Bad Tenant Incidents and Lessons Learned

by Sandy L on January 28, 2011

Sandy over at Yes I’m Cheap just launched a new website called “My Tenant from Hell” and I’m wishing her great success.  Fortunately for her and unfortunately for many of us, there is no shortage of material to fill up her site.

Babci lived in a 3 family house and occupied in one of the units for about 30 years. For the most part, she had good luck with her tenants. Then as the post WW2 immigrants started dying off and fewer properties were owner occupied, the neighborhood got really bad.  Once that happened it became almost impossible to get someone decent to live there. It was even harder trying to manage this place when we now lived 2 hours away.  After 3 nightmarish tenants in a row, we eventually ended up selling it, right smack  the middle of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, but it was still the right thing to do.  Luckily for Babci, she bought her house with cash back in the 70’s, so she didn’t have to worry about taking a loss on the property.  Yes, she probably could have gotten a lot more for it if we sold at the peak, but that’s what debt freedom gives you, flexibility to make decisions.

I thought I’d share a few of my more memorable tenant stories I’d rather have lived without.

  1. When a tenant moves out, here’s a guaranteed formula for vomiting: Fridge Full of Food + Summer + Shutting off Electricity for a week = Gagworthy.
  2. Getting a phone call from the first floor tenant saying that there were maggots raining down on her porch from the second floor tenant’s trash.  PORCHES, basements and hallways are not dumpsters, people!
  3. When a long time tenant moves out and you find bird poop on every door and windowsill it sat on.  That’s not even the gross part. The gross part was that bird had been dead for 5 years.  There was also a 1/8″ thick layer of grease on every wall, ceiling and molding from the deep fry cooking she would do.  Everything you touched was sticky.
  4. When you go to talk to your tenant about not paying rent and she tells you that she just got back from a weekend in NYC because she had to de-stress about losing her job.  She also managed to pull 3 doors off their hinges or rather her daughters did from swinging on them. She also clogged up the toilet 3 times in 2 months and flooded the brand new bathroom below her.  My mom lived in that exact apartment for almost 30 years and never did she unhinge a door or flood her or anyone else’s bathroom.
  5. When this same tenant moves out but leaves all her stuff there including her children’s school photos, clothes, much of her furniture and  food. Not only do you feel bad for her kids and have to pay a small fortune to get rid of the stuff, but you now are not surprised that she is broke.
  6. When your brand new snow blower goes missing at the END of the winter and the tenant responsible for keeping the driveway clean (with discounted rent) and locked up says “it’s no big deal, just call your insurance company and they’ll buy you a new one.”   Hmmm….I have a sneaking suspicion that the only person who would steal such an item in May would be the crook who was done using it for the season.  My response was “I have a $500 deductible, and the snow blower was $500. Tough luck, here’s a shovel.”  My mom was very nice to that family and I was very disappointed. I’m sure he justified it by thinking he was stealing from the insurance company and not directly from us.  There are all kinds of scammers out there and unfortunately, I rented to someone who dated one of them.

Here are my lessons from the above tenants

Porch AKA renter's dumpster

Don’t Assume Getting a Security Deposit Protects you From Damage

Mr.Maggot luckily moved out on his own without eviction. Most experienced renters know that a landlord won’t bother going after you for a month or two’s rent because the cost of legal fees outweighs the money you’d get back. He decides his security deposit and last month”s rent will cover his last 2 months of living there.  Actually, a lot of people now assume they’re going to use their security deposit as part of their rent before they move out. I think some of this has to do with nasty landlords (similarly if your landlord pockets your security deposit, you have limited recourse, so now it just ends up backfiring on the honest people).

Mr. Maggot not only left a porch full of maggoty trash bags, but he was also the guy who left a fridge full of food in the summer after turning off the electricity.  He also painted a room fluorescent yellow..and it wasn’t a good paint job either. There was yellow splash marks all over the ceiling, carpeting and trim. I had just painted the room right before he moved in too and ended up having to re-paint everything again and replace the carpet as a result.

