Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Another Reason to Encourage Homeownership

Twin with shared steps and pent roof. 
The majority of the more than 13,000 housing units in Norristown are twin homes and I'm in one of them. If you own anything except a single home in town, you know that now and then you're going to have to do a repair on a shared portion of the properties. Over the years, our family has shared expenses with the neighbors to replace fences, pave a common walk, repair the valley between our gabled roofs, etc.

I'm fortunate to have good neighbors and that sharing expenses usually isn't a problem. More to the point, though, I'm fortunate that the neighbors in the attached house are homeowners. Another resident on my block rents her house and has huge problems getting her landlord to make any repairs at all.

This morning I talked to the neighbor in the attached twin about replacing our 90 year-old shared roof drain (it's backing up into my front bedroom). The roofer can't work on the shared portion without the neighbor's permission.

I found myself wondering what I'd do if a deadbeat landlord owned the house attached to mine. No doubt I'd have to pay for all the shared repairs myself, but would I or the contractor even be able to get hold of that kind of landlord to get permissions? Especially those landlords who live far out of town, or out of state.

Norristown, according to the last census, has a 42% homeownership rate. The majority of our houses are owned by someone who lives elsewhere. We're also a low income town. If a fence between yards blows over, or the ridge between row house roofs crumbles, or a shared storm drain gets clogged, one homeowner might have trouble footing the bill for the entire repair.

I'm not saying all landlords are bad. I know of many good, responsible landlords in town. But we've got too many who don't take care of their rental properties. And this morning I realized that not only will their disheveled houses bring down the neighborhood's property values, but if shared repairs can't be made, the other houses on the block will deteriorate as well.

So, there's another reason to encourage homeownership, or at least encourage responsible landlords. When your house is attached to your neighbor, as the vast majority of ours are, to a certain extent, you're dependent on your neighbor to help keep a roof over your head.

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