First Crazy Tenant Situation

22 Replies

We started buying this year and have three properties. One came with tenants, one is mid remodel and one we filled in June on a 12 month lease. So, until now, month 5 of that 12 month lease things have been fine. PM has done monthly inspections and had to stay on their case about keeping the property less junky, but no property damage or late rent.

Cue incident 1. On Friday morning, tenant calls me to tell me that when moving their bed to change the sheets, they found mold. I send handyman over to inspect the situation and he said the mold is literally only where the bed was but he (and tenant) think there might be mold behind the sheetrock and arrange for him to come back Monday (tomorrow) morning to remove the sheetrock, check for moisture behind and replace/repair. PM and myself feel, based on the description, that this mold was probably tenant caused and that we should show up to survey the process a bit and provide tenant with information about mold and airflow, as well as a dehumidifier, and have them sign an addendum to the lease that they are responsible for any reoccurrence of mold that they create via furniture placement etc. I inform them that one or both of us will be there.

Aaand incident 2. Evidently, during inspections my PM has been particularly concerned about the appalling dirtiness of the oven and stove and taught them how to use the self cleaning oven. SO, I get a phone call tonight from the tenant that, because we are coming in the morning, she ran the self cleaning feature *per PM's instructions* and the oven set on fire, and the FD was at the property. Her story is that they ran the self cleaning feature, the oven set fire for no reason, and that the FD says the home is not safely inhabitable for 3 - 4 days, her property has smoke damage, and the stove is "totaled."

This honestly sounds like a load of BS to me. A brand new oven spontaneously set fire for no reason during self cleaning mode, the fire did not leave the oven, but the home is unsafe for four days and her possessions have smoke damage? I told her to leave everything as it was (they wanted to throw away the stove tonight) and that I and PM would be there in the morning to assess the situation. I definitely think they are lying and that they are possibly wanting to pursue me for a few nights of of lodging and damage to their stuff, though our lease is pretty tight in that regard. I left a message with the FD requesting the report.

Okay wise and experienced landlords. Advise me! What do I look for and what do I do tomorrow morning ?! My PM will be a big help, but I want to be prepared myself going in there tomorrow

Eek!

With regards to the oven, it's not unlikely that it caught fire if it was particularly dirty. Even with self-cleaning, you need to pre-clean by removing chunks of stuff that's in there.

I once had my oven catch fire when I was toasting some almonds and forgot about them.

Even if it caught fire, wouldn't the oven contain the fire and thus it would not be "totaled," there wouldn't be smoke damage, or an "uninhabitable" living space? Worst case, the oven is very hot for a while and the house needs to air out.

As @Connor Heim said, it sounds like the oven was quite dirty to produce a great deal of smoke from the food particles in it.  If the food particles ultimately caught fire, then there could be a significant amount of damage to the oven and stove top from the heat and smoke.

@MacKenzie Clinton Do you require renter's insurance?  Do you have any provisions or an addendum to your lease suggesting the tenant get renter's insurance?  If that is the case, I would suggest they submit a claim with their renter's insurance policy to be reimbursed for their accommodations.

@MacKenzie Clinton

There is an enormous amount of panic and fear about mold and mold remediation in real estate these days.

Here's a Wikipedia article to ease your worries about evil black toxic mold: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stachybotrys


It's perfectly possible there's mold behind the bed for some crazy reason that's the tenant's fault, although highly unlikely in just 5 months of occupation. Here's what I think is the most likely scenario.

There's a chance that on the other side of the wall there's a bathroom, particularly a tub/shower combo, and water's leaking from there and causing the mold. That would be a real problem and require some serious remediation. Post again with pictures if that's what's up.

Here are two others

It may be a small or spraying leak in water supply piping. It happens.

You may find a plumbing vent pipe in that wall that leads to the roof. The vent might not be properly collared. I've seen vent pipes leak in rainstorms.

If, however, you don't find plumbing pipes in that wall or there's no tub on the other side, just replace the regular drywall with slightly more expensive purpleboard, prime with PVA primer and fortify the paint you use over that with a mildewcide additive. If mold forms again on that wall in that area, something seriously weird is happening. That's when you break out the addendums and whatnot and start lecturing about furniture placement. That will probably never happen, though, because you have a fire situation on your hands now.

