11 October, 2008

Our First Year as Landlords, Part 2

Seriously. Look at that fan. WTF?

When we rented out the condo last fall, this fan was in good shape. Maybe it wasn't the most stylish ceiling fan, but it worked. It had a globe over the light bulbs. It wasn't hanging from the ceiling all dangly-like.

Our tenants never told us they broke it. We discovered it for ourselves a few weeks ago, when we were showing the place to prospective new tenants. There is a dent in the wood floor below, directly beneath the fan. And no glass globe in sight. I'd have been willing to forgive it as an accident if they'd told us about it. We'd have replaced the fan if they'd let us know it was broken. But no. Not a peep, not a hint.

(Not even from their fourth, illegal roommate, who was sitting in the living room as we showed the place, trying not to make eye contact with us. He knew that we knew he had been living there this summer; but from our perspective, it wasn't worth mentioning just a few weeks before the end of the lease period.)

The fan was bad enough. But there were other issues, such as ash and charcoal left in the fireplace.

Large chips in the venetian-plastered walls...

Black mold in the shower...

And pubic hair and assorted bodily fluids on the not-inexpensive wood-and-chrome toilet seats...

There were red beard hairs in the bathroom drawers and toothpaste stains on the marble counters. The kitchen cabinets were splattered with food and the oven hadn't been cleaned of grease from the bottom. The baseboards, fan blades, air returns, and window sills were thick with dust. The front sliding glass door was off its track and the back door was scraped from the security dowel rod they had wedged into place. The hundred-year-old mirror that I specifically left a bottle of beeswax for to keep the wood properly conditioned was splattered with zit filling and a bit dry. And the beeswax was nowhere in sight, they had packed it and took it with them.

I could go on and on, but you more or less get the point.

The funny thing is, they thought they had cleaned it adequately. They cleaned the refrigerator and microwave, dusted the obvious flat surfaces--counters, tables--and swept the floors. But that's it.

Last fall, when Ted and I moved out, we had scrubbed every surface till it shown, cleaned out the fireplace, conditioned the marble and granite surfaces, even dusted the flippin' fan blades one by one. The place was like new. (In fact, we had a housing agent look at it last year and he thought it was new.)

I don't think I'm being too anal in my wish to have the condo returned in the same condition the tenants received it. However, while there was more wear and tear in one year then Ted and I caused in six, none of the damage is irreversible, expect perhaps the floors. There are more scuffs and scratches in them, despite the fact that the renters were given explicit instructions on floor care and despite the fact I left them felt furniture guards (giving them instructions in the lease that they were to use them on all furniture). There are still a couple of deep scratches.

But I guess that's what deposit money is for.

From the one-month's deposit they gave us, we purchased a new fan (a modest one on clearance from Home Depot), among other things:

And altogether, we spent about seven hours cleaning and disinfecting the unit for the next set of tenants, who were moving in the following day. And the old tenants will be charged for that, too. I looked up the general cleaning rates online, so they'll get billed at slightly less than that because we did the cleaning ourselves.

We're holding back just enough of their deposit to cover actual expenses. But I really, really hate cleaning up someone else's pubic hair, and feel like charging a punitive fee for that. Ugh. I'm still grossed out at the thought.

But our tenants should consider themselves lucky that we were renting to them, and not some other landlord. Many landlords run a scam when it comes to deposits, keeping more money than necessary, which makes all landlords look bad.

The owners of the other condo unit in our building that is being rented out, the ones I bitched about in my other landlord post for being terrible absentee owners, kept 90% of their tenants' deposit, after waiting six months to give it back to them. Ninety percent. Granted, they left it a mess, with holes in the wall, etc., but those landlords didn't actually clean, repair, or repaint anything, to the best of my knowledge.

Now, if I actually liked their tenants, if I didn't think they were a pain in the asterisk, often making life difficult for others in the building, I might tell them that what their landlords did was illegal. In Illinois, tenants are protected by the Illinois Security Deposit Interest Act, the Security Deposit Return Act, and, in this case, the City of Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance, which states: "the tenant shall be awarded damages in an amount equal to two times the security deposit plus interest" if a landlord fails to comply with the law. Waiting six months to return a mere fraction of the deposit, and not providing a written notice within 30 days, means that these tenants are likely entitled double their full deposit back plus court costs should they take them to small claims court.

But I didn't like those tenants. So they can find all this out on their own. I'm just sayin'.

For our own protection, because Ted and I will be withholding a portion of our renters' deposit, we photographed everything we did with before and after pictures. Right down to the beard hairs in the drawers and the black mold. They won't be able to argue it. We have photos of everything as it was last fall, too, when they took up occupancy.

I know it sounds like all of this is a big hassle, and part of me wishes we could sell the condo in this bad economy. But since we can't, I'm not really going to complain about what amounts to just a few days of work a year. (Although friends of ours who are landlords say that's just because we haven't had the tenants from hell yet!) It's not a bad gig, and the rent covers most expenses as we wait for the housing market to improve. (Please, God, it has to!)

So, gentle readers out there who are also landlords, what is your worst tenant experience?


Karen Anne said...

Yikes. Kind of makes me wonder if you can rent hazmat suits to clean in...

I will add my gross anecdote, having plumbers working upstairs, and after they left finding I had to clean someone's urine off the toilet.

Joanne said...


Jocelyn said...

Oh, I've posted about mine and you may have already read about it too, but here are a few posts.




You are right on about the deposit. We try to be very fair with people. Our last tenants got their whole deposit back and there was damage that we did not charge them for because we asked them to leave early and they agreed and we were planning to gut rehab the unit anyway.

The benefit of being owner occupied is that it is much easier to keep an eye on what is going on. We need to go in the unit at least 3 times a year. We install and remove the a/c every spring & fall and then usually we have to up for some small repair.

I'm sure you know that you have a right to enter the unit and check the condition periodically. If you tell the tenants you will be doing this(with notice of course), they may treat the unit a bit better too.

Our current tenants are OK. They keep things pretty clean. There are more dings in walls than we would create, but those are pretty easy to repair.

Anonymous said...

Renting is tough. No renter, and I mean no renter, treats your property as well as you would, nor do they leave your place as nicely as you'd leave it. I have a house in TX that I had to rent out because it did not sell. I'm on my 2nd year and 2nd set of tenants. The first tenants knocked holes in the walls and then painted the bathroom fixtures in one bathroom a shiny black. I could not believe it. They dumped animal fat down the drains, rewired a mobile home electric dryer to the wrong kind of cord and cost me $1000 in electrical wire repair. It was awful. My new tenants will I'm sure do more rotten stuff to my house and again, I'll have to make repairs. It comes with the territory. I just keep thinking: they're paying my mortgage for me, and in the end, they are paying for a house I own. Small repairs can always be made and taken back from a deposit, however, having someone else pay for your real estate is icing on the cake.