Terrible tragedy for Sec. 8 tenant: how to respond?

24 Replies

I learned today that an 18-year-old man who was killed in a shooting in Baltimore on August 25 is the son of a Section 8 tenant of mine. 

At the time of the shooting none of the news accounts mentioned the victim’s name and I had no idea I had any connection to him. The tenant, who is almost completely uncommunicative except when something needs to be repaired, has not informed me. I'm not judging, just stating the fact, and noting it's not out of character for her. 

This morning I’d gone over to the property to meet a contractor to follow up on some repairs cited in a recent Sec. 8 inspection. A limo was parked on the block, but it was not in front of my property, and it pulled away immediately after I parked. A large vehicle, like a van, with a "funeral" sign in its windshield, followed close behind it. I didn’t see who was inside either vehicle and had the impression it was for a neighboring family.

The repairs were on the exterior of the house and we didn’t go inside. 

Later I saw in the Baltimore Sun online a news story about a funeral, and I recalled that limo.

So: why would the Baltimore Sun report on a funeral, you ask. Well, because as the mourners gathered at the burial spot, another shooting broke out in the cemetery, leaving one more man dead and another in critical condition. There’s a video of the mourners fleeing the area, scattering among the tombstones. 

It was the news story about these events today that provided the name of the August 25 shooting victim who was being laid to rest. I checked the lease, and there is the young man's name, with his birthdate in January 2000.

Horrible, yes. But hold on, there's more. I just learned this evening, via an Instagram sent by a colleague, that the person who was killed today at the young man's funeral, is the older brother. My tenant's other son, age 32. He's got a 7-year-old son.

I've never had anything like this in six years of landlording, so I'm looking for help here. How do I respond to a disaster of this magnitude? Can I continue the repairs at the house in the midst of this crisis? Do I inform her case worker? What is my role here? Leave them alone? Call? Send a card? None of the things I'd normally do for friends and family make sense. Has anyone had an experience like this? 

Add to this the uniquely corrupt bureaucratic environment of Baltimore City, Maryland (where I grew up)--and its creaky, barely functioning housing-voucher machinery. Would they force her to move into a smaller house? It's not a crazy question. I'm afraid for her and for the impact on, y'know, me.

Appreciate your thoughts.

Nancy Roth

Wow @Nancy Roth I heard the story about the shooting at a funeral. It is a small world. 

Yes i would continue the repairs for you own benefit. I would send a card or flowers to the tenant . I would respectful, polite and sympathetic as if if were a friends children. I would offer help in any way I can (Within reason) yet give them their space.

This sounds like gang activity.  If they targeted the brother they will target all the family members.  I would give your respects and ask if she would like to move.  Offer her a mutual termination so she can get out of there.  You may want to share the story with the case worker who could suggest she port to a different market.

I had a similar situation, but not nearly as bad as yours.  A 13 year old boy was accidentally shot in a drive-by gang shooting almost right in front of our house.  We literally have shootings every single day but for some reason this one was all over the new - I think because the victim was innocent and because he was so young.  My tenant was interviewed on the news, and just shared what a nice kid he was, and what a shame it was that this has happened. The next day our house was shot up. In our case, the tenant stayed, and we haven’t had any more drama on the street.  It’s not the only house we have had shot up though.  

Gangs are bad news. We steer as clear of them as we can.

Continue with your work and when you see her simply express your condolences and instruct her to contact you if she needs anything. Otherwise stay out of her life. As a landlord you should only have a business relationship with your tenants.

I would contact her handlers and try to find out what if anything they will do in regards to their portion of your rent payment. Make plans for her to possible be forced to move. If her portion of the rent will increase you may be at risk.

Originally posted by @Thomas S. :

Continue with your work and when you see her simply express your condolences and instruct her to contact you if she needs anything. Otherwise stay out of her life. As a landlord you should only have a business relationship with your tenants.

I would contact her handlers and try to find out what if anything they will do in regards to their portion of your rent payment. Make plans for her to possible be forced to move. If her portion of the rent will increase you may be at risk.

 I don't think section 8 pays for adult children ???

I think there are some details missing here. I'm curious as to how an 18-year-old managed to pass your screening since they likely have zero credit and zero Landlord reference. You should really consider increasing your standards.