"The appalling dirtiness of the oven and stove..." Welcome to landlording! But again, in five months they've turned the clean range into a fire trap?  That's a lot of ugly, sloppy cooking. I suppose it IS possible, but highly unlikely. In any case, if that's what happened, when you open the oven you should see quite a bit of black carbon sitting on the bottom. Get pictures of it if you see it.

Here's what I recommend for tomorrow: you are going into a conflict-laden solution. You've obviously made up your mind that this tenant is crazy. The tenant might honestly feel that you put shoddy/cheap/dangerous equipment into your rental. DO NOT GET OFFENDED. Take lots and lots of pictures, listen to everyone's stories, say nothing, DO NOT DISCUSS HYPOTHETICALS (Well, if it'sour fault, we'll..."), walk away and plan your next move. Definitely get that FD report.

The tenant is probably going to want some certainty out of this mess tomorrow more than you are. Do not give it. You need to investigate this. The tenant might scream bloody murder about the place being uninhabitable. She will quite probably tell you that she was only doing what your property manager told her to do, so none of this is her fault and YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL OF IT. That's her narrative so far.

You are not going to pay for lodging elsewhere, or promise to make restitution if it turns out that the oven burnt up because of your negligence (that's one of the hypotheticals you won't discuss). Your tenant can go stay with a friend or with a relative for a few days if she feels she has to. She doesn't have any friends or relatives? There's nothing you can do "right now."

And walk away. Don't promise to call.

I think you got some good answers already on the particular problems, mold and fire. There's also an issues of tenant competence, which means, did they ever live on their own where they had to clean house and cook on their own. Others are new to the country, new to using modern appliances. 

In one case, two guys from Indonesia, one who completed his MBA and working as an investment banker, didn't know how to use shower curtains, causing a flood downstairs every time they shower. I had to show them how to close the shower curtain, and have it inside the tub when they shower. When I was done showing how shower curtains work, they look stunned and said "oh, never knew that". In fact, I spent a good half hour looking for leaky pipes, and only occurred to me that shower curtains was the cause at the last minute.

In other cases, a housewife from India was complaining above my stove. When we went over to check it out, turns out she never cleaned the burners on top, particularly after making thick heavy Indian soups. Burners are all clogged. Explained these stoves are new to her. Told her it's got to be cleaned whenever to soup boils over and after pot of soup. Its so bad that my wife showed her how to take the burners off, soak it in a bucket of water, and putting it back. She also never cleaned the oven.

So when I vet tenants now, the best ones are those that live in SFR's before and where they handle repairs and landscaping, though I use landscapers now, another long story. I find this out personally meeting, interviewing, and getting a feel for the tenant.

As others mention, I also require tenant insurance. Otherwise, they can cause a fie in your place, blame you, and have you buy them a whole new wardrobe. 

I just rented a SFR to an Iranian taxi driver. I wasn't too sure. Then I felt better when he explained his wife is a stay at home mom, and the best house keeper he's ever seen. It came out in the course of the interview, I didn't ask about house keeping. With that, he became the top candidate.

@MacKenzie Clinton Unfortunately these are the types of issues that come with dealing with this class of tenant. I am assuming this is a C area? All you can do is roll with the punches and deal with these issues the best you can.

One question: If you have a PM why is the tenant calling you? 

Thank you! I am definitely not trying to be "anti tenant," but the way they both described the mold is that it is literally a "bed shaped" space where it begins and ends at the bed, from the head to the foot and top to bottom and isn't present elsewhere. The mattress is directly on the floor pressed against the wall, and there is no pipe or bathroom in that wall...we had all the basement walls sealed, and new sheetrock put up, and laid new concrete  footings all around the house to keep water away. 

As for the fire, we actually put a brand new stove in that house, and I can't imagine how it is possible for the food inside it to set on fire so severely that it makes the dwelling unsafe for days and causes smoke damage? Sounds insane to me, it should just burn itself out in there unless there is A CRAZY amount of food ! Soo this does initially strike me as there being some dishonesty going on. I will definitely go in and document the situation and am open to being wrong. Really appreciating the input on dealing with the tenants directly and there is definitely a question of SFH "competency" here I think. They've given me other reasons to believe they don't know how to handle basic house hold maintenance tasks.

