My tenant is suing me...πŸ™„

49 Replies

Hey folks, looking for any experiences you can share that are similar and/or advice on how to best prepare for this upcoming Mediation date. I've never done this before.

Here's the story: we inherited a Section8 tenant that just went south. She was occasionally volatile and unhinged on phone calls and wouldn't let me in for a walk-through/move-in inspection at first (seller hadn't done one) when we took over until I explained twice how much it was in her best interest to do so. Anyway I finally got in, found some broken blinds and other small things and fixed those - and felt we were off to a good start. But she got a little squirley - had a gentlemen living there that wasn't on the lease, would call at all hours of the night and leave weird messages, etc... my PM called her, "the worst I've ever has" - which sucked for him. Anyway she got squirley around re-upping the lease vs. moving out when it was time. She finally vacated - albeit not on the proper terms - without proper notice and left a decent amount of damage. She also owed back rent and late fees (this was all pre-covid) and she didn't show up to do a walk-out, etc... 

We followed the lease and law to a T, sent over the damages/reconciliation, etc... and she ghosted. I thought I'd never see that $1400ish and was ok with that, we were going to get great tenants for that unit. Then I was tipped off to a city service called Landlord Mitigation Fund where, if you're housing a Section 8 tenant and they leave you high and dry like this, you can submit proof and they'll issue you a check. How lovely. I compiled it all (lease, notices, reconciliation, etc...) and 8 weeks later I got a check. Lovely, case closed, right? Wrong.

About 9 months later she starts calling me incessantly -5/6 times a day. I never answered as she had a history of somewhat abusive (drunk, inappropriate) calls to my PM. I eventually had to block her number. The PM messaged me to say she was doing the same to him - leaving him voicemails about suing us. Then the PM got hit with a subpoena to appear in Small Claims - she is suing the PM and myself for $10k?! She's citing that she lived with rats, that we "took" her deposit, etc... As she was Section8 I figured I'd call her case-worker to get to the bottom of it and she just gave me a long sigh (she wasn't just a problem for us, it seems) and said the tenant was most likely at risk for losing her voucher b/c of the owing us back rent and fees and she probably got an ambulance chaser lawyer to encourage her to "go after as much as you can" - which in Wa is $10k.

Like I said - we did everything by the book (again this was all pre-covid), Section9 standards, etc... And when they came in for inspections and dinged us - which was rare but did happen - it was documented, fixed immediately, and passed the next go 'round. It was so by the book that the city got all the paperwork and paid us what she owed. Again, I considered this a done deal and was grateful that the city had such a program.

So I'm wondering if you all have any advice on how to best prepare for this mediation zoom we're doing in a few weeks? I have her full file pulled together including any/all notices, correspondence, Section8 inspections, pest control payments/subscriptions and even emails from the cleaning crew and handymen who had to put the unit back together after she left - stating how gnarly it was. Are all my bases covered? Anything I should be aware of? In Wa, we're not allowed to obtain legal for Small Claims so I'm a little on my own here.  Thank you.

This doesn't sound fun. Unfortunately when things go to mediation/court, it can feel like you "lose" even if you win because of the emotional toll it can take on you. 

A couple of questions: 

1. Did the Tenant receive any monies when she moved out? If yes, did she sign a Disposition of Monies stating she received the monies?

2. Do you have a signed lease stating what happens to the deposit, and how much the deposit was? 

2a. In the Lease, does it mention that the Deposit will be applied to damages/uncollected rent?

3. Do you have any work orders the Tenant submitted? Was a rat ever mentioned? Can you show where those repair orders resulted in work being done? 

4. Can you get the prior Owner/Landlord to verify the above information to be accurate? In other words: did the prior Landlord have similar issues with the Tenant?

5. What processes does the PM have in place to deal with work orders? He/She may need to speak to that during the hearing.

Get as many of your ducks in a row: with PM, past Landlord, and you yourself. You'll be stronger for this in the long run. 

Thanks, @Scott Ashworth .

Thanks. I've dealt with MUCH worse, so I'm not emotional about it whatsoever, but I am just trying to prepare as best as we can. To answer your questions:

1. No - we mailed her a reconciliation showing what she owed due to damages. She skipped out on the move-out walk-through.

