Board of Health Buddies

Most of us landlords have developed a love/hate relationship with the people at the Board of Health Department in our cities.  When they’re jumping all over the slumlord down the street who has let the weeds in his backyard grow waist high, we love them.  When we get a citation in the mail, because one of our tenants has a car with flat tires and no license plate parked in the backyard, we hate them.  

Whether you love them or hate them, they’re an integral part of the inner workings of the big city environment.  In the 15+ years of my career in real estate investing, I can count my citations on one hand.  Most have been the result of tenant negligence.  Citations can be issued for a variety of reasons:

  • Following eviction, tenants may leave unsightly piles of junk in back of their homes or apartments:  mattresses and boxsprings, broken pieces of furniture, open garbage, tires and other car parts, etc.   In many cases, the city doesn’t pick up heavy trash, so this responsibility falls on the landlord.  If he/she doesn’t take care of it quickly, the Board of Health may catch it on a “drive-by”.
  • I make my tenants responsible for cutting their own lawn.  Most of them do a decent job of it, and some of them require a reminder note left at their door.  This responsibility is part of their lease agreement, so I can threaten eviction if it would get out of control.  But I’ve seen other landlords’ properties get tagged for tall grass and weeds.  Especially when the landlord is an out of town owner, this is difficult to monitor.
  • People who have car trouble like to fix their vehicles on their own.  Having a car up on blocks for more than a day or two will more than likely result in a threatening letter from the Board of Health.  Any vehicle that is inoperable results in a violation.
  • My  homes are in good repair, but there are many that aren’t:  hanging gutters, broken windows, siding that’s missing or tattered, porches and roofs that are rotting, etc…these issues draw the attention of the authorities.

A citation letter will list the violations and give a time frame in which the problems need to be corrected.  If not, the owner faces a court date and some serious fines as well.  The Board of Health doesn’t mess around!  I recently had a little run-in with them at one of the houses I’m selling on contract.  Martha had built a huge contraption in her backyard, to house her tiny dog.  She’d done this once before, about eight months ago, and I made her trim it down.  I thought she’d keep it under control, and trusted her.  Big mistake.  I got a letter from the Board of Health about her property, and when I took a peek at her yard the next day, here’s what I saw.

I was  appalled.  Martha saw nothing wrong with it, so I enlisted the help of her daughter.  I also decided I’d best check the interior of the house.  The main floor was very cluttered, and when I ventured into the basement, I found the mess below.  Again, I had to enlist the help of family members to take care of the problem! 

As they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  Remember, the home is yours to monitor and maintain; if your tenant is being lax, you must figure out a way to pressure them into cleaning up, or get them out.  Eviction is always the last resort, but may be necessary….

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