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My Tenant Died and I Cried

My Tenant Died and I Cried

3 min read
Dave Van Horn

Dave Van Horn is a veteran real estate investor and CEO of PPR Note Co., a $150MM+ company managing funds that buy, s...

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Have you ever had a tenant pass away on you?

First of all, I’m not a really big fan of the word tenant. It kind of has an inferior connotation to it (for example, landlord vs. tenant). Owners of property sometimes think that they’re better than renters. I have been a tenant where that’s been the case, so I prefer the word resident.

Over the last twenty-five years or so, I’ve had several residents pass away on me.

One was a single mom with two adult sons, who had all lived in my rental for about eight years. Actually it didn’t end very well (eviction) after the remaining residents realized that they had no one left to mooch off of and were now responsible for paying the rent. All adults in any of my properties are required to be included in the lease.

Another situation was pretty sad where two, long time senior citizens, an elderly grandmother in her 90’s, and her divorced daughter, in her late 60s, lived together, when the older lady suddenly passed away. She had been an ideal resident of mine for over 10 years.  You could eat off of her floors.  But this was a case where the grandmother had most of the money, and the daughter was failing health, and she was forced to move in with her children.

As you can see, renting to seniors has advantages and disadvantages. My one friend avoids them – He’s afraid of them dying on him, or they won’t be able to afford any rent increases. My other buddy loves and prefers them, because he says they tend to stay longer with fewer headaches and tenant type of issues.

A Greater Purpose

Recently, a couple weeks ago, I had a resident who passed away and it did make me cry, literally.  He was a newer arrival at my drug and alcohol recovery house, and this 24-year-old young man died from a heroin overdose.  As a brother, brother-in-law, uncle, and father of those fighting addiction, my son and myself had decided to open this recovery house (see “My Most Rewarding Rental” article on BiggerPockets) about 3 1/2 years ago, by converting my primary residence.  Although it’s by far the most rewarding rental property I have, we do on occasion lose someone (about one a year), and it’s usually been a past resident.  This time we lost a current one.

I guess what made me cry was the pain. The pain he must have been in to turn to heroin in the first place.  It’s something that’s tough for me to understand.  This young man grew up in a fine family, in a great neighborhood, had a college degree, and was a lacrosse star.  Then there’s the pain of those left behind—his sister and two brothers, other family and friends, and of course his parents.

Although this resident’s passing is heart wrenching, I don’t believe he died in vain.  There is a lesson here. There’s a lesson for the other residents and gentlemen who come through our doors—that there is a war going on out there.  I guess that’s why one of the local AA groups has the name, “Change or Die.”

Maybe it’s also a lesson for society—that we need to step up to the plate and try to do more. And, sometimes it’s about more than just cash flow. Maybe, it’s more about cash flow with purpose. I tried investing in a totally different way because of my son, and it turned out to be the most rewarding rental I’ve ever had. I don’t do it for the money, even though we’re compensated pretty well for what we do. That’s just not the primary focus.

Even though I had a rough weekend where someone passed away, it does validate what we’re doing. There is such a huge need and demand for places like recovery houses. Recently, we opened our second home, a Sober House, for men who are doing well, longer, and here they can continue to live with others in a sober environment. Now, my wife is toying with the idea of providing housing for unwed moms. So, who knows what might be coming next.

But really, it doesn’t matter what cause you get behind. If you get creative with your rentals, you could start helping people you never knew you could. So, is there a special cause out there for you? Is it possible that that there’s a bigger purpose that can be funded by your real estate investing?
Photo Credit: _Ganesha_