2.Yes

3. We have work orders from Section8 for small things (her kid broke a railing and a sink, for example causing us to fail that inspection) and we have proof that being fixed. In one of those reports the inspector states the tenant complained of a rat - but he had no proof. So have proof of ordering pest control upon her comment. It should be noted that 2 other units in this building had NO pest problems what so ever.

4. She has passed on, and placed said tenant the month we purchased.

5. He dealt with it and sent me the invoice at month's end.

Appreciate your insight, I have a phoner with the PM the week before the date to get our ducks in a row. Honestly we are great landlords with great tenants (now) - nary a complaint in the 4-5 years we've had tenants - so this was a pretty big shock. Now that we have 100% occupancy that I've personally screened, it's been much smoother. Fingers crossed.

I have no doubt. My β€œday job” is retail. I run my family’s 8 retail stores and we run that business just as you described your Rental business. We were blindsided by some false accusations from a disgruntled former employee...I just remember that even though we won that mediation, in many ways we lost. It sucked. 

That said, it sounds like you have a much better handle on this situation than I had on mine. 

@Christen G. In this business it’s now if you are going to get sued, it’s when you are going to get sued.

Bring as much documentation as you have available. Rent rolls, lease, any and all notices, text messages of abusive behavior, and all other pertinent information.

No offense, but here goes......

"She was occasionally volatile and unhinged on phone calls and wouldn't let me in for a walk-through/move-in inspection at first (seller hadn't done one)"


Those are red flags......and probably one of the reasons the seller was, selling. I don't care how good the returns look on paper, I always tell my clients that if they won't let the appraiser in and the inspector in to look at the property, then that is a red flag and don't even buy the property because the tenant is telegraphing to you how much of a pain they are.


Just my 2 cents. 





Originally posted by @Christen G. :

Hey folks, looking for any experiences you can share that are similar and/or advice on how to best prepare for this upcoming Mediation date. I've never done this before.

Here's the story: we inherited a Section8 tenant that just went south. She was occasionally volatile and unhinged on phone calls and wouldn't let me in for a walk-through/move-in inspection at first (seller hadn't done one) when we took over until I explained twice how much it was in her best interest to do so. Anyway I finally got in, found some broken blinds and other small things and fixed those - and felt we were off to a good start. But she got a little squirley - had a gentlemen living there that wasn't on the lease, would call at all hours of the night and leave weird messages, etc... my PM called her, "the worst I've ever has" - which sucked for him. Anyway she got squirley around re-upping the lease vs. moving out when it was time. She finally vacated - albeit not on the proper terms - without proper notice and left a decent amount of damage. She also owed back rent and late fees (this was all pre-covid) and she didn't show up to do a walk-out, etc... 

We followed the lease and law to a T, sent over the damages/reconciliation, etc... and she ghosted. I thought I'd never see that $1400ish and was ok with that, we were going to get great tenants for that unit. Then I was tipped off to a city service called Landlord Mitigation Fund where, if you're housing a Section 8 tenant and they leave you high and dry like this, you can submit proof and they'll issue you a check. How lovely. I compiled it all (lease, notices, reconciliation, etc...) and 8 weeks later I got a check. Lovely, case closed, right? Wrong.

About 9 months later she starts calling me incessantly -5/6 times a day. I never answered as she had a history of somewhat abusive (drunk, inappropriate) calls to my PM. I eventually had to block her number. The PM messaged me to say she was doing the same to him - leaving him voicemails about suing us. Then the PM got hit with a subpoena to appear in Small Claims - she is suing the PM and myself for $10k?! She's citing that she lived with rats, that we "took" her deposit, etc... As she was Section8 I figured I'd call her case-worker to get to the bottom of it and she just gave me a long sigh (she wasn't just a problem for us, it seems) and said the tenant was most likely at risk for losing her voucher b/c of the owing us back rent and fees and she probably got an ambulance chaser lawyer to encourage her to "go after as much as you can" - which in Wa is $10k.

Like I said - we did everything by the book (again this was all pre-covid), Section9 standards, etc... And when they came in for inspections and dinged us - which was rare but did happen - it was documented, fixed immediately, and passed the next go 'round. It was so by the book that the city got all the paperwork and paid us what she owed. Again, I considered this a done deal and was grateful that the city had such a program.

