Your turn: Landlord-tenant tales have two sides

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.