Mr Maggot had money troubles (so the credit report claimed) and was on a payment plan with his creditors. He told a very convincing story and he had the cutest little wife and daughter. My mom loves little 2 year old girls, so she was hooked on these two.  I can tell you one of the reasons he has money problems. He was wasteful. It was heartbreaking seeing a freezer full of T-bone steaks, chicken and pork chops all rotten. He must have left $150 of food in the apartment to rot and I’m sure his food budget was a lot higher than mine at the time.

Don’t believe anyone when they say “he/she/they are only going to be here temporarily” and the same goes with pets

If you allow anyone to move in to an existing renter’s apartment for any length of time, assume it’s going to be a  permanent arrangement. If you’re not comfortable with it in the beginning, then don’t agree to it at all.

Don’t assume someone’s marital/family status will stay the same

My mom’s apartments were pretty small. They were just over 800 sq/ft each.  So when we rented to a single girl, it was perfect for her. Three months later, she has a whirlwind romance, gets pregnant and her boyfriend moves in.  That’s all fine because it’s still plenty of room for a family of 3.  Then 2 months later, his two kids come to visit and never leave.  The apartment was way too small for a family that size.  They made it work, but don’t assume that a single girl will stay single, or a married couple won’t get divorced. People’s lives change, they have kids, they get married and divorced and everything in between.

Location, Location, Location

Like I said above, when the neighborhood was still filled with mostly owner occupied immigrant landlords things were good. The properties were kept clean, people watched out for each other and there were still nice enough families that wanted to live on our street.  If you’re thinking about being a landlord, but you wouldn’t live in the neighborhood that you’re buying into, then don’t assume you’ll be able to attract renters like yourself.  The only people who live in bad neighborhoods are people who don’t have the option to live in a better one.  Most people won’t trump personal safety and the safety and security of their possessions for $100-$200/month savings.

Never Assume that the Apartment will Be as Nice as You Left It

Even with the best of tenants, most apartments go through some wear and tear during their occupancy. Always assume you’ll need to paint some rooms and do some repairs at the very minimum.  Apparently in the slum circles, it’s also quite common to leave all your trash and anything you’re too lazy to dispose of as well.   My one slum lord friend said that being a landlord is just like being a high paid cleaning lady.  This lady placed a high value on tenant cleanliness and always told me to make sure I rented to neat people. I have no idea how you screen that (maybe look in their car and see if it’s filled with trash).

Don’t rent to anyone would can’t come up with first/last and security deposit

There are a lot of people who will want to move in and tell you they have most of what you need, but will want to pay you the rest from their next paycheck.  Again, this was another thing I learned from maggot boy.  Although he did pay up after the first month and was pretty good for a while, all it takes is one unplanned expense like a car breaking down to get behind on rent.  Someone who can’t come up with at least the first/last and security before moving in is a red flag because they have 0 emergency savings.

Don’t assume that a reference is who the renter says it is

I got a glowing recommendation about one of my tenants, but then after she ended up being a nightmare, I thought about it a bit and realized she could have just had me call one of her friends and pretend that she was the former landlord.  Make sure you ask some questions that only the landlord would know,  like what year they bought the property, if they still own it, or about how much they pay in property taxes, etc.  You can look that stuff up on zillow.com. You can also verify the owner’s address at your town’s registry of deeds.  Usually the credit report will verify prior residences, so if everything matches up, you’re good.

So, those are the few of the lessons I’ve learned during my years managing my mother’s property. I hope this helps new and old landlords alike.  Does anyone else have a horror story to share?

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos January 28, 2011 at 6:53 AM

Well, if reading YesIAmCheap’s Tenant from Hell series doesn’t dis-incentivize from EVER being a landlord, this piece surely will.
I think I’ll stick to penny mining stocks, less hassle and relatively maggot-free. 🙂

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Sandy L January 28, 2011 at 5:11 PM

101 – it’s not for everybody, that’s for sure. I think it’s not quite as bad when you are close and you can baby sit your properties.

