right now…go ahead guess. Lots and lots of people want to come to Key West and the Florida Keys to live. Lots more than you suspect. When they come down here, they are going to want a place to live, preferably someplace within their economic means. But when you have ten people for every 1 rental unit (figures were formed and pulled out of my ass but it makes for a good analogy), the price of said rental units will go up, way up. The landlords, bless their little hearts, know if one person does not want to pay what they are asking for rent, the next person will, or the next, or the next. Supply and demand.
It also helps to remember the evil developers, those who have taken these fair islands and built upon them all the shoddy, cookie cutter, army barracks and call them resorts, have no interest in building anything close to affordable housing. There is no profit in building a crap efficiency which rents for less than $1000 a month when one could be building high end condos and timeshares for the rich and wealthy. The only reason they are even building a small amount of affordable housing is because the local governments have forced them too. But, being developers and getting wealthy by not being dumb, they have learned to scam the system and get around most of the laws.
Other rental units are individual property owners simply trying to bring in some extra income by renting out parts of their properties for whatever the market will bear. Not all of these said properties may be legal, up to code, or in livable condition, but money is money.
The bottom line remains however, there is no real affordable housing in Key West or the Florida Keys. And nothing is going to change this in the near nor the far future. As long as people want to come and live the island dream, the price of living in paradise will remain high. You can bitch, moan, whine, and snivel all you want. You can threaten to leave. Nobody gives a Norwegian rodent’s posterior if you stay, go, or die. There will always be somebody coming in to take your place. Always, until the rich can figger out how to block off the islands to all of the great unwashed masses.
It’s no use bitching about the prices, the greedy landlords, nor the more greedy developers. You ain’t changing a thing. So having said no bitching, let’s find some more better things to bitch about, shall we?
As a renter in Key West and the Florida Keys, let’s face it, we ain’t helping things. If indeed despite all you might have read (Shameless Plug alert), you still want to come and try your hand at island living, here are some tips and rants. Pay attention. This may save you some time, money, and aggravation.
- Before you make a move to the Keys, take serious stock of your current financial situation. I cannot stress this enough. How much money are you making now. What are your current expenses. How much debt do you have. When you come to the Keys, you will be making less money, your expenses will go up, and if you have debt, you will leave the islands with more debt. Moving to the Florida Keys will NOT solve any economic problems you may have. It will only make said economic problems more worse.
- What kind of quality of life do you expect when you come to the Keys? If you think you are going to live the classic middle class happy go lucky lifestyle to which you are so accustomed to, keep those memories handy. There is no middle class in the Keys. You are either dirt poor or filthy rich. No in between. A quick tip…look into minimalism before you do come down. Get rid of all your shit, keeping only the essentials and learn to live without. It will make things a whole lot easier.
- Take some time and look at the ads for employment as well as for places to live. Do some math stuff. You’ll notice wages are low, very low. Lower than what you are used to. Now look at what places are renting for. Do some more maths. How far will $10 an hour go towards paying $1500 a month in rent? Do you like to eat? Keep a vehicle? Do other things? Island life is not cheap.
- Things will not improve. I know what you are thinking, “I can live here until I make some more money and find a cheaper place once I get established.” No, you won’t. Things will not get more better. Good deals on cheap places are rare and you need to be at the ready with the money if you expect to get a place. If you ain’t keeping a cash reserve handy, you have no chance of obtaining said cheap place.
- “I’m smarter than anyone else. I know how to rig the system. I’ll show these stupid islanders how we do things up north.” No. No you won’t. The islands have seen it all. Experts from the mainland who think they are smarter than the average conch come here all the time. It don’t take long to find out how wrong they are.
- “We are in Key West! Time to party!” You will learn quite fast just how expensive it is to hang out in the bars every day and night, and party till the wee hours of the morning. Sooner, not later, your bank account will deflate faster than a New England Patriots football. If you ain’t got the discipline to constipate on maintaining your finances and living within your means, your stay on the islands will be a short one.
Now, having said all this, no doubt there will still be many of you sore and intent on coming to the islands and giving it a go. Nothing wrong with making the attempt as long as you understand the economics down here and the living situation. But remember, you have been warned.
Most rentals are going to want the first month’s rent, the last month’s rent (depending on the length of the lease) and a security deposit. Time for more maths. Take a $1500 place times 3 and you are talking $4500 just to move in. It’s a lot of money to move into a place which may or may not work out to your liking. Try to leave early or break the lease and you can kiss all the money goodbye.
Take the extra time to research a place before plunking down any cash. Don’t grab it just because it’s cheap. If it is unusually cheap, there is a reason or two, usually not a good reason or two. Ask lots of questions about the place. Look it over good and hard. Are there signs of leaks anywhere? Mold and mildew? Is the place in disrepair? Are the current owners and tenants messy and sloppy. Is the plumbing in good shape? How about the kitchen and appliances? And keep on the look out for bug infestations. Every building in Florida has bugs. Roaches, ants, palmetto bugs, and bed bugs are becoming a real problem. Trust me, I know from experience. Don’t hesitate to walk away from a good deal if it looks like you’ll be attacked every night by the little biting bastards.
