my professional tenant nightmare...warning long

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I wrote a very detailed story that just went *poof* so this time I will write in installments. This is a story form my earlier , very nieve, years in landlording. There needs to be some background so the context can be understood.

In 1990 my husband and I bought my 'dream' property...an equestrian facility near an affluent town. This place had two indoor arenas, a lot of outdoor riding places and pastures, and also a 2/1 craftsman bungalow house as well. The house was occupied by the farm manager and his family.

It also had a mobile home that the farm worker lived in.

My family didnt intend to live there, we had a nice house in town. the plan was for me to work there in the daytime. 

As luck would have it the manager was offered a better job and moved out just a few months in and suddenly we had an empty house. I was in the house one day and startled by a woman who just dropped in. She wanted to know if the house was for rent. Not just yet, I told her, but soon.

We had purchased some new light fixtures and had planned to paint the place, then consult with my brother (an attorney) about how to rent it effectively.

The next day the same woman contacted me about boarding her two horses...sure! I even went with her to pick up her horses at the fancy place they were at and hauled them home for nothing. (she had said they 'didnt fit in') and that the owner of the other farm wasnt fair to her.

Horses get to my place, no problem

A few days later I come to work, notice curtains in the house windows...hmmmm...it was vacant, we were ready for painting!

I go into the house to find it full of boxes and furniture. My painting supplies and light fixtures still there. Im dumbfounded. Whoever did this, did so overnight. As im standing there gawking the same woman (Ill call her Kathleen) walks in, informs me that she is doing me a favor...I wont have to go to the trouble and expense to try to rent the place.

I go home and tell my husband we lucked out...got a tenant already! 

The thing was, we hadnt even had time to prepare a rental agreement, had no idea what to charge, and wanted to do some minor repairs before we rented it. 

Im lucky that my brother is an attorney and lives nearby. He agrees to draft a lease and faxes it to me. (remember when fax paper was really shiny?) I copy the lease, and visit the tenant. She agrees to 'look it over' and get back to me....

Days go by...she is using the horse facilities, mixing with my clientele, and having a good time. She changes the subject each time I ask about the lease.

Then one day I come to the place to find a county car...testing the well water. Fair enough, I thought, I would like to know the results...NOPE, county says the results will only be given to the one who complained (I later found out it was all okay with the water) 

I mention this to my brother, just in passing....

A few days later I arrive to a parking lot full of cop cars...she claimed that I had stolen her saddle...and describes a very expensive saddle , not the ones I helped her unload when we moved her horses.

Then I started getting evening calls...from other horse boarders...seems that when I would go home in the evening she would kill the power to the arenas...lights interfered with her 'rights' to quiet enjoyment

Then other clients were complaining about the water being shut off to the barns, this is a very serious problem with horses...and that she would verbally harrass them when I left.

During this time, she would also invite my daughter (then about 12) into the house and show her 'artwork' and give her art supplies...

She later called the cops and said my daughter broke in and stole art supplies.

She called cops and claimed to have 'found' her stolen expensive saddle. But it was MY saddle. Cops believed me and called her a 5150.

Somewhere in all of this, Im chatting with my brother and his business partner and the other lawyer says...Youve got a 'Professional Tenant!  I had never heard the phrase. He suggested that we immediately serve the 3 day notice, and sent the office process server out to do so. 

In the mean time we were concerned about her antics as this was also our business, and she was making deliberate attempts to interfere...shutting off power and water to the arenas and barns. We borrowed a motor home and moved onto the property. My husband took care of both places.

Can anyone guess what she did next?


She had a yard sale! In the sale were my new light fixtures and...some old light fixtures (among other rummage stuff). When my husband saw this he said "Im going to the yard sale...and walked over...She faced him off and said he cant come on with out proper notice! Then she called the cops...and they agreed with her and cautioned us to be sure to give notice...

We waited out the three day...and sure enough found ourselves in court with her...and in court she somehow managed to appear very frail and disabled...and she had also hired a lawyer! and was countersuing us for 50k

We regained posession, judge dismissed her countersuit. If I hadnt had a 'free' law firm I would have spent thousands...maybe tens of thousands.

My take home points:

If a prospective tenant tells you their current landlord is evil in some way...they will think the same of you

If a prospective tenant tells me how well they 'know the law'...you will be consulting your rental agreement and maybe should have a lawyer on speed dial.

KEYS!  Keep them near and dear! Dont leave a place open and unattended even for a few minutes. If you leave, lock up.

No signed lease /rental agreement...no keys. period

No deposit/rent...no keys

Just those few things would have saved us a lot of grief...

(I have to add I left out a lot of repetitive drama...cops were at my place of business, where this house is located...seven times)

Years later I had another tenant try the same stuff...story for another day! I recognized the battle plan and stopped it before it started.

Other landlords with similar stories? Lets share and learn

So, maybe there's your 'silver lining': Maybe that 2nd tenant would have cost you more in the long run than what the first one did and if you hadn't had the experience with the 1st scammer, you would have lost even more. 

It's horrible to go through these things, but we often only grow and evolve when things get difficult and can later look back and see where this may have pushed into a direction we might have never taken on our own and which was positive.

Shelley, thank you for sharing your story. It made me realize that I may not be cut out to be a land lord. If I had a professional tenant like that I would most likely end up in jail. You have a strong fortitude and I wish you the best in the future!

Shelley, Sorry, but I can't imagine any reasonable person being okay with someone moving into their property without permission.  Any reasonable person would have called the cops immediately to have them removed.

@Sue K.

Its a long time ago (26 years now) and Ive only told a tiny bit of the story as it flooded back. But my brother called me the 'accidental landlord' I wasnt set up to be a landlord, I just happened to leave a key out at the wrong time. It was never okay with us to let her in, but she was front and center in a new business...and thus had control of not only her house (MY house) but had the ability to disrupt my entire liveliehood. Ive only shared, and then reiterated what I learned, as a way to share a learning experience. In a day or two Ill fast forward to my newer tenant (2011). Im not a big landlord. I just closed on my tenth sfh today. I am continually learning but I truly believe that I better know tenant law better than my tenants (or a handyman...but thats a story for another day)

Shelley, leaving a key out, doesn't give permission for someone to move in.  I hope you learned from your mistakes.

Totally! And this is now why Im usually the first person to say! What??/Youve got a subtenant! You wont like the ensuing tenant stories Im afraid @Sue Kelly.. but they are learning experiences and why Im comfortable managing my own stuff now...I sure appreciate your input.

And I hope others can learn and benefit from my many mistakes. That is why I shared a story that was kept repressed for so many years. And when I see variations of this story...Im on it. They are still out there. Even had one from a contractor recently

The moment you saw the curtains in the house, you should have called the cops and reported her as a trespasser. I don't mean to insult you but I don't think she was a professional tenant: I think you were an amateur Landlord.

I'm surprised to see you have ten rentals. I hope you a better Landlord now, particularly in the state of California.

yep! 

Right now this isnt about me...this was 26 years ago and all I could see was my new equestrian center enterprise.  Landlording wasnt even  in my spectrum.  I only shared this as a way to let others learn from this experience.  It was a real learning experience. Its amazing what a 26 years and a legal education will do for you huh! I make it a point to know the law better than my tenants these days... and I laugh...one of the places we bought , and then decided to make our own, didnt have curtains so we went to thrift and cut up sheets. Cops soon arrived...thought we were squatters.