Continue to manage it like you would for anyone else. I wouldn't bother with flowers or cards or rent reductions because these types of people are unlikely to appreciate it and more likely to see you as a sheep to take advantage of. I would also look for a way to LEGALLY get them out of the rental as soon as possible and get someone qualified, mature, and stable in there.

@Jay Hinrichs - SEC 8 will let anyone live in the house, as long as they are on the lease, report their income, and don’t have any felonies or drug convictions.  I’ve had as many as 4 generations living in a single home with SEC 8.  

@Nathan G. - She said the 18 year old was the son of the tenant. Be careful what you say in a public forum.  “These types of people” comes off as being pretty derogatory. 

 @Nancy Roth - We often send flowers when out tenant have a significant death (that we believe ;)). I don’t see anything wrong with that.   It shows you are a good human being.  That said, there is a clause in your HAP agreement that says if there is any criminal activity attached to the house you have the right to terminate the lease.  You would have to look up the wording, but I believe if you wanted to terminate and the tenant did not, you could in this instance.  It is my guess, having over 100 SEC 8 tenants, that this women will be grateful for the opportunity to make a fresh start. If you offer a mutual termination so she can move, she is likely to take it. If she does, you just write up a statement that says both you and the tenant agree to do a mutual termination of the lease.  Both of you sign it and you send it to the case worker. Guess on the move date.  You can always extend her lease if she doesn’t find anything in time.  Or if she finds something before your end date, you can terminate earlier.  As long as both you and the tenant are in agreement, SEC 8 will be too.

Originally posted by @Patti Robertson :

@Jay Hinrichs - SEC 8 will let anyone live in the house, as long as they are on the lease, report their income, and don’t have any felonies or drug convictions.  I’ve had as many as 4 generations living in a single home with SEC 8.  

@Nathan G. - She said the 18 year old was the son of the tenant. Be careful what you say in a public forum.  “These types of people” comes off as being pretty derogatory. 

 @Nancy Roth - We often send flowers when out tenant have a significant death (that we believe ;)). I don’t see anything wrong with that.   It shows you are a good human being.  That said, there is a clause in your HAP agreement that says if there is any criminal activity attached to the house you have the right to terminate the lease.  You would have to look up the wording, but I believe if you wanted to terminate and the tenant did not, you could in this instance.  It is my guess, having over 100 SEC 8 tenants, that this women will be grateful for the opportunity to make a fresh start. If you offer a mutual termination so she can move, she is likely to take it. If she does, you just write up a statement that says both you and the tenant agree to do a mutual termination of the lease.  Both of you sign it and you send it to the case worker. Guess on the move date.  You can always extend her lease if she doesn’t find anything in time.  Or if she finds something before your end date, you can terminate earlier.  As long as both you and the tenant are in agreement, SEC 8 will be too.

 It was early for me I was thinking about welfare paying for dependent children.. my bad . As my experience with section 8 is there is the dependant children payments plus EBT.. and I suppose some only get housing vouchers but I don't as I don't work in that segemet daily.

@Patti Robertson I missed the part about him being a dependent.

"These types of people" refers to a family with apparent ties to gang activity. Did you think I was referring to race or some other protected class?

@Nancy Roth

Personally if feasible I would put the repairs off for at least a couple weeks. If it is stuff that "must be done" then you have to do what you have to do. I would send a card and keep it simple. Since it is section 8 required repairs you can always contact the case worker and see the ramifications of waiting to give the tenant time to mourn. Also the place is sort of a target right now and if you are going to have repair people outside they should understand the risk. At this point 2 members of a family have been murdered, there is at least the mother there still. Since nobody knows why, mom could be the next target and that means anyone you have working on the house is at risk.

Good Luck

@Nancy Roth This is probably gonna sound horrible... But I don't even see an issue here? Offer condolences, but that's it? If she loses the voucher then you get her out of there.. if she gets to keep her voucher she gets to stay? Business is business...its an awful story..but you are a landlord, nothing else.

I feel like as a section 8 landlord you have to be more unfeeling and rock solid than most. If you continue to go about the emotional route of treating your tenants, you're going to burn yourself out really fast. Business is business.

