urban_renewal (2007-06)

Pre-empting the slumlord shuffle

A New Lease

by Matt Edens

"Landlord," in a lot of center-city neighborhoods, tends to be a dirty word. All too often it's someone who lives somewhere far away, milking money out of his or her property while spending little or nothing on maintenance and upkeep. And forget about tenant screening; that's an unnecessary luxury for a landlord who cares for little other than cash flow.

Now, back in your student days, the guy who would never fix the leaky faucet, no matter how many times you called, was just a nuisance (funny how, as alumni, we wistfully reminisce over those old run-down digs). But as a homeowner in one of Knoxville's older neighborhoods, having that sort of landlord next door can quickly morph from headache to nightmare. No wonder, then, that a surprising number of homeowners in Knoxville's historic 'hoods end up being landlords.

That's certainly how it worked in my case. When a condemned and cut-up old house a couple doors down from me came on the market, several neighbors and I chipped in and bought it. Rather than run the risk of the house being run through the ringer by yet another unscrupulous slumlord, my neighbors and I took control of the process, ensuring a quality rehab and responsive management (oh, and we earned some tax credits and a Beautification Award, to boot).

Such investments aren't uncommon in the inner city. I know numerous folk who have either, jointly or individually, invested in previously rundown properties next door or down the street. Sometimes the homes are flipped--rehabbed and resold. Sometimes they remain rental property. Often it's a mix, particularly in historic neighborhoods, wherein the owners subsidize the redevelopment by tapping into the tax credits available for rental property (IRS rules require the property to remain rental for five years). However the details differ, the result is a good deal for everyone involved. The investment increases the city's tax base, improves the neighborhood, and the landlord ends up with an appreciable asset that, as property values increase, can be sold at a profit.

The result is good for renters, too, offering them the chance to rent in an area that's on its way up. Less than 10 minutes from both Market Square and the UT campus, this house on Oglewood in Oakwood-Lincoln Park is a great alternative to more expensive options such as downtown or Fort Sanders.

The worst house on its block when purchased out of foreclosure by an investor from nearby Fourth and Gill, today it features a new swing and ceiling fan on the front porch (soon the new owner plans to remove the vinyl siding, too). There are more new ceiling fans inside, along with Berber carpet in the bedrooms, central heat and air, a laundry with washer/dryer connections and a redone kitchen that comes complete with disposal. And if that's not enough to set this place apart from those grungy student apartments of years past, there's even a back deck and a detached garage.

310 Oglewood Avenue