Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From rent-eating dogs to a mysteriously dripping roof, here are some of the most ridiculous reasons renters give for missed rent or damaged property.

Surely there have been cases where the dog actually ate the rent money, along with the kid’s homework.

But sometimes landlords have to scratch their heads and wonder. The evidence seems to point in another direction.

Most landlords are quick to say that they have many good, reliable tenants. If not, they’d find another business; tenants are their livelihood. But then there are the rest, that tiny percentage of renters who can’t seem to get it together and aren’t quick to fess up.

“Eighty percent of the people take care of the apartment, pay their rent and are no problem at all,” says Jesse Holland, president of Sunrise Management & Consulting, a residential property-management firm in New York. “About 15 percent have their qualms but do what they’re supposed to do. And that last 2 or 3 percent are the nightmares.”

And what kinds of things do these tenants say? Below are some favorites from landlords. Tenants take note: If you hear these lines start to come out of your mouth, stop and think a moment. Another strategy — the truth, perhaps — might prove more effective.

1. "It’s not a dog; it’s a barking cat."
Hmmm … are you sure you want to make that your final answer?

This was Barry Maher several years ago in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he owned a small apartment building. Dogs were not allowed, as outlined in the rental agreement. Cats were.

However, shortly after a young woman moved in, her neighbors complained about barking in the apartment. Maher called the tenant.

“She said, ‘Oh I would never have a dog. But what I have is a special breed. It’s a very rare thing; it’s a dog cat ... a mix of a cat and a dog.’

“It was so blatant and so crazy that I actually spent a moment thinking, ‘Is there really such a thing as a dog cat?’ ” Maher recalled. “And I’m really not an idiot.”

A better strategy? Be fair to the animal, the building owner and fellow tenants and operate in the open.

“If she’d have come to me and said she wanted a pet, I would have explained exactly what the circumstances were, and how she could have gone out and gotten a cat,” Maher says.

Instead, the tenant had to get rid of the dog (and, yes, it was 100 percent dog). “Eventually we had to get rid of her.”

2. "But you said I could paint it."
Did you not know that it’s usually just walls that get painted? And in a color that’s possible to paint over?

“They had information they could paint the apartment and said, ‘We’ll do it ourselves,’ ” says Izzy Ginzberg, a landlord in New York and author of “The Top 10 Mistakes Real Estate Investors Make.” “I said, ‘Fine.’

“The entire thing was purple. The ceiling, the walls, the whole entire apartment was painted lavender,” he says. “They told me, ‘Yeah, you said we could paint it.’

“I have no illusions about them painting it back,” Ginzberg says.

3. "My grandmother died ... again." That’s strange: According to our files, your grandmother has died six times recently. At least according to the reasons you’ve provided each time you couldn’t pay the rent.

The sudden need to pay for a funeral is a common claim for inability to pay, managers say.

Mark Kreditor, a broker with Get There First Realty, a property-management firm in Dallas/Fort Worth, says “We sometimes keep things in the file,” and in this case the same grandmother had indeed apparently received six funerals.

4. "I have to move out. I’m allergic to pet dander."
How is it, then, that you work as a groomer in a veterinary clinic?

This also happened to Kreditor. The problem is that once people sign a 12-month lease, there are very few ways to break it. So tenants must come up with their own — at times creative — reasons about why they must leave.

5. "The check may have bounced, but at least I paid."
Actually, mailing a check that isn’t backed by real money isn’t quite the same thing as paying the bill. In fact, it’s not the same thing at all.

“People think they’ve paid the rent when the check bounced,” Kreditor says. “I say, ‘You could have written it out on the back of a napkin and it would have the same value as that check.’ ”

6. "I was the victim of identity theft."
OK, that would seem valid, given your bad credit. Except for this catch: Your credit was just as bad before the date your identity was allegedly stolen.

This is a reason frequently given by prospective tenants to explain their poor credit, as well as by existing tenants unable to pay the rent, says Mia Melle, president of renttoday.us, a property-management firm in Southern California.

“It usually doesn’t make sense, because their bad credit goes way back,” Melle says.

7. "I went to Tijuana for gall-bladder surgery."
Did you not know before you scheduled surgery that the rent would come due?

