No, I’m not rich – An Open Letter to My Tenants

I’m beginning to think that there’s a common misconception about people who choose to rent out the property they own is that they are rich slum lords getting rich off the backs of the common folk who pay them rent. I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s certainly not the case with me. I tried to sell my house in 2011, but couldn’t even get enough money for it to break even, let alone pay the realtor and the closing costs.

I was forced to rent out my house – first to a psycho who ran out on his lease and caused a ton of damage to my property, then to a very nice couple who were terrific, always paid on time, but unfortunately only stayed one year, and now my current tenants. Their rent payments don’t even cover my entire mortgage, and when you throw in the insurance I pay to ensure everything runs and the appliances work, I’m nearly $400 in the red each month. Each. Month.

Some slum lord, eh?

When I tried to refinance, the mortgage company tried to charge me something close to $10,000 in closing costs, because they said my house is an “investment property,” which certainly sounds like they think I’m rich enough to have “investment property,” so they can shake me down for higher closing costs. It’s not an investment property, shitbags. It’s an albatross I can’t shake, because home prices have bottomed out, and I’m forced to rent it to deadbeats who think paying just a little rent is OK, because I’m apparently rich.

Well, it’s not. So…

Dear Tenants – 

I realize it’s right after the holiday season, and times may be hard, but given the fact that you’ve been late or short on paying rent on the house I own and in which you’re living for a few months now, and given the fact that you’ve been completely nonchalant about it, thinking it’s no big deal, because it’s only a “few hundred dollars,” and I’m apparently rich enough to suck it up, let me disabuse you of a few erroneous notions.

I pay a monthly mortgage on the house in which I allow you to live. Said mortgage is actually several hundred more dollars than your rent. That’s right. I’m in the red every month due to circumstances beyond my control. When you add in the monthly insurance I’m paying to ensure that your appliances, plumbing, electrical, etc. are functioning correctly, I’m very much in the red. And yet, I’ve raised your rent only nominally and only once.

When you don’t pay your rent, I cannot pay my mortgage. Know why? Because my rent, combined with the mortgage I have to pay comes to nearly 80 percent of my takehome pay each month. That’s right – 80 percent. So when you don’t pay, or when you short me, I have to decide whether to pay the mortgage, pay my own rent, pay my utilities, make my car payments, or feed my kid! So that “few hundred dollars” you think is no big deal actually means quite a bit to me.

If I don’t pay my mortgage, my credit score is affected, and unlike some people, who would be very kind and would rent to you despite the bankruptcy you declared, most landlords aren’t so nice. Security sections at certain jobs aren’t so nice either. I don’t blame them. Their job is to ensure that people with security clearances aren’t having so much financial trouble, that they’re susceptible to bribery and would perhaps give away classified information. So if I don’t pay my mortgage, and my credit score goes down, my career could be jeopardized…

…all thanks to that “few hundred dollars” you don’t seem to think is a big deal. And by the way – those utility bills you’re also failing to pay are billed to me as well. So when you don’t pay them, guess who is held accountable!

You seem to think that everyone who owns a home and is renting it out is “rich,” so if you short them on rent or just not pay on time, they can wait or suck it up. Hate to tell you this (I’m trying really hard not to call you parasitic deadbeats), but some of us don’t have investment properties by choice. Some of us had to rent out our house to make ends meet. Some of us tried, but couldn’t sell our house, because it was underwater thanks to this awesome economy, and because the house lost over a third of its value since it was purchased. Some of us are facing increasing property taxes. Some of us are simply getting by.

I am not your slumlord. I am someone who relies on that rent check every month to keep afloat. That house is beautiful and spacious. It was home to us for seven years before you moved your asses into it. If you were living where I live, you would be paying $4,000+ per month for a five-bedroom, 2 1/2 bath house with a finished basement on a corner lot, on a third of an acre of land and a fenced-in yard, and not the measly $1650 you are paying and defaulting on now. You’re getting a damn good deal, so have the common courtesy to pay in full and on time. And if you can no longer afford to live there, then get a smaller, cheaper place in a less desirable area. But don’t, for a moment, think that because I happen to own the property on which you live, that I’m independently wealthy, and that “few hundred dollars” doesn’t mean a whole lot or that you’re entitled to screw me. 

