I’m just soo glad I have a well-developed sense of humor. In my job, I often need it. Here’s a case in point. My tenant Martha is buying a double from me through a land contract, i.e. rent-to-buy. Land contracts are a nice addition to real estate investing plans. Normally, this is a great way for people who have bad credit, or no credit, to purchase a home. Now, I didn’t know Martha five years ago when a friend recommended her to me. But boy, do I know her now. And I’m afraid she has hoarder tendencies.
She’s good about paying me on time — no complaints. But the inside of her house is filled with “stuff” and the outside — well, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, right?
I got a call from the Board of Health last week about her back yard. (Uh-oh . . .) I went down there immediately and took this picture:
Yikes! That contraption is actually a “dog house” for her little dog, but she had filled it with bags of garbage. (I didn’t bother to check to see if the trash can next to it was empty.) It’s hard to tell from the picture, but there was also trash and junk to the right of it. I was really unhappy about this — I’d be the one to get slapped with a hefty fine if the situation wasn’t remedied within about 10 days. I had a “talk” with my tenant and she cleaned it up to this extent:
So I’ll be having a more detailed discussion with her tomorrow. I don’t think the Board of Health will feel she’s in compliance at this point. At least the garbage is gone. She’s moving in the right direction.
But if she can’t do a better job of maintaining the property I’ll have to begin the foreclosure process. (This is why landlords should always put clauses in their leases and contracts that allow them to evict if the property isn’t maintained to a certain standard.) It’s more expensive and involved to remove a rent-to-buy tenant than a regular renter. Even though she’s good about paying on time, that’s not enough . . . I don’t want to become best friends with the Board of Health folks because of her!
Onward and upward . . . More later . . .
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….