This article was written by Rachelle: a real estate guru who works as a property manager and helps investors find rental properties in Toronto and surrounding areas. She has recently started a very interesting blog called Landlord Rescue. You can subscribe to the RSS feed here.
I asked Rachelle to write a “tenant from hell” story and she came through in spades. Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed it and perhaps I can entice her to write more.
I’ve been a property manager for more years than I like to count. I like the real estate business and I know there’s money to be made. There’s a whole lot of talk about how investors can make a fortune in real estate. People will sell you books and tapes and courses about how to get really rich in real estate and how easy it is.
Here’s the inside scoop from a person who actually deals with the dark side of real estate investing – tenants, the evictions and damages. I’m the lady who deals with the fallout from the “experts” and saves the landlord’s ass when they can’t deal with it one more second. I feel really bad for landlords who have been lied to, cheated and taken advantage of by everyone from investing networks, real estate agents and finally, their horrible tenant.
So here’s a story…
The Stripper with Dirty Feet
Once upon a time, I was a baby property manager. I was hired by a company to manage and fill vacancies for an investment portfolio of about 50 triplexes and fourplexes with the stated purpose of renting them out and then selling them. The couple who owned all these houses were in the process of divorcing and splitting up assets, which I can assure you, lead to an interesting, but tense office environment.
The previous property manager was kept on for a month to “help” me and “train” me. His actions lead to educational situations; however, I never did get to meet him. I received the inevitable “bucket o’ keys” and a rent roll with some names and addresses and went on my way to make money for the owner.
Unsuspecting and naïve, I excitedly went to examine my brand new assignment. I had to take stock and inspect every apartment that was vacant. My mission was to rent those empty apartments pronto! I was full of vim and vigor and ready to prove myself.
It was a dark and stormy night as I checked my rent roll, grabbed my bucket o’ keys and headed down to Sorauren Avenue. The rent roll said EVICTED and I wanted to check the apartment and see what was required. So I get to the house, find the door to the basement apartment and start trying keys from the bucket to open the door. I was working on my 20th key or so when the door opened!
My feeble fumblings had not opened the door, a tenant had! Oh goody, my very first tenant.
I introduced myself “Hi, you scared the hell out of me. This piece of paper here says EVICTED, so I came to look at the apartment to see what it was like. I’m your new property manager.” He replies “ I’m not sure what you’re talking about, we’ve never been evicted! I’m really glad you’re here since the last guy was doing a horrible job and I have some things you just have to see”.
He leads the way to the bathroom and shows me the problem. “Look” he says “when I flush the toilet it goes into the bath” He illustrates a few times and I can indeed see for myself that every time he flushed the toilet the level of the bath rose. By then the smell is threatening to overwhelm me. My virgin nostrils are begging for mercy. There’s about six inches of stuff in the bath, it’s lumpy and vile; it’s definitely not water.
We head back into the kitchen. I’m not sure what’s happened to my sinuses, but it clearly isn’t fatal yet. We sit and talk for a while about how horrible the situation is and how negligent my predecessor had been. At one point, a bleary eyed girl wanders in. She had just woken up at the crack of sundown. We all talk about how I’m going to fix the problem for a while, then the girl says she has to get ready for work. I ask her where she’s working and she tells me she works at the strip joint up the street. She says she’s putting herself through college. I nod understandingly.
I get ready to go. I have clearly assessed the problem. I’m starting to take my leave and promising some prompt decisive action. I see the girl with a handful of clothes as she heads into the bathroom. I’m still standing there when I hear the unmistakable sound of the shower starting. The impact of what I’m hearing fails to register right away. I finalize my goodbyes and take leave of that place.
As I’m heading home, several conflicting thought processes are warring for dominance. Clearly I’ve missed something. There’s no way someone would ever… Then I’m thinking about the libidinous gazers at the strip club “Something smells bad” they’ll think. I shudder, thinking about someone stepping into a bath soup so noxious and revolting. I start gagging and resolve to think only positive thoughts from now on.
