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Sunday, January 5, 2014

No good deed goes unpunished (a cautionary tale for landlords)


Occasionally I get a comment from someone on sex industry internet forums (usually someone who’s never met me in person) about me being “jaded” and “world-weary”.
These people assume that this “weariness” came from being in sex industry awhile.

I am the first one to admit that I have what I call “a firm grip on reality” and generally view life as a harsh landscape vs. one of fluffy clouds and pink unicorns frolicking.

However, this viewpoint has very little to do with sex industry. Majority of it was brought on by my everyday life experiences, people I have encountered and events I’ve witnessed and lived through.

Latest case in point:

One of my properties is a house in Las Vegas. This is the house I lived in myself for a long time.
Over the years I painstakingly remodelled it pretty much top to bottom.

I’ve installed custom made hardwood inlaid parquet flooring, crystal chandeliers, granite countertops, completely redone the bathrooms, built “mother-in-law” addition and much more.
I’ve put a lot of love and care into this house.

When I’ve decided to move to New Zealand, I didn’t want to sell it because I am one of those people who have plan A, plan B (and often Plan C as well...LOL)-I thought I better keep it in case I ever wanted to go back to live in US.
So I’ve rented the house out.

In six years since the house had four sets of tenants, the last one living there for 3.5 years.

I am one of those people who always pay their bills on time (usually well before due date). Ever since I’ve lived on my own, not once was I ever late with rent or mortgage. Even when I was a poor waitress working 2-3 jobs, rent was always my priority.
I assumed most people treat it the same. Oh, how wrong I was!

I can write a whole separate book of stories various tenants gave me to explain the absence of their rent in my account.

When one signs the lease, it is an agreement to pay rent in exchange for roof over one’s head. I am yet to see a lease/rent agreement where the rent was contingent upon “shit in tenant’s life”-i.e. car broke down, grandmother (or some other family member) died or whatever. None of those (usually made-up) excuses are landlord’s problem. Rent is rent. It’s due on the date clearly stipulated in the lease. It is tenant’s responsibility to pay it. On time.

But rent is only one issue. Tenants, when they want to get into your house, will promise you all sorts of things (how they are going to take great care of it, etc) which they have no intention whatsoever to follow through with.

ALL of my tenants (no exception) destroyed my house (some more than others).

Of special note is the last set (the ones who been there the longest.

The head of the family (husband) has gotten my phone number from the tenant who was moving out. He called me, introduced himself and explained that he rents the house across the street from mine and has just discovered that his landlord went into foreclosure without informing him (common occurrence in US in 2010).

He proceeded to tell me that he a “straight up” guy, honest, respected member of the community and all the rest of it (be really weary when someone goes to great length to describe themselves as honest and trustworthy-usually it means they are anything but).

I’ve emailed him (very extensive and detailed) lease agreement (I used to be a Realtor and own a property management Co. in Las Vegas), had him sign and initial every page and all important paragraphs and he moved in.

I treat people the way I want to be treated myself: with respect, compassion and understanding.
So when this guy (Michael) told me that they can’t afford $1000 security deposit (bond) and asked for it to e lowered to $500 and paid in installments over 5 months, I said “OK”.
Well, this has never happened-I’ve never gotten any deposit money from him, but I let it slide, as he promised to pay rent on time and take care of my house as "if it was his own".

Next issue came in merely 6 weeks after they moved in: Michael called me at 5am New Zealand time saying the water was turned off to the house.
After making a call to the City of Henderson (department in charge of water), I found out that Michael has never transferred water account to his name (standard practice in Nevada, as water/sewage service is not part of the taxes/rates and something that’s clearly stipulated in the lease AND was discussed verbally in my phone conversation with Michael) and never paid the bill-hence turning off the service.
It cost me $225 to turn it back on (including $20 emergency same-day service fee). Michael claimed the previous tenant owed for the water. Well, not according to the City of Henderson: previous tenant did owe-$12.87.
The rest was Michael’s family usage for 6 weeks. This money has never been repaid to me.

Another month down the line and new happening: Michael’s rent check has bounced causing me to incur 4 days of $35/day “overdraw” fees (thank God I check my US account regularly although I don’t use it for anything but paying bills over there).

Come to find out, Michael’s mother-in-law has passed away and he took one of her checks, forged her signature and deposited it as my rent (bank sent me the copy and explanation. They also asked if I wanted to press charges, as it is a Federal offence-I declined, as I try to be understanding and compassionate).
$140 incurred by me as a result of this was never re-paid to me.

