Tenant pays, but has become unreachable... worry?

15 Replies

I am in my first rental property, in Pleasant Prairie, WI (about 26 miles from where I live). The tenants are a young couple with kids, and the place backs up to a good school. All seems right, but at the same I am uneasy-- so I'd like a sanity check. 

The tenants are a young couple, the man is a tradesman and the breadwinner and the woman stays at home with the kids. The woman did all of the arranging, finding the house and being first to look, etc. and was clearly the domestic decision-maker. Both are signatories, but all communication has been through her. They have been in for 3 months, and always mail a cashier's check for the rent. She has said they love the place.

About 3 weeks back the woman sent an email with some maintenance concerns (I had sent a note to ask if everything was OK, so this was a response to that). Nothing major, but I need to do have them addressed. That same day I got a call from the local Humane Society asking if I was the  landlord for the address, and that the woman had been in there to adopt a cat and listed me as landlord. Hmmm... yes, a cat is allowed, but she already has a cat, with the extra rent and one cat permitted in the lease with extra rent; the humane society person just wanted to know if there were requirements to declaw, etc... 

So I sent a note back to the tenants and gave them information on a local handyman they should contact. And I mentioned the call from the humane society, asked if everything was OK with their cat and reminding them that if they had more than one pet we would need to re-negotiate the lease.

I have not heard from them since. I did get the cashier's check for rent check on the 1st of Aug, but both of their phones ring to system messages as "this number is unreachable" and no response to any emails. 

So I put a regular letter in the mail today, just telling them I've been trying to reach them to address their concerns and please contact me with updated phone numbers or contact me by email. 

Am I missing something?  Too paranoid? My Spidey-Sense is tingling. 

@David Van Brunt   Yes you are missing something maybe 2 things.  one is a ride in the car.  26 miles?  a 45 min drive tops.  I manage from 3000 miles away from my properties.  so I have the second thing you may be missing.  a PM.  if you cannot take the time to see what's going on with your rental maybe a PM who can drive by or call them is in order.  Many new Landlords think managing a rental stops with filling them.  not true.  Having rentals is like having a garden.  you need to know whats going on there.

Your spidey sense is correct.  something is wrong here.  A  vacation?  A short job and they are out of town?  They moved out in the middle of the month?? separation or divorce?  If they have been in contact and now are not then something is going on here. 

Tthe cat thing is probably not it.  I allow pets, but I don't charge rent for them.  I get a big enough non refundable deposit.  My rentals are also mostly pet proof.  (no carpet).  cats and dogs can scratch and chew so a portion of the deposit is non refundable. 

The procedure here is to send a notice of inspection and then enter the property.  you will need to follow your lease here and local laws.  Then you will need to respond accordingly. Post the notice on the door.   Use what ever method your lease calls for that does not require a response.  If I had to post the notice I would do it myself  then I could see if there was any activity there.  you can look for BBQ grills, toys in the yard, cars in the drive way etc.   

Had you or somebody been driving past the property once in a while you would have some clue as to what is going on there.  Take this as a lesson learned.

When ever I run into a snag with my rentals I ask myself what did I do to get into this situation.  You cannot change what a tenant does, but you can change what you did to get into the situation.  Not paying attention is a big one.  The neighbors watch my more remote property, (a $50 gift card at Christmas encourages this) and the PM drives by my city properties weekly. 

With any luck yours is not too serious, but I have read some real horror story's right here on BP including severe damage to the property.

Good luck!!


I believe my lease says that they have to provide a working phone and email contact.  Make sure yours does too in future.

@Ralph R. : Notice of inspection is a great idea. 

This is quite unusual in that, if I wanted to check on my property I text my tenant and get a response back within a day confirming when I might be able to do it!  You may have to post a notice of inspection on their door.

They are renegotiating the second cat....................with silence. My suspicion is that they are hoping that if they ignore you, you will stop "renegotiating". That's what I was thinking.

@David Van Brunt   I agree with @Jonathan G.  Your tenant got another cat, and thought they'd pull a fast one on you.  And now they are ignoring you.  Time to take control.  

What I'd do is give them a 3 day notice to pay the cat fee for the additional cat.  I would not even give them the option to get rid of it, because they will lie.  I'd just take the strong position that you know they have one, and they need to pay for it.

And tell them if they don't pay for it, they will be evicted. And that you aren't going to play ring around the rosie about whether or not they actually have another cat.  Because you know they do.

Their actions have spoken loud and clear that they have one.

Unfortunately, my experience with cat lovers, is that they can never have just one.  And they will also feed the feral cats in the area, and let them inside.  Everywhere I've lived, anyone I've known who is into cats, have all fed the feral ones and snuck them inside their units.  Heck, there's a lady across the hall who is on a very meager income, and yet she feeds the feral cats and racoons (drives me nuts) and she now has two of them living in her apartment against the rules.  Thankfully, it's not my problem.

But, this is why I'd never accept a tenant with a cat.  Because it's never just one.

