Five years ago I became a landlord. My husband and I did this out of necessity when we bought a home for three when we still owned our home for two. I had never been a landlord before but I thought that after having been a renter during my college years and a small portion of my adulthood I knew what it entailed. What I failed to understand at that time is that not all tenants are the same.
Our first tenants seemed pretty good on paper. It was a mother and her two daughters along with her fiance. They were only there for about nine months when they asked if they could erect a six foot privacy fence. I found this to be an odd request knowing the expense would be a sizeable one to put into a house that they did not own. Their reasoning was that the fiance worked at night and would feel safer with his soon to be wife and two young daughters tucked in their beds at night having a fence around the yard. This sounded like a good enough reason to me and I thought that it also meant they were planning to stay long term so we agreed that they could erect a fence at their own expense as long as it was professionally installed. I found out a month later that our tenant had been telling the very attractive twenty three year old next door to stay out of her own backyard in her bathing suit while the fiance was home during the day. I guess the privacy fence was making our tenant and her fiance both feel safer.
Our tenants finally tied the knot a year into their lease and that’s when the mother of the household turned really high maintenance. She once called for an emergency plumbing job to unclog a toilet while her husband was at work. I don’t know if she was unaware that there was another bathroom in the house or if the idea of using a plunger was so terrifying to her that she found it necessary that a plumber come and do the job at 8 pm. I don’t even want to think about what was so scary in that toilet. When she called and said that the furnace was not producing enough heat I sent my dad over post-haste. We had replaced the furnace the previous year so I thought if there was anything actually wrong it was probably with the thermostat in the house. He found her wearing a nightgown with the temperature in the house reading 76 degrees. She was disappointed that the heat was not reaching a nice tropical 80. He reminded her that she was in Michigan in February and recommended that she put some clothes on. He also made a point of wiping his brow a few times to remove the sweat and taking off a couple layers of clothes while he inspected all of the windows and doors for heat leaks. I can’t imagine what their utility bills looked like.
Shortly after signing the lease for the second year, which had a sentence that read “NO PETS SHALL BE ALLOWED, EVEN TEMPORARILY, ANYWHERE ON THE LEASED PREMISES, WITHOUT THE PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT OF LESSORS” they bought a dog. I guess the fence had a new purpose. When asked if they had a dog, they stated very clearly and with conviction “No, we do not have a dog.” I felt like I was having a confrontation with a small child who had just been caught with her hand in the cookie jar when this conversation occurred, chocolate smeared all over her face as she spit crumbs at me while repeating “no I don’t” over and over. Somehow by the end of the conversation I caved and let them keep the dog as long as they paid a fee for doing so. My reasoning was it’s easier to deal with the crazy you are familiar with than the unknown crazy and I really didn’t want to have to find another tenant. Unfortunately, they still ended up moving out after three years. And as if on cue it was right after I signed a letter of recommendation for their future landlord that things turned ugly.
They left abruptly. They had not paid the final months rent but we had a security deposit to cover that. What the security deposit did not cover was the damage they had done to the inside of the house. We knew that they had painted all of the rooms, but we didn’t know that they had not put down drop cloths while painting. Once all of their furniture was removed, we were left with a clear view of paint on all of the carpeting and hardwood floors in the house. They left quickly and quietly, leaving no forwarding address. It took me the better half of a month to finally track them down to be served with a small claims suit for damages. This was difficult since the only lead I had was they would likely be in an area with unattractive neighbors and no trees to block the sunlight. Once in court their defense was that although they damaged the floors they improved the house significantly by erecting a beautiful six foot fence so we should be square. Needless to say, they were ordered to pay for the damages (which took another full year to collect.)
We carpeted and repainted the interior of the house and found ourselves a new tenant within a month. This time we went with a single older man. He seemed like the perfect tenant since he was pretty handy and had been at his prior place for fourteen years. His only complaint about the house was that the gate on the fence was hard to open. We ended up sending my dad over (once again), along with my husband to attach bigger wheels to the gate. This seemed to make him happy enough. His girlfriend moved in within the first year. This was actually a relief to me because I had seen enough Dateline to know what kind of guy rents a three bedroom house with a fenced in backyard as a bachelor pad. The request for a dog quickly followed. I was so dumbfounded that I had a tenant that actually asked permission first that I almost ran out and bought him a dog bed. I was once again bending the rules to keep a tenant because I knew how tedious it was to find a new one. It took less than a year for me to regret that decision.
Ted Bundy’s lease was coming up in a month when I got a feeling I should give him a call to see what his plans were. When he told me that he had bought a house and was closing in a few weeks I had the same feeling of getting dumped by my first boyfriend. I was sure he and my old house were going to have a long, happy life together, but alas, he had found something better, probably with no fence. We decided that it was finally time to throw in the towel. We were not meant to be landlords. We set up a time to bring our realtor over to evaluate the house. We were greeted by a barking dog and a smell wafting through the house that brought me back to days of sleeping in the back of a van in between guitar amps and unwashed hair. We decided it would be better to wait until he moved out to start showing the house. I wanted to take a closer look at some of the mounds in the backyard anyway.
I had learned one thing from our previous tenant and that was to not let them leave without getting a forwarding address. After various attempts via text and e-mail I showed up at the door on moving day. It once again smelled like Cheech & Chong had just vacated the room, but at least the dog was gone, leaving in his wake floors that looked like a chimney had belched soot all over them. I got what I needed and was quickly ushered out of the house. When we returned the next day it was clear we would need the rest of the month to clean up the place before we could even think about selling the house. So we got to work.
We spent the next month ripping up floors, painting, cleaning and removing more trash than I thought possible all while dodging piles of dog poop in the back yard. I think I put more blood sweat and tears into that house than anything else in my life over the last fifteen years and in the end I was happy to see it go. It was the house I became a wife and a mother in. It was the house I took a lot of first steps in and the house I fell down a lot in. When we sat down last week to sign the closing documents the older woman purchasing the house said to me “You know what made me buy the house? That fence. I have only been in the house twice and it was lovely but I would do anything for my dog and he needs a big fence because he scares easily!”