Bad Tenant Incidents and Lessons Learned

My doppelganger, Sandy L from First Gen American has some seriously awful tenants from hell.  Her mother, Babci, used to have tenants but managing them got to be such a burden, Sandy and her family actually sold the home to get away from having to deal with tenants.  We can all learn a lot from her.

Sandy at Yes I’m Cheap just launched a new website called and I’m wishing her great success.  Fortunately for her and unfortunately for many of us, there is no shortage of material to fill up her site.

Babci lived in a 3 family house and occupied in one of the units for about 30 years. For the most part, she had good luck with her tenants. Then as the post WW2 immigrants started dying off and fewer properties were owner occupied, the neighborhood got really bad.  Once that happened it became almost impossible to get someone decent to live there. It was even harder trying to manage this place when we now lived 2 hours away.  After 3 nightmarish tenants in a row, we eventually ended up selling it, right smack  the middle of the subprime mortgage crisis, but it was still the right thing to do.  Luckily for Babci, she bought her house with cash back in the 70′s, so she didn’t have to worry about taking a loss on the property.  Yes, she probably could have gotten a lot more for it if we sold at the peak, but that’s what debt freedom gives you, flexibility to make decisions.

I thought I’d share a few of my more memorable tenant stories I’d rather have lived without.

  1. When a tenant moves out, here’s a guaranteed formula for vomiting: Fridge Full of Food + Summer + Shutting off Electricity for a week = Gagworthy.
  2. Getting a phone call from the first floor tenant saying that there were maggots raining down on her porch from the second floor tenant’s trash.  PORCHES, basements and hallways are not dumpsters, people!
  3. When a long time tenant moves out and you find bird poop on every door and windowsill it sat on.  That’s not even the gross part. The gross part was that bird had been dead for 5 years.  There was also a 1/8″ thick layer of grease on every wall, ceiling and molding from the deep fry cooking she would do.  Everything you touched was sticky.
  4. When you go to talk to your tenant about not paying rent and she tells you that she just got back from a weekend in NYC because she had to de-stress about losing her job.  She also managed to pull 3 doors off their hinges or rather her daughters did from swinging on them. She also clogged up the toilet 3 times in 2 months and flooded the brand new bathroom below her.  My mom lived in that exact apartment for almost 30 years and never did she unhinge a door or flood her or anyone else’s bathroom.
  5. When this same tenant moves out but leaves all her stuff there including her children’s school photos, clothes, much of her furniture and  food. Not only do you feel bad for her kids and have to pay a small fortune to get rid of the stuff, but you now are not surprised that she is broke.
  6. When your brand new snow blower goes missing at the END of the winter and the tenant responsible for keeping the driveway clean (with discounted rent) and locked up says “it’s no big deal, just call your insurance company and they’ll buy you a new one.”   Hmmm….I have a sneaking suspicion that the only person who would steal such an item in May would be the crook who was done using it for the season.  My response was “I have a $500 deductible, and the snow blower was $500. Tough luck, here’s a shovel.”  My mom was very nice to that family and I was very disappointed. I’m sure he justified it by thinking he was stealing from the insurance company and not directly from us.

Here are my lessons from the above tenants



Porch AKA renter's dumpster

Don’t Assume Getting a Security Deposit Protects you From Damage

Mr.Maggot luckily moved out on his own without eviction. Most experienced renters know that a landlord won’t bother going after you for a month or two’s rent because the cost of legal fees outweighs the money you’d get back. He decides his security deposit and last month”s rent will cover his last 2 months of living there.  Actually, a lot of people now assume they’re going to use their security deposit as part of their rent before they move out. I think some of this has to do with nasty landlords (similarly if your landlord pockets your security deposit, you have limited recourse, so now it just ends up backfiring on the honest people).

Mr. Maggot not only left a porch full of maggoty trash bags, but he was also the guy who left a fridge full of food in the summer after turning off the electricity.  He also painted a room fluorescent yellow..and it wasn’t a good paint job either. There was yellow all over the ceiling and moldings too. I had just painted the room right before he moved in a few months before too.

Mr Maggot had money troubles (so the credit report claimed) and was on a payment plan with his creditors. He told a very convincing story and he had the cutest little wife and daughter. My mom loves little 2 year old girls, so she was hooked on these two.  I can tell you one of the reasons he has money problems. He was wasteful. It was heartbreaking seeing a freezer full of T-bone steaks, chicken and pork chops all rotten. He must have left $150 of food in the apartment to rot and I’m sure his food budget was a lot higher than mine at the time.

Don’t believe anyone when they say “he/she/they are only going to be here temporarily” and the same goes with pets

If you allow anyone to move in to an existing renter’s apartment for any length of time, assume it’s going to be a  permanent arrangement. If you’re not comfortable with it in the beginning, then don’t agree to it at all.

Don’t assume someone’s marital/family status will stay the same

My mom’s apartments were pretty small. They were just over 800 sq/ft each.  So when we rented to a single girl, it was perfect for her. Three months later, she has a whirlwind romance, gets pregnant and her boyfriend moves in.  That’s all fine because it’s still plenty of room for a family of 3.  Then 2 months later, his two kids come to visit and never leave.  The apartment was way too small for a family that size.  They made it work, but don’t assume that a single girl will stay single, or a married couple won’t get divorced. People’s lives change, they have kids, they get married and divorced and everything in between.

Location, Location, Location

Like I said above, when the neighborhood was still filled with mostly owner occupied immigrant landlords things were good. The properties were kept clean, people watched out for each other and there were still nice enough families that wanted to live on our street.  If you’re thinking about being a landlord, but you wouldn’t live in the neighborhood that you’re buying into, then don’t assume you’ll be able to attract renters like yourself.  The only people who live in bad neighborhoods are people who don’t have the option to live in a better one.  Most people won’t trump personal safety and the safety and security of their possessions for $100-$200/month savings.

Never Assume that the Apartment will Be as Nice as You Left It

Even with the best of tenants, most apartments go through some wear and tear during their occupancy. Always assume you’ll need to paint some rooms and do some repairs at the very minimum.  Apparently in the slum circles, it’s also quite common to leave all your trash and anything you’re too lazy to dispose of as well.   My one slum lord friend said that being a landlord is just like being a high paid cleaning lady.  To her, she places a high value on tenant cleanliness. I have no idea how you screen that (maybe look in their car and see if it’s filled with trash).

Don’t assume that a reference is who the renter says it is

I got a glowing recommendation about one of my tenants, but then after she ended up being a nightmare, I thought about it a bit and realized she could have just had me call one of her friends and pretend that she was the former landlord.  Make sure you ask some questions that only the landlord would know,  like what year they bought the property, if they still own it, or about how much they pay in property taxes, etc.  You can look that stuff up on You can also verify the owner’s address at your town’s registry of deeds.  Usually the credit report will verify prior residences, so if everything matches up, you’re good.

So, those are the few of the lessons I’ve learned during my years managing my mother’s property. I hope this helps new and old landlords alike.  Does anyone else have a horror story to share?

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2 Responses to “Bad Tenant Incidents and Lessons Learned”

  1. Thanks for sharing my story. I hope it helps others in their journey as landlords.