Thank you all. Just to clarify, these tenants came with the house, which I bought at an extremely good price at a foreclosure auction in 2014. I hadn't screened them. But they were in pretty good shape when I acquired the property. They had been there 8 years. She was working and paying her part of rent, going to school to get a higher certification; the older son had a job, and the two kids, aged 14 and 13 at the time, were doing well in school. They had a very good voucher that paid off the cost of the house in a little over a year. Tenant had friends, was going to church, caring for her aging mom, whom I saw one time at the house. On the whole, it was a functional family. 

But everything changed last year when she got really sick. She stopped paying her part of rent, but didn't call me or the Section 8 caseworker to explain that she wasn't able to work. Her checks just stopped coming. She wasn't returning my calls. So I went to the house. It was full of people I didn't know, including the daughter (home on a school day), the older son playing Grand Auto Theft for hours (had lost his job). And the tenant meanwhile was upstairs in bed, seriously ill. Chaos in there. I notified the Sec. 8 case worker, who sent out an evaluator, and determined the voucher payment needed to cover entire rent. 

We have maintained a reasonable rental relationship, with her calling when she needs repairs. I send someone over and it gets done. Haven't had any reason to suspect anything amiss.

Fast forward to August 2018, I get a notice from voucher office that in October the tenant would start paying a portion of rent again. Good news, seemed like. Except I couldn't get her on the phone. Also got notice of the annual inspection and was able to reach her to ensure someone would be there to let the inspector in this past Monday, which was a holiday for me. The inspector cited a slip hazard on the back porch, which was a 24-hour emergency fix. So that's why I was out there yesterday with a contractor. 

I'm a landlord, not a family therapist. How am I supposed to track when a kid gets involved in gang activity? What business is it of mine? I mean, it's in my interest to have a stable family in there because stable families pay rent. But it's really their business to track their own kids. Not mine.

So suddenly we went from having a reasonably healthy and functioning family to a deeply destabilized family and the status quo is no longer sustainable. Everyone who said, make plans to change that unit, is 100% right, and I thank you for that. 

But I don't think I'm obligated to offer help. If she comes to me to ask for help, that's another thing. But she hasn't, and technically, if I hadn't seen the limo I wouldn't even have put two and two together and figured out what happened. If anything it seems like she was trying to keep me from finding out. 

I haven't read the other comments, so pardon me if I repeat anything...

A) Why did you mention she is section 8? That has nothing to do with anything here. 

B) None of this is none of your business. Nothing personal to you, but she is your tenant, not your friend or relative. 

C) Keep being a landlord. Let her keep being your tenant. Carry on with your day-to-day business. 

D) If and when she says something to you, I'm sure a short "Sorry for your loss" is acceptable. 

E) IF your tenant doesn't pay rent or is late, then refer to your lease and follow through on what the lease says. 

@Nancy Roth you must have a lot of patience. I wouldn’t want a call from a state official telling me I have 24 hours to fix “a slip hazard”. This type of landlording must require a strict operating process to be profitable
Originally posted by @Jay Hinrichs :
Originally posted by @Thomas S.:

Continue with your work and when you see her simply express your condolences and instruct her to contact you if she needs anything. Otherwise stay out of her life. As a landlord you should only have a business relationship with your tenants.

I would contact her handlers and try to find out what if anything they will do in regards to their portion of your rent payment. Make plans for her to possible be forced to move. If her portion of the rent will increase you may be at risk.

 I don't think section 8 pays for adult children ???

I think Section 8 will still consider an adult child a dependent, if that person is still in school.  High school or higher education, ie college.  I'd assume there is an age limit for that also.

I say that because I had a S8 tenant whose four children were living with her.  One was 18 and the other was 20.  It struck me as odd one day when I happened to be looking at their family status in my landlord portal that the oldest daughter was still classified as a dependent, but the 18-year-old was not.  And then I remembered the tenant mentioning in conversation that her oldest daughter was going to college.

As to the original post.  Wow, that is a horrific and heartbreaking story.  I'd hold off on the repairs for a little bit, unless they are necessary.  I'd also offer my condolences the next time I spoke with her.  It's a nicety to send a sympathy card and/or flowers.  But neither is necessary.  As far as concerns about her tenancy and soon-to-be her rent portion, I would treat those issues if/when they come.  Just like any other tenant.