Three months later I’ve received a phone call from Michael at 4:30am New Zealand time (he could never be bothered to check what time it is here on his computer and/or IPhone-he just rang whenever he felt like it).

Apparently the water pipe leading to sidewalk meter was leaking. The leak wasn’t huge and this could wait for at least a month, but Michael made up a story about City of Henderson representative screaming at him (bogus) and apparently already called a plumbing company before he called me.
I had to fork over $2200US right then and there (which I did) for them to dig through concrete and replace 30ft of pipe. All because Michael didn’t want to have a slightly higher water bill that month.

In the meantime, the rent from Michael was arriving later and later every month (rent is paid monthly in US). Despite the fact that he asked for it to be on the 3rd of every month (normally it’s the 1st), it was arriving first by 10th, then by 15th, then by 20th and then slowly crept to 25th and even 28th.
He claimed his check was late-he owns a business partly subsidised by Government (but how is that my problem? Besides, I am fairly confident he was lying-based on his antics so far).

This meant that he was living in my house for free for the whole month (as rent is paid ahead, not in areas in every country)-and no deposit to boot.
I let it slide for quite a few months but finally put my foot down and threatened them with eviction.
At that point Michael has deposited 2 month’s rent into my account to catch up and they were on time with rent ever since.
“Late fees” were clearly stipulated in the lease, but I have never asked for them in the spirit of compassion.

During their tenancy dishwasher broke down and I let them pick the one they wanted and take the money out of the month’s rent. Same with clothes washer. I've asked numerous times for them to scan and email me the receipts-all to no avail.

Michael has called me several more times claiming that something broke down and expecting me to fix it right then and there (which I have done-internet and cell phone do wanders).

In the meantime I have never bothered Michael and his family with property inspections (I know a number of people in Las Vegas who could have conducted those for me): I didn’t want to disturb his family. Besides, reality is, property inspections serve very little purpose: you tell people to clean, they say “Sure” and never do it. It’s hard to evict someone just because they didn’t clean properly (unless the house is literally falling down because of it) and evicting people and finding new tenants costs thousands of dollars.

I got an email from Michael at the end of September giving me a month’s notice (as per lease) to move out. I said fine and reminded him to deposit October’s rent into my account.
Michael tried to swindle me yet again by claiming that he was a month ahead on rent (remember how he had to catch up because he was actually a month behind?).
I straightened him out and then received an email from his wife asking if they can go month-to-month because “the kids wanted to figure out what to do”.
This seemed strange as when someone decides to move to another state and informs his landlord, surely, they have planned for it and discussed it in detail with their family (which lives with them in the house)?
I agreed to it provided they gave me a month’s notice.

Then Michael called again: water heater was leaking, apparently. Yet again I had it replaced within 2 hours (cost-$800US). During this conversation Michael casually said “You know my son lives with us, right?”
Actually, no, I didn’t-the son was not mentioned when they moved in and he wasn’t on the lease.
Apparently the son (36 year old casino employee) has been living in the house for God knows how long along with Michael’s wife, two grown up daughters and 10-year old son (think of all the wear and tear-no wonder things kept breaking down).

Michael led me believe that his son would want to stay on at my house on month-to-month basis.
Based on that conversation I surmised I will have tenants for at least 2-3 months (until the end of Jan 2014 or longer).

Sometime in mid-November I received a phone call from another landlord asking for a reference for Michael’s son. Again, being compassionate and understanding, I gave a good reference-I said it was the father I was renting to, but I’ve received all the rent to date.

Imagine my surprise when Michael called me on November 26th basically trying to move out on that day. So no notice at all and he wasn’t going to pay anything.

I found out later he wasn’t going to clean the house, either and have piled literally a mountain (not exaggerating-I have photos taken by my Realtor) of crap in front of my house.

This I wasn’t going to take. I had a stern talk to Michael and we agreed on $500 (he asked if he could pay it on Dec 28th as he didn’t have the money. I had every right to ask for a full month’s rent in lieu of notice-$1575, but I was compassionate and understanding) and final move-out date of Dec 10-so they can clean the house. I’ve made it very clear that Michael was to pay all of his bills and $500 was not towards those.

I found out later Michael was lying (yet again): when he called me he claimed he was in Utah, at the cabin they own-he even said the temperatures were already freezing there. As it turns out he called me from the landline in my house in Las Vegas.

