Add this to the “difficult situation” file and try coming to a conclusion on how you feel about this one after hearing the whole story. The Ottawa Citizen reported parents Keri Oastler and John From were recently served an N5 notice by their landlord over the noise their autistic son has been making. The couple literally just moved in to the unit on a year long lease that started on October 1st.
According to the article, the formal notice came after tenants below and beside the family complained the noise was “like a 50-pound box being dropped repeatedly.” The notice said the two neighbours were disturbed by “running, jumping and screaming” between 6:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. — the only times that From says his son is at home and awake. As is common with N5 notices in the province of Ontario, the family has been afforded 7 days to rectify the problem.
From’s son, Logan — an 80-pound, blond, blue-eyed boy — occasionally has tantrums, though they are becoming less and less frequent, his parents say. He will sometimes “squeak” and loves to climb and jump, so much so that his parents say they’re considering acrobatics as a career path. After this whole exchange – From and Oastler no longer want to live in what they’ve described as a hostile environment and are currently considering registering a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. I can understand where they’re coming from. They just moved in to this place. Kind of difficult to feel unwelcome amidst all this.
Residents of the townhouse community on Lisgar stret were set aback a bit on the initial story about this on the 11th.
Noise complaints have to be pretty severe in order for most people to complain. A lack of concrete division between units (as is the case here) can do nothing for the dampening of transferable sound, so I can definitely appreciate where the other residents are coming from. As a parent, I can also appreciate where Oastler and From are coming from. It sounds like their son’s condition is a challenge, and situations like these have a tendency to put you on the defensive – but what do you do? The other tenants have the right to the reasonable enjoyment of their units, and the “noise” they’re complaining about sounds like it’s occurring at pretty inopportune times. Imagine sitting down to dinner or trying to get your kids down for the night, and hearing the “constant and repeated dropping of a 50 lb. box”.
I think we can all imagine being on both sides of the aisle with this one. According to the Oye Times, who also did a piece on the dilemma, the property management company was not “properly informed” of Logan’s disability by From. From claims he did in fact explain that his son has autism and would be making a little more noise than usual.
As an example of the frequent impossibility that many landlords find themselves in – had the landlord denied the application for tenancy based on the explanation of Logan’s disability, From and Oastler could have applied to the Ontario Human Right’s Commission for discrimination on the basis of disability. Now, they’re doing it anyways. This kind of thing can happen. Landlords can get raked over the coals over stuff like this – even if they do the right thing and have good intentions. To add a level of complexity to the situation – the landlord is also bound by the will of the condominium board (they pushed on the notice serving with the owner/property manager) – proving that condo landlords have it a little harder.
In the end, it sounds like it just wasn’t a good match between unit and tenant. From and Oastler are better served to be living in a single family home or a more audibly insulated unit from their neighbours. What do you think? Share an opinion here. I’d love to hear the thoughts of other landlords and tenants.
Well….it’s done. 3 months, $33,000 later, and about 700 views on this video – the basement apartment from hell has been transformed. Check out the gallery of before – midway – and after images I’ve included here. You can also reference the previous posts here, here, and here about the whole process.
The budget doubled – namely because of some essential items that needed attention. Things like surprises that were found behind drywall (critical masonry and waterproofing that was needed), a required visit from a structural engineer, and a complete rewiring (including the removal of a fair amount of knob and tube electrical). In an effort to create an accurate characterization of this project, these things increased the budget on what was more in line of a common spruce up, and don’t reflect the requirement of any other unit except mine.
The place was a complete mess before – so I’m viewing this as a key investment bringing a unit up to operational cruise control for a while. Considering I was getting $450 a month for an apartment that was technically suppressing the value of the house considerably (something the appraiser told me prior to buying the building), and which was renting for below market average for the area, the fact that this renovation cost more than I was anticipating doesn’t really bother me. Here’s a quick recap of what was done.
A complete down to the studs renovation. The removal of all drywall, insulation, and carpeting.
The reconstruction and masonry work on interior stone walls (former outside foundation walls prior to an addition in 1981).
The addition of an I-beam support for the ceiling.
Masonry work on outside entrance.
Interior stone wall masonry repair and parging
The replacement of water pipes running through the unit to the boiler, which increased the amount of natural light into the unit (they ran across windows).
The reconstruction of a full kitchen and bathroom.
The complete re-wiring of the entire unit – including the removal of knob and tube electrical and the addition of 18 insulated 20 year L.E.D. pot lights. Estimated energy savings vs. prior to the renovation on electrical consumption with these along is about 10%.
The removal of old baseboard heaters and the addition of highly efficient Dimplex electrical convection heaters with wall mounted thermostats. An estimated energy savings of about 20% vs. prior to renovation.
Custom kitchen cabinetry and counter top courtesy of the good folks at Ottawa Cabinet Co. This ended up being 10% cheaper than buying pre-assembled cabinetry and a counter from Home Depot AND they were able to fabricate exactly to a measured space.
