AAOA

AAOA recently invited me to do a guest piece on their site…thought I’d repost it here. American Apartment Owners Association is a very useful organization (I’m a member) for all types of real estate owners/investors across the nation. Their site offers multiple forms and services to enhance and streamline the lives of people like me! Here’s the piece I contributed:

http://www.american-apartment-owners-association.org/property-management/landlord-quick-tips/know-time-go-2/#sthash.IEAg2vSi

Defining “Hoarder”

You be the judge … check out these pictures I took of one of my tenant’s basements:

Hoard 2Hoard In my opinion, this tenant is a hoarder.  When I asked her — several months ago — why she had so much stuff down here, she said she was having a “garage sale.”  Well, it’s six months later and there hasn’t been a garage sale and the pile has grown.  Fortunately, she’s moving, so I’m not being faced with having to force her out.

There’s a fine line between what constitutes a hoarder vs. someone who just has a lot of “stuff.”  I’m kind of a minimalist, I don’t like clutter, so it’s difficult to judge other peoples’ lifestyles when I do apartment checks.  Some of my tenants’ homes have what I’d say is a lot of clutter, but they aren’t dirty.  The floors are clean, the dishes are done, bathrooms are clean, etc.  I may have a negative reaction to the clutter, but that’s my problem, not theirs!

But as for the tenants who let the junk — and funk — stack up, I strongly advise people to 1) protect themselves — with appropriate wording — from hoarders in their leases, and 2) perform apartment checks on a regular basis.  Basements like the one above are invitations for pests, mold and other hazards.

This case was a bit different because this person was buying the house from me on contract, i.e. a type of rent-to-buy agreement.  I was a little more hesitant to evict her, since the process would be more costly and involved than a straight eviction.  But she initiated the move-out, and I’m thrilled.  I’m even going to put a dumpster on site for a couple weeks, to expedite the process for her.  I wonder if she’ll use it and fill it up with some of her hoard, or whether she’ll take it all with her?  LOL

More follow-up on that issue later …

Onward and upward!

Hoarder Strikes Again . . .

Well, I’ve just about had it.  This is a duplex I was selling on contract.  I did the deal with Martha back in ’06 and all was good.

Bu slowly, she started to collect “stuff.”  In the back yard, in the house, and now in the front yard and on the porch.  I’ve confronted her about it, and she insists she “needs” all of it.

The Board of Health has sent me two letters about the junk that has piled up at her property.  The last letter was in April of 2011.  At that time, I wrote her a letter and told her that if I got one more letter from the BOH, I was going to foreclose on her. 

And sure enough, the inevitable happened.  I got the letter last week and contacted my attorney.  She’s not going to be happy but it’s not as if I didn’t warn her!  This is crazy stuff.  It’ll take a while to process the court papers — maybe two or three months at the most — but it’ll be worth it to me to get her out. 

I just hope she doesn’t leave me any of her junk!

Onward and upward ….

Trash, or Treasure??

When tenants move out — planned or not — they often leave a few items behind.  Here’s an example:

003The tenant took all of their clothing and personal items from this bedroom, but left the mattress and dirty linens and some boxes and other trash.  They’re obviously not coming back for this stuff!  But how about the contents of this next photo, taken from the same house?

001

The shelving units in both rooms were not in good shape, but I suppose they could be used in another rental.  The stuff on the sheves — electronics, knick-knacks, etc. — was either broken or just plain trash.  So as a landlord, what do you do?  Can you throw it out?  Or will your tenant come back on you several months later, claiming you threw away some precious family heirlooms?

Here’s what I do … on my application, I always get the names and addresses of two contacts — family and/or friends — as emergency contacts.  In these cases, if I cannot reach my tenant and I don’t have a forwarding address, I call these people and try to find my tenant through them.  I let them know the situation, and tell them I need to clear out the rental for my next tenant.  Sometimes they come and clear out the house, sometimes the tenant does, and sometimes the emergency contact says the tenant doesn’t want the rest of the contents.  I get this in writing, take pictures of the junk left behind, and put it out for the trash man.  Simple.

When you’ve made all efforts to find your tenant and contacted the appropriate people, to no avail, you can — by law — label the stuff they left behind as “abandoned property.”  The law is purposely vague about this, and I’ve never, in 17 years, had an issue with throwing people’s junk away.

What’s that saying?  “One man’s trash, another man’s treasure?”  No, it’s “One man’s trash, another man’s trash!”  So don’t keep it, throw it out!  And know that you’ll find a better tenant next time!

Onward and upward!  🙂

Clean-up in Aisle Three …

So, I evicted Brianna and stopped in to check out the house yesterday.  There was trash in every room of this three-bedroom rental, including a few bags of open garbage.  As you can see in the picture below, she owned a broom but maybe just didn’t know how to use it?