So I'm wondering if you all have any advice on how to best prepare for this mediation zoom we're doing in a few weeks? I have her full file pulled together including any/all notices, correspondence, Section8 inspections, pest control payments/subscriptions and even emails from the cleaning crew and handymen who had to put the unit back together after she left - stating how gnarly it was. Are all my bases covered? Anything I should be aware of? In Wa, we're not allowed to obtain legal for Small Claims so I'm a little on my own here.  Thank you.


Hmmm, that's why we sold all of properties and moved out of WA.
Seem you have fallen into the "social justice" quagmire. Oh well, you can always claim it as a tax deduction.

 Just pay the money and move on. The judge will not find in your favor, I guarantee it.

@Christen G. I dealt with my first law suite scare recently on a fair housing issue here in the Chicago area, and I can feel your pain! We found that a stern response from our attorney helped a lot. We immediately lawyered up and we were pretty quick to respond using his advice on everything. I feel like the ambulance chaser attorneys are looking for low hanging fruit. You can imagine that they don't want to actually go to court for a loser since they only get paid if they get something out of it. 

Ignore Mike Baxter. I don't think you have anything to worry about. You already demonstrated proof and were awarded the funds so that demonstrates an objective third party agreed with you. Document everything, including phone records to show the harassing phone calls, and bring evidence to court. Don't over-do it with evidence, but be prepared to answer any of her complaints. She will show up with little/no documentation and there's a very good chance her crazy will come out. All you have to do is stay professional and let the evidence do most of the talking.

@Christen G. What do you mean you’re not allowed to obtain counsel???

On to the substance, have your documentation of everything you outlined above. Be methodical. Go slow and make sure to paint the picture from the corners in. You want the mediator to see every violation, every damage repair, all the calls, but above all else, show the mediator how you have been responsive and attentive.

Just from the sound of it, I think your mediation is going to be spent with her not with you.

Originally posted by @Nathan G. :

Ignore Mike Baxter. I don't think you have anything to worry about. You already demonstrated proof and were awarded the funds so that demonstrates an objective third party agreed with you. Document everything, including phone records to show the harassing phone calls, and bring evidence to court. Don't over-do it with evidence, but be prepared to answer any of her complaints. She will show up with little/no documentation and there's a very good chance her crazy will come out. All you have to do is stay professional and let the evidence do most of the talking.

 Thanks, Nathan, you're always so helpful. I am afraid I've already overdone it on the evidence gathering - lol - but am taking a breather this and next week and letting my PM dive in and fill in some memory gaps I have bc he was the hands-on guy. Appreciate you as always, sir.

Originally posted by @Brian Boyd :

@Christen G. What do you mean you’re not allowed to obtain counsel???

On to the substance, have your documentation of everything you outlined above. Be methodical. Go slow and make sure to paint the picture from the corners in. You want the mediator to see every violation, every damage repair, all the calls, but above all else, show the mediator how you have been responsive and attentive.

Just from the sound of it, I think your mediation is going to be spent with her not with you.

Thanks, Brian - I appreciate the response and advice. In Washington - you can't obtain a lawyer for small claims court. I mean, I guess you COULD pay someone to help you set it all up...but they can't be with you in court. I agree with you on the mediator spending more time with her. My last inherited tenant before this one was a drug addict and a mess and we had to evict - and she tried suing us and brought her crazy on full display - it would have been funny if it wasn't so sad. Anyway, thanks. I'll let you all know how it goes.

 

Originally posted by @Brian Garlington :

No offense, but here goes......

"She was occasionally volatile and unhinged on phone calls and wouldn't let me in for a walk-through/move-in inspection at first (seller hadn't done one)"

Those are red flags......and probably one of the reasons the seller was, selling. I don't care how good the returns look on paper, I always tell my clients that if they won't let the appraiser in and the inspector in to look at the property, then that is a red flag and don't even buy the property because the tenant is telegraphing to you how much of a pain they are.

Just my 2 cents. 



