Q: I am the owner of a single-family residence and seem to have rented to the tenants from hell. They have been complainers from Day 1. The husband is a contractor, and in the beginning I had him doing some of the repairs to the house, but the list of their needs never seemed to stop.
A few months ago, I received a four-page list of items requiring repairs to the property. The house is more than 30 years old and definitely has had some deferred maintenance issues. I responded to the tenants letting them know that I had received their list and that I was scheduling independent inspections of the property. I live out of state so I made arrangements to travel and meet with the local inspectors. Once I notified the tenants of my plans, they contacted the city and filed a formal complaint.
At this point, they have not paid rent in four months while I have made many repairs and upgrades to the property that have cost me thousands of dollars. I have hired an attorney and now understand that the tenants have an attorney as well. They are asking for a jury trial. Additionally, the husband has made regular visits to the city inspectors with claims and tirades of work not occurring even when it has. He has been a pain to the city and to most of my contractors. He seems to be very angry and believes that he is righteous in believing that he and his family have been harmed. They are seeking a return of all of the rent they have paid plus future free rent.
Several months ago, I offered to let them out of their two-year lease, but they refused. The lease is not up for almost 12 more months. Besides the stress of all this and the major loss of income, I believe that these people have taken advantage of me and will fight to the death to win. I neither want this in my life nor do I deserve it, as I have not been negligent and have work going on all the time and scheduled through the next two months to bring the house to code and beyond.
I am beginning to think that I should get out of the rental housing business and invest in money market mutual funds. My biggest problem is I don’t understand what motivates people like this and I do not know how to end this? Do you have any advice?
A: Clearly, you need to find a way to terminate this tenancy, and you will have to be very careful to follow all laws and regulations or the tenant and their attorney will make your life even more miserable. I think you were smart to offer to break the lease. Of course, it would have solved your problem if they accepted. But by offering to allow them to break the lease with no penalty you have taken away their argument that they had no option and were obligated under the lease to stay.
I think your best strategy is to seek to evict them based on their breach of the lease. I know that both parties have retained an attorney so they are likely going to attempt to show that your failure to properly maintain the property is justification for their withholding rent for four months. That is very difficult to justify in most jurisdictions, and you need to show that the complaints are not justified or exaggerated. Likely the court will discount the statements made by both you and the tenant and will rely heavily on the records of the city who will be seen as a neutral third party. …CONTINUED
As you prepare for the almost certain trial, be sure to document all communications with your tenant and get copies of the complaints they made to the city. If you find that there are errors in some of the statements made by the tenant to the city or that you disagree with the comments or findings of the city inspectors, you need to put your version of the facts in writing and make it part of the official record. You need to also document all of your written communications with the city as well, as it seems highly likely that this matter will end up in court one way or another. Continue to work with your attorney and provide him or her with the evidence needed to support your case that the tenant has breached the lease.
I think that there are always a few people out there like these tenants and that is why checking the tenant history of every prospective rental applicant is so important. Most landlords will be glad to share their experiences and warn future unsuspecting victims like you that your applicant is one to avoid.
I have always felt that being a landlord can be relatively painless and a great way to supplement your income while building wealth in the long run, or it can be a cash-draining nightmare. Some landlords think that there is nothing to owning and managing a rental property, while others cannot think of anything more thankless or unrewarding. The difference is the tenant.
Your situation is a reminder that owning and managing rental properties does have its own unique challenges, but you shouldn’t assume that every tenant is like this. You may want to consider hiring a property manager who can handle the tenant selection as well as the day-to-day management issues and can insulate you from the potential emotional damage of directly managing your rental property.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and "Property Management Kit for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."
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