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What’s your most”You’ve got to be kidding me” experience you’ve had as a landlord?
If it wasn’t the time that my tenants decided to remodel the house without my permission and were genuinely shocked when I wouldn’t reimburse them, it must have been when a woman absolutely refused to believe that I was allowed to evict her when she had a child.
A young couple around my age rented a single family house that had recently been completely renovated, just before I acquired it. The bathrooms were modern and up to date, though the green and purple color scheme that was less than ideal. All together it was a very nice home in excellent condition, and while the tenants weren’t in love with the bathrooms or the newly laid hypoallergenic carpet in the living room, they were the ones who chose to sign the lease, and they were lucky to get it as I had several qualified applicants interested in the house.
There had been no indication that the couple renting the house were stupid or insane, not until my employee arrived to do a routine inspection and noticed a new floor in the living room. Tenants normally try to avoid drawing attention to any damage they’ve done to the home, but this guy was actually proud of himself, and he went on to show my employee that he had also redone the master bathroom. I imagine that John must have been pretty confused already, but I know that he was in disbelief when the tenant told him to ask me if I’d like to pay them back for the work or just reduce their rent instead.
That was when John, who is only meant to change AC filters and do cursory inspections, excused himself and called my property manager Eileen. She went to the house immediately, calling me on her way there to let me know that we might have a major issue. When she arrived she too was welcomed in and treated to a tour of the work they’d done, which involved pulling up the carpet in the living room and putting down midrange laminate. The bathroom had undergone the biggest change, as all the tiles had been replaced with mosaics in neutral colors and the bathtub upgraded. None of the work had been necessary as all the replaced materials were virtually new and in great shape, so the changes were purely cosmetic.
The only comfort was the inoffensive color schemes and the fact that the work appeared to have been done well, but the man bragged that he had done it all on his own. There is a reason why I only hire licensed and insured contractors, because when you’re screwing around with a house there is more to it than what you can see on the surface. To this day I still don’t know exactly how well that work was done, even though I had my husband who is an architect and developer inspect it.
Eileen explained all this to the tenants, but they just couldn’t believe that they would not be getting paid for the work, let alone that they were in a lot of trouble over it. I ended up having to come out there with my husband, so we could determine just how badly they’d damaged the property, and by then the wife was crying hysterically and both were threatening to sue. You would think that common sense is enough to tell someone that they cannot just remodel a house that doesn’t belong to them, or that they’d read the lease at the very least, but we had to show them where it stated that they were prohibited from doing any work on the house without my permission.
The husband seemed to get it by then, and he indicated that he might have known that they “technically” weren’t allowed to do it, but that he thought I’d be pleased with the improvement. That was when I had to explain that not only had they failed to actually improve the value of the home, but that I have extra materials to carry out repairs in the original colors and flooring, and that I would now have to spend a lot of money to try to track down those mosaic tiles or the outlet laminate whenever something cracks. Still not getting it, he offered to reduce the amount of money he thought I owed him, all while his wife was threatening to sue me for the full cost of materials and labor.
Finally I had to be blunt and explain that as far as I was concerned, they had done thousands of dollars worth of vandalism to the house, and that the only question left was whether I’d just evict them or if I was going to sue them for the damage they’d done too. He finally seemed to accept the situation even if he didn’t understand it, but she was now threatening to pull all the work back out if they were evicted. Fortunately her husband managed to explain to her that this would put them deeper in the hole, and I offered not to come after them for the full cost or file for eviction if they left within the week.
At first they resisted, but when I explained that a formal eviction would disqualify them from renting again and pointed out that they’d signed a lease agreeing to pay for any intentional or careless damage, they agreed. I would keep the deposit as the only compensation for lost income and the future costs of dealing with the work they’d done, and I would not sue if they left the place in an immaculate condition. They moved out that week and I learned that you need to verbally explain to tenants that they are not allowed to do any unauthorized repairs on a rental property.
As startling as it was to realize that two seemingly sane people thought they could remodel a rental and demand payment, this couple did at least accept reality eventually. The same cannot be said for the woman in her late thirties who absolutely refused to believe that having a child wasn’t a shield against eviction. She rented an apartment in the first complex I built, back when I used a rental management firm for some things but handled many issues on my own.
It was about as straightforward of a case as you can conceive of: A tenant had been late with the rent in the past, and this time she had gone more than a week past due. Since tenants know when their rent is due I no longer accept late payments or chase them down, but I was new to the business so I had attempted to call her numerous times before I finally stopped by. When she didn’t answer the first time I knocked I called and left a message while I was still sitting in my car in front of her door, and as I had hung up and was backing out, she slammed the door open and chased me down.
I guess she had heard the voicemail explaining that she’d receive a notice to vacate (a necessary precursor to an eviction notice) immediately if she didn’t call me back, and she was furious at what she considered my threats. I asked about the rent she owed ($875 plus $150 in fees) and she casually told me that she’d just gotten paid but that she “had” to spend all her money on other things, and that she could pay me half of what she owed in two weeks and the rest in a month. That obviously wasn’t acceptable, but when I politely explained that I would deliver an unconditional notice to vacate unless I had the full amount in hand before the following morning, her response was “good luck with that!”.
I honestly didn’t understand what she meant, so I carefully explained that she would have five days to move out or face eviction, which would make it nearly impossible to rent again. This was when she laughed in my face, repeating the good luck wish, and finally revealing that she thought it was impossible to evict a tenant who had a minor child living with them. I obviously asked if she really thought that anyone with a kid was exempt from the obligation to pay rent, and I learned that this was exactly what she believed. It wasn’t until I’d explained that there were programs she could have applied for, and how children could be placed in foster care, that it occurred to me that I’d only seen her son on rare occasions.
I am not heartless so I was feeling bad that I’d have to evict someone with a child, and even as she was laughing and bragging that she’d take advantage of this imaginary law to screw me over, I was thinking about shelters I could put her in touch with. Then I remembered how rarely I’d seen her son, and I asked if he even lived with her. He did, according to her, but she did admit that the father had custody and that she had the child every other weekend. That soothed my conscience, but this lunatic insisted that evicting her would still make her child “partially homeless”. I don’t know if she was only using him as an excuse or if it really hadn’t occurred to her that her child could stay with his dad instead, but she wasn’t backing down.
I gave up trying to reason with her and went home, and I served the notice later that evening instead of waiting as I’d originally promised. At that point I just wanted her gone. Her response to the notice was 12 calls to threaten lawsuits in one day, and when she saw me talking to one of her neighbors a couple of days later she ran over to rant at me about how I was violating the non-existent “National Act To Protect Against Homeless Children”, or something like that. Whatever this made-up law was called, I do remember that it sounded like it was meant to protect other people from homeless children, and she threatened me with it more than once.
She still didn’t get it when she received the eviction notice, and she flat out told me that she wasn’t going to court so “good luck” with getting her evicted. I had not been fully convinced that she believed her own bullshit, but the look of total shock on her face when I went over to remind her that she had 24 hours to leave before the marshals arrived told me that she really had been delusional. I never like it when I have to evict someone, but she really didn’t give me a choice.