If you’ve rented an apartment or a house before, you may have had your complaints about your landlord. Maybe they didn’t fix the leaky faucet in your bathroom. Maybe they cashed your rent checks three weeks late. Maybe they let themselves into your apartment uninvited. Chances are they’re a lot better than these folks.
But of course, there are two sides to every coin. And the tails side of the horrifying landlord coin is miserable tenants who leave landlords in the lurch. And boy howdy are there bad tenants out there. In fact, there’s a reality show devoted exclusively to the the world’s worst tenants. It’s called The World’s Worst Tenants (there’s some creative titling for you).
Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet for avoiding bad tenants. As you’ll see below, some of them seem positively pleasant at first. They pass credit checks. They have legitimate pay stubs. They just seem to be allergic to throwing things away or paying rent.
In fact, let’s start there.
1. If it’s all the same, I just won’t pay any rent.
There’s a deal we’ve all tacitly agree to in a capitalist society. Namely, you use money to get stuff. Generally, this works because you have a job and then use the money you got for doing that job to pay for things like food, rent and moderately priced t-shirts.
Apparently, no one told Nina Willis how this whole thing works.
See, Willis was—at least in 2012—in disputes with no less than six landlords over unpaid rent. Basically, she’d move in, pay rent for a few months, then she’d simply stop. She wrote bad checks, lied about her employment, and when it was time to pay or vacate, she’d just say that the apartment was unlivable. You know, even though she’d been living in it. At that point, inspections get ordered, the courts get involved, and Willis is still at home in her “unlivable” apartment, living rent-free.
The unsettling part is that Willis seemed like an ideal tenant. She appeared polite, claimed to love gardening, said she can take care of small repairs. It’s just that she’s not really that keen on the whole paying-for-stuff idea we value as a functioning society. Which, technically, is a fairly big problem.
2. In fairness, they were light beers.
Per capita, no one drinks less beer than Utah. That’s not all that surprising, given the large percentage of Mormons in the Beehive State, not to mention the fact that most of the domestic beers in Utah are watered down to percentages of alcohol that could best be described as “pretty lame, bro.”
As such, Utahans drink a little more than 20 gallons of beer a year. That works out to about 250 cans annually, or less than one a day.
This is an average, of course. There are plenty of Utahans who are teetotalers, folks who wholeheartedly abstain from alcohol year-round. So to maintain the low average consumption state-wide, Utah needs a handful of dedicated sots. Like, say, this guy.
See that picture? That’s just one room of the townhouse an unnamed Utah gentleman lived in for eight years. He paid rent on time every month and never called to complain, so his landlord left him alone. One reason he never called? The water and heat were turned off. The other reason? 70,000 beers.
That’s right. Seventy. Thousand. That’s about four six-packs a day. With no water, no heat, and seemingly no furniture, there are so many questions that need answering here, questions like “where did he sleep?” (answer: on beer cans) and “how did he shower?” (answer: with beer).
And, while cleaning that up must have been a tedious chore that smelled like attending a Broncos game in a frat house inside a bar inside another frat house, it’s not all bad. Even at five cents a can, you could clear $3500 for your efforts. Beats a bunch of old newspapers, certainly.
3. “Broken heart discount” still not a real thing
Not paying rent by choice is a common thread in landlord tales of woe. Typical excuses include old standbys like “I lost my job” or “my car broke down” or “the check’s in the mail.” Which would all be fine reasons for being a little late on your bills if they didn’t come with the associated baggage of “my dog ate my homework.”
In other words, sure, that might be true, but precedent says you’re lying. Pay up, please.
While researching this piece, we found that the more innovative excuses for skipping rent don’t fit into those pat categories. Our favorite was one that was almost Zenlike in its idiotic genius: “I don’t live there anymore.”
See, the tenant in question broke up with his girlfriend. Or, by the sound of it, she threw him out. And since he was summarily dismissed from the property, he figured, why pay? You can’t totally fault the guy except for the fact that, well, his name’s on the lease. He probably should have said that when his girlfriend booted him in fact. Just a tip for all you bachelors out there.
