On becoming a landlord – a cautionary tale staring Murphy’s Law…

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Tenants and Murphy's Law

So, you are thinking of becoming a landlord even though you never thought you would be one. This happens when life throws you a curve ball and you have to make some quick  and life-changing decisions.

Maybe you bought a home that you thought was forever and a new business opportunity takes you across the country. Maybe your financial circumstances change. Whatever the reason, you are moving on and have to make a decision about your current home.

These days the numbers for renting usually work…

People are making good money on rentals, though not as much as you might think. A great deal depends on how much profit you can make from selling your home and where you expect (or hope) your home’s value will go in the future. With 1BR rentals going for well over $2000 a month, most people who own their own home or condo will do well.

Right now, there are no levers that will push demand for rentals down. So, for the time being, you can get a good return. But don’t expect that to always be the case.

But are you suited to being a landlord?

Tenants and Murphy's Law - infographicIf you like having a calm, stable and uncomplicated life – being a landlord is probably not for you.

Even with the best of tenants, stuff happens. Trees come down, basements flood, the heating system conks out, appliances fail. You name it and it can go wrong. With a bad tenant?  Well let’s just say that this ups the ante from things you can prepare for to to Murphy’s law on steroids.

The story you are about to read is true – but it is not for the faint of heart…

My parents rented a home when I was still quite young, but the experience has left a lasting impression. It has made me personally very resistant to becoming a landlord.

It all started in the back in the later 70’s when my parents found themselves in possession of two homes in the same neighborhood. They decided to rent one of the houses rather than sell it.

Great tenants and a false sense of confidence…

Our first tenants were wonderful people. Our family kept in touch with them for years after they moved on to their own home. I remember having dinner in my former house and playing with their daughter in my former bedroom. In many ways we were one big happy family extended family.

Little did we know that we were about to learn the flip side of this situation with our second tenants.

If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong…

So it was  with a great deal of confidence that our family embarked on our second journey as landlords. The new family moved in and within a week or two, our lives were being turned upside down.

By the second weekend, my parents realized that this was a different ball game.

The neighbors living next door to the rental property called to tell us they felt something was wrong. The family had gone away for the weekend after having thrown a rather loud party and the curtains were drawn and all the lights were out. After talking with the real estate agent, my mother felt it wise to go over to the house and find out what was going on.

When she got there, she found the following:

  • Cigarette buts stamped out in the carpets and the hardwood floors.
  • The master bath tub had somehow been turned green (to this day we have no idea – for the record, it was initially white).
  • Nail polish spilled and dried on the furnishings as well as the floor and carpet.
  • The children had decided that that our walls were a giant art board and had drawn all over them in crayon.
  • On the top floor, more cigarettes ground into carpets and a broken lampshade. Behind the lamp a burnt curtain which someone had apparently used as a substitute lampshade.

How to explain the completely ridiculous to supposedly competent adults…

My mother was in shock. How on earth could this happen within 10 days? My parents and the real estate agent that was helping them manage the property, read the family the riot act. None of the following was to be allowed:

  • Cigarettes could not be put out on the floor or on the carpets.
  • The tub had to be returned to its normal color.
  • Drawing pictures on the walls was not allowed.
  • Drapes were not to be used as lampshades.

Why anyone would need to explain this to another human being was baffling.

When whatever can go wrong, goes even more wrong…

After that, whenever I heard anything about “the house” I just wanted to run and hide. The news was never good.

No, you are not allowed to do things that could cause the house to catch fire or explode…

One day the oil burner failed. Our tenant pushed the reset button. When the furnace didn’t kick on, he did it again and again and again. Since you are never supposed to reset an oil burner more than once, we were lucky they didn’t blow up the house.

When my mother went in the HAVAC people she was amazed to find that the children had resumed their artistic ventures in their bedroom. There were still cigarettes all over the house but fortunately no one seemed to be using the carpets to extinguish them. The tub was now brilliant kelly green  and the new addition was cobwebs everywhere. Literally everywhere. Also, the exposed floors were covered with a greasy film as if no one had mopped them in about forever.

Once again, a new list of “Do’s and Don’ts” was composed. The first thing on the list was “Don’t blow up the house”.

Of trees, water, and flooding…

Early one very stormy evening, I answered the phone and it was our wayward tenants calling to inform us that a “huge tree” had just fallen over and barely missed them and their car. Admittedly, our first thoughts were to try and figure out how they managed to fell and entire willow tree. This time, it actually wasn’t their fault. Amazingly, the tree met its end by natural causes.

Nevertheless, it created an unexpected water problem. The water table in the area is extremely high and the willow tree acted like a giant water pump keeping water away from the house. Curtain drains had to be installed to prevent the basement from repeatedly flooding.

And just when you think it can’t get any worse – the coup de grace…

The final straw in our rental odyssey came one day when my mother went over with an elderly aunt to check the house while the family was away on vacation. She opened the door and immediately fell back 10 feet. The smell of gas permeated everything. Without thinking, she put a handkerchief over her nose and ran into the house. She found the offending burner that was left on and turned it off. She raced outside gasping for breath. My aunt had already gone next door to use the phone to call the fire department.

Within five minutes the local fire department had responded sirens blaring. They waited until the gas had dissipated and the area was judged to be safe from an explosion. The local gas company was also called to ensure the home was safe and there were no leaks. It was a totally horrific experience for all concerned.

There was one more surprise left for that day. My aunt was feeling a bit unsteady after the days events. My mother suggested she sit down and relax on the sofa. She sat down and fell right through to the floor. Apparently, the children had been using the sofa as a trampoline and broken all the springs. In the scheme of things, it was a minor issue. Just another issue in a long list of problems that ranged from the ridiculous to the terrifying.

At that point, they realized the tenants had to go…It took a combination of threats to contact the husband’s employer (he was an executive in a major corporation) and bribery, but they moved out 2 months later. We kept their security deposit, but to say that didn’t begin to cover the expense of putting things right is an understatement.

Further Reading:

Pros and Cons of Selling a Tenant Occupied Property…

Should I rent or sell my home? 

Should I sell or rent my home?

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Phone/Text: 914-374-5529

Email: Ruthmarie@TheWestchesterView.net

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