She also stole some of the curtains from the windows.  (Glad I buy them at Family Dollar, for about $10/window!)

I had told Brianna what I tell all of the people I evict:  “If you leave the place clean and empty, and you’re out before your court date, I’ll drop the proceedings against you.”   For many tenants, this is an attractive incentive, and they comply.

Brianna didn’t care about that.  She stayed til the bitter end.  She had to be out five days after the hearing (for which she didn’t show up), and she was gone one day ahead of time.   But, just couldn’t quite get everything out:

This kind of thing doesn’t happen very often but when it does, I bring my rake (yes, I said rake!) and 55-gallon trash bags and get the place ready for my next tenant.

Brianna wasn’t behind in her rent.  I don’t allow pets and she had a couple dogs in there. (I discovered this when I was at the house doing some outside work.)  She was evicted for violating our pet policy.  Throughout the eviction process, I was respectful — this is important — and she didn’t leave angry.  The mess she left behind wasn’t due to anger or resentment on her part … she was just a slob.

Brianna was neat and tidy in the early part of her tenancy but things had fallen apart in her life and she wasn’t keeping the place in very good order.  She was on thin ice with me over this before the dog incident … I discovered this fact during one of my periodic apartment checks.

The moral of this story?  Always protect your investment by doing occasional checks of the interior.  And, don’t worry about the stuff you can’t control, like the scenes in this blog piece.  Get the rake and the bags, and get it back up and running!

Onward and upward … 🙂

Foolers …

I usually trust my “gut.”  Are you a good judge of people?  I like to think I am, but just when I’m feeling pretty good about that, a tenant comes along and totally fools me.  Trusting your gut is never good enough when you’re renting places to people.

That’s why you need to have applicants bring a copy of a paycheck stub with them, to submit with the application.  Recently, I decided to forego this requirement … I made an exception.  This couple was excellent.  But they forgot to bring the paycheck stubs.

I went with my gut, after verifying their work information and getting a recommendation from their supervisors.

To make a very long story short, I was soooo wrong!  They did nothing but gripe about small things after they moved in, and then didn’t quite get the full rent paid for June.  when I didn’t get July rent within the 5-day alotted time frame, I filed eviction.

They moved out before the court date (yay!) but stole the stove and range hood, refrigerator, and most of the window coverings (waaaahhh!).

Wish I’d gotten those work addresses, because of course, I don’t have a forwarding address.  And shame of me for being too trusting.  This attribute got me in a LOT of trouble early in my career, but rarely now.

Their court date is tomorrow, so I’ll go — they won’t — and I’ll file a writ and get another court date on which I can file for damages, which is the money they owe me and also the cost of the items they took.  I’m also filing a police report, so they’ll be in the criminal system.

Bottom line?  Always have your applicants provide documentation for their workplace.  And if they can’t or won’t, they’re probably scamming you.

Oh, and here’s a good one … this couple mentioned, in passing, that they’re Buddhists.  Whaaaat?  Isn’t the Dalai Lama Buddhist?  I thought they were supposedly kind, gentle souls.  Evidently, we should never generalize about any group.

Onward and upward!

Does Eviction Mean It’s Over?

The “E” word.  And in today’s world, the “F” word . . . evictions and foreclosures abound in this economy.  In the early 2000s, people bought homes with little or no money down, and we all know what has happened in the past few years.

So whether you’ve been evicted or foreclosed on, your credit is pretty much trashed, and there isn’t a landlord in the city who’ll consider renting to you, right?  Wrong.

Along with those who lost their homes due to an ARM they couldn’t afford when it came time to pay the higher rate, there are many legitimate reasons people lose their homes and apartments:

  • Personal or family health problems/related hospital bills
  • Being laid off or downsized, loss of job
  • High, unplanned-for utility bills resulting in budgeting problems
  • Loss of second income that helps to pay rent or mortgage
  • Loss of extra income, i.e. child support, SSI, etc.
  • Stolen money, cars or other prime essential belongings

These are all legitimate reasons for losing a home and many times, people are able to rebound and get back on their feet after a few months.  As a landlord, I look at the reason behind an eviction or foreclosure, check out the applicant’s current ability to pay rent, and make a decision based on those things.

Bad applicants tend to have a string of evictions, and always have an excellent excuse to accompany each eviction.  I don’t go there.

Here’s the bottom line:  if you rent to lower-income individuals, you’re going to have some applicants who have an eviction on their record.  And in this economy, evictions and foreclosures are plentiful at every socio-economic level.  So if you refuse to look at someone with “a history,” you may be without a tenant for a long time!

Look at the reasons behind the eviction . . . some are understandable, and some will disqualify the applicant.  You decide . . . go with the facts, and go with your gut.

