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Archive for Sunday, October 7, 2007

Expert advice: Neither a tenant nor a landlord be

October 7, 2007

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With apologies to Shakespeare, I'm convinced the best advice is this: Neither a tenant nor a landlord be. We've all heard horror stories about landlords from hell, slumlords who won't fix up their properties and charge outrageous rents. I believe those bad landlords exist but - because husband Ray and I have been tenants only twice and were blessed with good landlords - I have no such horror stories to relate.

When it comes to horror stories about bad tenants, however, I have enough material to write a book. It was my idea to buy the brand-new little duplex and become landlords, mainly because I thought it was a good investment and partly because a recently emptied nest left me with no one to mother. (Are you reading this, Ray? I'm taking full responsibility for the fiasco that ultimately ensued.) Our agreement was that I would handle everything and that Ray, gainfully employed, wouldn't have to do a thing. (That agreement held for about six months, although I personally painted the units when tenants moved because I wanted to keep them looking new).

Our first decade of landlordhood was idyllic. We had model tenants, nary a bounced check, nor police call, nor a deposit we couldn't return in full. When a tree limb fell on the duplex, tenant Kevin crawled up on the roof and temporarily patched the hole in the shingles before calling us. A much later tenant - herself a bright spot shining through what had become a storm cloud of bad tenants - added ornamental grasses around a purple plum tree we planted. Though we no longer own the duplex (Thank you, God!), Jen's attractive landscaping is still there.

I mark the downhill slide to disaster from the time a runaway car plowed down both curbside mailboxes. A year later, a tenant called and said, "A 'T' is in the yard and broke the big pine tree."

It was and it did, the result of a car running a stop sign and pushing the small bus into our biggest Scotch pine (we replaced it with the purple plum). Accidents happen. That's why people buy insurance from the Geico gecko and the Aflac duck.

Then came the day when I drove by the duplex (responsible landlords keep an eye on their property) and saw all the windows boarded up in one unit. What an attention-getter! When I knocked on the door of the adjoining unit, the tenant showed me a BULLET HOLE in his living room wall.

In my frantic call to police, I was informed that an "incident" had occurred the previous evening. I'll say! Who knew there was no requirement to notify landlords of "incidents" that damaged their property and endangered their tenants? I persuaded the previous night's investigating officer to come to the duplex because I was afraid the young woman who had rented the apartment was dead or dying in the boarded-up unit.

Not to worry. Although I had diligently checked out her references and received glowing reports of her good character from her employer, she didn't intend to live there but was fronting for someone who never would have passed inspection. I learned that fact when the police officer said unsympathetically, "Well, when you rent to gang-bangers ..."

"EXCUSE me?"

Long story, short. We hired a lawyer to evict the gang-banger whose name wasn't on the lease (possession, I assume, being 9/10ths of the law). When eviction papers were finally served, the "tenant" was long gone and a deputy sheriff entered the unit with me. I was appalled at the mess, but the deputy saw the bright side: "You still have walls."

I guess I should have been grateful for that, but I was too busy looking at the oil-drenched carpet where motorcycles had been overhauled, at broken windows, torn screens, missing light fixtures and the ruined steel door. As I surveyed the scene, I remembered son Greg's words when, one summer during college, he found a job cleaning apartments. In a single day he came home three times to shower and change clothes, at last exclaiming in disgust, "You won't believe how filthy some people can be!"

I do now! One of our tenants had a cat in violation of our no-pet policy, but didn't buy a litter box. He accommodated the cat by taking off a screen and opening a window on nice days and allowing it to use a corner of the living room in inclement weather.

Now, when we spot FOR RENT signs, Ray will sigh with relief and say, "I'm sure glad we sold the duplex."

I canst not then be false to my man, so I answer - with feeling - "Oh, yeah!"

- Marsha Henry Goff is a freelance writer in Lawrence. Information about purchasing her book, "Life Is More Fun When You Live It Jest for Grins," is available by calling 843-2577 or e-mailing mhgink@netscape.net.

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