140 square feet of solid tile courtesy of the folks at Vesta Marble and Granite. The tile was used for a half wall set up in the bathroom, floors, a shower stall, and the kitchen.
Full re-plumbing, including the pin back of major drain pipes in the bathroom that impeded access to the shower and which the previous owner questionably built around.
New toilet, basin, kitchen sinks, taps, faucets, etc.
Creation of badly needed closet space
New carpet and appropriate under pad for a cement floor.
I was getting $450 a month. I’m aiming for $749 a month now, and just put up the listing. Couple of interesting things post renovation. The unit was originally a badly laid out 1 bedroom apartment. After doing all the work, and actually adding about 15 square feet to the place, I decided it was a better bachelor/studio unit, and I’m going to market it as such. Technically – the definition of a 1 bedroom apartment includes a separate and distinct living and bedroom area. In most cases, it also includes a door separating the bedroom. I feel a lot better about having a good sized and nicely put together bachelor unit than I did about a badly laid out and dingy 1 bedroom basement.
Looking at this as a long term exercise – and taking into account the increase in rent this will yield versus what I was getting before – without putting this down on paper – it will take me about 9 years to recoup the investment I made. This doesn’t take into account rent increases over that time or tenant turnover and a new set rent price. It also doesn’t take into account the value that’s been added to building (according to the appraiser I spoke with, it’s around $45,000). Lastly – it doesn’t take into account the reduction in operating attention I need to apply to the unit. All this to say, I’ve decided not to blow a gasket about how much this cost. From an operating perspective – I have a basement apartment that’s easier to market and rent now, and I’ll be earning an extra $3600 a year.
There’s a lesson I learned from this whole process. It’s essential to look at this as a long term thing. If you’re doing this – you might be inclined to finish it as quickly as possible, panic about budget, and neglect paying attention to details. You might also be inclined to jack up the rent unreasonably (especially after having not earned any money from the unit while you were doing the work) without doing some research on the rental market and taking into account the vacancy rate. Ottawa, a historically stable rental market and one of the best cities to be a landlord in – has experienced a significant increase in the vacancy rate. There’s way more selection. There’s also been a noticeable increase in landlords publishing astronomical and unrealistic rents post renovation to units. I don’t agree with this philosophy. Charging $1200 a month for a basement bachelor unit isn’t reasonable – even if you’ve spent $50,000 on fixing it up. You’ll just end up reducing the rent and getting desperate as you sit on a newly fixed up place in your search for a tenant – especially if it falls outside of the best times to rent an apartment. If I were to summarize the whole experience up – I’d give this advice…
Plan everything out before you start. Invest in drawings if you think it’s necessary. Have a clear understanding of what you want to do, what’s reasonable to do, and work towards a concise and air tight plan of action while simultaneously ensuring any essential and glaring things are accounted for and addressed to make it an appropriate environment for a tenant.
Hire good contractors and make sure the work is done properly and to code. Don’t skimp. It will only end up costing you more money.
Assume there will be a 15% increase in your estimated budget. This helps with setting expectations and not panicking.
Consider items that add long term value to the building and incorporate them into the project if it’s reasonable and makes sense.
Mentally prepare yourself for surprises and avoid a panic. This includes a clear understanding that you’ll be working in a monetary negative – i.e. you won’t be earning money from the unit while also spending money on it.
Don’t overkill it. Know your space. Adding marble floors and stainless steel appliances might look nice, but it’s a rental. Those kinds of things might make sense if you’re renting out a premium spot with a premium rent. For most of us though – this isn’t the case.
Set a date and understand there are optimum times through the course of a year to rent a unit. Doing a major renovation and having it wrap up smack in the middle of January isn’t doing you any favours. There are considerably fewer people looking to rent an apartment in the middle of the winter. Plan the job at a time when it will end at least 30 days out from the best time to find a tenant.
***Last little update. Today – August 31st, 2013 – the day I published this post, I had 7 showings and ended up renting the unit to a new tenant at about 4:30 in the afternoon.
Have you renovated a unit from top to bottom? Worked on a basement apartment? Share you stories with us. How did it go for you?
The province has committed itself to making a push for affordable housing for Ontario tenants, amid what The Toronto Star reported as a crisis across the province, 4 days ago.
Here’s the kicker with all of this – the rental market vacancy rate is calculated by looking at apartments in buildings that are three units or larger, and does not include condos or homes for rent. Uncertainty in the national capital region’s public service job market is speculated to be lending itself to the rise in the rate. Some analysts also suggest the increase of condo rentals could be contributing to the high vacancy rate as well, as condo units compete with traditional apartments. Kind of hard to dispute this if you ask me. Condo landlords are offering tenants pretty nice amenities and brand new units. This is all kind of upping the game for landlords who enjoyed minimal efforts with marketing centrally located units that kind of leased themselves.
What do you think? Share your comments and thoughts.