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Friday, June 7, 2024

Roaches and low profits drove me to be a slumlord in this real estate sim

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Anyone who’s rented an apartment can tell you that they would rather have teeth pulled than deal with their landlord for anything. Whether it’s getting a running toilet fixed or dealing with rodents, no one I’ve ever known has said “Wow, my landlord rules!” Playing The Tenants confirms many of my suspicions about the world of renting, except I’m the terrible landlord.

The Tenants is a real estate management simulator where you buy, renovate, and rent out different types of furnished apartments to build an enormous property portfolio and hopefully become a disgustingly wealthy real estate tycoon. The Tenants focus a lot on the relationship between you (the landlord) and the tenants you rent to, alongside the usual management sim gameplay systems. 

What The Tenants does shockingly well is recreate experiences a lot of us have gone through as renters but from the landlord’s perspective. At first I did everything possible to be the most accommodating and understanding landlord I could be. But once my bottom line started getting affected, it became much easier to turn into an absolute slumlord jerk.

So here’s a quick story of how one terrible tenant completely transformed me into an unreasonable, petty monster. She scarred me so deeply that she changed my approach to who I would rent properties to afterwards.

One of my earlier properties was a shoebox-sized one-bedroom apartment in the slums furnished with cheap furniture and ugly walls—likely a fire hazard by itself. As you can probably imagine, my open house didn’t attract the best potential tenants, but one named Cindy Reilly had a quality I was looking for in a renter of my very first listing—a job. 

Cindy, or as I call her, the worst tenant ever, turns out to be a loud, obnoxious college student and roach magnet. Like all terrible renters, she starts perfectly, lulling me into complacency: she pays her rent on time and never bothers me. It’s when I begin to expand my little real estate empire that the problems start. 

During a new apartment renovation by the water that I’m filling with a bunch of tacky nautical furniture, I get a flurry of in-game texts from Cindy’s neighbors complaining that she’s been noisy. I reach out to Cindy; she apologizes and says she will do better. Great! I’ll never hear from her again, I think. I am wrong.

I get more texts from Cindy saying how she’s going to be behind on the rent. I opt to give her more time to get her finances in order since this is the first time I’ve had issues with her, and I’m a nice guy. That was my first mistake. Then came the roaches.

I get a frantic text from her saying her place is overrun with giant insects. I don’t blame her for notifying me. The cockroaches are the size of housecats, so I get the urgency. Instead of paying for an overpriced exterminator, The Tenants gives you the option of dealing with apartment problems by enlisting the help of your uncle, who essentially works for free. Once the roaches are dealt with, the plumbing issues begin. Again, instead of hiring a professional, my uncle does his handyman thing.

What follows is a months-long cycle of rent non-payment and almost weekly roach infestations. This tiny little studio apartment is hemorrhaging money and taking up too much of my mental and emotional bandwidth, bringing down my once very profitable business. That’s when I hit my limit. I ignore Cindy’s texts and let the roaches move in after the third go-round with exterminators. These are mutant bugs, I imagine, and I I’m not going to fight their evolution anymore.

An in-game week passes, and Cindy’s lease is expiring. To no one’s surprise, she chooses not to renew her lease. I can see why; her landlord is the worst. 

Once free of Cindy I finally pay for one last fumigation, replace the wallpaper and flooring, and even add some more dope-looking furniture I’ve unlocked because other than this shithole, I’ve been doing well as a property owner. I sell the studio for a hefty little profit and buy a fixer-upper a few blocks away. I’ve learned from previous mistakes and load the place with nicer stuff to attract renters with deeper pockets. 

At this point in the game I unlock the ability to run background checks and renter history to weed out any problematic candidates. I’m able to see if previous landlords have had negative comments about the tenant and how much debt they’re in. I start doing this with all my places in the slums. My crappy apartments now have extremely high standards. No college students. No one with six-figure debt. Only high rollers. 

Before I know it, I’ve gentrified the entire neighborhood. I’ve become what I hated, and instead of thinking about how this might be the result of my own choices and actions I decide to blame Cindy. 

What ended up happening to my worst tenant? To be honest, I don’t care; she drove me nuts and attracted roaches. And I hate roaches. But I do care about Leroy Wallace, a nice gentleman who pays nearly triple the rent Cindy did and doesn’t attract roaches, and who may or may not be linked to organized crime. Well done, The Tenants: you turned me into a villain of the real estate world. 

The tenant/owner relationship dynamics is really what sets The Tenants apart from other management sims. I’m curious to see what sort of nightmare tenants will drive me up a wall now that I have access to buy places in districts beyond the slums. The Tenants is currently on Early Access for $20.

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