Art of Proprietation

Monday, March 27, 2006

Pushing My Buttons

So, the other day, I was reprogramming the keyless entry system on the front door... What do you mean you have never heard of a keyless entry system?

Although I don't really like believing I live in an area where I have to worry about locking my front door, experience has led me to understand otherwise. When I started the rooming house, the house had a lockon the front door, but I never got around to handing out keys. Mostly because I never locked the door. But as time has marched on, I have since decided it is a good idea to be able to lock the door. Although I don't really believe it is much of a crime prevention tool, it does make people feel more comfortable. It's also probably not a good idea to become known as the only house on the block that isn't locked.

Part of the reason I didn't lock the house in the past was because I was running the rooming house and handing out and keeping track of all those keys was a pain. Also, if I had someone move out who I had some question about, was I going to change the locks? I solved this by getting a keyless entry system. The first one I bought was cheap electronic one that worked as a deadbolt. That is, you shut the door and then a mechanism extends a straight bolt from the door into the frame around the door. This means that someone has to turn around and lock the door when they leave. It also means someone has to unlock the door to get out. That wasn't a good solution for the front door because people would forget to lock it behind them, etc. I am always looking for solutions that operate as a part of the function of the household and require the minimum of extra thought/effort or training.

The lock I settled on is a Kaba Ilco 6200 series keyless entry lock. Kaba Ilco has a range of locks also under the trade names Simplex and Unican. All of the exterior ones have a relatively bulky exterior body to house the combination system. There are lower profile ones for interior door locks. Mine is a inexpensive exterior dead-latch style. The combination is easily changed and set to any cobination of the five keys, and they can be used in unison. It was easy enough to install, not significantly more difficult than a regular lacth. I think the bore size was standard, but there where two extra bolt holes for the large housing on the outside. After five years of use, though, I had the replace the guts of it. I inspected it pretty carefully to find out what was wrong, and one of the bearing surfaces had simply been worn enough to cause a problem. I wasn't thrilled about the longevity. But I am realistic about it. It's still better than physical keys.

Over the years, I have found the keyless entry locks to be a great investment. Everytime someone moves out, within a couple of minutes I can have the combination changed. It gives everyone a feeling of security and each person knows the lock will be changed when they leave as well.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

In Writing

I can't emphasize this one enough. Get it in writing.
Some people are going to say, "this is just an informal thing" or "I'm not a lawyer" or "what good will that do, a court would ignore it". All of those might be true. I am not a lawyer, I have never had to evict someone or go to lengths to enforce my housing agreement. But I think one of the reasons I haven't is because I have a written agreement. The biggest reason for having a written housing agreement is so you avoid getting into the position of having to enforce it. By putting it down in writing, it forces you to really think about what it is you are offering up for rent. It also helps ensure that your potential consumer does not have expectations you are not aware of. And finally, after the arrangement has been around for a while, it helps both sides remember exactly what they agreed to in those heady moments on move in day.
The first thing to do is your homework. I don't know about every state, but here we have a renters rights book. I suspect other states have something similar. It describes the legalities surrounding Landlord tenant relationships. As the name implies, the rights established in statutes are more there to protect the tenant from abuse than the Landlord. For that very reason, as the landlord, you need to make sure you don't set yourself up for a fall in your housing agreement. The rules are going to vary from state to state and some large municipalities have their own rules thrown in there. Read the whole book and make sure you are in line with it.
Instead of penalties, I think it is more important that your housing agreement describe what it is that your offering. It should assist you in running your household and your tenant by defining how they can stay in good graces. It should delineate the costs and when those amounts are due. How the utilities will be paid. Any special conditions you expect to be maintained. And actions that are not acceptable in the household.
Some things that I have in mine that I think are important:
  • Items not allowed on the premises (appliances, Firearms, munitions, automotive parts or fluids)
  • Actions not allowed on the premises (nothing illegal, Off road vehicles, quiet hours)
  • Kitchen rules
  • Storage outside the rented room
  • How the utilities are paid for
  • What day of the month the rent is due
  • Visitor policies
All of this is aimed at being upfront when I interview a potential. That way, someone who can't abide by the rules doesn't move in. And that has been my general experience.
For me, the biggest benefit of the written agreement is writing it forced me to think hard about what I was offering. I had to envision contingencies. And I have taken my experiences and expanded my agreement to make sure I don't repeat unpleasant experiences. It has helped me keep prospective and not over-commit myself.
Back to the renter's rights book. There are also some details that may help you. In NH, rooming house is treated as a hotel and the proprietor can change the locks and send the tenant packing at anytime. In VT, if the room rent is payable weekly, the landlord only has to give 7 days notice instead of the normal 90 days for a typical apartment. There are rules about the ability to charge service fees, when the rent can be raised, etc. I say this not that I expect your housing agreement to be have draconian penalties, but instead because you don't want it to be in conflict with state law. This is the legal part.
To wrap up, a written agreement is important so that both parties enter the arrangement fully understanding what their responsibilities are. It also provides a reference for the future so you don't have to rely on memory for your agreement. Your writeup needs to be legal, so read the renter's rights so you don't trip yourself.