Anyhow, off to inspect and will update you all! 

In my neck of the woods every time the fire department is called there will be a report ready from then in a day or two. 

Pick this up and learn the true reason for what the tenant is claiming.

My guess is that the oven was so dirty it smoked like crazy.  However, you'll be there this morning so you can check out the oven.   It is possible that if the thing was loaded with grease it MAY have caused a fire because of this but again, this would be due to tenant neglect to clean the oven regularly.

It's often hard to get a straight answer from tenants.  Hopefully the first report will straighten this mess out.

Gail

If it's a new stove, then I would also contact the manufacturer. Maybe they have a rep in the area, who wants to see. If they claim that this happened because of food, then you have more back-up. It should still be under warranty.

You mentioned mattress was directly on floor, its apparently really common for mold to occur under a mattress thats placed directly on the floor. I had this happen to me as well when i did that on a wood floor one time, but it cleaned right up with some bleach water, and never had any issue with mold in that space afterwards.

I had googled it at the time and it appears to be really common when placing mattress directly on the floor.  So tenant's furniture placement caused this, i would clean it up with some mold spray from home depot, tell the tenant not to place mattress directly on floor, and try to have it avoid turning into a big issue.  Good luck!

@MacKenzie Clinton in the future make sure you give directions to anyone working on the property that they are NOT to talk about any problems directly to the tenant. They should just gather details and call you once they are away from the tenant. Unfortunately water remediation and mold professionals will often tell you sheet rock removal and other things are needed that may not be needed. 

I have found some minor mold in bedrooms on exterior walls that is caused by condensation. The wall gets cold from the exterior and if something is blocking airflow on the wall, it stays cold. If the room has higher humidity, the water condensates on the cold wall. Similar principal to water condensing on cold windows or "frost" on the inside of windows. Humidity can be caused by humidifiers, not running the exhaust fan when showering or even occupants of the space can create humidity. You can purchase mold cleaner solution from the hardware store. Wipe the walls down. Usually 2-3 treatments over a 15 minute period completely resolves the issue. 

Self cleaning ovens do so by baking the dirty contents to extreme temperatures and it is exhausted as smoke. You need to pre-clean large chunks before running the self cleaning oven. The oven should not start on fire unless it is defective, in which case you have claim with the manufacturer. Call the appliance company and give them your fire department report number and explain you believe it to be a faulty stove. They will investigate.

As far as the tenant, I would offer to release them from their lease so they can find a property that better suits their needs. You would better off to get a new tenant, even if there is a month of vacancy to deal with. If they choose not to leave, notify them at end of lease you will not be renewing their lease.

trying to understand tenants is a FOOLs game..........................................hehehehehehehe.  Ive owned property going on 25 years and ive never Actually seen a tenant.   All ive ever seen is their names on the lease my property manager sends me.

Your PM should take photos of any issues, cleaning,, repairs,, ect if they gain entry so you have it recorded as to what is condition.. and write up tenant to comply as necessary.

Why didn't you respond to the fire call.. or immediately as soon as you found out about it..

If a tenant can't keep a clean unit, appliances in good condition. trash out,, whatever,, write them up and get them out if needed.. you don't need grease fires, or damage to you building and you don't need to explain yourself,,

If a tenant had a fire like this our usually course of action was notice to vacate.. they would be held responsible for costs related to repair unit,,  I'd go in take photos of everything and if necessary pull the stove for a repair person to inspect before throwing it out.. if the only reason for the fire was food build up then the tenant is responsible,, bill them ,, kick them out.

So the "good" news here is that our tenants are melodramatic and don't know how to handle things. I was able to talk to the fire chief on my drive in to the property this morning. He said the fire never left the oven and all they did at the scene was turn off the oven, unplug it, move it away from the wall and open the windows. He said the house would smell for a few days but that it was totally safe to inhabit, the stove seemed fine, and he wasn't really sure where they were getting this stuff.

The property is in great overall condition, the stove and oven are fine except that the oven seal is broken because they first attempted to pry it open when they noticed fire... We will get whirlpool to look at/repair the seal. 

