Do Not Do What This Landlord Did…Our Crazy Story
BY BRANDON VAGNER, CPA, Ph.D., & WALLET WIT FOUNDER
Being a landlord can be a financial burden and you will have to deal with issues that arise. There is no ignoring that fact, but not all landlords think about it before they get themselves in over their head. In this article, I’ll be diving into our story and how we dealt with an inexperienced landlord. This article is for your benefit. If you’re a landlord, it’s going to help you understand better what not to do. If you’re a renter yourself, then this article will help you navigate landlords like you’ll read about in our story.
My wife and I are landlord’s ourselves with our rental property in the St. Louis MO area and we’ve watched close family members manage their rental properties for decades. That said, we like to think we know what it takes to be a good landlord.
Less than two years ago we moved to the Nashville TN area and decided to rent a house instead of buying, because we wanted to first get a feel for the area. That said, the competition for good rental houses where we moved is STIFF. You have to act FAST, and It’s always the luck of the draw when it comes to landlord quality.
We rented a nice all brick 1,800 square foot house in a fantastic neighborhood. We thought we would be there for quite a while, but major mistakes the landlord made ultimately led us to finding another house after living in that rental property for just under two years.
I’ll preface this article by clarifying that my wife and I are not complainers and we don’t expect perfection when it comes to rental properties. We know things are not going to be perfect, but there is definitely a wrong and right way to handle rental property scenarios as they come up. I hope this story helps you if you already are or are thinking about becoming a landlord. At the very least, I know you’ll find this story entertaining.
The Move-In Rental Inspection or Lack Thereof
You should know right off the bat that the guy we rented from was a first-time landlord. He had been transferred with his job and wanted to “try out” the landlord thing. He really had no clue what he was doing, and it showed right from the beginning with the weak lease agreement.
One of many mistakes he made as a landlord was not being present for the move-in walkthrough. He just up and left the state a couple weeks before we moved in and had no intensions of being there to do a walkthrough inspection. Having documentation signed by both parties evidencing the condition of the house pre-move-in is standard practice that all landlords should ensure is completed. It’s something I definitely make sure to do with the rental property we own.
The weak lease agreement and lack of official move-in walkthrough inspection didn’t phase us, but we were starting to get a sense that things could be interesting with this landlord.
Know Your Rental Property & Take Ownership of the Move-In Condition
We moved into this Nashville TN area rental house at the beginning of July, and it had been extremely hot for many weeks leading up to our move-in date. I mentioned above that our new landlord left town a couple weeks before we moved in, but he also cranked the temperature in the house up to 80 degrees before he left. Normally, that would not cause any issues, but he had two very large German Shepherds that had lived in the house with them before we moved in.
As soon as we walked through the front door, an overwhelming pet urine smell hit us like a brick wall. I didn’t notice that smell when we initially looked at the place, but that house had now been sitting vacant and hot for weeks right before we moved in. The pet urine smell was coming from the only two carpeted rooms in the house, which were the guest bedrooms.
Since there was no opportunity to do an official walkthrough, I knew it was important to notify the landlord in writing of any major issues discovered during our move-in. So, I reached out to the landlord and informed him of this overwhelming pet urine smell. Here is where it gets good.
The landlord’s response to being informed of the smell was “how do I know that wasn’t your dog?” Keep in mind that we notified him as soon as we moved in. I mean within hours of moving in. Any rational person would conclude a major urine smell at that point was not from our dog. We definitely knew then that we were in for it with this guy, and we decided not to push the issue. We ultimately tried our best to clean up the carpet ourselves and just deal with it. Once we cleaned the carpet and the AC was turned back on, the smell was manageable.
If I were the landlord in that scenario, I would have gone to confirm the issue and either got them professionally cleaned or re-carpeted. That being said, he more than likely did know about the pet urine before he left. Had I been the landlord and known about the issue, I would have fixed it before I even started showing the house to potential tenants.
Don’t Mess Up the Pre-Move-In Clean
The house was supposed to be cleaned and ready for us to move into before we arrived. Also, keep in mind that we had just cleaned for a week up in St. Louis getting our house ready for our renters to move into. So, we were more than ready to get moved into a nice clean place down in Nashville TN.