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The Lost Goat January 28, 2011 at 9:43 AM

It took my parents several years to sell a house from a city 4 hours distant, so they rented it until it could be sold. Landlord 4 hours away = crazybad tenants. I have many fond childhood memories of cleaning that place out. My favorite were the tenants who left a half a foot layer of trash across the entire house, including underwear, condoms, needles, and marijuana roaches. And their house was in a reasonably nice area of town; trashy tenants are not just for the properties on the wrong side of the tracks.

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Sandy L January 28, 2011 at 5:14 PM

The Lost Goat – yes, mountains of trash are unfortunately very common. My friend had a property that ended up having a 20 yard dumpster of trash in the basement. You can only imagine the filth and vermin that must have been living there. I don’t know how/why people would want to live that way. I mean how much harder is it to walk the trash to the curb.

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Everyday Tips January 28, 2011 at 10:23 AM

I have thought about buying rental property, but other investments seem so much easier (as 101 said).

My brother owns properties all over the country, but he has a management company deal with all the ‘garbage’. Eats into his profits, but he finds it totally worth it.

It is amazing how people can behave so badly.

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Sandy L January 28, 2011 at 5:15 PM

Everyday Tips – some people are gross. One of my slum lord friends is convinced that there is a breed of filthy people who rent a nice clean apartment for a year and once the lease is up and they can’t stand their own filth anymore, they move to a brandy new clean place and do it all over again.

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retirebyforty January 28, 2011 at 12:06 PM

Ughh… You are scaring a landlord. 🙁
My new tenant has problem with punctuality. I’m going to have to keep reminding him to pay rent. I know he makes plenty of money.

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Sandy L January 28, 2011 at 5:17 PM

RB40 – yes, that was another thing that wore on my nerves after a while is the monthly calls asking for the rent. Some people act like they’re doing you a favor by paying the rent.

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Sandy @ yesiamcheap January 28, 2011 at 11:27 PM

Dude!! Get him NOW. I mean every single time he is late send him a 3 day notice. That will help. Nip it right now.

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Sandy L January 29, 2011 at 5:25 AM

Yes, I agree. Now I forget, but I remember my lawyer said that you have to have at least 2 notice to quit letters sent to them before you can start eviction procedures. If you already have those in your records and things get bad, you don’t have to lose an extra 2 months rent to be able to get the process going.

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Linda January 28, 2011 at 12:40 PM

I think it’s a bit easier to deal with tenants when you live in the same building. In such a situation, you are even more motivated to stay on top of problems that could be caused by a tenant.

I’m renting out bedrooms in my house, and it’s sort of a unique position to be in. I’m the landlady…but I’m also a roommate. (The renters have their own bedrooms and share a bathroom; I have my own bedroom and bathroom; and we all share the kitchen and laundry areas.) This means that I can provide immediate feedback and nip a developing situation in the bud before it gets worse.

As an example, I terminated the agreement with one of the original renters in less than a year because he got a puppy, despite the rental agreement saying that *no pets* were allowed without prior, written approval from me. If I hadn’t lived here, I wouldn’t have been aware that he had a puppy for some time. And considering the mess the puppy left after being here less than 24 hours, the damage could have been much worse!

Also, I think it makes a difference if a renter has grown up in apartments. The roommate that grew up in a house is much more responsible about reporting issues immediately and taking care of his room. The other guy may have just been a slob, but he also seemed completely clueless about things like the problems that could arise by pouring grease down the kitchen sink. (Really!? I’m so glad I was there to stop him from clogging my sink!)

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Sandy L January 28, 2011 at 5:26 PM

Linda, you’re so right. Up until the time my mom moved out of her rental, things were manageable and she had many years that were relatively nightmare free. She always complained about the tenants but in general, people paid the rent and were relatively low maintenance. She did run around constantly picking up the trash in the yard and nagged the tenants for their rent but other than that, it was mostly fine. She also made sure people weren’t sneaking pets into the house, etc. Once she moved out all hell broke loose and the place got dumpy and fast.

Oh and yes, I’m convinced people have no common sense when it comes to toilets and sinks.

