01 August, 2009

Our Wood Floors Are Ruined. Is it Chocolate or is it Poo?

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.


Jen said...

OMG. How horrible. So sorry.
Nasty! I actually feel sorry for those dogs.

Anonymous said...

Oh My Lord. Joanne and Ted I am sp sorry you are dealing with all this. Absolutely disgusting and horrific. The care you two put into your homes is nothing short of meticulous and amazing. These pictures make me ill.

Anonymous said...

Correction above **so sorry**

And it's me, Sandy

Jean Martha said...

OMG. So sorry for all that stress, work and expense. Some people are just rotten to the core.

Debra said...

That is totally disgusting. I don't know how people can live like that!!

I have lived in this rental for 13 months and I had the neighbors from hell until a month ago. 3 days after I moved here, they had a 4th of July party and when I woke up the next morning, there were broken beer and wine bottles smashed all around my driveway, in the grass, all in the road, etc.

In the entire 12 months before they moved, they never mowed the lawn ONCE. It looks like a weed jungle over there. Old couches on the porch, trash in the yard, (which blew over to mine every single day) their dogs crapping in my yard, loud parties every Friday and Saturday nights, it was awful.

I tried so hard to find out who was renting to them... with no luck. The original tenant was gone before I even moved in here, and they would have up to 6 people living there at any given time.

What made it bad was that 2 of them worked with my daughter and every time I'd try to reason with them, they'd give her a hard time, so I stopped.

It has been empty a month and I see people in and out making repairs. My daughter told me it was so disgusting inside from their 5 dogs. I bet it looks a lot like the damage in your house.

It's just so wrong for people to treat other peoples property that way. I'm so sorry you and your mom have to go through this. Too bad you don't know their parents, cause if my girls ever did something like that, I would make sure they cleaned it up and paid for damages.

Debra said...

Oops, you, your mom and Ted.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Cousin- I'm so sorry to read about the condo. It has been awhile since I was there, but I remember all the care you two took to make it a nice home. The pictures are awful to look at in comparison. My sympathies...

Tonia said...

I am so very sorry. I nearly got tears in my eyes looking at the damage. You screened *great* -- but your tenants didn't screen their friends. Does the security deposit come anywhere close to what your expenses will be?

Glad your new tenants are being cooperative and understanding. That's the one encouraging thing I can say.

Hey, I live down the street from the condo -- let me know if you ever need me to "perform maintenance."

Joanne said...

The deposit doesn't even begin to cover the damages, I'm afraid. The cleaning bill alone was hefty, with a crew of four. Don't know about the garage damage yet, but it looks like we'll probably be able to fix it ourselves.

The price tag on the floor is going to hurt, there's no doubt about that. They'll have to rip up all the boards, replace the sub floor, install new floors, sand, and put on several coats of finish. There is some urine damage in the living room as well, and we need to see if they can replace those boards without having to strip and refinish everything to get it to match.
(Tonia, you know what these Uptown condos are like, one big living room / kitchen combo, with the wood floor continuing unbroken down the hall.)

Cousin Kristen--I think we need a vacation after this. Can we come visit you in Arizona? Of course, this is the hottest time of year isn't it? Maybe we'll hold off a bit.

Debbie--Your neighbors do sound horrible. Let's hope the neighbors at your new place will be better!

Jenni, Sandy, and Jean--Thanks so much for the sympathies

katiemouse said...

Chin up old girl, I know it is bad, but you got your lives and dirt can be got rid of.
If you read what I wrote on facebook you will understand how I feel for you, I cried when I looked at the photo's I felt like someone had violated a member of my family. lots of healing thoughts coming your way

Karen Anne said...

I am so sorry. I wonder if drugs were involved, that's the only way I can imagine people (non)functioning like this.

Are you sure the remaining legal renter will pay those bills? Or is small claims court in your future? Or the cost may even be higher than small claims court would cover.

Especially the wood floors must hurt, they were so beautiful.

Karen Anne said...

I looked at those photos again. It looks like at least one electrical outlet got urine in it. You may want to check out all the electrical stuff near the floor, in you haven't already.

Karen Anne said...

I forgot to say, a lot of manufacturers' web sites have service manuals downloadable in pdf form now, so hopefully the information is at least till accessible.

modernemama said...

Wow, it's really distressing to see how little respect some people have for others - and their property.
I hope the responsible tenant does make good on her promise to pay the damages

Rae said...

So sorry this happened. Some people just plain suck. :( Good luck selling these places.

Joanne said...

Rae--It's weeks like this where I feel like getting my own "Miranda" and hitting the road. :-)

Karen Anne--We should be able to print out the manuals for all the appliances, and pass on the cost to the tenants. But it just boggles the mind that someone would say, "This doesn't look useful, I think I'll pitch it."

modernemama--I do have hopes the tenant will pay, because she's already mentioned taking the others to small claims court to get reimbursed. If not, we're set to take them all to small claims ourselves.

katiemouse--Thanks for the good wishes!