None taken, man. Again, I inherited this tenant. The previous owner was selling  bc she was wicked old and cashing out. The inspector and appraiser went in - and we walked the units as well, but the previous owner hadn't done a formal walk-through/move-in report and I wanted to have one on file bc of course I did! :) She didn't become a "problem" until like 7 or 8 months in.



 

Originally posted by @Christen G. :

Thanks, Nathan, you're always so helpful. I am afraid I've already overdone it on the evidence gathering - lol - but am taking a breather this and next week and letting my PM dive in and fill in some memory gaps I have bc he was the hands-on guy. Appreciate you as always, sir.

Trust me, I speak from experience. I evicted a tenant in 2014 that was nuttier than squirrel poop but also very intelligent, looked like a model, etc. I prepared over 100 pages of evidence for my court hearing. I started first and spoke for about ten minutes outlining my case and handing the judge evidence (only a small portion, the rest was saved for response). 

Then it was her turn. She laid out her case in 20 minutes. Then she called her husband as a witness and the two of them made ridiculous claims that were easily refuted by the evidence I had already handed the judge. The entire case was an eviction for the failure to pay rent and not once did they address it. She went for a total of almost an hour without one statement or shred of evidence to show that I was wrong, but instead went on and on about how the place was dirty when they moved in or that I wasn't a nice guy or that I wrote a blog about her and compared her to a fish or that I put myself out as an expert when I clearly was not. It was a complete circus.

The judge finally stopped her and asked if she intended to address the question of whether she had paid rent or not. She started rambling again. After about five minutes, he stopped her, chastised her for wasting the court's time, told her to never set foot in his courtroom again without legal counsel, and then found in my favor. I over-prepared but it was worth the entertainment.

She was completely out 48 hours later with Sheriff's Deputies on hand to rush her along. She left the state and posted about 50 negative reviews of me all over the internet, all of which were caught and removed. She would occasionally pop back up and make another fake account and post a review on Google or Yelp, but she finally stopped a few years ago.

In my experience, it is NEVER a good idea to go after a difficult tenant for any monies after they vacate. It will always go south. Add to this you are threatening her voucher? You basically set up that you would be sued. 

If this were me I would immediately drop the request for funds as you will spend more fighting this than you will ever get back from her (zero) 

ETA your PM should have an atty that should be able to help altho I would get my own for support on this. 

Originally posted by @Mary M. :

In my experience, it is NEVER a good idea to go after a difficult tenant for any monies after they vacate. It will always go south. Add to this you are threatening her voucher? You basically set up that you would be sued. 

If this were me I would immediately drop the request for funds as you will spend more fighting this than you will ever get back from her (zero) 

ETA your PM should have an atty that should be able to help altho I would get my own for support on this. 

I think you misunderstood the situation. I wasn't "going after funds" or her voucher. Honestly, we really never wanted to interact with this human again. But it seems that because I received funds from the City / Landlord Mitigation Fund - which is set up to help landlords who house Section8 folks who trash their unit, or skip out on rent...that must have triggered something. We're not sure - that was her case-workers' best guess. It could also be that she is just in one of her swings and decided to do this bc she got bad advice. It's unclear. I'm not out to "take anyone's voucher," but I did utilize a city resource that was available to me (over a year ago) for reasons just like this. Again, we're not after anything - but we're being sued for the max rate in Wa in Small Claims bc of a volatile tenant.

 

@Christen G. it seems all your ducks are in a row and theoretically, you should have nothing to worry about. That being said, things can go sideways, especially in a state that is pro-tenant. Odds are good the mediator is going to encourage you to offer something to make it go away, even if they don't think you are wrong. 

The small claims guide from Washington says, "In most cases, neither party is one hundred
percent right or wrong. Because it is important to use judicial resources wisely, you are encouraged to try to settle your case before it goes to hearing." I am just sharing this, so you are prepared for an illogical mediation.

https://www.courts.wa.gov/news...

Just because you can't have an attorney at the mediation, doesn't mean you can't consult an attorney for advice on how to handle this. Your old tenant sees no down side to suing you. I am not sure if there is an option to counter-sue for some damages. It may be hard since you were reimbursed, but you could potentially seek damages for time. At a minimum, I would prepare a summary of time used to prepare for the case. You can explain during mediation that you feel you are entitled to compensation for that time. 

