Archive for Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Your turn: Landlord-tenant tales have two sides

December 3, 2013


When my husband Ray and I bought the brand new little duplex we owned as a rental for 13 years, we thought our elderly mothers might one day want to live there when maintaining their own homes became too difficult for them. In short order, they let us know they had no intention of ever leaving their homes.

We took great pride in that duplex and kept it in pristine condition, even building a shed to accommodate the renters’ wish for more storage. For the first ten years, we had the world’s best renters (not even one bounced check). Ray, however, may disagree about the couple who — when they stopped up the toilet — called him to fix it. Twice Ray went there to plunge it. The second time, he left the plunger after educating them about its use.

I always thoroughly checked renters’ references. That worked well until I rented to a young woman whose references were sterling; her employer thought highly of her and her credit rating and rental records were excellent. A couple of months after renting to her, we drove by the duplex and saw that the windows in her unit were boarded over. When no one answered our knock at that unit, we checked next door and the renter showed us a bullet hole in his adjoining wall.

At that point, I called the police and was told there was “an incident” at the duplex the previous night. When I requested the officer who had investigated the incident to meet me there, he did so. Upon his arrival, I told him that our property had clearly been destroyed and asked him to enter the problem unit with me. He said curtly, “That’s what you can expect when you rent to gang bangers.”

“Are you saying we rented to gang bangers?” I asked in astonishment.

“That’s what I am saying,” he said.

I pointed to the in-ground termite bait traps and asked, “Do you really think that landlords who would go to that expense to protect their property would knowingly rent to gang bangers?”

He somewhat grudgingly entered the unit with me and I was stunned to see that someone had been overhauling motorcycles on the living room carpet. A Post-it note covered the bullet hole in the wall. The windows were broken and the steel entry door had been battered, pushing the wall off the sill plate. In the bathroom, the ceiling fan hung from its wires. I asked a second police officer, who belatedly joined us, if the police had done that during a search. He said he didn’t think so, but climbed on the toilet lid and tried to fix the fan.

You have undoubtedly guessed that the young woman I rented the unit to never moved in, but was fronting for someone I would never have considered as a renter. What surprised us is that neither police nor the renter next door notified us of the destruction to our property. According to the police officer, there was no requirement for them to do so. If that is still the case, I hope that city commissioners, during their consideration of expanded rental inspections, make it mandatory that landlords be notified of destruction to their property when police are called to the scene of suspected criminal activity.

Although we had insurance, it cost us a great deal of time, money and worry to evict a tenant to whom we did not rent our property. And the tenant next door? When he left, owing us several months’ rent, we learned that — in spite of our no pets policy — he had a cat who used a corner of the living room carpet for a litter box.

While we remain grateful to the many tenants who took care of our property as if it were their own (one horticulturist improved on our landscaping), we are even more grateful that we sold the duplex and no longer own property in the city.

There are two sides to the renter/landlord story. Commissioners would do well to remember that as they deliberate expanding inspections. As for Ray and me, we have adopted a new rule: Neither a renter nor a landlord be.

— Marsha Goff is a long-time Lawrence resident and a former landlord.


Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 5 months ago

"her credit rating and rental records were excellent."

I certainly hope that you corrected that in short order. It seems to me that with the damage that you described, she owed you a great deal of money after the unit was no longer rented to her. And since it most likely wasn't ever collected, and that would stay on her credit record for I believe seven years for everyone to see.

"Neither a renter nor a landlord be."

I would rather not rent, but at the moment I have no choice. I certainly did enjoy owning my own home.

And about not being a landlord, offhand I have personally known at least two, and I think more, people who increased their net worth by at least $1,000,000 by renting residential units. Of course, it did take decades to earn that sum of money. They are not people that I have read about, nor people that I have casually met while inspecting possible places to live.

But, as with any other profitable income stream, you do need to know what you're doing. There's a general rule of thumb that people who are successful at renting residential properties follow: "Buy the place on credit, and then let the tenants make the payments."

I knew one man who worked as a lawyer, but I did not know that he had more than one or maybe two apartment houses, until I rented a home from him in 1994. He didn't buy houses to rent, only apartment buildings, with the exception of the one he was renting to me, which he purchased as a buffer for one of his upscale apartment buildings. One day he stopped by, and asked if I wanted to go for a ride around town. "Sure," was my answer, and we stopped by an apartment house that he told me he bought in 1961. A banker was inspecting the property, and his remark was something like "The property is in better shape than it was last time I inspected it!"

After the banker left, I asked my friend "You mean after all those years, that apartment building isn't paid for yet?"

The answer was: "Hell no! Every time I got some equity in it, I borrowed on it again, and used it for a down payment on another apartment house! I've been doing that for years!"

To tell the truth, I have no idea how many apartment houses he owns today in Topeka and Manhattan, Kansas. Of course, there is a risk involved in leveraging like that, so it is necessary to have a sum of money set aside, or a line of credit available in case your vacancy rate becomes excessively high.

His father had made a large fortune renting in addition to his legal practice, and taught him all the ins and outs of profitable renting. And, his father was close friends with a well known Lawrence landlord today, and was the first person to see the first property he ever bought to rent in Lawrence. Quite a lot of experiences and knowledge was passed through their friendship.

From a casual reading of your article, it appears that you attempted to get into that business without a mentor. I don't think that was a good idea.

Doug Weston 4 years, 5 months ago

I'm not sure what point Mrs. Goff was trying to make with this article, but it seems to me the lesson is that landlords should take a cue from the city and inspect their properties themselves on a regular basis. Random unannounced visits to "see if the tenant needs anything" go a long way to avoiding the problems Mrs. Goff encountered: illegal subletting, tenants trashing the property, etc. Seems like the city is giving landlords a Business 101 lesson with the inspection program.

