Jean Binford, who works in Mudd, has lived in Oberlin for about 30 years, and has been renting out the extra room in her house for nearly as long.
"I came to Oberlin as a faculty wife," she said, "and then my marriage was dissolved and I stayed ... and stayed and stayed. Now it's my home."
Binford is quick to describe being a landlord as a rewarding occupation, yet when asked why she does it, she doesn't hesitate before answering, "I do it for the money."
Although she would prefer to live alone, Binford said she could not afford to live in her house if she didn't rent out a room. She said she doesn't charge enough to make renting particularly profitable, but that the practice does pay for the utilities and allow her to save money toward the maintenance and improvement of her home.
"A lot of times you take the money that you get and put it right back into the houses," said Margaret Baker, a lifelong Oberlin resident who has a number of rental properties in the town.
Although Baker and her partner have a ranch that they work on during the day, their apartments are their primary source of income. Baker is also an experienced landlord; she's been doing this for about 20 years.
"Other people complain," Baker said, "but we have absolutely no complaints. The students that we have are terrific. We love talking to them because they offer so much. Some of them have been to foreign countries. It's another education for us."
Binford also talked about the rewarding aspects. "I do it mainly for the money," she said, "but boy, does it have its side benefits."
Last year Binford housed a Chinese student whose parents ended up staying in the house during a visit. "They were from Beijing," Binford recalled, "and they spoke very little English. They were wonderful people. The whole thing was fascinating."
But being a landlord is not for everyone. "Some of my friends have said, `Oh, I could never do that!'" Binford joked. "And some of them couldn't. You have to learn to do it."
Binford said she has learned that being a landlord is something you must work at. Though she doesn't have a written lease or agreement, she has learned to make what she expects of students clear.
Baker agreed. While she doesn't require tenants to sign a lease, she does have a meeting where she explains that there will be no parties and that she expects the students will be here to study.
Unlike Baker and Binford, Jerrold Manns does use a lease agreement.After 18 years of experience, he's learned to ask that students be reasonable. "I like the house to be left with no scars and for the students to get along with the neighbors," he said.
One past tenant has described Manns, who currently lives in Elyria, as "non-interventionist." Aside from routine visits, Manns said, "If the tenants need me, they call me and I come by. If they don't, I don't."
"I've had some horrible experiences with pets," Manns said, "and, yes, the house is typically in worse shape at the end of the year than at the beginning. But usually there's no malicious damage." Of course, he recalled that there was one exception 10 years ago when he had "a bunch of druggies."
For the most part, damage to houses is due to what Manns called "operator error" and neglect. "I really wish they would call me rather than try to fix things themselves," he said.
"By and large, students have a higher level of overall integrity than the general population," Manns said. According to Manns, students also have a lower level of cleanliness.
Binford said some sloppiness is "excusable" because many college students just "haven't learned yet how to take care of themselves," or don't have the time.
For Binford, perhaps it's even more excusable because she views her tenants as "awfully special" people. "They aren't just smart," she said, with the sound of her current tenant practicing his trumpet in the background. "They aren't run-of the-mill. They're special. They're passionate about what they do."
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 125, Number 6; Friday, October 11, 1996
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