I gave handyman permission to cut in to the sheetrock where the mold is because I want to make sure we don't overlook a bigger problem. He found no signs of leaking or water damage behind the sheetrock, there are no pipes in the wall and he feels that the mold was entirely caused by a low airflow furniture situation in a basement (mattress directly on floor and pressed against the wall)

So overall everything should be easy to handle and the property is in all right shape. Phew! 

And for those wondering about our PM situation, we are temporarily located about 1.5 hours from our houses. We have a great manager who works for us "part time." He has a key and will handle situations for us at an hourly rate of $20. So we deal with the tenants, but call in PM if we need assistance or can't be there ourselves. It's been a really nice arrangement!!

Originally posted by @MacKenzie Clinton :

Thank you! I am definitely not trying to be "anti tenant," but the way they both described the mold is that it is literally a "bed shaped" space where it begins and ends at the bed, from the head to the foot and top to bottom and isn't present elsewhere. The mattress is directly on the floor pressed against the wall, and there is no pipe or bathroom in that wall...we had all the basement walls sealed, and new sheetrock put up, and laid new concrete  footings all around the house to keep water away. 


Hi @MacKenzie,

if a mattress  is placed directly on the floor, that can cause mold. We  live on a boat half the year and if there is not adequate airflow under a mattress then sweat while sleeping is enough to cause the bottom of the mattress to mold particularly if the air humidity is high. The answer is easy. Just put the mattress on a platform or box spring to allow airflow below.   As to the stove, I am the world's most forgetful cook. I can't tell you how many oven fires I've started over the years and even I have never managed to render a house uninhabitable. Tell them to open the windows and doors and get a cross breeze going. (whiners!)

@MacKenzie Clinton

Great news from the fire chief, congrats. Still, get that report.

I'm going to try to avoid spouting a lot of technical terms in this response. What's important to understand is that there are two basic approaches to finishing basements. The first, cheaper, and far more common approach is to attempt to seal the masonry walls to create an isolated space, and then use conventional above-grade building materials to finish the space. The second, more expensive, and far less common approach is to build a defense in depth against moisture infiltration and mold growth that accepts that below-grade space can never be above-grade space, however you try to turn it into something it isn't. This means, among other things, using mostly unconventional building materials to finish the basement, materials that are not as susceptible to mold growth as conventional materials. This kind of high-quality basement refinishing is most common in New England. It is, sadly, not so common in western PA, where I live and operate, and certainly not Kansas. This is not to knock on Kansas in any way -- it's just the way things are.

Based on a number of things you've written, it's pretty clear that your contractor went with the first approach, and that the basement finishing job is more susceptible to mold growth than it might otherwise be. Be aware the "low-airflow furniture situation" line is going to fall apart in court, if things ever get to that point with this tenant or with others. I could explain exactly why but it would take a lot of extremely boring information about basement finishing techniques. If you send me a message to connect, I'll do it in a PM. Ultimately, in a well-finished basement, the tenant should be able to stack three damp mattresses against that wall and not see mold grow on it after just five months of living there.

This tenant is obviously not going to hurt you badly. The oven-cleaning fiasco she has now been reliably shown to have pulled -- you would never have had that kind of conversation with the fire chief otherwise -- exposes her silly, drama queen behavior clearly. But someday, you may get an organized, careful, bright tenant down there with access to someone who knows a bit about basement refinishing.

You are likely going to keep having pesky mold problems down there. Once you get rid of this tenant, you should tear the place down to the studs and replace all drywall with purple board. Replace all wood trim with PVC trim. Both HD and Lowes stock Gold Bond Purple XP. It works well, and should hold back the mold problems for quite a few years. If you don't already have one, get a large dehumidifier down there. Get an air freshener system. Neither the dehumidifier nor the freshener will halt the march of the mold, but they will effectively mask the musty smell of what will be growing behind the mold-resistant drywall.

That's all going to be very expensive. So if that's not possible, at a bare minimum, repaint the whole place ASAP with paint that contains a mildewcide additive.

Good luck, MacKenzie. I wish I had more comforting advice to offer.