I’ll keep this relatively short for you so we can get to the really good story, but the house was a complete disaster from a cleaning perspective. The dogs had also urinated all over the baseboards throughout the house; there was half an inch-high dust in many areas of the house; the floors were extremely dirty; and much much more. I could write an entire article on this alone. I learned my lesson when searching for a rental property. I now make sure to take a hard look at the details of the house. Not just the big stuff.
When we very nicely informed the landlord we were not that thrilled with the condition of the house, he tried to blame it on a cleaning company he “said” he contracted to clean. At the time, I believed him, but I’m now pretty certain there is a good chance that was made up.
None-the-less, we got everything all cleaned up ourselves, and knew we couldn’t rely on this landlord going forward. We always try our best to make lemonade out of lemons, and that’s what we attempted to do with this rental house.
I should note that we only asked the landlord to fix two things the entire time we rented from him. The first was a toilet issue that I couldn’t fix myself, which led me to request the toilet be fixed. He did actually fix that one, but we just dealt with every other issue that came up. So much so, we didn’t even use our master shower for almost a year, because there was a recurring black mold issue in there. I finally just cleaned it all out for the last time myself and we started using the guest shower going forward. There were many things we just took upon ourselves to fix.
You’ll read about the second thing we asked him to fix in this next section. It was too big of an issue for us to ignore.
The Squirrels – Yes, Squirrels
After 1.5 years of renting this house, the landlord informed us that he would continue renting to us, but if we decided not to renew the lease, then he was just going to sell the house to a wholesale type company and avoid the hassle of trying to sell the house or rent to anybody else. He said we were great, and would love to continue renting to us.
We thought hard about what we wanted to do at that point and decided to ask if he would sell the house to us. He said he would, but, here again, it gets VERY interesting.
The wholesale type company offered him a contract price of $242,000 less a $13,000 fixed fee and any necessary repairs they discovered during their inspection. So, he was looking at $229,000 assuming no repairs were noted during the inspection. $229,000 came in exactly at the average selling price of homes (from a price per square foot perspective) in the area we were looking. I’d be willing to bet the farm this wholesale company was planning on nitpicking the heck out of the house and finding $10,000+ of necessary repairs to get that purchase price down below market.
You would have to fully understand the Nashville TN housing market to know why I would think $229,000 with needed repairs was still a good deal, but that was the conclusion my wife and I came to. I offered him $229,500, and he responded by saying I would need to do better than that. This was after he told us all we had to do was offer a little better than the wholesale company and we would close the deal with a lawyer to avoid the real estate commissions.
Long story short, he said he wanted us to pay for future lost rent revenue he would incur by selling us the place. He said our price was $235,000. Regardless of how I personally felt about that move on his part, the price still wasn’t bad in the market we were dealing with, and so we just continued with the negotiations.
He wasn’t budging from that price, but we started hearing animal noises coming from the attic of this house. This is where it REALLY REALLY begins to get good.
The landlord had Terminix come up and inspect the animal noises we were hearing. They quickly determined that we had a female squirrel in the attic building a nest. Terminix took pictures of the attic and showed me the entire attic had been trampled like you wouldn’t believe by these squirrels. I’ve never seen anything like it. The insulation was in really bad condition and didn’t even come close to meeting code.
Terminix told myself and the landlord that the entry point needed to be secured; the old insulation needed to be taken out; and new insulation needed to be installed. Their quote was right around $6,000.
As we expected, the landlord didn’t want to pay that amount, and “said” he was going to schedule Terminix to come out just to trap the squirrel(s) and get rid of the immediate problem. So, for the next month we did this routine of Terminix coming out to the house with mouse traps and me telling them it’s a squirrel problem. Not a mouse problem. At first, I thought it was Terminix to blame for the constant mix-up, but Terminix continually told us they were just going off of the instructions of the landlord. I now think the Landlord was just playing games and never intended on having Terminix trap the squirrels at all.
As time went by, the squirrel activity in the attic got worse and it was becoming apparent to me that we may have a fire hazard on our hands. That’s a major issue for anybody, and we were expecting our first baby on top of it all, which the landlord knew about. So, I pressed the guy on the issue and told him we absolutely had to get the squirrel(s) out of the attic as soon as possible.
