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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 From Hell."

Rule one: Screen the applicants Rule five: Keep it up
Rule two: Get it in writing Rule six: Get help
Rule three: Insure yourself Rule seven: Don't say no to pets
Rule four: Protect your tenant Rule eight: Mediate disputes
 
Have you had a frightful experience with a tenant? Share your nightmares by sending your story to: Landlordhorrors@bankrate.com.

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Rule one: Screen the applicants
"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 company.top of page

Rule two: Get it in writing
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 rent.
  • 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 your permission.
  • 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 for.
  • 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.top of page

 

(continued on next page)
-- Posted: Dec. 8, 2003
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See Also
Rookie landlords face big challenges
Are you cut out to be a landlord?
10 tips for new landlords
Track prime rate/other leading rate indexes
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