@Nancy Roth Wow, what a tragic situation. You get to see all kinds of misery when you are a landlord. Particularly in low income stuff. I agree with the poster that said you can’t get involved in things or it will burn you out, but Thant doesn’t mean you can’t show some sympathy or offer help. The woman has been seriously ill and lost her job in the last year and had two kids murdered. she hasnt ask for a thing, so shes not scamming you, they have been long term tenants who paid off the mortgage in a year, so you have no mortgage but are still guaranteed most of the rent. It could do wonders for her (and you) to send her a compliance card and flowers or a ham or something, and let her know if she wants to move to someplace she would feel safer or has no bad memories you would be willing to work with her caseworker to find something else. That’s cost you maybe $50. If she wants to stay, absorbing a couple months reduced rent to allow her a bit of time to mourn and recover also shouldn’t be to hard on you.

Baltimore, the gift that keeps on giving. 

Mind your own business, the tenants circumstances have nothing to do with you, And dont offer her anything. That offer will be used against you. These arent your friends. Act like you know nothing about it. Do the repairs, take pictures, leave. 

@Nancy Roth You know nothing, Jon Snow... I mean, Nancy Roth. By this I mean, I wouldn’t offer condolences or even acknowledge that you know anything unless she expressly says something. While the house is your business, her personal life isn’t and anything you say or do could be taken in a way you didn’t intend. I’d want to separate from that tenant as quickly as possible, so if she mentions anything I would make it easy for her to leave. I’d also brush up on eviction procedures to prepare in case payment isn’t made. It’s an ugly and truly unfortunate situation, but while it may seem heartless to kick her out, that portion IS your business. If she approaches you for help and tells you the situation, I’d probably bend the rules. No need to be utterly heartless in a situation like that, but until then... it’s business.

"No need to be utterly heartless in a situation"

Business has no feelings, Maybe not heartless but certainly no place for emotions. Be alert to changes and be prepared to act swiftly to get rid of her if there are any indications of a issue in paying rent, make no consessions or you will lose money needlessly.

Best to express verbal condolences if the opportunity should arise. Cards, flowers or gifts should be from family and friends. Not a landlord unless you have a closer personal relationship.

@Thomas S. I keep reading this original post and I can't help from thinking "who cares"..? Just my thoughts.... If the tenant abides by the lease then she gets to stay, if she doesn't abide by the lease then she gets to leave... I don't see why anything beyond that matters?
Originally posted by @Patti Robertson :

This sounds like gang activity.  If they targeted the brother they will target all the family members.  I would give your respects and ask if she would like to move.  Offer her a mutual termination so she can get out of there.  You may want to share the story with the case worker who could suggest she port to a different market.

I had a similar situation, but not nearly as bad as yours.  A 13 year old boy was accidentally shot in a drive-by gang shooting almost right in front of our house.  We literally have shootings every single day but for some reason this one was all over the new - I think because the victim was innocent and because he was so young.  My tenant was interviewed on the news, and just shared what a nice kid he was, and what a shame it was that this has happened. The next day our house was shot up. In our case, the tenant stayed, and we haven’t had any more drama on the street.  It’s not the only house we have had shot up though.  

Gangs are bad news. We steer as clear of them as we can.

 Wow,that is horrible..Baltimore city desperately needs a "Rudy Giuliani" type mayor who isn't scared to seriously go after the gangs and really clean up the war zone neighborhoods, I guarantee that the property values would skyrocket in these area..

Originally posted by @Mark Fries :
@Thomas S.

I keep reading this original post and I can't help from thinking "who cares"..?

Just my thoughts.... If the tenant abides by the lease then she gets to stay, if she doesn't abide by the lease then she gets to leave... I don't see why anything beyond that matters?

No.there is room to be a human in business,no need to be cold and calculating all the time 

I read this threat and half of it I could not believe what I read.

Yes- business is business, and being a little human is being a human too.

It looks like she is managing her own house meaning she has contact with her tenants. She might be talking to her sometime to time, texting, etc..

It is not hard to say "sorry for you loss". 

She is not selling accessories, she is renting a home to actual humans.

If you are treating your tenants like they are nothing and they don't matter, don't complain when they don't pay or not care about your house at all.