It means a lot. It’s not OK. Not even remotely.

And further, you have a rental agreement – a contract according to which you’re obligated to pay a certain amount by a certain date. I could charge you penalties, but I haven’t so far. At least be grateful for that, and don’t act like you’re doing me a favor by not being even more behind on rent than you already are!

I write this on behalf of every homeowner who’s been in my situation, and who has struggled to make ends meet, because they were forced to allow strangers to live in their house for a price and become dependent on that income to pay the mortgage.

It’s not OK to abuse them. Trust me.

20 responses

  1. An interesting scenario. I have seen both sides of the situation and let me assure you, there are a lot of parasites out there. (Sometimes I wonder if one is living with us now, one who pays no rent or utilities, but I digress). It has never failed to irk me how certain people look to other people that try hard to keep their act together, and feel entitled to ride on their backs because they “must be rich”.

    Such was the case with our roommate in the Air Force. Three of us were on the lease for a three bedroom apartment. Even though we utilized one room and he basically utilized the other two, he was only paying one third of the rent. Ok, so I’m not complaining, we agreed to it. The problem was when he decided that he wasn’t going to pay the rent anymore, and he would get it to us when it was convenient for him and he could afford it. This is in spite of the fact that said roommate was an E-5 with no dependents, and we were both E-4’s (one of whom was paying child support as well). He simply couldn’t manage his money for shit, so the other two roommates (of which I was one) had to scramble for the full $1100 per month. He liked to tout that he is an honest person who pays his bills, but to this day we have not seen the lost rent we made up for him.

    That and the fact that when I was ending that lease, my father gave me a stipend of money for my wedding. This was what I was using on my limited budget to cover–chapel fees, wedding dress, cake and food/catering, photography, tux rental, and what have you. I needed every penny but when said roommate heard about my dad’s one time gift for my wedding, he said, “You’re basically rich, you can afford it.” Some people are real pieces of work.

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    1. Sheesh – no shit, right? The attitude bothers me more than anything! I know people run into trouble. It happens. But when you basically get pissy because I say I’m going to sell my house, because you’re an unreliable shitbag and snottily wonder WTF, because it’s “only a few hundred dollars,” I have to wonder what kind of entitled shit stick you are. Ya know?

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  2. Could be worse.

    My brother rented out his first floor, and then had to move elsewhere for health reasons. He got a friend of his as a 2nd floor tenant, but the couple below, wishing to economize on their winter heating bills, ripped off the paneling and molding and cabinet doors to use as fuel in the fireplace.

    It took a while to evict the swine, but then the first floor had to be rehabbed before the friend upstairs could get a mortgage to purchase the place. Took almost a year following the eviction for the deal to close with his friend, wreaking some major damage to my brother’s finances and credit rating in the interim.

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  3. […] No, I’m not rich – An Open Letter to My Tenants. […]

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  4. I’d investigate a short sale, where you don’t break even but the bank agrees to take less than owed. I think this may leave your credit score ok.

    Also where is this house? I don’t know if they make perfect tenants, but all the NoVa 20 something libertarians are always looking for a group house to rent.

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    1. Noooo. Short sale tanks your credit by 100 points right off the bat. Bad idea. I would rather just get rid of this house and not worry myself with it. And it’s near Winchester. Far away from anything.😦

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    2. Nooooo on the short sale. BAD idea. Your credit gets dinged 100 points right off the bat. The house is 90 miles west of DC, and there is nothing out there, so I doubt any young people will want to mive out there. Frankly, i just want to get rid of it. I’m done with this thing.

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  5. Landlord here too. I bet their lights are on, the cable or satellite is working just fine, their telephone (and cell and broadband) are in tip-top shape and their car payments are up to date.

    Some people…

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  6. […] No, I’m not rich – An Open Letter to My Tenants. […]

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  7. Worst thing about bad tenants…they can be counted on to vandalize and destroy your property when you have to evict them.

    I used to work for a person who had a few properties as an investment. Every Single Time he had to evict a tenant for non payment of rent, I had to go in and fix or replace appliances, toilets and water heaters, repaint the walls and replace the carpet, patch holes in the walls, ect.

    It’s a messy business and I’m sorry you have to go through it.