Where did you pick up the tenants -section 8, homeless shelter? Who should explain how appliances work did not do diligence? Did smoke detector sound alert? 

Your story is just one side of story. There are two other versions....

There's the tenants story....and then the FD story.  It probably was frightening to see fire in the oven.   It must have been one dirty oven!

I once had a young (female) tenant who reported a kitchen fire in the middle of the night.  Didn't get the call until the next day.  We immediately went over; her boyfriend was there and said the fire department reported this as an "electrical fire".  The fire was contained to the upper cabinets and about 1/4 of the ceiling drywall in the small kitchen.

I was still naïve but even back then things looked funny; there were no burn marks around the one outlet closest to the fire.  The wiring looked intact.

Got the fire report and learned the real truth.  The boyfriend had stored a flammable material he "said" he used to clean his shoes in the upper cabinet followed by a ashtray with a cigarette butt before going to bed with the girlfriend that night.  THAT'S what caused the fire. 

I suspect the guys flammable material might have been used for cooking something other than cleaning shoes.  Nevertheless since the lease forbid keeping flammable materials in the house as well as inside smoking (and this guy was not on the lease), I evicted her because of this.

Gail

well, I guess I spoke too soon. Tenants are alleging that the home is still uninhabitable and dangerous to their children and want to pursue me for lodging and maybe property damage. I've had a handyman working there every day this week and he says there isn't even an odor any more, let alone dangerous levels of smoke. I have lots of witnesses on the condition of the property and consulted a lawyer today. He recommended offering to let them terminate their lease if they are unhappy with the condition of the property so we are going to give it a shot tomorrow. I know this stuff appens but I'm pretty bummed it was with our first tenants! >.> 

Pretty discouraging, but we will do our best to get past this and screen harder next time!! Sigh

Originally posted by @MacKenzie Clinton :

We started buying this year and have three properties. One came with tenants, one is mid remodel and one we filled in June on a 12 month lease. So, until now, month 5 of that 12 month lease things have been fine. PM has done monthly inspections and had to stay on their case about keeping the property less junky, but no property damage or late rent.

Cue incident 1. On Friday morning, tenant calls me to tell me that when moving their bed to change the sheets, they found mold. I send handyman over to inspect the situation and he said the mold is literally only where the bed was but he (and tenant) think there might be mold behind the sheetrock and arrange for him to come back Monday (tomorrow) morning to remove the sheetrock, check for moisture behind and replace/repair. PM and myself feel, based on the description, that this mold was probably tenant caused and that we should show up to survey the process a bit and provide tenant with information about mold and airflow, as well as a dehumidifier, and have them sign an addendum to the lease that they are responsible for any reoccurrence of mold that they create via furniture placement etc. I inform them that one or both of us will be there.

Aaand incident 2. Evidently, during inspections my PM has been particularly concerned about the appalling dirtiness of the oven and stove and taught them how to use the self cleaning oven. SO, I get a phone call tonight from the tenant that, because we are coming in the morning, she ran the self cleaning feature *per PM's instructions* and the oven set on fire, and the FD was at the property. Her story is that they ran the self cleaning feature, the oven set fire for no reason, and that the FD says the home is not safely inhabitable for 3 - 4 days, her property has smoke damage, and the stove is "totaled."

This honestly sounds like a load of BS to me. A brand new oven spontaneously set fire for no reason during self cleaning mode, the fire did not leave the oven, but the home is unsafe for four days and her possessions have smoke damage? I told her to leave everything as it was (they wanted to throw away the stove tonight) and that I and PM would be there in the morning to assess the situation. I definitely think they are lying and that they are possibly wanting to pursue me for a few nights of of lodging and damage to their stuff, though our lease is pretty tight in that regard. I left a message with the FD requesting the report.

Okay wise and experienced landlords. Advise me! What do I look for and what do I do tomorrow morning ?! My PM will be a big help, but I want to be prepared myself going in there tomorrow

 Hang in there you will get through this and laugh about it in the future 

@MacKenzie Clinton You can do this.  I most of my worst tenants were early on and I attribute this to not knowing what to do, how to handle the situation, or what to look for in both a tenant or a house.  You are learning and can get great tenants and make great money.  Head up and press on!

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