The Next Day – The Office
I resolutely enter the office. I ask them what the heck kind of shop they’re running around here. My boss digs up a file on the apartment I had visited. Turns out they owe 8 months back rent and THEY HAVE NEVER REPORTED ANY PLUMBING PROBLEMS. The sheriff was there the month before and locked them out.
My level of dumbfoundedness, exceeds any stupefication I’ve previously ever been comfortable with. I’m way out of my league. Now, I have to figure out what to do. I drive back to the rental apartment and find that there is indeed a broken window.
I talk to the guy at the apartment and tell him that he is evicted, he’s lying and I have the rental file and the sheriff’s notice to prove it. I’m getting mean already and it’s only my second day on the job. I’m angry because I got taken for a ride. I tell him I’m coming back with the cops. I call the cops, full of righteous anger. They’ve got murders to solve, they tell me. I call my contractor, he agrees to come, brings another lock and some plywood for the windows. In the meantime the man and the woman are taking whatever they can carry in a few dilapidated suitcases.
The contractor covers all the windows and changes the lock on the door. We go inside and take stock of the property. Now I’m 5 feet tall, I could jump around down there, but the contractor had to walk with his neck crooked because there was no clearance for him to stand upright down there. It’s truly decrepit and it’s full of garbage bags that are full of trash. There are needles all over the floor in the bedroom. The bathroom beckons ominously, I refuse to take the bait and enter. I have to call the plumber for that one.
I look with satisfaction at my rent roll. It says EVICTED and now it’s true. I dream happily about the day it will say RENTED. Little do I know that my transformation has begun, I am no longer the callow college graduate. Some of the shiny newness has already worn off my ambition to be the best property manager I can be. Later that night I wonder where the stripper with dirty feet is living now. Did she find a place or is she out in the cold?
That’s what it’s like to be in the trenches, to deal with people so damaged and desperate, they can’t pay their rent. It’s horrible and it will change you. You will learn about thing you never wanted to know and meet people you never wanted to meet.
That’s the reality of what you will eventually have to deal with as a landlord. It’s a numbers game and one day your number will come up.
Do you have any “tenants from hell” stories? Tell us in the comments.
26 replies on “The Stripper With Dirty Feet – A Tenant From Hell Story”
Wow, I don’t think I could do that job!
Wow! What an excellent writeup and true horror story right out of the gate. I hate to sound callous or dismissive, but I think this is one of the reasons why investors bypass real estate investing (e.g. becoming a landlord) and stick with REITs.
While I was a starving graduate student I took on management of a small complex of three and four unit buildings in a romantic park-like setting. About 32 units total.
The all had septic systems and drain fields. Most were installed 2-3 inches under the grass, in the rainy Pacific Northwest. Springtime meant we had the greenest grass in the world, but you didn’t want to walk or inhale anywhere near the lawn.
I eventually contracted bronchitis from mold in the units I kept cleaning and repairing, and spent a couple of months in bed. My classic turnover involved a Latino couple who rented a 3 bedroom unit, and promptly invited every relative, acquaintance and casual friend they knew to move in. Took us six months to evict, never got a dime of rent, and (literally) had to use breathing apparatus to clean it. Food in the fridge from three months of no electricity. Pee and poo in all the corners. Drug cooking in the kitchen.
I doan do dat job no mores.
I think that rental properties can be very good. The previous property manager was fired for doing a horrible job.
What makes me angry is that these situations do happen but landlords are usually never told about these risks upfront. Every landlord should go to the Landlord & Tenant Board for a few days just to find out how things work.
Then they should learn how to avoid evictions. Most evictions can be avoided entirely by selecting proper tenants.
Then they should learn to buy rental real estate properly by loving the numbers rather than a property.
Most new property owners do none of the research required before investing in any business.
My father was in the rental game for a couple of years with a fourplex. Let’s just say that after a couple of years of cleaning up dirty apartments with feces on the wall, garbage everywhere and trying to evict lowlife renters who wouldn’t pay for 6 or more months – he gave it up for good. Not something I’m sure I ever want to get into. It’s a tough game!
Rachelle: Great post!!! I hope we hear more tenant from hell stories in the future!
Renting to low-income tenants seems like a totally different game, I don’t think I could do it.
