A Basket of Razors (Philosophical Laws for Renters)

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There are plenty of philosophical “laws” and “razors” out there, some humorous and some not. There’s Murphy’s Law, which states “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” There’s also Muphry’s Law, under which any critique of someone else’s spelling or grammatical errors will also contain an error. There’s Occam’s Razor, Hanlon’s Razor, Godwin’s Law, and Rule 34 of the Internet, which I won’t link to from a business blog. There are also some bits of conventional wisdom in the realm of renting, although none of them have fancy names. Today I’ll be going over a few of them.

  1. Parkinson’s Law of Furniture. Parkinson’s law is an actual thing. It states that given a certain amount of time to complete a task, the task will take exactly that amount of time. This is also true for furniture. No matter how large your apartment may be and how sparse your furnishings may be at the time you move in, your furniture will magically multiply to fill the entire space by the time you move out. This can only be averted by following a “one in, one out” policy: nothing comes into your apartment unless you throw something else of comparable size away.
  2. The Law of Complex Leases. The longer the lease, the more likely it is that neither landlord nor tenant will have any clue what it contains. Corollary: If you don’t know what your lease says, there’s a good chance your landlord doesn’t either – but don’t bet on it.
  3. Movers’ Corollary to Newton’s First Law of Motion. Newton’s first law states that objects at rest stay at rest, and objects in motion stay in motion unless something stops them. However, furniture and items unpacked from boxes will remain at rest permanently until you move out no matter how much you tell yourself that you’ll rearrange it all later. Unpack deliberately and carefully.
  4. The Law of Moving. Genius may be 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, but moving is 100% perspiration.
  5. Xeno’s Paradox of the Delinquent Renter. Given a typical modern rent-to-income ratio, if a renter gets more than 2 months behind on their rent they will never catch up. If they are 3 months behind and pay double their rent, they will have only minimal funds left to cover their normal expenses that month, and will be unable to pay their rent the next month, returning them to a 3 month debt.
  6. The Law of Compounding Rent Increases. Rent should increase by a small amount every year – as an example, let’s say 3%. For every year when you don’t receive an increase, the landlord must add 2% to what they should have given you plus the normal annual increase for the next year. So, if they skip one year, expect an 8% increase the following year. If they skip two years, expect an 13% increase in the third year. If they never increase your rent, expect the next landlord to do so when your current landlord gives up on turning a profit and sells the building. (Note: If property values near you suddenly skyrocket, this law is still valid, the numbers just get bigger.)
  7. Finagle’s Law of Appliances. Finagle’s corollary to Murphy’s Law states that anything that can go wrong will not only go wrong, but will do so at the worst possible time. In an apartment setting, this means that your appliances will break on the day after your landlord goes out of town on vacation for the first time in years.
  8. Alder’s Razor of Apartment Maintenance. If something cannot be repaired by duct tape or “Kilz” anti-mildew paint, it cannot be fixed while the apartment is still occupied.
  9. The Law of the Perfect Tenant. An individual with the ideal renter profile sought by most landlords would not be found in a convention of landlords.
  10. Kay’s Law of Agent Competence. The best way to gauge an agent’s experience and skill is to give them a set of keys they’ve never seen before and tell them to find and open the door that fits them.

Can you think of any other adages or philosophical truths about renting? Let us know in the comments and maybe someday there will be a law or razor named after you!

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Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.