Every landlord has tales to tell about the trials and tribulations of owning rental property. Here are a few of mine.
The house was between tenants when an upstairs water pipe burst. The water cascaded down, down, down, into the crawl space. After filling that area, it spilled out into the yard, creating a wading pool outside.
I didn’t find out about the flood until the four-figure water bill arrived. Fortunately, I was able to turn the water off and the accumulated water slowly sunk into the ground. The necessary repairs were made and the place was eventually rented out.
Here today, gone tomorrow
When I eventually put the above house on the market, I fixed it up nicely, including the addition of a bunch of new shrubs.
The day after the bushes were put into the earth, they were gone, just like that. During the night, someone dug them up, leaving me nothing but gaping holes in the ground.
Tell-Tale Heart, part I
My tenant was way late on her rent. I often let people slide far longer than I should have. Big mistake. So I filed for eviction.
It took three months for the court to allow me to boot her. But the night before the sheriff was to knock on her door, she called me, crying. “Please don’t toss me out,” she whined. “I’ll pay you tomorrow.”
Bleeding heart that I am, I called off the eviction. Of course, she didn’t pay. And it took three more months with no rent to finally get her out.
Tell-Tale Heart, part II
One of my tenants died of a heart attack in his bedroom. But his body wasn’t discovered until his rent didn’t arrive. It took awhile — days, as I recall — to locate his next of kin. The police removed his body. I had to hire a hazardous waste clean-up crew to put the bedroom back in order.
The only time I actually evicted someone scared the living daylights out of me.
I had rented the place to a blind man, his wife and children. No problem. A few years later, the husband and wife called to say they had to move because he could no longer handle the steps. They asked if I would rent to their son, his children and girlfriend. I agreed.
The guy eventually split with his girlfriend but continued to pay his rent. He was habitually late, but he paid. And then he stopped. It took me several months to track him down, but when I finally found him, he had declared bankruptcy and moved away. I couldn’t touch him for back rent.
But he had allowed his teenage son to remain in the house. So I had to file for eviction. And when I finally got the court’s permission, two deputy sheriffs and I arrived at the house. As we were about to bang on the front door, the officers pulled their guns, ready for anything that might lie inside.
I wasn’t ready for that, though. So when they flashed their weapons, I ran like a scared rabbit, around the corner and out of harm’s way.
Fortunately, the house was empty. But it had been trashed, almost beyond reclamation. I had to strip it down almost to its bones. New bathrooms, new kitchen, new flooring, the HVAC, the works.
A last ‘trip’ down the stairs
I once rented a room in a boarding house I owned — five bedrooms, five tenants who shared the kitchen and living space — to a fellow who, shall we say, was quite a bit overweight — say about 300 pounds, I’m guessing, on a 5′ 8″ frame.
He was on unemployment at the time, but I took a chance on him because he was willing to take the smallest bedroom in the house. He paid his rent faithfully for maybe a couple of years, and then he stopped. Finally, after a few months of no rent, I told him he had to move, which he did.
Nice guy that he was, he left me a surprise gift — 50 or 60 gallon jugs full of urine.
I figure he was so heavy that he had difficulty rising from his mattress — no bed, just a mattress on the floor — to get to the bathroom, so he urinated into the jugs. But he never bothered to empty them. He just slept among them.
I figured them to be hazardous waste, so I donned rubber gloves and a mask and proceeded to empty each one down the toilet. Then I carried the empty jugs down the stairs and into my truck and hauled them off to the dump. To remove the stench in the room from the jugs that had overflowed or spilled during his stay, I had to replace the hardwood floor.
But the worst part occurred on my last trip down the steps with a handful of empty jugs. And I mean trip. I missed the last step and broke my ankle. Oofda.
The frozen turkey
Of course, there have been a lot of rewarding moments over the years, too. And not just of the monetary variety. The one I remember most fondly happened around Christmas time when the single father tenant I mentioned above showed up at my front door with a frozen turkey.
Turns out, his church gave out the turkeys to parishioners and told them to distribute them to people in their lives who had done good by them. Since I had allowed him to be late with his rent, he said, he thought of me as one of those people.
I was really touched. But all in all, I’d say landlording isn’t for the faint of heart.
Lew Sichelman’s weekly column, “The Housing Scene,” is syndicated to newspapers throughout the country.