Shots Fired!

Okay, so my lease has a clause that says, “Keep music, TV and other noise low so neighbors aren’t bothered.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t say anything about gun shots fired or visits from the police.  😦

The Friday after Thanksgiving, at 11:30 PM, I got a call from a tenant in one of my duplexes, saying shots had been fired in the area, and there were police at the other side of the duplex.  Wonderful.  I didn’t get a call from the other tenants.  Hmmmm ….

I went down there the next day and of course, the tenants said it must have been a “drive by” because they don’t have any enemies, etc.  (Again, hmmmm…..)  The bullets went right through the two-inch thick wood front door and were embedded in the paneling in the living room.  Well, I’d had complaints and suspicions about these tenants previously re: drug activity and had the narcotics division check it out (to no avail), so I wasn’t buying their story.  I strongly suggested they move out and they acquiesced.

Here’s the bottom line:  if you suspect drug activity at one of your rentals, call the police and have them do surveillance.  And more importantly, put a clause in your lease to protect yourself, which I’ve done since this incident.  I’ve added a clause that states, “Police visits will not be tolerated.”  Enough said!  You need to be able to file eviction if there is police activity at one of your rentals, even if it’s domestic disturbance.  Putting that clause in your lease gives you the option to evict if you feel it is necessary.

We landlords can’t be at our rentals 24/7, and the best we can do is have an airtight lease to protect ourselves from tenants who are conducting illegal activity or creating disturbances on site.

When in doubt, get ’em out!

The Beauty of Month-to-Month Leases

Most of my tenants are on month-to-month leases, and a few are on yearly leases.  When one of my yearly lease tenants moves out prior to the lease being up, I have them continue to pay the rent until I find the next tenant, which usually doesn’t take long.  For the penalty of breaking the lease, I keep their deposit.

Most people think that month-to-month leases pose yet another challenge in the already difficult job of landlording.  They feel that tenants are more likely to move out if they have a monthly lease.  But I haven’t found this to be the case.  I have monthly payers who’ve been with me for three or four years.  And seriously, with the economy the way it is, it makes sense to do monthly leases . . . people’s lives can change for the worse in an instant.  They get laid off, lose their jobs, get transferred out of state, etc.  So they appreciate being on a monthly lease instead of a long-term commitment.

And here’s the beauty — for us landlords — of the month-to-month lease.  If you have a tenant who’s been nothing but trouble, or has been unreasonably demanding, or otherwise undesirable, you can take back your rental unit with 30 days’ written notice.  Tell them you intend to do some renovations to the unit — whatever.  But you can have them move with that 30 days’ notice.  (Actually, you can even evict them for the above issues as long as there’s no discrimination or illegal retaliation involved on your part.  I’ll cover that in another blog post.)

So don’t be afraid to go with a month-to-month lease.  It can help your tenant, who may be willing to pay a bit more rent for this privilege, and it can also help you, if you decide the tenancy isn’t going the way you’d like!

Onward and upward . . .

“Next Week” Never Comes

One of my best qualities is also one of my worst . . . I choose to think the best, in people and situations.  This works for me, and against me.  It enables me to remain positive in difficult circumstances and, although I haven’t led the easiest of lives, I’m a happy, contented person.

So how does choosing to think the best end up working against me?  Here’s an example:

My tenant, Eddie, pays his rent bi-weekly because that’s when he gets paid at his job.  (I try to make it easy for my tenants to pay their rent.)   He called and said he didn’t have the rent due to a car breakdown . . . if he doesn’t fix the car, he can’t go to work.  If he doesn’t go to work, he’ll get fired and won’t be able to pay the rent.  I certainly understand this dilemma.  Many of my tenants are low-income individuals.  Eddie needed to fix his car, which ate up his rent payment.  He promised he’d double up on it in two weeks and be totally caught up.  Choosing to think the best, I agreed.

Two weeks later, I learned Eddie had been sick and hadn’t worked for a few days.  His check was short.  He was only able to pay one week of rent, which put him three weeks behind now.  And the beat goes on.  And on, and on . . .

What I’ve learned through the years is that “next week” never comes.  I want to believe it will, and many times my tenants fully believe it will.  But way too often, it doesn’t.  Choosing to think the best won’t make it happen, unfortunately.  I lost hundreds (maybe thousands?) of dollars early in my career before I toughened up.  This is an income-producing business, not a charity.  I can’t afford to allow people to live rent-free in my units.

So now, when they get behind, we make a written plan for them to get caught up and if they default, I file eviction.

So, a short word to the wise . . . Yes, choosing to think the best in people and situations is a wonderful attribute.  But it can cost you dearly if you allow it to override your good business sense!