Blog: R.E. Tales
(Hey, they all can't be pretty...)
This woman knows all the tricks of the trade. More than me. She came to me in November in response to an ad I had for a 6 month rental on a place I didn’t want to sit empty over the winter. Barb (not her real name) proved to be a thin gal, probably in her 40’s, good-enough looking except for the bad teeth. She drove a pickup, which is always neat. The story was that she had 2 horses and a donkey and needed to rent a place where she could keep them herself and not have to board them My property had a barn and it had several box stalls, so was perfect for her, plus it was closer to work. She wanted a written lease, something I did not have in mind. But that’s OK; it’s only good business and protects both parties. I insisted upon getting references and a security deposit that was more than double the rent. I checked her references, 2 work and one personal. They all said that she worked hard (as a night-time office cleaner), was on time, had no bad habits of which they were aware, was neat and clean at home as far as they knew, and paid her bills on time. What more could a landlord want? A red flag – only one, the personal reference who was her last landlord, seemed to know her very well.
Right away, she went to painting kitchen cabinets, changing them from the awful orange they were to an off-white. That was a good sign. When it came time to move in, she paid me mostly in cash. Cash is always nice, never turn it down. But there was a check for part of it that came directly from the last landlord. Her security money, she said.
A few weeks later, I made 2 unpleasant discoveries. Opening my bills at the end of the month, I found a $300 bill from the electric company She was supposed to have changed that to her name when she moved in! But she didn’t; instead she used an ungodly amount of electric. A normal bill there for me is $30 and it shouldn’t exceed $80 in normal family usage. Then, I rummaged deeper into my pile of bills and, lo and behold, there was one from the gas company. Same thing- $400 of gas gone on an account that was supposed to have been transferred over to her name, but obviously wasn’t. Clearly, I screwed up by not checking on these things. And just as clearly, I would be screwed if she didn’t make good on them.
Not taking chances, I contacted both companies and instructed them to stop delivery. I let the electric go a few days but promptly gave her warning that the power would soon be turned off and that she needed to put that in her own name. There was no answer to my calls and emails and my letter was returned as undeliverable. Barb apparently got the message though. I worried that I would be on the hook or in trouble if I just had it turned off in the middle of a cold winter. But it seems I got off that hook. It was the only one.
Time went on, and still no payments were received. Not a one had darkened my mailbox since she moved in. Barb did not respond to emails or phone calls. The tenor of my messages got less friendly. Finally she did answer, by email. She agreed pay the next 5 months in full when she got her tax refund on February 6th. Of course, the 6th came and went as did more one-way messages. Letters to my home’s address were returned; she did not get her mail there. But where? Later, I decided that she probably just did not get mail. There is no need to get mail when it is just bills you aren’t going to pay anyhow.
I thought to call her references, to see if I could make contact that way. One said “She no longer works here”; the other’s number was disconnected. Her personal reference, her supposed former landlady, did not answer. I then realized that by taking her landlady’s check for the deposit gave me no address for my tenant. She probably did not have a bank account. You can’t sequester something that doesn’t exist. My suspicions are now that this woman was a friend and not a landlady at all and allowed her to use her check and agreed to say nice things about her. She was from another county.
Now, let me interrupt a bit. Although I was not advertising the property, I did leave it on my websites. We had some calls. One guy was real serious, in a rush, but willing to wait some so he could first see the inside. We agreed on a price for a cash sale and I send out a contract. Then someone who had talked to me about it months before got interested again and wanted it real bad. She had never seen it, so it was the same situation all over again.
Back to the story. I talked to the neighbors. They said there never seemed to be anyone home, not at predictable times, other than for the school bus. The police had been up there once, but didn’t find her there. They didn’t know what that was about. Every so often someone would be there, but they always went in immediately and you never actually saw them. Every single window was covered by a cloth, cardboard, or a rug, even the garage and the basement. Even the upstairs (except for one) and even when they were there with the lights on, you couldn’t tell it from the outside. But, at intervals, they would see a light on through that one window. As far as the neighbors were concerned, these were mystery people and they never even met them. Other than a couple of times, they never saw smoke coming out of the chimney. That relieved me a little bit as my insurance will not permit a woodstove to be used (there was one there). They had to be using space heaters, which would explain the outrageous electric bill that I was stuck with.
Somewhere along in here, I was contacted by Henry from the Oneonta Rent-a-Center. What can I tell him? Can I get him in to repossess some items? I level with him and tell him like it is. And I keep him abreast of developments as they occur, like I do the two buyers. Henry was not the only creditor who contacted me. I later learned the she had lived in a variety of locations and had been in difficulties with the law at least once before. The deputy let that one slip.
So I initiated an eviction. Fearing a freeze-up if she left during the bitter cold weather, the attorney wanted to wait a couple of weeks until the weather broke. So we put things off a couple of weeks, but first she had to be served. Fortunately, my attorney practices only a few minutes away. Instead of hiring someone, he prefers to serve them himself. Of course, when he came, if anyone was there, they did not answer the door. The law says he has to try at least three times, and also by mail. So he did, leaving the eviction notice on the door. That part of the law fulfilled, he then secured a court date in early March.