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Sandy @ yesiamcheap January 29, 2011 at 1:15 AM

Man these stories make me feel good since so far my tenant is a saint in comparison to some of these. Actually I expect a mountain of trash when she moves. I’m sure her security deposit is pretty much gone already. Oh well. Thanks for the lovely article. I’m salivating.

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Sandy L January 29, 2011 at 5:45 AM

Sandy – the dog poop all over the yard would drive me nuts though. I added one more lesson to my article as well. You know if the person is actually paying the rent and not constantly breaking stuff, that’s 90% of the battle. Things get expensive fast when a person is occupying your apartment rent free and you’re paying legal fees on top of it to try to get them out.

I’m amazed at how people feel like they are entitled to keep living somewhere when they don’t pay and you’re some evil landlord that’s not compassionate for their predicament. “everybody falls on tough times, cut me a break” Yeah, but why is it my job to pay for the roof over your head? They also somehow think that because you’re the landlord, it’s free for you to let them stay there. Apparently landlords get their money for utilities, taxes, insurance + mortgage from some secret fairy somewhere.

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Money Reasons January 29, 2011 at 1:20 AM

Hmmm, I thought about buying real estate property and becoming a landlord, but reading this may have changed my mind too (like 101 and Kris).

I honestly never consider people could be so dirty…

Thanks for the great article!

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Sandy L January 29, 2011 at 5:52 AM

Money Reasons – one of the many reasons that we sold the property was because it was starting to alter my view of the human race. I generally feel that most people are decent human beings, but in the depths of poverty, most people have a screw you before you get screwed mentality. I’ve even coined it “screw it forward”. (Like pay it forward but with bad deeds instead of good ones.)

People are that dirty and honestly I screened literally over 100 people for each of the last 3 rentals and these were by far the best of the bunch. There were some people who showed up stoned, in dirty clothes, in their pajamas. I think there were even a few homeless people who showed up and decided to hang out for a while until I politely asked them to leave.

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Invest It Wisely February 2, 2011 at 3:13 PM

My god, these truly are stories from hell. How do these people live like that?

My girlfriend’s parents rented to some college students and while it wasn’t too bad, they left the fridge full of pickles that were so old they were growing hairs, and the place smelled like cat piss. Blech… later on she took some pity on some illegal Mexicans and let them stay there, but they had to leave the place in a hurry and didn’t pay their last rent. I’m not sure how the story ended but I think they just kept the security deposit. They were very nice people otherwise.

Where I live security deposits are illegal if renting to legal people, rent increases are controlled to a maximum of 0.5% to 1% per year even if the tenant moves out (though there are ways around this), and most of the laws are favored against the landlord and toward the tenant. I guess it’s no wonder there are so many dilapidated buildings and in order to find anything nice you basically need to rent or buy a condo…

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Financial Samurai February 3, 2011 at 5:54 AM

Some solid tips that I appreciate as a landlord myself. I have strict rules for renting i.e. 18 months of rent saved in the bank before I feel comfortable renting to you, and that you earn at least 48X your rent a year.

If you got those two things down, and have been employed for 2 + years, we can talk. Otherwise, it’s not worth it at this point.

Location is key!

BTW, the Yakezie Beta Class is now live. Come sign up and spread the word to your fellow Challengers!

Cheers, Sam

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Roshawn @ Watson Inc February 3, 2011 at 11:32 AM

Wow, this is sickening. What a deterrent! I can certainly see why decide not to go this route. It’s a pain in the butt.

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Little House February 5, 2011 at 8:47 PM

I have to say that you make a strong case against being a landlord. As a person who has been a tenant of a slumlord, I think there should be some kind of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” clause – as in proving to each other you are one in the same; either a neat freak or a slob.

Our last slumlord was a hoarder. My husband had to lug a bunch of our landlord’s crap up into the attic of the rental house we were renting. We should have known then that he was an idiot and didn’t care about his property. (Of course, it turned out that he didn’t purchase any of the properties himself, his mommy did.)

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