Then my Realtor drove by and saw a pile of s****t that was left in front of the house.

I am a nice person until you mess with me. I called Michael and had a chat to him. By then he was, in fact, in Utah. He drove back that day to move the stuff from my front yard. He assured me the house would be cleaned and "inspection ready”.
I found out a few days later that he actually turned the water off to the house, so you can imagine what kind of “cleaning” was done (in the absence of water).

He also attempted to skip on $106 water bill and $93 garbage service bill (turns out he hasn’t paid garbage bill in 6 months!).
Garbage bill especially is a huge issue, as the service is attached to the property rather than individual-if you don’t pay the bill, they continue to collect the garbage, but attach a lien for the amount owed to your house. They don’t notify the landlord of this-you find out by looking at the Recorder’s website.
This can significantly hinder selling process, as lien removal takes weeks even after you’ve paid the bill and the title can’t be transferred until this happens.

Now, remember, this is “honest, straightforward and trustworthy” man we are talking about. The one who is (self-proclaimed) “respected member of the community” and one who promised to treat my house “as his own”.

Imagine my shock when my Realtor (whom I worked with when I lived in Vegas) emailed me saying that my once beautiful house is now “unliveable” and unfit for the end user, so can only be purchased by “bottom-feeder” investor who will fix it up and re-sell.

This was confirmed by my contractor who called and told me that toilets would have to be replaced completely as they were “beyond cleaning” (that’s from a middle-aged Armenian guy from Russia, so it’s really saying a LOT) and stove is the same-has to be replaced as the gunk on and in it can no longer be cleaned off.
Not to gross anyone out, but people would have to sh**t in the toilets and not clean them at all for them to get to this state. It is beyond me how people can do this-they put their bare a** on those. Mind-blowing is the fact that this family (father, mother and both daughters) own and run a pre-school day care centre!

It cost me $6500US to bring the house to the condition where it can be sold at normal going rate.
That’s a “wholesale price”/”mate’s rates” for both materials and labour as the contractor is a friend of a friend and is hoping for more work to be sent his way from her.
If I was to call various companies for everything that needed to be done, I would have spent $12000-$15000.

There were hundreds of nails in the walls which had to be removed and walls re-textured and re-painted. In fact, the entire exterior of the house (walls and ceilings) had to be re-painted.

Beautiful European vanity in master bathroom (bowl sink, marble top, cherry wood) was completely destroyed ad had to be replaced along with the faucet. Most of the faucets had to be replaced.

I’ve already mentioned the stove and the toilets. Ditto garbage disposal (had to be replaced).

Blinds on all the windows had to be replaced. So are most of the light fixtures.

Garage floor had to be completely resurfaced and walls redone (new dry wall, texture, paint).

I have “zero” (rock) landscape-so easy to maintain-just pull the weeds every few month and spray with weed killer. Tenants didn’t bother at all. The whole scape had to be re-worked.

Keep in mind that I’ve spent $3000 between the second and the third set of tenants on complete all-over interior paint work and massive repairs throughout the house. This should give you an idea as to how much destruction these last tenants had inflicted on the house.
These people whom I treated with kindness and compassion paid me back by lying, cheating and ultimately destroying my house. And they’ve done it just in time for Christmas.

I am very grateful for the fact that I am financially secure- I had the money to do the work immediately (a lot of people would have to wait until Christmas is over and bills are paid and some money is made, hence losing valuable time).
I am also eternally grateful for dedication of my contractor who worked all through the holidays to make this happen for me.

It is events such as this that make me a “realist” that I am.

I do not hesitate for a moment to publish these people’s names, to give them the recognition they so richly deserve:

Michael Accardo-the father, husband and head of the family-the main culprit.

Leanne Accardo-the wife and mother. Was well-aware of her husband’s shenanigans and went along with them.

Brandon Accardo-grown up son. Lived in the house and contributed to its destruction.

Jordis Accardo- grown up daughter. Lived in the house and contributed to its destruction.

Dani Accardo- grown up daughter. Lived in the house and contributed to its destruction.

I will leave the name of the little son out, as he was only 7 when they moved in.

This put me off renting for a long, long time.

The only way I would even consider doing this again is if my GF and I buy a small studio apartment in Melbourne and rent it out to students.
I will go in with the idea that place will be completely destroyed at the end of each tenancy, but as my GF is VERY handy, we will just fix it ourselves from scratch (Thank God for Master’s store) and it won’t cost that much.