Most landlords are going to want to know something about you. Things like how likely you are to turn into a violent, homicidal maniac the first time you come home from closing Duval Street. They might demand to run a background check on you. All well and fine, as is their right but, and this is strictly my opinion, if they want to run a background check, they can pay for it. Not you. And never give up your Social Security number to anyone no matter what. You have no idea what the landlord’s background is so why take a chance. If they insist, too bad. Walk away.
And while we are talking about it, don’t hesitate to do a background check on the landlord and the property. There are plenty of resources online, for free, to find out if the landlord has had problems in the past, the property or the neighborhood has a lot of crime, or if code enforcement has paid a visit or two. You could easily wind up renting a place which does not have the proper permits and licenses. Should the city or county come by, you could be out on the street with all your worldly goods and out a lot of money.
On the other hand, if you do have a rather sordid background, chances are pretty good the landlord will find out. Don’t act surprised or insulted if they say no. You know damn good and well your past transgressions would eventually come back to haunt you. If you lose out because of said transgressions, too fucking bad. You made the stupid decisions, now live with them.
Landlords may set down house rules. Things like when to be quiet, if guests are allowed, pets, and the like. They are put forth for a reason. Make sure all the house rules are in writing and understood by both parties, and obey them. Just because you are only a renter don’t mean you ain’t responsible. Shit rolls down hill and when the cops come knocking for some violation, you are on the flatlands.
You may like to indulge in the evils of alcohol or experiment with various mind alter substances which may or may not be legal. If the landlord says no, it means no. If you say yes, be prepared to be out on the street, minus whatever rent you paid plus your deposit. And deservedly so. Go find your own kind if you want to do this. Coming into a legitimate rental, doing drugs, partying, and causing trouble just makes it much more difficult for us folks who are adults to find a decent place to live. Landlords who have been burned once too often will raise the rents to weed out the scum, and be right damn picky about who they rent too.
Remember, you are renting, not owning a place. Be respectful of the property and the other tenants. Don’t go snooping around where you don’t belong. By the same token, be smart about your own property. Keep your stuff safe and secure. Lock your door when you are not there and if you can afford it, get some renter’s insurance.
You may search for a long time and not find any place suitable to your budget and needs, but you still want to stay in the islands. There are alternatives which may or may not suit you.
Living on a boat is most popular. Grab a boat, anchor off someplace, use a dinghy to get back and forth, pay little or no rent. Sounds easy, don’t it. Not so much. Do some serious research here before you decide to go full blown pirate. I’ve written extensively about my experiences over the past 8 year living on a sailboat in the Florida Keys. It was interesting if nothing else. Be aware, living on a boat sounds good, actually doing it is something different. I won’t get into the details because it would cover another book here but suffice it say, not everyone is cut out for living on the ocean. Proceed with caution.
RV living is another possibility, which I have also covered in great detail. Rv lots are scarce as hell especially in the lower Keys. They are expensive, every bit as expensive as a rental on land. The advantages are you have something of your own, less landlord shit to worry about, most of the parks are pretty nice, and if need be, (in most cases) you can tow or drive your home someplace else. As for cheaper, not so much. As for availability, look out in winter when the snowbirds come to roost.
Living in your car. It’s illegal and the police are quick to enforce the law. Don’t bother.
Being homeless. There are a lot of homeless resources in the Keys including the infamous KOTS shelter in Key West. It’s cheap but it’s a rough way to live. And be aware, the city don’t like you, the police don’t like you, and the tourists don’t like you.
Commute from the mainland. It’s a three hour or more drive from Florida City to Key West. You can move into the lower ass end of Miami for way more less money and try commuting but the drive will get old fast. Not to mention you are living in Miami, one of the worst cities to live in the country.
So, as you can see by this post which really only covers the basics, finding a decent and affordable place in Key West or the Florida Keys is no easy feat. It takes money, lots of money, patience, and some hard decisions. The laws of supply and demand are always in play and there is no cheating the system. The landlords have the upper hand but it don’t mean you have to jump into a situation which you may well regret later. Be choosy, and don’t hesitate to walk away, go back to the mainland for a while, and come back later when your finances and mindset are in more better shape.
When you do rent, make sure the lease is clear and all the rules are out front. Make sure you can indeed afford to live in your chosen place and have some reserve when things go downhill. Prepare before you move to the islands. Research where you want to live and keep alternatives at the ready. Follow the rules of your rental but don’t be afraid to confront a shady landlord who may try to bend said rules to their advantage. Be careful who you give your hard earned money to. They ain’t all crooks but there are a few out there.
The island life ain’t for everybody. It can be expensive, frustrating, and render your finances null and void. The more research and preparation you do before you come down, the more better chance you have of staying in said islands for a long and happy life. It’s up to you.