Lessons learned from being a landlord: My tenant died…now what?

At 26, I bought my first income producing rental property. It was a duplex about a mile or so from where I lived.

When I purchased the property, I inherited tenants that had leases in place already. And as I have shared many times, outside of just buying the duplex I hadn’t thought much deeper than that. But I would quickly learn a lot of valuable lessons about being a landlord the hard way.

About six months or so into owning the duplex I get a call from a guy claiming to be Wanda’s brother. Wanda was one of my tenants and she also had two children that lived with her. Wanda was in a wheelchair most of the time and had actually lost one her legs because of diabetes. Wanda wasn’t very old either.

I was immediately thinking why is he calling me.

He told me that Wanda had been in the hospital for several weeks and had died.

I was surprised but not shocked. I told him that I was sorry for his loss.

He said that he had been over to the duplex and has picked up his nieces and nephews things. And that they would be living with them now. He was a very nice and sincere guy. We talked for a just a few minutes.

I asked him about Byron and what would Byron be doing now. He acted like Byron didn’t even exist. And he said I don’t know anything about him.

Byron was my tenants boyfriend and he was always over there. I think he was somewhat of a streetwalker and found Wanda and shacked up with her as a way off the streets. So the fact that her brother didn’t even acknowledge his existence seemed weird to me, but I didn’t make a big deal of it with him. We hung up and that was the last time I ever heard from him or anything to do with Wanda.

Regardless of their situation, Byron being there while Wanda was a live was a violation of the lease and the law and my tenant could loose her section eight voucher if the government ever learned about this. I never made a big deal of it, because I didn’t want to lose my tenant. I assumed with her passing away and him not being on the lease he would just leave now.

Well, he didn’t leave. I learned very quickly about something called squatters rights

Once I spoke with Byron I gave him a week to get his things out and move out. I thought that was plenty of time. After the week was up, I told him I would be changing the locks. I would soon learn this was a big mistake.

I had the locks changed on a Friday afternoon. That Saturday morning was the day I was going to start the rehab of the apartment. I ride over to the duplex around 7 am and I notice the front door cracked open and you could tell the door jam had been busted.

I wasn’t thinking anything other than someone must have known the place was vacant and broke in. So I didn’t get out of my car. Instead I called the police.

Once the police arrived I got out of my car and told them why I called them. It was obvious the door was broken. I follow them up to the steps of the door and we notice a big metal bar laying next to the steps. This was the tool the intruder used to break the door open.

We walk in and the police are yelling “police are here”. In this apartment, you walk through the front door and you are in a large family room. This is where the tenants usually had their couch and tv.

You could see a body wrapped up in blankets on the couch. They walk over and are yelling at the top of their lungs “police, police” and finally the person wakes up.

it was Byron laying there. He sits up and most likely his still high or hungover from the night before and is saying “what, what”. And is very startled as anyone would be.

At this time, I started cussing at Byron. And I am saying “what the fuck did you do to my door?. He then starts saying that he was sorry and that he didn’t have anywhere to go.

In my state of absolute madness one of the police officers pulled me to the side and told me about squatters rights. And the process I would have to follow to get him out of there. I just couldn’t believe there was a law for someone to actually occupy a property they had no right to be in.

After the police left and I had calmed down, I asked Byron what his game plan was because he couldn’t stay there unless he paid rent. He asked me if I would give him a little more time to get his things out of the place.

Byron and Wanda were both hoarders. So they had the place full of junk. Literally nothing but junk everywhere. Think of an episode of hoarders and this is what it looked like.

Based off what the officers told me, I was better off to work with him instead of going through the judicial system and the court to get him out of there. So I agreed I would give him a little more time. Even though I was furious about the door.

Later on that night, I rode by the duplex again. This time, I could see a crack in the busted up front door again. Instead of calling the police I opened the door myself.

This time I see Byron, the crazy lady in the duplex next door (which is another story for another day), and her son and they are all sitting in the front room smoking pot. I think it was pot, it could have been crack.

Again, I was livid and said I was calling the police and I told the neighbor and her son that they were trespassing. I don’t know if that is the legal term or not, but as you can imagine I was really pissed off and that is all I knew to say.

The police arrived again. Again nothing really could be done. They told the neighbors they can’t be inside the apartment and they didn’t do anything to Byron.

The nosy crackhead neighbor lady always sat outside on the front porch. So on Sunday, I rode over to the duplex. I acted like I was on the phone, because I knew she would be listening.

So I am standing there acting like I am talking to someone and I say “He is gone. Can you all be over here tonight to throw everything out?” I may have said some other things, but that was the gist of it.

Then I left.

Literally about three hours later. I get a call from Byron and he says he has moved out of the place. I said, “Oh great, you got everything out of the place?”

He said “No!”

I said “Why not?”

He said “I don’t want anything in there!”

I said, “Ok, but you can’t leave me with all of that stuff!” And at that time I really didn’t know how much it was actually cost me to get rid of it all.

He said “Well, I don’t want anything and I heard you were going to have people over to get rid of it anyway.” I said “How did you hear that?” (even though I knew my planned had worked)

He said the lady next door had to told him.

I was glad my planned worked and I knew she would tell him.

I hung up with Byron and never heard from the guy again.

I think it cost me about $3,000 dollars to replace the door. I am still mad about that, because it wouldn’t have happened if I had not changed the locks before I had the Byron situation resolved.

So what is the lesson I learned here, well there are several.

  • Don’t let someone not on the lease live at your place.
  • Learn about the laws around tenants and landlords or consult an attorney.
  • Lastly, in todays world there are a lot more resources at your fingertips that can assist you through your journey becoming a landlord. Be sure to use them.

Another lesson I learned through this ordeal is why it is important to always get a receipt when you are hiring contractors, or people pretending to be contractors, because you may need that receipt to prevent you from having to spend an extra $500 dollars on fines that you weren’t planning for. Check in tomorrow to learn about this one.

To your success and your future.

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