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February 23, 2009

Like Zombies, Only With Better Teeth

According to The Washington Post, a new plague has begun to spread across our battered housing landscape.  An age-old pestilence made worse by our deepening financial crisis, like a dormant infection attacking a weakened body.  We speak of that which we have all long feared:


Increasing foreclosure rates are turning previously normal people into hideous non-lawn-mowing renters. Try as we might to avert our gaze, it is becoming impossible to ignore them.  They’re everywhere.  On the street. In the grocery store.

Next door to you!

Zombie Renters

In Prince William County, Virginia, renters have increased from a barely manageable 7% of the population to a nearly disastrous 15%.  What are the ramifications?  According to County Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan, they could “destroy neighborhoods.”

Of course, renters have always been with us.  It is believed that Shakespeare’s  Hamlet was largely based on a childhood neighbor who rented month to month and often neglected to take in his garbage cans within 24 hours of the scheduled pickup. The ancients too, had their renters, and dealt with them in a variety of ways, including ritual sacrifice, social shunning, and restrictive multi-dweller occupancy zoning ordinances.

While we’ve always had renters in our midst, it is their growing numbers that are now a problem.  Sure, you don’t mind a renter here and there and in fact you yourself may have experimented with renting back when you were in college.  So maybe you toss them an extra parking pass when you see them circling the block.  Maybe you help them carry in that old sofa that their last roommate was getting rid of anyway. Hey, who doesn’t have a story about that crazy neighborhood renter who lived down the street and could never seem to remember that curbside recycling was every other week.

But that doesn’t mean we should let our guard down, not with renters on the verge of swarming our communities with their one-year leases and their wholly inadequate complement of lawn care equipment.

What can you do to protect yourself from renters?

First, parents might do well to teach their children a version of the NRA's Eddie Eagle GunSafe program which is organized around a simple, easy-to-remember set of rules:

If you see a Renter:
Don't Touch.
Refuse to Examine His References.
Tell an Adult.

Second, encourage your community to start capping the percentage of renters allowed in a given area. While this may end up leaving homes vacant and exacerbating the mortgage crisis, at least it will keep the renters out (and free up some parking).

And finally, we must not let ourselves become sentimental and start seeing renting as somehow a “socially acceptable” alternative lifestyle. And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve known somebody.  Maybe she was a co-worker who has owned her own home for years.  It doesn't matter.  If she joins the others and becomes a renter and comes around looking for something partially furnished with renewal options, you have to be ruthless in keeping you and your family safe and go after renters’ single biggest weakness:

Oversized security deposits.


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February 23, 2009 at 12:31 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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