Jason Asala said...

Oh, Jo (and Donna and Ted), how sorry I am to hear about this! People can, and often do, suck. I don't even understand why people would do that. I can't imagine a urine-soaked anything in my house, and these people were living like that. I'm heartbroken for you.


Anonymous said...

You are welcome to escape here to Arizona ANYTIME!! We'll spoil you both (and Aunt Donna, too!) in our 2000-mile-away urine-soaked-free-zone.

DIY said...

Oh that is wrong...gross

Anonymous said...

I'm a small holdings land lord in Ottawa, Canada, and I've amended my lease substantially with all the "on-the-job" learning I've done thanks to horrific tenants - like the ones who adopted 6 ferrets after they moved in and didn't clean up after them. I was scraping ferret poo off the walls, and had to have the carpet stripped and the floorboards sealed and treated 4 times to get rid of the stench. The "you must let me know if you acquire a pet" clause is thanks to them.

Anyways, a tenant who ended up having his brother live with him for 6 MONTHS provided the "you must tell me if you have a guest who stays longer than 2 weeks total in one year, if so, they must also sign a lease" clause. I know it's just words, but then you have a chance to vet the new person. It's also made clear to the original tenant that anyone they let in to the apartment is their responsibility. We're over there 3-5 times a week for at least a couple of minutes, so we are able to keep a very, VERY close eye on the proceedings. We also have a "yearly inspection" clause whereby with the proper notice, we can come in a take a look around.

I'm so sorry you have to go through this. It's such a slap in the face when people trash something you value, and have put time and money into making lovely. Sometimes, people suck.

Joanne said...

Thanks Anonymous in Ottawa. It's always great to hear from other landlords. :-)

We actually have the "you must tell me if you have a guest who stays longer than 2 weeks total in one year, if so, they must also sign a lease" clause and the "you must let me know if you acquire a pet" clause. When we caught the tenants with guests and pets, they just looked at us blankly and said "Huh? We didn't realize that," playing ignorant.

We had been inside the unit 4 or 5 times since last fall to take care of general maintenance (winterizing, etc.) and in Illinois we can give them 24 hours warning to access it for almost any reason. Some of our close friends live in the building, so we're there every two or three weeks. There was nothing to arouse suspicion.

This one has been a learning experience for us, as we actually believed them when they said they'd get the dogs out right away. Next time, tenants will have a 48 hour verbal warning to comply, and then we'll slap them with the 10-day written notice of eviction, just to get the legal process rolling. We were foolish to think allowing them to break their lease early to avoid eviction proceedings (from our side as well as theirs) was the way to go; someone got spiteful in those last few weeks, and the condo quickly went from untidy but in good condition to quickly uninhabitable.

Of course, the possibility of them trashing the place had we gone forward with the official proceedings is just as likely, as they still would have been there for several weeks as the case made its way through court.

An expensive experience. $3400 or so in damages and counting. Their deposit covers $2000.

Kasey at Thrifty Little Blog said...

What an awful story! It sounds like you did everything you could do to prevent this type of thing from happening. You're lucky that you had great neighbors who called you about this.

Allison Lauf said...

Joanne and Ted, my heart goes out to you. After working so hard to make a nice home for yourselves, I am sorry that you wound up with these pieces of dirt as tenants. I feel sorry for the innocent dogs, too.

I keep a condo in addition to having my house in Millstadt. When I leased the condo, I was required to show proof of extensive renter's insurance. I hope you and Ted also require this of your tenants. With or without eviction, you have recourse against property damage done by tenants.

Keep the faith, Allison

tracey said...

Hey guys. I am so very sorry to hear about what you are dealing with. I agree with Jason "people suck". If you need anything, holler. Your blog made me cry. You are welcome to escape to South Milwaukee, but I cannot promise that the children haven't peed all over my place.(Just kidding, I think.) I love you guys. In your next lease you should write " please do not urinate or defecate on floors, walls or furniture." Some people are just that stupid. I love you, Tracey

Jennifer said...

We are the "watchdog" neighbors for the house next door... a couple in a similar situation (needed to move, couldn't sell).

What I see makes me NEVER want to rent! The first people stole our cable, didn't scoop the walks or mow (and got city fines), and broke their lease. The second broke their lease. The third seemed great... until they moved out. They had a dog we NEVER saw... and it must have pottied inside exclusively, because they had to replace ALL of the carpet. There was 3 dumptsers of CRAP hauled away. This last set seems great... the guy has already been touching up the paint on the porch, and mows more often than me! He told me he wants to buy it from them in a few years, though... so he's obviously in it for the ong term.

Good luck!

hallie said...

Oh honey! so sorry.
this is where I'd get really street, really fast.
Congrats on "staying classy"