It is possible that your old tenant is being asked to pay taxes on the money you received from the Landlord Mitigation Fund. Assistance and debt relief is considered income by the IRS. It could even have become a problem for their Section 8 renewal or other assistance. This could be part of the reason they came at you months later. I am not saying this has any bearing on your case, but just wanted you to consider that may have played into this.

Originally posted by @Joe Splitrock :

@Christen G. it seems all your ducks are in a row and theoretically, you should have nothing to worry about. That being said, things can go sideways, especially in a state that is pro-tenant. Odds are good the mediator is going to encourage you to offer something to make it go away, even if they don't think you are wrong. 

The small claims guide from Washington says, "In most cases, neither party is one hundred
percent right or wrong. Because it is important to use judicial resources wisely, you are encouraged to try to settle your case before it goes to hearing." I am just sharing this, so you are prepared for an illogical mediation.

https://www.courts.wa.gov/news...

Just because you can't have an attorney at the mediation, doesn't mean you can't consult an attorney for advice on how to handle this. Your old tenant sees no down side to suing you. I am not sure if there is an option to counter-sue for some damages. It may be hard since you were reimbursed, but you could potentially seek damages for time. At a minimum, I would prepare a summary of time used to prepare for the case. You can explain during mediation that you feel you are entitled to compensation for that time. 

It is possible that your old tenant is being asked to pay taxes on the money you received from the Landlord Mitigation Fund. Assistance and debt relief is considered income by the IRS. It could even have become a problem for their Section 8 renewal or other assistance. This could be part of the reason they came at you months later. I am not saying this has any bearing on your case, but just wanted you to consider that may have played into this.

 

Appreciate you, Joe. I have no need to ask for anything from her at all. As I mentioned, I thought this was buttoned up long ago and was grateful that the city had such a program that looks out for landlords in those situations. In general I am really liking the Tacoma Landlord/Tenant laws - they are super fair IMO. I have a lawyer I consult and she said I could countersue - but again, that's not for me/this situation IMO. This woman has enough going on. I do not intend to pay her a penny and am hoping my calm, prepared self and PM will prevail with facts and the mediator will say, "why did you waste our time?" to her.

I guess I could have the lawyer go after her/send a letter ahead of time to try and get her to throw it out, but knowing this tenant's temperament and swings, I think that will most likely exacerbate the issue.

Originally posted by @Christen G. :
Originally posted by @Joe Splitrock:

@Christen G. it seems all your ducks are in a row and theoretically, you should have nothing to worry about. That being said, things can go sideways, especially in a state that is pro-tenant. Odds are good the mediator is going to encourage you to offer something to make it go away, even if they don't think you are wrong. 

The small claims guide from Washington says, "In most cases, neither party is one hundred
percent right or wrong. Because it is important to use judicial resources wisely, you are encouraged to try to settle your case before it goes to hearing." I am just sharing this, so you are prepared for an illogical mediation.

https://www.courts.wa.gov/news...

Just because you can't have an attorney at the mediation, doesn't mean you can't consult an attorney for advice on how to handle this. Your old tenant sees no down side to suing you. I am not sure if there is an option to counter-sue for some damages. It may be hard since you were reimbursed, but you could potentially seek damages for time. At a minimum, I would prepare a summary of time used to prepare for the case. You can explain during mediation that you feel you are entitled to compensation for that time. 

It is possible that your old tenant is being asked to pay taxes on the money you received from the Landlord Mitigation Fund. Assistance and debt relief is considered income by the IRS. It could even have become a problem for their Section 8 renewal or other assistance. This could be part of the reason they came at you months later. I am not saying this has any bearing on your case, but just wanted you to consider that may have played into this.

 

Appreciate you, Joe. I have no need to ask for anything from her at all. As I mentioned, I thought this was buttoned up long ago and was grateful that the city had such a program that looks out for landlords in those situations. In general I am really liking the Tacoma Landlord/Tenant laws - they are super fair IMO. I have a lawyer I consult and she said I could countersue - but again, that's not for me/this situation IMO. This woman has enough going on. I do not intend to pay her a penny and am hoping my calm, prepared self and PM will prevail with facts and the mediator will say, "why did you waste our time?" to her.

