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group of multi-ethnic people joining hands - How One Landlord Saved One Life by Building One Community

How One Landlord Saved One Life by Building One Community

Midnight, October 2020. Sharmane Watt was settling down for a good night’s sleep when she received a phone call from one of her apartment tenants. It was unusual for tenants to call that late and even more uncommon for her to be awake. Since she was awake, she took the call.

As soon as she picked up, her tenant said there was something off with their next-door neighbor. Their cat is wandering around the hallways. I found the owner’s phone number on the cat’s tags and called, but I couldn’t hear the phone ringing. I also noticed the shower has been running for an unusually long time.

Sharmane immediately dressed, drove to the apartment, and knocked on the door. Since there was no answer, she opened the door and found the tenant unconscious in the bathtub with the water running. She lifted the tenant’s head out of the tub, turned off the water, drained the tub, and called 911.

The tenant who notified her stayed up to let in the police, ambulance, and firefighters.

The unconscious tenant was rushed to emergency. When the tenant regained consciousness, they told her they were studying, weren’t feeling well, and decided a shower might make them feel better. While in the shower, they had a medical emergency.

The tenant lived because of the actions and concern of their next-door neighbor and Sharmane, their landlord, and their community.

The emergency response team told Sharmane they had never met a landlord on site after midnight.

Fostering an environment of humanity and compassion isn’t a theme I’ve ever heard during interviews with real estate investors. It’s second nature to Sharmane, who believes strongly in building a supportive community within her apartment complexes. She encourages potential tenants to treat the building as their community, including getting to know their neighbors. She also encourages landlords to get to know and support each other within the landlording community.

The support doesn’t stop there, though; education is a pillar of her business model. “Tenants don’t always know how to be good tenants because everyone comes from different cultures and countries; they don’t want to be bad tenants; they just don’t know how.”

She educates tenants so they can be successful.

Maintenance is the first educational area, and she lets tenants know what type of issues they should call her about so that when something needs attention, she can take care of things quickly.

Smart Emergencies was the first document she created, and it stemmed from her concern over a single mom who moved into her apartment building with a young child. The mom spoke little to no English, and Sharmane worried she wouldn’t know what to do if her child had an emergency. The one-page document includes pictures of police, fire, and ambulance services with corresponding phone numbers. It also includes the apartment complex address (in case people blank out and can’t remember their address). From there, she created a whole series of “Be Smart” documents, including;

  • Be Sewer Smart – what you can and can’t put down the sewer system
  • Be Balcony Smart- do’s and don’t for balconies
  • Be Pest Smart – cockroach and bedbug prevention

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Besides education, Sharmane offers hard-earned advice for real estate investors who want to own multi-family properties.

Sharmane’s top tips

Building evaluation

  • Determine the price, check liens, and any law suites
  • Can you increase the rental rate?
  • Has the building been renovated? People want things that are current, well maintained, and look nice.
  • Renovations can include light filtering on windows, room darkening blinds for upper levels, and units with lots of light. Scotchguard the blinds to save on replacement.
  • Concrete buildings are more durable, less maintenance, and more soundproof than wood frame buildings
  • Rooves – choose a building with a pitched roof that lasts 20-30 years instead of a flat roof, that requires maintenance after 10 years.
  • Check the age/condition of the boiler/find a good company who can service it regularly
  • Look at the crawl space; is it rodent free?
  • How old are the sewer lines? What are the sewer pipes made of? Copper lines get pinhole leaks and wear out over time.
  • How old is the electrical?
  • Storage is huge – is there storage, or can you add storage at an additional cost to tenants?
  • Air conditioning units? How old are they? Can they be serviced, or do they need replacing?
  • Older buildings have larger balconies and outdoor space. If the lower units don’t have a balcony, is there room for patio space where tenants can have a BBQ, and patio chairs/plants?
  • Who would the apartment attract based on the neighborhood and main arteries/amenities?

Pests & Rodents

  • Spray pest block spray foam between holes in suites- to prevent bedbugs, cockroaches, and rodents from spreading
  • Spray around doorways and window wells, and put door sweeps or pool noodles under doors to prevent pest control, cooking smells, or to act as a noise barrier
  • Treat crawl space with mouse bait- as a preventative measure since mice spread disease
  • Find an excellent exterminator who can give you tips to mitigate/eliminate pests/rodents

Tenant Screening

  • Always ask pre-screening questions before booking an appointment
  • If the tenant isn’t working, it’s not an automatic no; they may have other sources of income
  • On the application, ask if they have a criminal record; if yes; can they provide a current criminal record at their own expense? If they are honest about their history, Sharmane believes “you can be young and stupid, it shouldn’t follow you the rest of your life.” She monitors closely, if they get off the path and need a little guidance, she supports them and believes if you can help them get back on the path, they won’t move because they feel comfortable and loyal to the community and the landlord.
  • Sometimes people end up in situations that are no fault of their own through a divorce, medical, etc. a person shouldn’t be knocking them down; they have to be helped to get back up sometimes
  • Make sure to ask how many people will be living in the unit; many newcomers are used to living in crowded spaces and may not understand Canada’s Minimum Housing and Health Standards Act limiting the number of people per unit
  • Find good tenants, take good care of them, educate them – you’ll support them, and they’ll support you.


  • Find good tradespeople who do good work and are polite and respectful to you and the tenants.
  • Clean the main areas weekly, and you won’t have trouble charging higher rent than neighboring buildings.
  • Use property management software –streamline as much as you can, especially if you’re a one-person team

Building a landlord community

  • Don’t be afraid; get to know other landlords in the community so that you can be a partner/resource to each other. Especially if you don’t have a partner who you can do this with, you’ve got supports
  • Sometimes you wonder if you’re handling things the right way, and having another landlord to keep you from jumping off the ledge, who is calmer than you are at the time, really helps. We’re stronger together.

After years of landlording, what does Sharmane find the easiest part of being an apartment owner? “Good tenants treat you like family. They’d see me out working on a hot summer day; they’d bring me a drink without me asking.”

“One time, I forgot to turn off the water sprinklers in the fall, and the pipe burst at 10 p.m. on a long weekend. The tenants rushed outside to help but didn’t know where to find the shut-off valve, so they called me. When I arrived, I told them it was under the stairs; one tenant crawled under the stairs himself with his cell phone flashlight and turned it off; none of them asked me to do it.”

“Tenants are there to help you, and you don’t even know it sometimes.”

“I see my role as helping tenants to be successful in life as well.”

For a link to the full video interview with Sharmane click here

Have you supported your tenants in contributing to the community?   I’d like to hear how – I’m at [email protected].

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