Life as a Landlord in Lakewood


apartmentsBy Bert Stratton

I’m a landlord in Lakewood, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb near where I live that is predominantly prewar apartment buildings and double houses. In Cleveland – and probably most of the Midwest – you can get a clean one-bedroom in a decent neighborhood for $500. No air-conditioning and no dishwasher, but the unit is painted and has refinished hardwood floors.

I once had a tenant, Stan, who paced those floors at 3 a.m., waking up the people below. When I asked Stan to ease up, he said: “What do you want from me? I can’t fly.”

He moved out shortly after that.

About 10 years later, he called and said: “Stratton, you remember me. I want to move back in.”

“Stan!” I said. “You complained about the guy across the hall blasting organ music. You complained about the people below you. You skipped on your final month’s rent. You painted the floor.”

“But I used Benjamin Moore paint, Stratton. Only the best.”

I didn’t let him back in.

I want my tenants to be law-abiding and act middle-class. That’s the goal. The riskiest tenants are bartenders and servers. They often come home late and party hard, annoying the 9-to-5 tenants. I rent to welders, bartenders, landscapers, flight attendants, legal secretaries and Suzuki violin teachers.

I recently had an application from Joe, 71, a retired factory worker. He made $1,600 per month.

Welcome, Joe.

I ran a criminal search on him as a formality. Aggravated arson, forgery and battery. Pre-Internet, I would have rented to him. Pre-Internet, it was hard to run background checks. I once rented to a murderer because I wasn’t schlepping down to county records, and he wasn’t volunteering he was a murderer. (The man got picked up on a parole violation and moved out of my apartment without killing again.)

I rented to a retired nurse whose previous landlord followed her to my place. He told me the old lady was a convicted forger and con artist.

But my building manager had already given her the keys!

I moved her belongings into the basement and locked the basement door.

“Give me my meds!” she said.

She had a point. I gave her the meds, and her toothbrush. She gave me a lawsuit.

This cost me. I was young. I learned two things: 1) Don’t ever evict a tenant yourself. Lawyers love “self-help evictions.” Wait for a court order. 2) Screen all tenants like crazy on the way in.

At cocktail parties, I say, “I’m a landlord.” People hate that. Everybody hates landlords. That’s because nobody paid rent as a child. Renters think apartments should be free, like the wind, rain and baby food.

I used to say, “I’m in real estate.” That sounded better; however, I spend a fair amount of time peering in apartment windows for cats, to charge pet fees. That probably doesn’t say “real estate” to most people.

A competing landlord, next door, put in granite countertops and tried to jack up his rents. It didn’t work. The fancy-kitchen, fresh-coffee-grinding tenants are mostly in other parts of town or, more likely, in other parts of the country. Renters in Lakewood aren’t looking to move out and up right now.

My vacancy rate is 4 percent, the lowest in 10 years. Four years ago, tenants were leaving as if a siren was blasting in the hallway. Young home buyers could get easy financing and low down payments. Now nationwide home sales are back up again, at the highest level since May 2010, but distressed and foreclosed properties make up the largest portion of those purchases. In Cleveland, speculators buy foreclosed houses with all cash. But my tenants aren’t at the sheriff’s auctions. They have lost faith in the homeownership dream, at least for the moment. They’re sticking with rental.

Or they’re returning to rental. I have had several tenants move back into my buildings years after leaving, after owning homes and losing homes.

I save the old records on tenants. Nothing personal, just notes on whether they paid the final month’s rent, turned in their keys and didn’t trash the place. If all’s well, I’ll let them back.

The good tenants, you don’t remember. You have to look them up.

Bert Stratton is the author of the blog Klezmer Guy: Real Music and Real Estate.

{NY Times/ Newscenter}


  1. Right on
    If people would only know what us landlords have to deal with, they wouldn’t judge us the way they do

  2. You would think that by now the editors would have figured out that there is a Lakewood OH and CO and probably more too.

  3. you title is deceiving. Change it to LAKEWOOD OH. NOT LAKEWOOD NJ

    And “you” comment is disingenuous.

    There are at least eighteen towns or cities in the United States named “Lakewood”. The author made it quite clear that he wrote about LakewoodOhio within the first six words of his first sentence.

    Why do you ask for the alteration #1? What’s so special about the Lakewood in New Jersey?

  4. “Other that tooting his own horn, what’s the point of 1. this article, and 2., Matzav printing this?”

    1. To warn other, potential, landlords.

    2. Because charedi readers of papers such as the Yated and other journals of that ilk are always searching for stories with a moral and illustrating points of mussar. This story has boh in spades.

  5. israel about to bomb iran ,nadvorna rebbie niftar, moshe rabainus yahrzeit no mention, and this stupid article gets put up . helloooo ?

  6. Fellow yidn, thanks for reading my piece in the NY Times, via this website. Yes, there’s a Lakewood, Ohio. (There’s onne guy with a beard in the whole town: Santa Claus.) No Lubavitchers. At least I haven’t seen any yet.

    Want to read an in-depth landlord story — even has a couple Yiddish words in — then check out my “The Landlord’s Tale” in the latest City Journal magazine.

    I don’t know if this comment section allows links, but here goes (the link to the City Journal piece):

  7. I think the point of this article was so that us lakewood landlords could see what the REAL hardships of being a landlord are!!

  8. ‘There are at least eighteen towns or cities in the United States named “Lakewood”. ‘

    They are all suburbs of Lakewood in New Jersey.

  9. 6 Lakewoods in Alabama, 1 in Arkansas, 1 in California, 1 in Colorado, 1 in Connecticut, 2 in Delaware, 2 in Florida, 3 in Georgia, 4 in Illinois, 2 in Indiana, 1 in Iowa, 1 in Louisiana,
    2 in Maine, 2 in Maryland, 1 in Massachusetts, 4 in Michigan, 1 in Minnesota, 3 in Mississippi, 1 in New Jersey, 1 in New York, 5 in North Carolina,
    1 in Ohio, 1 in Oregon, 2 in Pennsylvania, 1 in Rhode Island, 10 in South Carolina, 5 in Tennessee, 2 in Texas, 2 in Utah, 9 in Virginia, 3 in Washington, and 1 in Wisconsin. That is 82 Lakewoods in the US. Add to that 1 Lakewood in Australia and 1 in the Phillipines, and you get 84 Lakewoods in the world (including Lakewood, NJ).