I guess I could have the lawyer go after her/send a letter ahead of time to try and get her to throw it out, but knowing this tenant's temperament and swings, I think that will most likely exacerbate the issue.

 You seem reasonable, but be aware that is not always the best way to deal with unreasonable people. She is asking you for $10,000 and you are asking for $0. A mediator will say, give her $1000 and that is reasonable. The reason to countersue is so you have a bargaining chip. You can agree to drop your countersuit when she drops hers. 

I have been through mediation and it is less about who is right and more about how to compromise. The mediator cares less about facts and more about how to get you both to "give" something. She is starting at $10,000 hoping to get a couple thousand. You are starting at $0 hoping to give $0. Mediators are not judges, so if there is no compromise, it goes to court.

Originally posted by @Joe Splitrock :
Originally posted by @Christen G.:
Originally posted by @Joe Splitrock:

@Christen G. it seems all your ducks are in a row and theoretically, you should have nothing to worry about. That being said, things can go sideways, especially in a state that is pro-tenant. Odds are good the mediator is going to encourage you to offer something to make it go away, even if they don't think you are wrong. 

The small claims guide from Washington says, "In most cases, neither party is one hundred
percent right or wrong. Because it is important to use judicial resources wisely, you are encouraged to try to settle your case before it goes to hearing." I am just sharing this, so you are prepared for an illogical mediation.

https://www.courts.wa.gov/news...

Just because you can't have an attorney at the mediation, doesn't mean you can't consult an attorney for advice on how to handle this. Your old tenant sees no down side to suing you. I am not sure if there is an option to counter-sue for some damages. It may be hard since you were reimbursed, but you could potentially seek damages for time. At a minimum, I would prepare a summary of time used to prepare for the case. You can explain during mediation that you feel you are entitled to compensation for that time. 

It is possible that your old tenant is being asked to pay taxes on the money you received from the Landlord Mitigation Fund. Assistance and debt relief is considered income by the IRS. It could even have become a problem for their Section 8 renewal or other assistance. This could be part of the reason they came at you months later. I am not saying this has any bearing on your case, but just wanted you to consider that may have played into this.

 

Appreciate you, Joe. I have no need to ask for anything from her at all. As I mentioned, I thought this was buttoned up long ago and was grateful that the city had such a program that looks out for landlords in those situations. In general I am really liking the Tacoma Landlord/Tenant laws - they are super fair IMO. I have a lawyer I consult and she said I could countersue - but again, that's not for me/this situation IMO. This woman has enough going on. I do not intend to pay her a penny and am hoping my calm, prepared self and PM will prevail with facts and the mediator will say, "why did you waste our time?" to her.

I guess I could have the lawyer go after her/send a letter ahead of time to try and get her to throw it out, but knowing this tenant's temperament and swings, I think that will most likely exacerbate the issue.

 You seem reasonable, but be aware that is not always the best way to deal with unreasonable people. She is asking you for $10,000 and you are asking for $0. A mediator will say, give her $1000 and that is reasonable. The reason to countersue is so you have a bargaining chip. You can agree to drop your countersuit when she drops hers. 

I have been through mediation and it is less about who is right and more about how to compromise. The mediator cares less about facts and more about how to get you both to "give" something. She is starting at $10,000 hoping to get a couple thousand. You are starting at $0 hoping to give $0. Mediators are not judges, so if there is no compromise, it goes to court.



Heard. Thank you. Just thinking about the cost to engage the lawyer to counter sue...but...I hear you thanks again. 

IMO when you sent her the security deposit recon that stated she owed funds was the thing that started this.  Believe me, i have been thru something similar and i learned that it does not pay to engage with certain folks. Eat the cost and on the security recon say zero is owed. Much easier in the long run sadly 


good luck hope you come out without too much $$ spent :( 

Originally posted by @Mary M. :

IMO when you sent her the security deposit recon that stated she owed funds was the thing that started this.  Believe me, i have been thru something similar and i learned that it does not pay to engage with certain folks. Eat the cost and on the security recon say zero is owed. Much easier in the long run sadly 


good luck hope you come out without too much $$ spent :( 


Thank you! Legally I had to send that reconciliation is the thing. But fingers crossed it all turns out well with no Zoom drama.