John Graham 4 years, 5 months ago

Landlords are not allowed "random unannounced" visits. Obviously the landlord may drive by and look at the outside of the property but being the landlord doesn't allow one the right to be on the property or in the property without advance notice unless there is an emergency.

Doug Weston 4 years, 5 months ago

I'm not talking about accessing the property when the tenant is not there or without prior notification. But, landlords can stop by their property anytime they want, knock on the door and ask their tenants if anything needs to be fixed, if they're having any problems, etc. Just good customer service and good business.

John Graham 4 years, 5 months ago

If done repeatedly it could be considered harassment. I as a renter would not want my landlord dropping by once a month unless I called about something that needs to be addressed.

Doug Weston 4 years, 5 months ago

You always have the opportunity to choose another living situation when your lease expires.

John Graham 4 years, 5 months ago

You can also sue for harassment if your landlord keeps dropping by unannounced.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 5 months ago

I could tell quite a story that was once told to me by a landlord. But, this is a G rated site.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 5 months ago

First of all we know not all landlords are slum lords and all tenants are not terrible neighbors.

However there are multiple issues surrounding Rental Licensing.

What about the attack on market values of neighboring residential as a result of neglected properties and rowdy tenants?

What about noisy rowdy neighbors invading the peace and quiet of neighboring residents which is in and of itself an invasion of privacy?

What’s wrong with providing safer live in environments for tenants?

20,720 rental properties inhabit Lawrence,Kansas or about 58% of residential is rental property.

There are many communities surrounding Lawrence,Ks that have had regulations in place for many years. And at significantly larger fees to property owners.

It is my best thinking that inspectors have no right to barge in without consent. All of a sudden property owners are concerned for the privacy of pot smokers my how times have changed.

My speculation says the greater concern is property owners fear the expense of bringing business properties up to code. A legal business expense. Yet could increase property values which is a plus for the community as a whole.

What if a furnace has been red tagged yet never replaced? What if a roof is in disrepair and might cave in?

What if the sewer lines need a roto rooter? What if a porch is falling apart?

What if light fixtures need some attention?

What if smoke detectors need new batteries?

What if plumbing is a disaster?

Again What about the attack on market values of neighboring residential as a result of neglected properties and rowdy tenants? Rental licensing is the Fiscally Responsible Choice for Lawrence,Kansas.

John Graham 4 years, 5 months ago

Fine arguments but they could also be made against owner occupied homes as well. There are many older homes owner occupied that I doubt would pass inspection. The problems with bad neighbors is not limited to rentals. There are plenty of run down owner occupied homes in Lawrence as well as home owners that have loud parties and are in general poor neighbors. Inspections would have no real impact on loud or bad neighbors. Inspections are to be sure properties are up to code only. If you mandate inspections on rentals why exclude owner occupied? If a renter has a complaint about the property that the owner is not fixing have the renter call for a city inspection to put some pressure on the owner. The owners have legal recourse to deal with bad tenants, let the renters call for inspections when they have an issue that isn't addressed. That way the rentals in general should be in better repair.

Doug Weston 4 years, 5 months ago

Very simply, rental properties are businesses and government has greater latitude in regulating business vs personal actions/property. It's the same reason government inspects restaurants but doesn't inspect your kitchen at home.

John Graham 4 years, 5 months ago

Your analogy is not valid. It would only be valid if you were to say that the govt inspects restaurants in rented buildings but not owner occupied buildings. The govt inspects all restaurants. Under your restaurant analogy all residences, rented and owned, should be inspected.

Doug Weston 4 years, 5 months ago

No. The analogy is rental property is a business, just as a restaurant is a business. Governments have greater authority and responsibility to ensure the welfare of the public when it comes to goods and services offered by business enterprises. It's the USE of the property not the ownership of the property that triggers the inspection: Business venture vs. private/personal use.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 5 months ago

Renters may not own the property but they are paying to live there and they have the right to think of it as home and be comfortable. Marsha makes the claim that she was duped into thinking one person was going to rent when in fact it was someone else and all the time this apartment was rented out, never did she suspect anything. So, who signed the lease? It had to have been the woman she talked to or it would not have worked, right? How was the monthly rent paid? Unless it was cash paid anonymously there had to be a name somewhere. If this woman with impeccable crededtials signed all the documents, then isn't she responsible for paying for the damage? Weren't the others living there illegally?

Why is a woman with impeccable credit history, rental and job history doing fronting for gang bangers? There has to be a story behind that.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 5 months ago

There's probably a story behind that, you certainly do have a point there. But the PS following the story is that if Mr. and Mrs. Goff had any civic responsibility, she didn't have an impeccable credit rating or rental history afterwards.

A collection gone bad stays on your credit report for seven years in most cases, although bankruptcy and foreclosures are for a longer period of time. But the seven years resets every time a collection on the debt is made, or an acknowledgement of the debt is made by the debtor. So, if you manage to garnish at least one cent from a bank account or paycheck at least once within every seven years, that bad report on her credit rating would be lifelong.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 5 months ago

Thank you Ron. You are the go to guy for information.

Addie Line 4 years, 5 months ago

Very good points, John. I can see many homes that aren't rentals across town in poor condition that would not pass inspection, and that's just from observing the outside. Should something be done about these? How can I initiate complaints against these homeowners? Why limit it to rentals only, why draw the line there? Go ahead and hold everyone accountable.

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