Anyway, that's what I'd do.  I wouldn't give them the opportunity to say it's not there, or you have to prove it.  I'd just say, I know you have one and you need to pay for it or I'll kick you out.  They'll wonder how you know for sure, and will try to dink you around, but I'd go through with it.  Make them pay you or see you in eviction court.

Then, get rid of them as soon as possible.

@Ralph R. yes, I have driven by-- there was normal activity in the house (looked like grandparents visiting), but the drop-off in comm is in the last 3 weeks; I had driven by about 4 weeks ago. In the interim, they paid their rent. I also have friendly relationship with the next door neighbors who have been kind to call me before (and mow the lawn for free when I was getting ready to show it). I left a message for them-- "Just following up to make sure the new tenants are being good neighbors for you." So I don't think I'm quite yet guilty of fill-it-and-forget it. What I'm trying to get a sense of is what is micromanagement inside of a single month? I did send the postal mail letter and plan to drive up an evening this week. 

Well, drove by the place today and the lawn was nicely mowed, and there was an inflatable kid's pool in the back yard... the letter was sent today, but it look like they are there and taking care of the place-- will see what reaction comes from the letter before assuming anything... 

@David Van Brunt well maybe Sue is right it's just the cat issue. Often times though it's a lot worse. When a tenant goes dark it's usually not good. How much do you get for extra cat rental?? RR

Regular rent is 1250, extra 20/mo for the cat plus extra on deposit. I grew up with a cat, had a cat with my wife for a while before we went the way of dogs. Never had more than one. It may be a simple as changing their phone plans-- they have only mobile, no land line (same as me). Will see what happens with the letter this week; I will likely be knocking on the door soon. I was relieved to see the place otherwise well cared for on exterior inspection. 

I don't understand why you are ignoring the call from the Humane Society and the fact that your tenant never talked to you about getting an additional cat.  

You can make excuses for them, but I think that is a bad idea.  I mean think about it.  Were they filling out paperwork for a cat at the Humane Society as a homework assignment for the kids, to learn how to fill out forms at Humane Societies, with no actual intent on getting a cat they never talked to you about getting?  I mean, sure, that's a possibility, right?

And maybe they got a new phone.  With a new number?  Did you get a message saying that number has been disconnected?

This is like hearing landlords say their tenants are actually great because they pay on time.  As if that negates the other problems - that they post on BP wanting advice for, then for some reason justify the tenants behavior because they pay on time.

Now here you are saying the lack of communication and their intent to get a stealth cat must not really be a problem because they mow the lawn.

That's not logical.  It's news you don't want to hear or consider, for sure.  I don't blame you.  Maybe you were hoping everyone would say not to worry about it.  

But, a mowed lawn isn't going to make up for a house full of cat spray, believe me.  And sure, maybe I'm wrong.  But, if you were sure there was nothing to worry about, you wouldn't have started this thread.

Oh, and if you switched to dogs and no longer have any cats, you weren't really cat people, which explains why you could only have one :-)

@David Van Brunt

Friend had managed properties for years.  Had a great tenant that paid on time.  Friend hadn't driven by in a while because the tenant was so good and the place always looked great, etc. Middle of the 4th year tenant misses the payment.  Call, no response.  Drive by and notices the yard isn't mowed.  Finally gets in the house and finds the tenant just walked.  Also finds the great tenant had never taken the trash to the curb but only thrown it into the garage.  Moved with the pile got so deep he couldn't throw more on it. 

Moral is payment record is important but ALWAYS remember it is your property and you need to check it regularly.

Ok, points taken! Thanks for the advice-- I will certainly be knocking on the door soon, response to letter or not. 

I like to get into my properties at least every three months. I absolutely see them from the outside every 2-4 weeks. 

August rent came as expected, you ride by and see activity, they could just be busy, or have a family issue that removes you from the top of their concerns.

What was the context of the local handyman they should contact? Were you explicit on who was paying for it? I think between this and if they have a  second cat we need to "re-negotiate the lease" you may have a communication issue.  You don't re-negotiate the lease for the second cat,  if you charge pet fees per pet you need to say that.  I name pets in the lease and attach a picture. They may be wondering about their landlords expectations. To clear that up I hope your written communication included the outstanding issues and let them know how to get back to you and in what timeframe.  Can't say about the phones-forgot to pay the bill??

I also would not assume the second cat,  the humane society could have denied them on your response (and they could be annoyed about this).  The Humane society zealots can be very unreasonable based on my personal experience.

Yes; thanks for asking-- I did reach them by phone and also visited. Their phones were off when I had been calling, and since that's how they get email, that was the same story on replies there. Not very techy people. There is no second cat and the place is well-maintained. The maintenance questions they had raised were not emergencies, so they took my recommendation on a repair service that will bill directly to me.  They have 2 kids and one on the way, and with school starting soon (and the school yard literally backing up to the back yard of the house) so they do have busy lives and they have a good spot that they don't want to lose. I'm glad I followed up, but also very glad that I did not go in with accusations flying. 

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