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    1. I agree. Nicki, it’s amazing what some tenants can do. When we move out of a place, we typically just pack up our stuff, vacuum and clean it, and move out. Not so with some of the more creative, ornery bad tenants.

      My father in laws last tenants (he owns a property), actually left giant bags of garbage all around the property. The fire pit that was in the yard disappeared; who knows where that went. The fans in several different rooms (ceiling fans) as well as permanent kitchen furniture like a grocery hutch had been deconstructed so they could sell the parts for scrap metal. And the carpet was of course stained in several different areas. Seriously, I couldn’t think this stuff up if I tried.

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  8. A friend, or a friends family member, is the worst possible tenant. When they come up short, and they will, you not only loose the rent $$, but also a friend, their family members,and possibly other members of your circle who will agree with one side, or the other. And when they add damage and filth to the residence, there is no win.

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    1. You are so spot on correct with this comment. Everyone, if you plan to rent, make sure you do it with a stranger, if you have any hope of collecting your money and keeping things civil. Friends and family can take advantage, and they will, and this can run the risk of just destroying the relationship permanently. There will be hard feelings, and each side will remember it a different way. This applies whether you are renting TO a family member/friend or renting FROM a family member/friend. Also, something to keep in mind–if it’s a family member/friend, you really have less recourse against them if they don’t pay, not just because of the emotional/guilt factors involved, but because it’s really unlikely you will utilize state resources (like forced evictions and small claims court) when they don’t pay and things go south. Might be tempting to help someone out at first if you are thinking of renting to family/friends, but take my advice–don’t do it.

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  9. Sorry to hear your rental property is not in Alabama. I once worked with a self-described slum landlord. All 28 of his homes were in Alabama because, according to him, that’s the only state where the laws were written to protect the landlord, all the other states the laws were written to protect the tenant. That was about 25 years ago, so things may have changed. I did look into buying rental properties here in Florida about 15 years ago, but it became readily apparent that the laws here for residential rentals made being a landlord risky. It appeared to me that a tenant could get away with making less than 4 monthly payments for one year of residency. The tenant has to be a month behind before you can start eviction proceedings, then it would take about a month before you could get in front of a judge, and IF the judge agreed that the tenant should be evicted, they had 30 days to get out. But ANY attempt to pay just part of the debt started things over. The day they were to be evicted, if they made a partial payment (not even one month’s worth of what would be the 3 months rent that they owed), this showed a “willingness to pay”, and the eviction could be cancelled (up to the judge, if I understood it correctly). So that’s part of your problem, the laws in your locale assume you ARE a slum landlord who is trying to rip off your tenants.

    While you’re having to deal with residential rentals, I have learned that commercial rentals, at least in FL, are the way to go. Rent due on the 1st? If you haven’t got it on the 2nd, you can change the locks, seize the tenant’s property to sell for the rent owed, and rent to someone else, all, apparently, without getting the courts involved (based on what someone I knew who rented both residential and commercial spaces told me).

    One tidbit about short sales: the amount of the debt the bank forgives can be considered as “income” by the IRS that you owe taxes on. That’s been bouncing around lately, as the federal government has been fiddling with that of late, so I’m not sure to what extent that is true at this time, but I know it was true at one time. Also, the bank has to approve a particular sale, and a realtor I knew a couple years ago told me she hated dealing with short sales because the bank would take months to return an answer (I hypothesized they were dragging their feet in the hopes that a better offer would turn up).

    In any event, good luck with your property.

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    1. Thanks for the good info. Yeah, i think the assumption is that you’re a slum lord taking advantage of poor people, instead of sineone who had no other choice but to trent, because the house is under water. Short sales are NOT the way to go for me. I am NOT going to lose 100 points merely because someone not me is too irresponsible to pay.

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  10. Nicki, this hits close to home. I had a house destroyed by renters – it’s still not livable, two years later. Every “rich landlord” I know has horror stories. Few make money, unless they’re truly slumlords. In AZ, it’s a real problem to even evict a squatter. Good job. Best to you,

    Ned

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    1. Thanks, Ned. Good luck to you as well.

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  11. Great letter; maybe I missed it in the comments but please tell me you actually provided same to the “poor downtrodden victimized” tenants.

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    1. Im meeting with them Monday, actually. We shall see.🙂

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  12. […] No, I’m not rich – An Open Letter to My Tenants […]

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