Hilary Hodge: Housing in Nevada County, Part 2: Renting | TheUnion.com

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Hilary Hodge: Housing in Nevada County, Part 2: Renting

Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series looking at housing in Nevada County. Today's column focuses on renting, while parts one and three discuss relocating and buying, respectively. To read other parts of the series, see this story at TheUnion.com.

Years ago, when we first relocated to Grass Valley, we found a tiny apartment in a garage on a farm. It was quite an adventure.

We knew we were agreeing to an informal work-trade situation, but we were under-qualified for much of the work we had signed up for. We were determined to learn and we were under the assumption that our new landlords would teach us in good faith to help them care for their 20-acre organic farm and their more than 100 chickens.

Three weeks after we had moved in, the farmers got called away on a lengthy trip and left us with a three-page list of chores we were supposed to tackle over the following few weeks. It was June and the summer planting season was supposed to begin in earnest. Three days after they left, it snowed. The delicate seedlings that has just been planted froze and withered. We embarked on a grueling summer full of incredibly hard work.

Many who rent have hopes of one day buying, but finding an appropriate rental that will also allow a renter to save for a down payment has become increasingly difficult ...

Many small farmers rent all or part of their property and land in order to make farming more accessible and affordable. Sometimes the farmers are owners looking for help or extra income and they rent part of their farm to tenants. Many times, the farmers are the renters, living on borrowed land.

Local farmer and craft-food entrepreneur, Theresa Huck, is a renter. Theresa produces thoughtful and delicious products for people living with food allergies. As a renter in what she believed was a stable and long-term living situation in Nevada County, Theresa made several improvements to the rental property in order to expand her small business.

Her goal fell apart when the owners suddenly announced they were selling. She said, "Many land owners have started to sell their homes to capitalize on their equity. The result is that those of us that rent are moving almost annually." Since starting her business just a few years ago, Theresa has had to move three times. Her small business has suffered.

For my wife and I, for our friend Theresa, and for the many renters like us, finding suitable rental housing in Nevada County has been difficult. Some of the landlords and property management companies have been forthright and kind. Some have been less than ethical. Even the owners who have sincerely meant well have cut corners or have taken advantage of the renter-landlord relationship. Many have broken the law, some by accident and some quite blatantly.

Some landlords make mistakes because they are ignorant of the law. Some may be negligent.

"We complained several times about illegal activity from our neighbors, but nothing was done," one local friend noted. "Those tenants ultimately burned a whole building down, destroying six other neighbors' homes and killing several pets. The fire department determined that the fire was in part to blame for the landlord not being up to code." When I asked what had been done for improvements since then, my friend replied, "The landlord not only didn't do anything to retrofit the other two buildings, but raised our rent because insurance wasn't going to cover the reconstruction of the burned building."

Our friends are moving to a new place next month.

Renting from a property owner can be difficult, but it would be unfair to write this column without also acknowledging that renting property to tenants can have several drawbacks and risks.

There aren't any foolproof metrics to finding wonderful tenants. Stellar credit scores and excellent references can be deceiving. Since moving to our current rental in downtown Grass Valley four years ago, our landlords have been through six or seven different sets of tenants in the unit upstairs both due to tenants leaving without notice and because of illegal activity resulting in expensive damage.

The rental market is difficult on all sides. Repairs and construction costs are increasing. Housing and rental prices are ballooning at rates much faster than annual incomes are increasing. There is a housing supply shortage. According to the California Economic Summit, California needs to build one million more homes for low- and middle-income Californians in the next 10 years.

In today's market, uncertainty in housing is the only thing that is certain. Creating predictable budgets and timelines can be hard. Many who rent have hopes of one day buying, but finding an appropriate rental that will also allow a renter to save for a down payment has become increasingly difficult and finding an affordable home for purchase in an impacted market has become out of reach for many.

Hilary Hodge lives in Grass Valley. Her column is published by The Union on Tuesdays. Contact her at hhodgewriter@gmail.com.