Dicken’s once wrote that “This is the best of times, this is the worst of times” and truer words have seldom been spoken. My life has been fantastic in many respects this year, but the rental situation with my latest tenant is horrific. Even worse, I had a gut feeling this would happen with her, and I still let it occur. I’ve been kicking myself for months!
TLDR: there is a damn good reason why landlords have screening criteria and background checks for tenants. You never know who might be living with you.
After kicking out my last tenants when they tried to kill each other with a baseball bat, I quickly started looking for a replacement. Since I obviously needed a more professional tenant screening process, I picked a background and credit check service for my applicants and devised some criteria to weed out the worst.
Compared to what I had been seeing in April, the quality of applicants in August and September was worse and I screened out some people with prior eviction records before settling on a young single mother from Wisconsin. She was moving to Minnesota by herself to work on a political campaign before getting a different job and settling in the state. She did have a criminal record from a few years in the past, but it seemed to line up with a divorce she went through at that time so I put it off as a one-time bad period in her life that she had recovered from. My last good roommate had a record, and he’s one of the best guys I know. She could be the same, right?
In hindsight there were several warning signs that should have alerted me to her. First, what kind of mother abandons her children a state away? Even if they are being taken care of by family it doesn’t say anything good about her sense of responsibility. Second, she was in the state for a political campaign…which would end in only a month and a half. I should only pick people who can maintain constant employment that is not seasonal, with references who have known the person for a while. My process was not rigorous enough that I did character references.
Finally, when it came time to pay her security deposit and finalize the rental agreement she was late. Extremely late. Like, “I will be there at 2pm” and then says she’ll be there by 4pm, and then only shows up at 6pm. I was livid that she wasted my afternoon like that and almost tore up the contract. I knew even then that if someone doesn’t respect you or your time at the very moment when they should be on their best behavior, they certainly won’t do so later on. And yet I didn’t pull the trigger, I didn’t go with my gut feeling >:-(
The situation went downhill from there. She was late with her VERY FIRST PAYMENT, which blew my mind. She eventually paid me after getting some money from her “family”, but I couldn’t believe that someone would sign a lease without having the money in hand. And I couldn’t believe myself that I never asked to see a bank statement!!! What a fool I was. She then paid on time for the next month or two before the money became erratic again. Half on time, the other half coming weeks later. (This eventually led to me telling her that I was ending the lease early since she clearly couldn’t afford the place.)
Making matters worse, she was a smoker. I don’t smoke, but don’t care if others do so outside of the property where I don’t need to smell it. All of my other tenants respected this rule, but this lady did not. Without fail she would not go outside – she would smoke in the garage, or would open up a bathroom window and try to smoke through that, and invariably the smog would stay in the house. She would also smoke weed too at all hours of the night, preventing me from sleeping due to the smell. This eventually resulted in two formal warnings, on the third of which I would evict her.
Then I started noticing that things were disappearing. I had left my door open to my tenants area before because they had always respected my space, but all of a sudden I noticed that I was missing food in my refridgerator, glasses were gone from my cupboard, and some books were absent from my bookshelf. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I clearly couldn’t trust my new tenant in any way. I started locking my door to the downstairs unit (which later proved to be one of the smartest things I ever did).
Finally, after the campaign ended she didn’t seem to be out looking for work. She used to leave before me in the morning and suddenly she never left at all. She then tried to smuggle in cats and dogs for a pet sitting service…despite it clearly stating on the rental agreement that no pets were allowed. I caught her several times and she always promised it would be the last…until the next time she did it. (this eventually resulted in her third warning).
So as you can see, the situation was a disaster. But wait…it gets worse!
I got an anonymous letter.
The day after I gave her a formal eviction notice, I receieved this letter in the mail, with no return address and signed “a concerned neighbor”. In it was a police report stating that my tenant had been picked up by the police for a DWI, possession of narcotics and loitering to commit prostitution. Delightful! Suddenly all of the signs started making sense. No wonder she had no money. No wonder things started disappearing in the house. Or why she never bothered to get a job. She was a druggie selling herself to make money! What was happening at the house while I was gone at work?!?
Things came to a head barely two weeks after the letter. I was out on a date when I received a gibberish text from my tenants ex-boyfriend (who at this point was wisely trying to run as far away from her as possible too) saying that the tenant had contacted him and something was going down at the house. The situation was unclear, but the gist was that I was being robbed.
So I raced back to the house and immediately noticed some power tools were missing from my garage. I spoke to my tenant and she stated that three men had followed her into the house through the garage and robbed her at gunpoint. She didn’t want to go to the police…but there was no way in hell I wasn’t!
The police finally came and interviewed and under questioning she confessed that she had been working as a prostitute and that the robbers had been clients of her who got violent. The police advised me that the situation was such that I should evict her immediately (thankfully, state law is very clear in this situation) and I did so that morning. She gathered some things, moved out, and is coming back every few days to take more of her stuff out.
And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the reason why tenant screening criteria and background checks exist. Because you never know who might be a doped up druggie who steals and prostitutes herself to pay the bills.
Overall, dealing with her has been an exhausting experience. Besides the stress from the late rental payments, smoking inside the house, theft, etc. was the simple lack of respect I had from her and her blatant lying. She promised things and never followed through. She lied shamelessly to my face with no remorse when I caught her out. I wouldn’t believe her if she told me the sky was blue without checking for myself. It’s people like that who really damage one’s faith in the goodness of humanity, and replace your optimism with cynicism.
On the plus side, I’ll have a MUCH more robust screening and background check process after this. And now that I’ve seen the worst of humanity, I have a greater appreciation for people who do have their shit together and act like responsible adults. Its people who walk the straight and narrow that make the world a great place, and there can never be enough of them.
And I’m now the guy with the interesting stories at family parties! Who needs to travel to Europe or Africa for adventure when I can just go downstairs?