Landlord horror tales: 8 ways to avoid your own
Being a landlord is not a job for the faint of
heart, say the experts, but there are several rules you can follow
to protect yourself and your rental property from the "Tenants
Rule one: Screen the
"You have to find out whom you're renting to, and a credit
check will turn up any criminal or eviction history, too,"
says Brian F. Edwards, a University of Connecticut real estate lecturer,
past president of the state's property owners' association and co-author
of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Being a Smart Landlord."
The check will cost the applicant about $20,
but he'll probably agree it's worth it when you explain that everyone
in the building gets screened -- good protection for every tenant.
Of course, even a thorough credit check won't
tell you everything.
A Florida couple that had transplanted to California
was delighted when the agent who handled the rental of their home
reported that the respectable new tenant was a keen gardener who'd
surrounded the pool with leafy plants.
Only when Boynton Beach, Fla., police called
did they learn that the tenant was dealing marijuana out of the
garage and had been busted with 37 bales of the stuff.
But that wasn't as bad as the Texas duplex tenant
who kept a pet bobcat in the guest bedroom. The cat was not housebroken
and ate its raw chicken dinners off the reeking carpet that doubled
as its kitty litter.
The tenant moved out by moonlight, leaving the
landlord a bone-yard cleanup that required new pad and carpet, fumigation,
redecoration and repairs that kept the place empty for three months.
Another unlucky landlord found his tenant had
dismantled his motorcycle on the living room rug, which had absorbed
generous amounts of grease, oil and gasoline.
Sometimes, warns Mike Lee, of Jo Tipton Realty,
in Valley Ranch, Texas, "You have to be alert to the scam artist.
It's rare, but it happens."
Lee relates details of a case in which a professional-looking
gent leased a home from an owner who reviewed a glowing background
check before signing a three-year lease. The lessee even paid six
months' rent in advance. But once he had control of the house, he
advertised it for sale, at a very low price.
He convinced 30 eager home seekers to hand over
deposits of $2,000 each before he disappeared, leaving behind 30
contracts to sell and a giant headache for the homeowner and title
Rule two: Get it in
A verbal agreement isn't enough. You have to have a clear, thorough
and legal agreement on paper for everyone to understand -- and sign.
Make sure the agreement specifies:
- The name of every adult who lives in the
rental, making each responsible for all the terms. If one roommate
skips or can't pay, the other will be responsible for the full
- That the property is the residence only of
those who have signed the lease. This lets you screen residents
and gives you legal right to evict a tenant who adds someone without
- How and when complaints will be handled;
when rent is due; what, if any, repairs or alterations are permitted;
the amount of security deposit, how it may be used and just how
it will be returned, as well as how any deductions will be accounted
- Any forbidden illegal activities, excessive
noise or disruptive behavior on the premises, and the landlord's
right of access.
Go over a pre-occupancy inspection checklist.
It's a good idea to photograph or videotape the property, in case
you need to prove damage later.