His response was that squirrels living in the attic didn’t pose any risk to our health or safety. 😳 Instead of me giving you my take on that, I’ll tell you what an expert said.
The next day my wife was at home sick, and she called me saying there was a random guy walking around our house. It turned out to be a large and very reputable animal control company. So, I called the company and was able to get on a call with the guy that came out there to inspect the house. That guy gave me the full download on the situation and told me his quote to fix the problem was $10,000. So here is what this expert told me.
He said we had female squirrel(s) in the attic and they were in process of building their nest(s) and spreading their scent all over the attic. Meaning, they were urinating all over. They do that to attract the male squirrels later in the year. Per this animal expert, it’s not good enough to just close off the entry point(s). If you were to only do that, the scent of the female squirrel(s) would remain in the attic, and come mating season, the male squirrels would do anything they could to get into the attic where the female scent was coming from. So much so, he said they will chew through 2×4’s just to get in the attic and to that scent.
All that said, this expert mentioned it’s 100% necessary to (1) remove all the old insulation; (2) spray an anti-urine odor chemical on the attic floor; and (3) install new insulation. This is all in addition to securing the entry points into the attic, which this guy said we had multiple of. He went as far to say that the roof had been installed incorrectly.
Ironically, I had a call already scheduled that evening with the landlord regarding the purchase price of the house. He had no clue I had just talked to the animal control expert he had sent out or that I knew of the $10,000 quote. I was definitely in the cat bird seat heading into that call.
I will say that he did come right out and say that he sent another company out to take a look at the problem. He told me they quoted him $500 to remove the squirrel and that there were a few more “BS” charges included in the quote. So, I asked him how much those additional “BS” charges were, and he quickly said a few thousand dollars, but he also said they were nothing to worry about. He went on to say that he was willing to take $500 off of the $235,000 house price.
I very nicely told him I was aware the quote was $10,000 and that purchasing the house was not in our best financial interest at the current price. I told him we still liked the house otherwise and wanted to continue renting, but we would need him to just get the squirrels out of the attic. I told him I personally didn’t care if he did anything with the insulation, but that we just needed the squirrels trapped so there was no immediate fire hazard. He said okay and that he would get on it.
Fast forward about a month after that, and he still had not done anything. I very nicely told him if he didn’t take care of the health and safety issue, that we would be forced to exercise our Tennessee tenant rights, which are incredible by the way. When it comes to health and safety, pretty much all the power is in the tenant’s hands in Tennessee. At least, that is how I interpreted the laws.
There are some pretty extreme things the tenant can legally do in situations when the landlord is not fixing a safety issue, but we didn’t want to do anything extreme. We just wanted the issue fixed, because we really liked the house, neighborhood, and neighbors. Not to mention, I’d prefer to avoid any type of conflict.
We continued to follow up on the status of this issue, but he wasn’t happy we were following up. Keep in mind, we would wait 4 – 7 days before we followed up. It wasn’t like we were reaching out every day. We tried our best not to upset the guy, because we knew he was sensitive to begin with and we just believe in being nice to people.
The landlord ultimately said he was not going to renew our lease at the end of the term. Who knows if our follow ups just annoyed the guy or if he started to realize that maybe he couldn’t afford to be a landlord, and just decided to sell the property to avoid any financial pressures. My wife and I tend to think that was the case, but who knows. Either way, we had to find a new place, which turned out to be a much better situation in the end.
Luckily, we had an option to give him a 30-day notice of a lease termination date with no penalty. We took that option, and very quickly found a new place to live where we’re both very happy. It should be a great place to bring our expected newborn home to.
One last thing to note, at the time we moved out, the landlord still had not done anything regarding the squirrel issue. It’s crazy to think what kind of condition that attic is in at this point.
After reflecting on the situation in its entirety, it just amazes me at how some people go about business. This landlord made poor decisions from the beginning, and the decisions only seemed to get worse. If you are thinking about becoming a landlord, make sure you’re prepared to respond appropriately to scenarios like I described above. If you have good tenants in there, it’s usually a good idea to try and retain them. The process of renting a house is not that easy, and you’re not guaranteed to get good people the next time around.
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