Imagine living in a home where nothing works — the washing machine and dishwasher are broken, the toilet overflows, and the refrigerator constantly spoils your food.
Imagine living in a room that floods every time it rains and is consequently infested with mold, or living under a roof and on top of a floor that sags and moans with the slightest breeze, leaving fallen ceiling tiles in the kitchen and you worried for your safety.
These living conditions might seem unbearable, but they are a reality for many tenants renting in Manhattan, and they are what many K-State students are calling home.
But who is to blame for the state of these hundreds of unkempt properties? Is it the tenant who tries to fit 100 people in his living room or the landlord who refuses to fix the broken floorboards?
Many student renters cry the latter and blame the unreliable and untrustworthy behavior of their landlords, or people who have been called “slumlords,” for their questionable living quarters.
Brian Drees, junior in milling science and management, lives on the 1800 block of Laramie St. He said he and his five housemates have been having problems with their landlord since they moved in.
When they signed the lease last summer, the house had plumbing problems as well as numerous broken appliances. Drees said his landlord promised the plumbing would be fixed by the time the men moved in. But when August rolled around, the refrigerator was still broken, the sewer was still backed up, and the basement had flooded after heavy rains.
“Things like that drive us crazy,” Drees said. “[Our landlord] comes by, says ‘Yeah, we’ll get right on that,’ and then he just doesn’t ever show up again or will duck our calls. The main thing that pisses me off about him is that he’s a total yes-man, and it turns out he’s just lying through his teeth. I really don’t think he has any intention of carrying through what he promises.”
Payson Burnett, junior in financial and operations management, lived at 1938 Hunting Road last year with three friends and said they had similar problems with their landlord, who was consistently hard to reach.
“We were kind of on our own the whole time,” Burnett said. “He told us before we signed the lease that he would be living in Nevada and would visit every month, but I would say we saw him a total of three times throughout the year.”
Burnett said he and his roommates ended up fixing and replacing everything that broke in the house — including a new clothes dryer — out of their own pockets. When they would have property-related problems or questions, Burnett said their landlord would never answer or return his calls. In fact, when the lease was up last August and Burnett called to get their $1,340 deposit back, Burnett said their landlord has changed his phone number without warning, and they never heard from him again.
“If you’re ever thinking about renting from anybody that lives outside of Manhattan, don’t do it,” he said. “It’s a bad idea.”
But there are always two sides to a story, said John Pence, associate director of housing and dining services and Manhattan landlord since 1970.
“There are some people who just find it difficult dealing with college students,” he said.
After renting properties to K-State students for more than 30 years, Pence said he accepts that his tenants will “rough up” his homes a little.
“I realize these kids want to party,” he said. “That’s a part of college life. You’re going to let off steam on Friday and Saturday nights.”
Because of this, things are bound to constantly break, Pence said, and sometimes it’s not feasible for them to get fixed right away. He said it often takes several days to hire a company to fix a plumbing problem or to figure out if it is more cost-effective to replace an appliance. In some cases, Pence said the landlord simply might not have the money to make repairs right away.
“It just depends on how long it takes to get everything figured out,” he said. “And if they screw it up, you might make them wait a day or two so that [the tenants] learn. It’s the lack of responsibility that turns landlords off on some of these kids.”
Yet it’s not just the landlords who are being “turned off.” Some tenants admitted to being genuinely afraid of their landlords and scared to press them for repairs.
Drees asked that his landlord’s name not be printed out of fear that his landlord would feel he was being bad-mouthed and would charge the tenants for even more of the house’s damages.
“It’s really up in the air how much they could pin on us,” Drees said.
Samantha McGill, director of consumer and tenant affairs at K-State, said students need to know their legal rights.
“A lot of complaints we receive are from students concerned that their landlords are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing or are concerned about leases they don’t understand,” she said.
She said the department tries to help students become more knowledgeable about the Kansas Residential Landlord & Tenant Act, which governs tenant-landlord relationships.
“We help teach them about their rights as a tenant, because a lot of students don’t even know they have any,” she said.
This lack of education on housing situations is the key issue in tenant-landlord disputes, Alliance Property Management landlord Brice Ebert said.
“I honestly think a lot of it comes down to the fact that the tenants don’t know what to do if there are any problems,” he said. “They feel they’re going to lose their deposit from their landlord if something’s not working, which is almost never the case. A lot of people think of landlords as this big monster that just wants to take your money, but it’s just not true. We want to work with tenants, and I can’t stress that enough.”
Ebert said with everything in life, there is about 10 percent of people causing 90 percent of the problems, and with tenant-landlord disputes, there is no exception.
“People are going to make their own decisions,” he said, “and with whatever decision they’re making, they’re going to have to suffer the consequences, whatever they may be. They’re going to have to be held responsible for their actions.”