Shocking as this may be, the tenant never did pay. He threatened to call government agencies for inspections, demanded repairs, and used new and interesting excuses to avoid paying rent on the home he was supposedly not living in. He and his landlord eventually settled out of court. No word yet on whether the girlfriend was real or make-believe.
4. So long, and thanks for all the rent.
By and large, you’d expect a tenants’ association to look out for tenants. That’s sort of the whole idea behind the thing. They’re supposed to advocate for necessary repairs, organize window washings on apartment buildings, and sometimes, help the property management deal with the day-to-day. Folks who serve on tenants’ associations sometimes get some money knocked off their rent for their effort. It’s a pretty good deal for everybody involved, when you get right down to it.
But you know what makes that an even better deal? When you just take your co-tenants’ money and buy yourself a sofa. While you’re at it, get a nice plasma-screen TV too. That old one with the rabbit years is rather gauche.
Arlether Middleton and her daughter Twana Rose were tenants in a building in the Bronx. It was a nice building, too, part of a program that was designed to get low and middle income people a room in a complex they could one day buy. It was an example of a government program to help people that was actually helping people. They served in the tenants’ association, collecting rent and helping out with upkeep. Only the rent that was supposed to be earmarked for that upkeep went into Middleton and Rose’s pockets instead.
To the tune of $30,000.
When the problems started piling up and the repairs continued not getting done, people started poking around. They found the pair had defrauded their fellow tenants and, eventually, they pled guilty to third-degree larceny and attempted third-degree larceny.
The sad denouement? Because of their graft, the building was removed from the government program we mentioned again and their fellow tenants’ dreams of home ownership were dashed because a few people got greedy and stupid.
5. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try again. Also: please call customer service.
“EJ” had an apartment in San Francisco and one in New York, and her life and business shuttled her between the two. Considering neither city is necessarily known for its bevy of affordable apartments, EJ decided that, while she was staying in New York for a week or so, she’d rent out her apartment in San Francisco. She could make a little money on the side and let some tourists enjoy the city from the vantage point of a local. What could go wrong?
Oh, right. Everything.
See, the people who stayed in EJ’s apartment weren’t tourists. They were criminals. They broke into her locked closet, stole electronics, jewelry, and documents. They duplicated her birth certificate on the printer/copier she’d left out for the to use. They took everything, down to her Bed Bath & Beyond coupons and her old pair of Uggs.
When EJ got back, she was mortified. Not only had her week-long tenants stolen half her things, but they’d made a horrible mess. The bathroom was fetid, the kitchen unusable. She felt so violated that she moved out of her apartment, defeating the whole purpose of renting the thing out in the first place.
For the record, EJ says the site she used to rent out her apartment has been as helpful as it can be (that’d be Airbnb, which has since added a $1 million property guarantee). Not that she’d use it again, what with the total uprooting of her life, and her inability to get 40 percent off some sateen pillow cases at Bed Bath & Beyond. So if you’re thinking of dipping your feet into the landlord business—even for a few days—be sure to take some precautions.
The moral, of course, is that renting is hard. There’s no magic test for a good tenant, and even the pros can end up with criminals and slobs. Or, for that matter, slobby criminals. But there are a few smart things a landlord can do. For starters, don’t just look at a credit report or a pay stub. Look at both. A tenant might have a low credit score because of some silly choices they made as a 19 year-old. They may have learned their lesson. Likewise, someone with a great job might owe money all over town. You really never know.
And of course, ask for references. No one will give you a better idea about your prospective tenant that their last landlord (unless it’s their mom).
If you need any legal documents or information to help manage your properties—from tenant screening to eviction—we can help. Visit our landlord center to get started. We’ve got everything from lease agreements to rental applications to eviction notices.
You might not be able to get the perfect tenant, but with some diligent searching and the right agreements, you can always make sure things go as well as they possibly can.