Fear of having to deal with the above scenario is exactly what has kept us out of the rental property game…..sounds like finding a talented and tough property manager is as important (if not more important) than finding the right properties.
Thanks for the insight.
Great article! I’ve dealt with many clients in the past that have simply given up on rental properties because of situations like this. One of the more interesting cases however, was with a landlord from hell. A former colleague of mine was renting a basement apartment from a single mother in a quiet suburban city. Turns out he was woken up every Saturday morning by ‘play dates’ consisting of a handful of nine-year olds running around the house at 6am. The landlord had serious personal issues with an ex-husband, new boyfriend, etc. and this was coupled with a drinking problem. The situation became very messy. This sort of scenario is not as common, but shows that due diligence is required on behalf of prospective tenants, as well.
Scary stuff. Keep posting!
Nightmare landlords are not at all a rarity. I work in the business and believe me there are properties no one should ever rent.
A few years ago I rented a house on Courcelette & Kingston Road there was a problem with the heat, a leak etc. Months went by and the landlord did nothing finally he called me for help. I got two contractors I use to go into the house, a plumber and a painter/drywaller to repair the holes in the ceiling. He never paid any of the contractors, meanwhile the heat still isn’t working and he never fixed it. The tenants were constantly emailing me for help.
These were great tenants they paid until the day they left, not one minute longer than their one year lease. The owner called me to rent it again and I just laughed at him and told him to forget it. It gave me great satisfaction to drive by that property and see a For Rent sign in the window for months and months. I won’t rent for owners like that, they piss the tenants off for good reason and even the best of tenants may stop paying rent under such conditions.
Then there’s micromanaging landlords like one lady I helped find a property, she was renting with utilities included and drove by the house every day and calling the tenants if she saw they weren’t home and they left a light on. After 2 years of her complaining about it I finally got pissed off and told her to sell the house if she was going to be so nuts about it. So she sold, made $70,000. It was a great property too it cashflowed $2000 per month.
I’ve heard stories from hell from both sides of the fence. Enough to know that I would never invest in rental property myself, ever, even though I would likely never have to hire a professional to repair anything.
I think all ‘fresh out of college’ employees are starry-eyed, though, and get a rude awakening of some kind or another, although this one was far and away worse than most, I’ll wager.
What a nicely written and well punctuated article. I do appreciate that.
I do my very best. Thanks for noticing.
He tried to fight me!
It’s funny how every stripper is only doing it to pay for school…lol.
Whoa…heckuva story Rachelle! Although we had a few “issues” while being a landlord for about 2 years, nothing comes close to your horror story.
Personally, I didn’t like rolling the dice since as you say, at some point, your number will come up. My wife and I weren’t willing to wait for our number and alas…we got out of the business relatively untouched. I now hold REITs instead 🙂
Continue your descriptive and entertaining posts!
Love the story, let me know if you’re looking for part-time help.
Concerning tenants from hell, your readers might be interested in a book a publisher sent me: Investing in Rent-to-Own Property, written by Mark Loeffler. He claims his approach avoids tenants from hell and the time spent responding to tenant repair requests. I’d be interested in hearing what Rachel and others think. Probably a few flaws in it? Here’s a post and link to the book.
I just purchased a house about a month ago with a tenant already in it. I can tell that she’ll be the tenant from hell already. Big dog in the house, smokes, doesn’t clean, garbage stacked outside and looks like a hoarder with some kind of substance problem. The one thing is that her rent is government subsidized so I’ll at least get that much, but I’m about to give her notice that she has to get out when the lease expires in a few months.
@ Larry – I’m not in love with rent to own. Part of the reason is that at one of my jobs I had to work for a few of these kinds of investors. We were to try to rent the place and they would also try to rent to own the place. A couple of rent to own investors is hardly representative of the entire species; however, my experience with those three different guys has left me with a lasting impression and it’s not a good one. The selling prices of the houses were vastly out of line with what I would consider reasonable, the houses were very nicely renovated on the surface but had serious issues. Severely leaking basements in two houses. One other house I was asked to rent had the entire brick facade of the house removed in the back of the house by the previous rent to own tenants.