To our surprise, she showed up at court, crying (naturally). The judge had seen that act before. The case was clear-cut. We had a lease and she had not made a payment since she moved in. She agreed to be out by midnight the following Sunday. My attorney informed her that she could go to the County and they might give her money so she could stay there. She cried and said that she’d already tried that, but they wouldn’t do it. (Know why? I think I do. She screwed the County in the past and they wanted nothing to do with her in the future.)
So I went up there Monday morning. Naturally, she still seemed to be there. Nothing had been moved that I could tell. Her now-dead pickup was still there. That was just another worry for me. If someone abandons a vehicle, I cannot legally remove it. The law is gray there and no one seems to be able to tell me definitely what I can or can’t do when a vehicle is abandoned on my property. Without a title, it can’t be sold. They are not even supposed to be crushed without the title. It constitutes a real problem for the landlord. So, now we proceed to Part B. We have to hire the Sheriff to serve her an eviction notice. Then she has three days and if she is not out,; she gets thrown out.
But this is like peeling an onion; the more you learn about a procedure, the more you find out there is to it. It turns out that the Sheriff does not just go up there when you want him. He goes when he feels like it. And you have to pay him. That cost $127. Then, I learned the Sheriff has to serve them 3 times too. And that won’t be 3 times in a day. Days may go by between services. So yet another week is wasted.
I was going up there (a 45 minute one-way drive) a couple of times a week to keep track of things. My carpenter restarted the barn roof repair job that he had to quit when the snow and cold hit, so he could keep an eye out for me as well.
Then I get a call from the electric company. Did I want to have the electric turned on in my name? Not when she was still there, I didn’t, nosiree! No sense in making things easy for her and having her run up big bills again on my dollar. It would be cheaper to replumb it if the pipes broke. We’d just replumbed most of it last summer, using Pex pipes, which are not supposed to break if they freeze. I suspect we’ll find out how good that claim is. The power company wouldn’t tell me a useful thing, but I figured out that they weren’t being paid either. I had already figured out that they were heating the place with electric space heaters, rather than use the brand new furnace there. The power was to be turned off at 7:30 the next Monday morning. “That should get her out”, I thought. Better yet, I later learned that they had been turning the power off and on, leaving it on for only 20 minutes each hour. Now, that’s an incentive to pay up or get out! You can’t properly cook a meal, the house gets too cold to be comfortable, the alarm clocks won’t work, and it’s dark most of the time (remember the covered windows).
So, facing a too busy Monday, I was up there Sunday evening. She seemed to be out. Even the truck was gone (whew). But the windows were covered, and the doors still locked. In the one open upstairs window, I could see a lamp that was still there. I kept a key for the front door, but she had that bolted from the inside. She’d installed new locks on the other entrance door and of course I had no key to them. But I had come prepared. I had a crowbar. Unlocking the front door, I forced the deadbolt off the inside of the door only to find that there was also a chain on it. Pushing it a bit, I discovered that something very heavy was on the inside. The door could not be pushed open further, not even enough to tighten the chain. Stymied again.
Early Monday morning, the attorney called. He’d heard from the neighbor that she was out. I told him about the locked doors. So now we have to finish Part B and get the Sheriff there once more so I can force it open or call a locksmith. I was so busy Monday that I asked if the Sheriff could come Tuesday when I had time. A while later I learned that they could not find time to come until Thursday. I called a locksmith to make sure he could come. He could, as long as it was in the afternoon. Some more calls later, I learn that 10 AM is the only time they can come this week. So I needed to find another locksmith. I found one from further away who could come, but for a minimum fee of $175.
What will happen is this – no, let me rephrase that: what I think will happen is this. All of us will arrive: Janet and me, the locksmith, my carpenter, my attorney, Rent-a-Center Henry, and the Sheriff. The locksmith will get us in and the Sheriff will watch while Henry and his crew tries to get their stuff out. They’re not going to have fun. He told me that the only way he could fit the appliances in has been through the outside basement door. That was the only time that door had been opened in the 5 years we owned the place. But now it was buried under 2 feet of snow, snow so hard a snow shovel will not dent it. Under that is 3 inches of ice. While Henry is struggling with his burden, we will be moving her junk out to the roadside where it will probably be killing grass once the weather allows it to grow again. Then I will change the all the locks, cover up her stuff with a tarp, and we can begin assess the damage done to the inside.
My hope is that there will not be broken pipes or flooding in the basement. Once her junk is out and the locks changed, I can get the electric on so the sump pump begins to work (in the spring, it runs constantly, the basement will flood without it, which means a ruined furnace among other things). Then to get some gas out there so we can at least heat it to above freezing and get as much of the cleanup done as we can before the prospective buyers get here two days later. All her references said she was neat and clean. That was her job – cleaning lady, so it sounds reasonable. Do I dare hope that this will be true?
The only thing good about this is that there were never any horses or donkey, so at least I don’t have to also muck out stalls. And she got her truck out.
Some are merely amusing. some can help you immensely. All are interesting.
After 40 years, I've learned a lot, & acquired unforgettable experiences. Follow these long enough and you'll eventually get the whole book. (Names probably changed, for obvious reasons.)