Oh, it's poo.
If you haven't been reading the blog for long, I'll try to catch you up. We bought the Box House at the end of 2007 just as the real estate market began to crash. The plan was to sell our condo in Chicago and my mom's house in the suburbs and move into our new two-flat, where we would begin work happily restoring it. Unfortunately, it didn't happen like that. Despite being on the market for over a year, we didn't get a single offer. And so, like many others, we found it best to rent out the properties rather than leave them empty, sucking up money and resources.
So now, in total, we're renting out three units: the condo, Mom's house, and the unit upstairs from us at The Box House. Overall, the landlord gig isn't a bad one. Sometimes you have to deal with goofy requests and strange personalities, but on the day-to-day, you hardly ever hear from tenants. And there is the benefit of having someone else pay the mortgage (at least in part). You can put up with all kinds of minor issues then.
Up to now, the worst we had experienced was broken fixtures, banged up walls, and tenants leaving without cleaning anything. Then, at the end of May this year, one of our old neighbors called to tell us that there were pit bulls living in the condo, as well as people who weren't on the lease. At least two more individuals than we knew about.
We went over right away, and discovered that there were in fact dogs on the premises. We were told they belonged to a guest staying with them, and would be out shortly--the dogs and the guest. Overall, the place looked to be in good shape. Everything seemed in order. Still, we insisted the dogs and people leave by the end of the week, and they said okay. They had been reasonable tenants up to that point, so we weren't terribly worried. So this should have ended it.
Then we received another call from the neighbors, who said, "I hate to tell you this, but the dogs are still there." Boy! That was irritating, to say the least. Again the tenants were told in no uncertain terms that the dogs had to go; we got a song and dance saying that the guest was looking for a new job and a new apartment of her own, and had trouble finding a place to board the dogs. Too bad, not our problem. The dogs had to go, we said, and pinned them down to agree. Our mistake this time was that we did not put it in writing for them. When the dogs were still there a week later, we looked into starting eviction proceedings and realized that in our state, we had to give the tenants a notice of violation to the terms of the lease; they were then allowed 10 days to correct the problems. In this case, the actual violations were illegal occupants and unauthorized animals.
That shook them up a bit. But did it get rid of the dogs or the occupant not on the lease? No. Everything just snowballed from here. In the days that followed, one of the tenants up and left the state, giving no notice to his roommates, leaving no forwarding address, etc. Another of the three legal occupants, we discovered, wasn't even living there and hadn't been for a while, although she was still paying rent. The third roommate was "never around because she had to work all the time." This left the primary occupant of the unit someone who was "a guest" and who would "be leaving any day now" for her own place.
Unacceptable. We wanted them all out. Now. However, in real life eviction is not as easy as it is in the movies. You don't call the sheriff and have them out on the street the next day, no matter how they're violating the terms. You have to go to court, it could take months, and in the meantime they could decide to stop paying rent and not leave the unit. Essentially squatting. This was the beginning of July, and we felt the best course of action might be to simply come to an agreement to end the lease early. Which we did. We negotiated an early release for the end of the month, had them sign off on it, were told the "guest" and her dogs would be out by the 15th because she found a new place, and even found a new set of tenants to take over the lease for August.
However, we did do another walk through to confirm that there was no dog damage. While it was a bit untidy, there were no obvious issues.
Well, comes time to check out this week and this is what we find (and remember, this all happened within four weeks' time):
Puddles of dog urine so thick and heavy in the blue bedroom that the floor boards are soaked through and lifting. The damaged area covers most of the floor space, and no doubt goes down to the subfloor. The smell is overwhelming. We found a urine soaked mattress beside the dumpster. Our guess is that the illegal tenant had locked the dogs in this room for extended periods with nothing but a mattress on the floor. (This had previously been the bedroom of the tenant that took off.) The mattress trapped the puddles on the floor, causing all the damage. Another section of damaged floor:
I'm not sure what the dark blue stain on the wall is. Everything in here smells like urine, so I can't tell for sure if this is urine or not. But that is definitely poo in the middle of it.
Both bathrooms were complete biohazards; the bathtub itself was clogged and we still need to snake it:
When I last saw this couch--just a few weeks ago, remember--it was old, but decent enough that I'd sit on it:
It smelled horrible. When we lifted it up, there was another huge puddle of dog urine and all this crap:
Including a bottle of nail polish, chewed open and hardened into a glob:
Despite the fact that our lease says no wax on the hardwood floors, they had all been waxed. Although why someone who leaves dog urine soaking into the floor would choose to wax, I'll never know. It was so slick in spots we were sliding along on the floor.
It was a "partially furnished" apartment, and my $250 vintage rug that I had left to protect the floor from scratches from the bar stools was crunched up in a ball on the deck. It was urine and rain soaked, smelled like rotten fish, and severely faded from the elements. It is unsalvageable.
The garage door frame was busted, and there was a huge puddle of oil on the floor where their spot was, bad enough that the neighbor who shares this garage slipped in it last week:
More urine on the wall:
Nothing in the kitchen had been cleaned, there was mildewing laundry in the washer, holes in the window screens from dog claws, and drawers full of rotten vegetables in the fridge. It was one hell of a freak show.
And all I could do when I first saw it was cry.
This place had been our home. I loved living here, and I hated to see it like this.
And then I got really, really angry, and I kicked some boxes around while cursing.
And then, when we both calmed down, we photographed every square inch, brought in three neighbors to witness the damage, and contacted the one tenant who wasn't living there anymore, but who was paying rent. She's pretty much as shocked, horrified, and disgusted as we are, and plans to pay for the damages. Still, there was no way this place was going to be ready for the new tenants.
We ended up hiring a cleaning service. A crew of four men was here for nearly five hours--that's how long it took to clean and sanitize it. (Mighty Maids / Mighty Men of Chicago, if you're interested. 773-472-7711) They rocked. We then spent a full day making repairs, sanding patching walls, fixing doors, etc. We discovered other little things. The stack of service manuals for all the appliances that we kept in the utility closet (and had pointed out to the tenants) is gone, presumably thrown away. There are four wheels missing on the dishwasher rack. We found one down the hall, another in the sink, and are still missing two. One of the nightstands I left is missing. Ninety percent of the light bulbs were missing or blown out, and the remaining few had a wattage way too high for the fixtures. Lucky they didn't set the place on fire. (Again, they were told this when they moved in, and it's in their lease.)
The blue room is still uninhabitable, and we're calling floor companies to come in and give us estimates on ripping it out and replacing it. The new tenants have started moving in, and we're lucky in that we know them already, and they're more than happy to work with us on getting the place in 100% ship shape order. It's going to be a hassle.
What's most disappointing is that we write a pretty tough lease with contingencies for all sorts of situations. We screen our tenants really well, checking in with past landlords, calling to verify their jobs and length of employment, running credit checks. What we can't predict are things going sour in the relationships those people have with others, when roommates get into fights, move out, leave the state, abandon their property, invite friends to stay with them. A person can have a decent credit rating, but still be a liar. It's easier when you're living in the same building where you're renting out a unit, but when you're a couple miles away? You rely on what you can glean from periodic visits to "perform maintenance" and you are grateful for your friends and former neighbors in the area who act as watchdogs.
It's just frustrating that when you do discover a bad situation, you can't immediately correct it. Just Google "tenants from hell" sometime and see what you come up with.
I wish this flippin' economy would turn around and we can sell some property.