While I do not know every cause of the current “housing crises” in Portland, and certainly do not have all of the answers, I have seen a contributing factor during my day-to-day life as Realtor, property manager, and construction manager. The effect that deferred maintenance and landlords that are unwilling (or perhaps in some cases unable) to keep up with the maintenance that all buildings require is having a trickle down effect on Portland’s rental market that I feel is being largely overlooked.
Whether you are a renter, homeowner, or real estate investor, we all know that buildings require work, maintenance, and at times money to keep them in good working condition. When buildings are maintained on a consistent basis, they work well and as they were designed to perform. When tenants, landlords, or homeowners fall behind on routine maintenance seemingly small issues can snowball into major repairs that have very real financial consequences to all parties involved.
Even in the best buildings basic maintenance is required on a consistent and perhaps daily basis. We can use a simple example of vacuuming rugs and carpets. If done on weekly basis or so, dirt doesn’t’ accumulate and therefore doesn’t stain a carpet. On the other hand if you vacuum your carpet once a year, chances are that the dirt is set in and has effectively ruined the carpet, or at minimal caused a hefty steam cleaning bill. Take this to another more devastating issue such as mold. By cleaning areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, and windows on a consistent basis, mold typically will not be an issue. However when allowed to take hold, mold can spread through the walls, flooring, and even subfloor and cause major structural damages that result in lengthy and costly repairs (not to mention a serious health hazard).
While this is probably common sense, let’s look at how it effects property values, rental prices, and our Portland housing market. Time and time again, I see multi-family properties being sold that need significant repairs. More often than not, these properties are being sold “as is” meaning that these repairs caused by deferred maintenance are passed onto the buyer to take care of. When the new owner takes possession of the property they typically want to bring the building back up to a healthy standard and are sometimes even required to do so as a condition of their loan. These new owners are stuck with a bit of a conundrum. How do I keep renters in place, fix a building, and not raise rents at an irresponsible rate?
To clarify, I am not talking about properties that are in good working condition and a new owner wants to install new appliances, throw some granite counter tops in and jack up the rent 30%. I’m seeing an increase of buildings that have significant health and safety issues that need a significant investment to get them back to a functioning level. Depending on the building size this can be in the 10’s or even 100’s of thousands of dollars. At times, these types of repairs cannot be done with tenants living in the building. Even if a tenant is willing or able to live in a construction site, the end result is that rents are going to be increased in order to offset this construction costs.
In my opinion it is imperative that landlords and building owners would keep up with their maintenance on a consistent and ongoing manner. While this costs money and time, it costs relatively little of both when compared to the major projects that arise from deferred maintenance. Additionally, by keeping up with maintenance on buildings and avoiding costly repairs, landlords are still able to pass on the cost of ongoing maintenance to tenants in small increments over extended periods of time. In my experience tenants are understanding of small rent increases over time if the property is kept in good condition. Where we see tenant displacement and people being priced out of housing is typically due to a sudden and large increase in rent which is often necessary to cover the cost of a large project.
In the end I believe that this has to be a team effort. Landlords are ultimately responsible for their property and it’s up keep. At the same time, tenants are there every day and can help mitigate large scale issues that cause damages to a building. By reporting small problems before they become larger and maintaining their living areas responsibly, tenants can help landlords with this. Landlords need tenant, tenants need buildings, and buildings need on going maintenance. To avoid costly damages and the fall out caused by them, we must all work together. This won’t solve all of our housing problems, but it’s a start.