Celebrity Tenants

Between my current career as a Realtor and my prior career as a stage manager, I’ve been lucky enough to deal with several celebrities during my time in Chicago. Like anyone else, they have to live somewhere too. As a landlord, it’s very possible in Chicago that you’ll be contacted by a celebrity (or a member of their entourage) who is interested in renting your apartment. Here are some do’s and don’ts for dealing with the celebrity renter.

Don’t get so starstruck by a famous tenant that you lose your business sense.

Do: Remember that “famous” is very relative.

It might be a professional sports player, a celebrity chef, or a movie star. It could also be a local news anchor, car dealership owner, or even your child’s school principal. Or it could be someone you’ve never heard of, like the bass player from an 80′s hair band or a voice actress from one of your kids’ favorite cartoons. It could even be the author of your favorite real estate advice blog. 😉

Celebrity takes all different forms in a city like Chicago. It’s best to give everyone the celebrity treatment.

Do: Treat them like everyone else.

If a celebrity wants to be treated like a superstar, they’ll make it pretty obvious from the moment you meet them. And if so, you need to give some thought as to whether you want to deal with a prima donna calling you with maintenance requests all year. If not, you need to do your best to not get starstruck. Treat them as you would any other renter. No special concessions, no fast-tracking of applications, no discounts. Run the same background checks as you would for anyone else, and hold them to the same standards that you normally use for approving renters.

Otherwise, when the other tenants in your building find out how you treated the celeb, they could very well come back at you with a fair housing lawsuit. You cannot be too careful.

Do: Tactfully acknowledge that you recognize them.

A quick “I loved your work in [film name here]” or similar acknowledgement of recognition is enough. It telegraphs that you are aware of the baggage that comes with being famous, and that you’re not going to make a big deal of it. No clamoring for autographs or photos. No mention of scandalous articles that you saw on TMZ. Just, politely make a hat tip towards what they do for a living.

Of course, if you can’t think of anything nice to say, either keep your mouth shut or make up something bland and positive.

Do: Make sure their offer is financially practical for you.

Let’s be honest here. Most celebs can afford to buy a place if they wanted to. If they’re looking to rent from you, it’s because they’re only here for a very short time. They may come at you with a request for a short term lease, an odd length of lease, or ask that you install all kinds of special things that go above and beyond what you’d normally do for a tenant.

The problem with famous tenants (and tenants in general) is that if they have a good time, very few people will ever hear about it. But if they have a bad time, the whole world will find out quickly. There’s no reason for you to bust your budget to make your property into something it isn’t just because your renter was seen on television. Remember that you were a landlord before they came onto the scene, and you will still be a landlord after they leave. Leaving your business sense at the door when you meet a celeb is generally a bad idea.

Do: Give some consideration as to how you can best protect their privacy.

Privacy is the one extra thing you should take into consideration. Not only from prying eyes of outsiders, but from and for other residents of your building. This is particularly important if your celeb is the subject of some sort of scandal. Are there measures you can take to keep the paparazzi away from the windows? Do they have any stalkers? Is there a chance of people harassing other tenants in your building or bribing them for a chance to get close to your famous resident?

Pro tip: hidden cameras in a celebrity’s apartment are a very bad idea.

Of course, your celeb’s staff will probably also consider these factors before they submit an application. Many of these folks do have handlers, agents and publicity teams who can give you some pointers. Most importantly, talk with the celeb directly if possible to find out what sort of security needs they’ve traditionally required.

Do: Be prepared for some extra media attention at your property.

If members of the media discover where a celeb lives, there may be some extra visitors to your neighborhood and/or your property. They frequently come with cameras. Make sure that you’ve clearly noted that trespassing is not allowed, and that you enforce your “no trespassing” rules strictly.

Media attention can mean some nice free publicity for your building if it looks good and the security is in tip-top shape. However, if it looks run-down, dirty, or like a madhouse of photographers you will scare away all but the thrill-seekers for other vacancies in your building.

Do: Expect to have to put some additional clauses in your lease.

The lease might not be in the celeb’s name. It could be under the name of their production company, their publisher, agent or more anonymous spouse. They could request special consideration on breaking a lease, or special privacy considerations. Treat these as you would with any other renter – run them past an attorney with landlord-tenant knowledge, make sure they don’t conflict with the CRLTO, and make sure they make good financial sense for you.

Don’t: assume that you are also guaranteed to meet the famous person they are supposedly dating.

I doubt that I’m the first one to break this to you, but not every celeb couple is actually a couple. A lot of relationships are made up for the press. In other words, just because you’re leasing to Brad, don’t expect to see Angelina.

Don’t: put their name on the mailbox or buzzer without consulting with them first.

If you’ve got an A, B or even D-list celeb renting from you, it’s very likely that they will want to use a pseudonym on the buzzer and mailbox. Consult with them before you make any public labels identifying your property as their new home.

It’s an apartment, not a shrine. Don’t encourage the former to become the latter. (Pictured: Marilyn Monroe’s gravesite.)

Don’t: tell the other residents, nor your friends, nor anyone else.

Would you tell your friends about anybody else who moved into your building? Probably not. The other residents in your building will probably find out eventually anyhow. If you think it’s likely that the building is about to be the subject of a media frenzy, you may want to send out a general email warning them that there may be some extra activity, but don’t reveal the cause. They will probably find out about their new famous neighbor sooner or later. There is no need for you to be the source of the news.

Save it up so that you can have a story to tell several years down the road, but while you’re in the thick of it keep it to yourself.

Don’t: sell their lease signature as an autographed document.

If I thought of it, some of you probably thought of it too. Just don’t. I don’t care how much you could get for autographed memorabilia on eBay. Once they request a showing, they are no longer a famous object of attention. They are a human being who needs housing, and your customer. Their belongings – including their signature – are not to be auctioned off. They have the right to quiet enjoyment of their home, and that goes for their legal documents as well.

This 32 year old lease signed by a mass murderer is up for auction. You should feel the same way about this as you do about selling the signatures of your own tenants.

Don’t: expect any special favors just for being their landlord.

They will not make you famous. They will not show your screenplay to their director. They won’t get you reservations at their restaurant or season tickets to their games. Nor should you accept any of the above instead of rent unless you’re prepared to go on the barter system for all of your other tenants as well. If you do a good job, help protect their privacy and keep a clean property, you may get a nice gift from them here and there, but don’t expect any special treatment or attention from the celeb just because they’re living in your building.

Have you dealt with a famous neighbor or tenant? Share your stories in the comments – just don’t name any names, OK?

I’ll be back Wednesday with to talk a bit about earnest money.