April 12, 2008 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
When faced by crooked or irresponsible tenants, some landlords fall for one excuse after another, placing themselves and their own families in real financial danger. In short, they are incredibly weak people who become candidates for my “Wimp of the Year” award.
This year’s award goes to Hanford resident “Darin,” described by his wife, Julie, in a fax sent to my office as “a wonderful husband, but he should not be a landlord.” Julie has more courage that Darin could muster given two lifetimes. In fact, if he keeps up his incompetent behavior, one day I expect to see this headline in The Hanford Sentinel: “Wife Acquitted of Murdering Idiot Husband by Cheering Jury.”
Only a year late with the rent?
“My husband has been renting a house to the current tenants for over 8 years. They are constantly late and now have, once again, completely stopped making any payments. Once, they were a year late, and my husband just told them to pay when they could. Finally, they borrowed money from family members to get caught up. At that time, my husband promised me he would not let that happen ever again. Guess what, they haven’t paid rent since October, 2007,” Julie wrote.
“They come up with every reason imaginable. Now the husband is unemployed, looking for work in a different state and their marriage has fallen apart. I am so tired of arguing and fighting about these renters with my husband. I never once paid rent late, even when times were tough. What kind of people expect to live off of others, for free,” she asked, revealing an old-fashioned sense of responsibility and morality.
In speaking with her husband, I became even more amazed at how she could remain married to a man who was incredibly out of touch with the damage he has done to their marriage, the horrible example of responsibility he has shown their children, and the financial danger in which he has placed them all.
“I always felt that you should give a person an extra chance, and that’s why I wasn’t worried when they were from 3 to 8 to 10 months or more late. They always told me it was because they had to help their family, or that the husband was out of work. They always did pay, just a bit late,” he concluded.
“If I evict them now, I won’t have any chance of getting the rent money, and if they trash the house, it will take a lot of money to fix it,” was his answer. Then he added something which would have caused a normal landlord to file eviction papers at once.
“Besides, Jimmy, (the husband) just called and told me that he is going to live permanently in Louisiana and they are getting a divorce. The wife, son and some other relatives are living in the house, so my plan is to give her time to find a job. I’m not a bit worried,” he said.
It reminded me of the statement allegedly made by Captain John Smith of the Titanic shortly before it struck an iceberg. “Full steam ahead. We’ve got nothing to worry about. This ship can’t sink.”
Why this is a dangerous situation
I ran these facts by Erin Dolan, C.P.A. and partner in Dolan and Knight Property Management in Los Angeles.
“This is a financial nightmare in the making,” he stated. “You would be surprised at how many landlords seem incapable of dealing with these kinds of tenants.”
“Julie is absolutely justified in being worried, and not just about unpaid rent. Apparently with his knowledge and permission, there are several occupants in the property. This could make eviction difficult, expensive and an extremely long process. As a way of prolonging the process, the tenant’s lawyer could argue the house violates housing codes, hasn’t been correctly maintained, has mold, the kids are sick, and so on,” he pointed out.
“They could easily lose insurance on the house, as many companies now require proof of occupancy and rent being paid on time to demonstrate the landlord’s diligence. The value of the property would fall if it is in poor shape. A judge might see their inaction as an admission that something is wrong with the house and the owners don’t want to force the issue. This is a lose/lose situation the longer it persists,” he added.
“I have personally seen situations where a landlord was counter-sued by non-paying tenants and forced to sell the rental unit to satisfy the judgment. I have also seen more than one marriage ruined when husband or wife reveals such weakness, that it forces the other spouse to lose respect.”
“I’m no psychologist, just a guy who manages rental property, but I’ll tell you that once respect is gone, love isn’t far behind,” Dolan concluded. His remarks were almost identical with what I had told Darin.
Hanford Attorney, Ron Jones had these comments, “Not only for Darin, but anyone reading your story who sees themselves in it, realize that not everyone is cut out to be a landlord. In this family, the wife clearly is far more capable and she should take over that job at once. He either needs to make his wife the property manager, or get out of the business of renting a house. If he is over 30, it is highly unlikely that he will change his behavior pattern with respect to the approach he takes with tenants,” Ron stressed.
I encouraged them both to drop by my office for a chat and referral to a lawyer in their town. Julie agreed. Darin’s excuse floored me.
“I just can’t take off work. I can’t miss work for anything. I have never taken a sick day and this isn’t all that important.”
Perhaps he will remember that statement when served with a lawsuit from the tenants, or by his wife, fed up with a man who can’t get his priorities straight.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.