The idea of rent to own may work out very well for the investor but I know that this does not eliminate the possibility of evictions and tenants from hell. With rent to own you are dealing with the bottom of the house buyer market. They have to put 5% down just like they would if they bought a house on their own but they don’t qualify for a mortgage. So that’s my opinion. I have not read the book either and I don’t know Mark. If these guys were straight shooters it might work out very well, so far I have not met any straight businessmen. The ones I met had all the charm and ethics of a used car salesman.
If you are in Ontario if may be very difficult to terminate your lease agreement with your tenant. You may want to look it up. You need to terminate for cause. “I hate this dirtbag” is not an accepted cause. Here is the brochure on the topic. If you are not in Ontario you need to look up the laws in your area.
Thanks for your feedback.
I got out of the rental property business a number of years ago after bad tenants that had to be evicted or great tenants that would move on within their first year. One property I purchased had a tenant that refused to deal with me. He insisted he would only deal with the previous owner. He had his own recycling business. Once we gave him his eviction notice he took hot irons and scorched all of the floors and carpets, tore up tiles in the kitchen and entry, took the appliances, storm doors and backyard storage shed all to his recycle depot. What a mess.
The other issue I had I would like to warn others of was that one tenant I had for the better part of a year had never paid a cable bill, a telephone bill, a hydro bill, a water bill or a heating bill. I had all of these folks coming after me. I told each and every one of them that they had made agreements to provide their services to the renter not me the landlord and I wasn’t on the hook for any of those bills. I was threatened by the municipality that they would cut off the water supply or add it to my property taxes if I didn’t pay. I happened to know of a previous landlord that had the same issue and won his case in court against the municipality so when I brought it up they realized I was the wrong person to go after. I did happen to remember the tenant talking about his parents and what city they lived in so I was able to ascertain the tenants parents address and had all of the utility companies that were owed money to mail everything to his parents address.
If you want to be in the game you have to be callous from the very start and be dutiful in your checking the perspective tenants past and get as many references as possible whether it be from the priest or the strip club manager:)
In theory it is definitely one of the best investments I could have made, too bad there are so many deliquent tenants leaching off of the system.
I agree with Bruce, my opinion is that one of the most important things you can do to be a content tenant or landlord is due diligence! Ensure a thorough process is followed: credit checks, lease agreements, multiple references, etc. The same goes for a prospective tenant – ask to speak with a previous tenant or ask for references from the landlord.
I think one of the best things you can do is to have properties that appeal to tenants because they are decent places to live. Slumlords are in for a world of pain with bad tenants.
As someone posted, this was a basement apartment with a 5 feet clearance. All the properties I took over with this portfolio did not appeal to decent tenants this one less than most. No maintenance was done the places were rented dirty and not even painted or renovated.
If you offer a reasonable place for a reasonable price your chances of renting to someone who will pay the rent is greatly improved.
An entertaining article
I think Rachelle’s last comment is the best
A quality property will allow you to attract quality tenants and be thorough in your screening
Life as landlord can be a lot easier with proper structuring prior to purchase. Setting aside a reserve fund to allow you to properly market the property, hold out for a good tenant, and weather capital expenditures will go a long way.
It is not a numbers game. It is how you choose your tenants, properties and how well you maintain them. If you don’t choose wisely, then you are much more vulnerable to it being a numbers game. If you have poorly located and/or maintained properties then you will have to lower your standards when it comes to selecting tenants.
Sorauren used to be a less than desirable street. The south end is still adjacent to a seedy area but the area has blossomed over the last dozen or so years and it is now very sought after by good tenants, especially larger units. If you offer a well-maintained/renovated property on that street now you will attract the best of these. If you offer a dump in a depressed area those tenants will not rent from you and you will be stuck with the bottom of the barrel.
No matter where you are or how nice your property is you still have to guard against professional tenants. That means doing thorough background checks. I am sure that most landlords don’t do these because I rarely get calls from other landlords reference checking my former tenants. Do they run credit or employment checks?
It is easy to make it a numbers game if you don’t make good choices.