Melle is sympathetic to people’s financial difficulties, but notes that some tenants will wait until the manager finally reaches them and deliver a tale.

“Usually when a legitimate thing happens, they’ll call you: I want to let you know I’ll be late on my rent this month, such and such happened. If they’re upfront and call us, we’re probably more apt to hold off on eviction and work with them,” Melle says. “It’s when they avoid us and come up with ridiculous excuses and they still don’t pay. That’s when we know they’re just playing us.

“It really gets down to, Americans aren’t savers. Any one little thing goes wrong it affects them,” Melle says. “I would say that 98% of our tenants have no savings whatsoever. They’re just hand-to-mouth. Even people with higher-level jobs, that’s just how they live. Every dollar’s accounted for.”

8. "You can’t come in. There’s too much cash in my bedroom."
Um, could you put it somewhere safe before we arrive for the inspection?

This tenant apparently didn’t want the landlord to do an annual walk-through. But this isn’t the best way to keep visitors out. The manager suggested the tenant put valuables out of view and entered as scheduled.

9. "Someone threw a brick through my window."
But something’s missing — namely, the glass. Oh, look, it’s on the outside.

“Unless the laws of physics don’t apply here, the window was broken from the inside out, not the outside in,” Holland explained to the tenants, college students who had called to have the window fixed. Broken glass lined the sidewalk outside, under the window frame.

The window got fixed. But the students had to pay.

10. "The ceiling is dripping and we don’t know why!"
Well, do you think the drip might have something to do with the fact that you turned the roof into a swimming pool?

This is one of Holland’s favorites, in part because the young men left clear evidence that it was they who had caused the very leak about which they were complaining.

When Holland walked up a flight to the roof to investigate, he found the roof intentionally flooded and the tenants’ names spray-painted on the tiling next to the words, “Welcome to Silver Beach.”

The roof had a silver-oxide coating and a thigh-high shoulder wall along all the edges. The culprits had plugged the drain with a candle and flooded the entire roof, about the size of a standard swimming pool.

The 3-foot pool of water, which had to weigh upwards of 185 tons, was still there when Holland went up. “How the building didn’t collapse, I have no idea,” he says.

Holland yanked the candle, drained the roof and charged the tenants — who stood there shrugging their shoulders — for the service call.

11. "The electricity is out and I don’t know why!"
So you say that the power flipped off right after you turned on the microwave, the hair dryer and the toaster at the same time? Do you know anything about circuit loads?

Dennis Fassett, who manages his own properties in the Detroit area, tells tenants to check the circuit breaker and flip the switch back.

“Basically they say, ‘I don’t know what that is. I don’t know where the box is. I don’t want to mess with the electricity. That’s dangerous,’ ” says Fassett, who invariably has to drive across town and explain overloaded circuitry.

“The thing that’s surprising to me is it’s cause and effect. They plug a bunch of stuff in, instantly this stuff goes out, and they don’t recognize the fact that they did it,” he says. “They’ve never had to fix anything. They don’t think about how things work anymore.”

12. "See, the walls are almost the same color."
Gee, I’m sorry that you ran out of paint, but I’m going to have to finish each wall before re-renting the apartment.

This was another of Fassett’s tenants, who left roller marks of yellow and tan paint on the white walls when her paint can clearly went dry. “Close enough,” she told Fassett, when he said he’d have to use some of her security deposit to paint the walls a uniform color.

“You have to have a sense of humor,” Fassett says. “Especially if you’re going to have more than a couple rental units. You can’t take this stuff personally.”

13. "But I can’t pay the rent ..."
But you must pay the rent. This is where the excuses stream in, after the first of the month. Below are a few from the Excuse of the Day file at the site The Landlord Protection Agency:
"My accountant said I can't afford to pay my rent."
“I mailed it at the post office last night but someone lit that mailbox on fire this morning.”
"With my daughter's graduation, our new boat and our trip to Europe this year, we're a little strapped."
"We all have the flu. We're not sure if it's swine flu, and we like you so much we didn't want to give it to you, so we didn't pay the rent."
"Come see what I did for you. You won't want the rent when you see this!" The tenant had painted everything, including the crown moldings, fire-engine red.
And, of course:
"My dog ate it."

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