When the Landlord Is a Friend


“Noah drove us to the hospital when Kyla’s water broke,” Mr. van Breda said.

“I was the only one home,” said Mr. Gardenswartz, the comedian. “I’ve definitely gotten some jokes out of the situation.”

Mr. van Breda has learned on the job how to fix most things that need repair in the house.

“I’ve learned all about heating systems,” he said. “We don’t have boilers in Sydney. With a lot of things, it’s just about opening it up and seeing how it works, and hoping the problem is obvious.”

The housemates appreciate Mr. van Breda’s handyman rules to live by: “If it moves and it shouldn’t, you use duct tape. If it doesn’t move and it should, you use WD-40.”

Since becoming the owner of the house, Ms. Kohler has started her own business, Total Package-Bushwick Property Management, for which she oversees about 30 homes in the area.

Mr. Rodríguez, who came to the United States from Costa Rica, rents the largest room, with an en-suite bathroom, for $1,000 a month — the smaller bedrooms go for around $800. He said he preferred house-sharing with others to having his own apartment. “They are my family,” he said.

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Mr. Trebek with some of his tenants, Mike Rockhill, Kate Rockhill and their baby, Blake.

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Jacqueline Mia Foster for The New York Times

For the landlords, the house offers much more than just financial security. “The setup provides us with a lot of support,” Mr. van Breda said. “There’s often someone upstairs that can help in an emergency or even just for moral support, like when Justine comes down to take Felix for an hour. If we were somewhere by ourselves, it would be very different.”

When Matthew Trebek, 25, decided to open Oso, a restaurant serving Mexican street food to debut soon in Harlem, he immediately began searching for a home in the neighborhood. Initially he and his agents, Jason Hernandez, a salesman at Douglas Elliman Real Estate, and Lesley Steiner, an associate broker there, looked for one-bedroom apartments. But their explorations took them to townhouses where Mr. Trebek could have more room, as well as steady rental income. He wound up with a five-story townhouse with an owner’s triplex for $1,915,000 and began a new adventure as a landlord.

His father, Alex Trebek, the host of “Jeopardy!,” lent a helping hand making updates and repairs.

“Oh, yeah, my dad is handy,” Matthew Trebek said. “He’s 75 now, but he is one of the hardest-working people. It’s, ‘Get out of bed, we’re going to Home Depot!’ He traveled here from L.A. with power tools.”

Mr. Trebek’s tenants include friends — the contractor for the restaurant, Mike Rockhill, 40, a project manager for New World Design Builders, and his wife, Kate Rockhill, 34, a front office manager at Midtown Integrative Health and Wellness, were immediately on board to rent the top floor. Mr. Hernandez placed the 82-year-old mother of a neighbor on the floor below. An apartment on the parlor floor went to Oso’s chef, Cassandra Rhoades, 26. Mr. Trebek’s apartment includes part of the parlor floor, the garden level and the finished basement.

The rents on the apartments range from $1,000 to $2,400 a month.

With a contractor as a tenant, Mr. Trebek doesn’t have to worry about most repairs. Mr. Rockhill said he had no hesitation about moving into the house of a friend. “If you’ve ever looked for an apartment in Manhattan — I’ve had people asking me for six months’ security up front. It worked out well because I didn’t have to do that.”

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Jon Roth and his wife, Frances Largeman-Roth, both 42, traded a two-bedroom apartment in Windsor Terrace for a two-family house in the same neighborhood. The Roths, left, with their baby Phoebe, visit their tenants, Alodie Larson and Thom Fuell, who is at the computer with the Roths’ other children, Willa and Leo.

Credit
Jacqueline Mia Foster for The New York Times

Mr. Trebek created an intergenerational home that brings together people from the neighborhood with newer transplants. He’s also found a new hobby — furniture making. He and Mr. Rockhill recently made a coffee table in the backyard. Mr. Rockhill called the project “an excuse for my wife to let me buy a $450 saw.”

“We enjoy doing the work,” Mr. Trebek said. “Mike and Kate will be here for dinner. We’ll go off on tangents about home renovations and Kate will be like, ‘I’m going to go.’ The conversations go on forever.”

Mr. Trebek said that being a landlord has required him to roll with the punches.

He was not keen on babies or pets. “Mike told me three weeks after he moved in: ‘We’re pregnant.’ And Cassie was like, ‘I have a dog.’

“A small dog?” he asked.

“Yeah — it’s a 45-pound pit bull,” Mr. Trebek said recently. “So now I’m a godparent and I have a dog. You don’t really know what to expect going into something like this. But it’s great. I couldn’t be happier.”

Some people see themselves as accidental landlords. Cecily Horner, 37, a dance and fitness teacher, bought a two-bedroom condominium in Harlem for $390,000 in 2013.

“I thought it was going to be me and the dog in this apartment,” she said.

She hired designers who suggested a hand-painted golden wall for the living room. Ms. Horner and her broker, Bridget Harvey, an associate broker at Douglas Elliman, immediately dubbed the condo “the Pretty Princess Palace.”

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From left: Cecily Kaplan, 37, and Eric Kaplan, 42, with the tenants of their Harlem two-bedroom, Michael Trapani and Corey de Groot. As landlords, the Kaplans rely on handymen from Angie’s List and an app that collects rent.

Credit
Jacqueline Mia Foster for The New York Times

Plans changed when eHarmony introduced Ms. Horner to Eric Kaplan, 42, a technology manager at the Fashion Institute of Technology who lived in Queens with his daughter, now 9. The couple moved to a two-bedroom rental in Forest Hills and married, and Ms. Horner became Mrs. Kaplan. And she rented out the Pretty Princess Palace and became a landlord.

Mrs. Kaplan had few problems when she lived in the condo, but quickly found out that when it came to managing the property from afar, Murphy’s law applied.

“Within two months a leak sprung in the kitchen, the bathroom door broke and the electrical outlet in the bathroom stopped working,” she said. “Then a radiator pipe leaked into the bedroom.” The golden wall warped.

Mr. Kaplan took on the role of troubleshooter and used Angie’s List to find a reliable handyman, whom he now has on speed dial.

The Kaplans use an application from the website Cozy.co to automatically collect the $2,600 a month rent, which is split by two roommates, Corey de Groot, 26, an art director at Publicis, an advertising agency, and Michael Trapani, 29, a senior grant writer at Win, a nonprofit. Both men like having a person for a landlord rather than a management company.

“Every other place I’ve lived, it’s been a company you had to deal with,” Mr. de Groot said. Calls placed to faceless numbers often went unanswered — or resulted in an early-morning unannounced visitor. “At one place, the super came in — he didn’t even knock — and said, ‘Oh, you’re here.’ ”

Now if there’s an issue, a simple text message gets immediate results. “As I type, I see the three dots on the phone as Eric is responding to me,” Mr. Trapani said.

The rental income the Kaplans receive will cover the mortgage on the three-bedroom apartment they recently purchased for $495,000 for themselves back in Manhattan in Morningside Heights.

Mrs. Kaplan’s Harlem two-bedroom turned out to be a great investment — the condo is now valued between $550,000 and $600,000.

“We qualified for a bigger mortgage because we have this rental income,” she said.

Now, nine months pregnant, Mrs. Kaplan is glad she was able to give her family a security blanket. “Who knows what’s going to happen in life? Owning this place makes me feel secure as a woman,” she said. “I’ll never have to move back to my parents’ house, I’m never going to be homeless.”

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