12 Tenant Nightmare Stories I Swear Are Actually True

by | BiggerPockets.com

I used to think that I knew what nightmares were. Then I became a landlord. I’ve seen so many types of nightmares since I began this landlording journey, things I did not even know could exist. I’ve seen mold so thick it even covered the spider webs. I have seen rotten floor joists holding up tubs and thought, if the tenant was only 10 pounds heavier, then crash! I have seen squirrels trapped in the walls and clumps of roaches coming out of refrigerators when you open them. But I have discovered that people create the biggest nightmares.

People can do some really crazy, nightmarish things, and most of the time, you would neither know nor care about what they are up to. But when it is your tenant in your property doing it, then it becomes, at least in part, your nightmare.

12 Tenant Nightmare Stories I Swear Are Actually True

Here are just some of the more memorable tenant nightmares I have had. I swear to you, every one of them is true. Even the mind of Steven King could not make some of this stuff up.

  1. A tenant was handing out flyers for porn parties at his apartment. “Bring your own video!” Another tenant saw it and informed us. That is not something you want your address associated with.
  2. A tenant constantly had loud arguments with her boyfriend. She tore every door in the house off its hinges by slamming them.
  3. A tenant installed a stripper pole in the living room. Screwed it right into the hardwood floor. But it was just for exercise.
  4. A tenant got blackout drunk, passed out, and left her kitchen sink running in an upstairs apartment. All that water eventually made its way downstairs.
  5. A tenant got blackout drunk, bumped his gas stove and accidentally turned the gas on before passing out. Another tenant in the building smelled it and called the utility company, which then turned off the gas to the whole building. That in turn created another sort of nightmare. Thankfully, he did not smoke. He was not supposed to be there, by the way. His mom had rented the place surreptitiously for him. I wonder why she wanted him out of the house.
  6. Speaking of smoking, one tenant burned my triplex down because he was sure the cigarette he placed in the trash can was out. Thankfully, no one got hurt—and at least he apologized.
  7. A few tenants were selling cars off the back lawn. “What do you mean we can’t do that?!”
  8. I once rented to a tenant who turned out to be a hoarder who abandoned the property in the middle of the night. They never leave any good stuff.
  9. A renter who turned out to be violent broke out all my windows after a Memorial Day bender and ended up in jail. You would think it would be easy to serve an eviction notice to someone in jail.
  10. One tenant neglected to call us when the heater went out. He just used his stove instead. “I did not want to bother you.”
  11. Another tenant was apparently having real nightmares and spent hours every night screaming as loud as she could. I think my other tenants in that building had a worse nightmare than me on this one. Thankfully, I think she ended up getting the help she needed, and I hope she is in a better place.
  12. Finally, there was the woman who was “just having fun” by shooting her pistol out of the back window of her apartment.

Still Want to Be a Landlord?

Here is the thing, though: We did not create most of these.

Many of these nightmares were not our own creation. By that, I mean that most of the nightmares I describe came with the property when we bought it. We inherited them. It was these nightmares that likely made the property a good deal to buy. The landlord wanted to get away from these nightmares by selling. The lesson here is this: Some folks say that a tenant is lying every time they open their mouth. I say the landlord who is selling is lying every time he opens his mouth. “They are all great tenants.” “Everyone pays on time.” “No problems at all.” Yeah, sure. Don’t take their word for it.

These nightmares are unfortunately part of the business. As you grow and buy properties, tenants who have not gone through your screening process come into your life. Sometimes you will know what you are getting into, and sometimes you will not. These tenants will eventually go away, but it can be nightmare in the meantime.

Some of the nightmares were our own creation. Sometimes you just have to learn the hard way. You have to learn from experience that there are red flags to look for during the tenant screening process—things like the long sleeves in the summer, the alcohol on the breath during a showing, and the parents who seem way too eager to get a place for their kid. These are all signs that perhaps something is not quite right.

If a nightmare gets passed you, all you can do is learn from it and move on. Change your lease, change your policies, or change your screening criteria to prevent the same from happening again—and remember that hindsight is 20/20 for a reason.

To close, let me say that we have had and continue to have many good tenants who we are very thankful for. In fact, most of our tenants have been decent, prompt, and respectful folks. But you always seem to remember the bad ones, don’t you?

So, let’s hear it. Do you have a story of a nightmarish (or conversely, awesome) tenant experience?

Share below!

About Author

Kevin Perk

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.

46 Comments

  1. I was a partner/owner of a 60 units apartment building and our partner/manager kept the rents below market so that we were always full. The rents were so reasonable that all tenant were timely with their rents, such that we never had to evict anyone, and if someone moved, there was always a waiting list.
    Sounds ideal? Yes!
    And then, our managing partner died unexpectedly and for his children sake, think IRS, we had to sell the property.
    Wow!
    The initial walk though with the appraiser was beyond shocking.
    1. Under the bathroom sinks were leaks that would fill a plastic bucket overnight. So that the water wouldn’t overflow it was the kids job to empty the bucket every morning before heading to school.
    2. Kitchen floors that were bare-bones plywood.
    3. Interior doors that were “duck-taped” together so that they could be used.
    4. Living room carpet stained a brilliant Barney purple.
    5. Light fixtures removed and bare wires dangling.
    6. Motor cycles being rebuilt in the living room, and yes, thick black oil/grease everywhere.
    7. Tenants who at night unscrewed the common area lights and ran long extension cords to their living room to power up their sound systems and multiple TVs.
    OTHER PROPERTIES WE NO LONGER OWN:
    8. Palm Springs: A male Tenant was caught at 2:30AM rewiring his electric panel meter’s wiring to feed off another’s meter.
    9. Rural New Mexico: Tenant caught after digging a 125′ trench to steal power from our renter’s power pole.
    10. Palm Spring Mobile Home Park: Tenants stealing neighbors morning newspapers.
    11. Santa Ana CA: Tenants fresh from Mexico pouring grease down the drain and plugging up the main 8″ sewer line, which backed up and flooded the basement which flooded the elevator shaft which shorted out and ruined the elevator motors and controls, which allowed us to purchase the property, well below market, from the bank that foreclosed .
    12. South Phoenix: Tenants who’s night shift employees 1/4 filled their empty beer cans with gravel and then tossed them onto the industrial building’s flat roof, [that way no empty’s in the trash can come morning] and when Phoenix had a major flash flood, the cans plugged up the roof drains and the roof collapsed. Causing The City’s Building and Safety to adopted what is nicked named the “Beer Can Ordinance” which now requires 10″ downspouts , designed as such so that even a Foster’s Australian Beer Can can’t plug up or stop the flow of rain water.
    These days I only originate Hard Money equity Loans and never worry nor hear from tenants….

  2. Cindy Larsen

    I recently bought a six plex: 3 duplexes on two lots, all occupied. I had no idea how bad tenants could be.
    The worts tenant, I insisted the seller remove before we closed excrow. They had black mold in a strip six inches wide and 8’long on the ceiling above each bedroom window. I made the seller open up,the dpceiling and replace the sheetrock. NO problem in the attic: just poor housekeeping by the tenant. All looked OK in my final walkthrough 3 days before escrow closed. It was hard to,see how bad the filth was due to the large amount of furniture and clutter in every room. Then, when I took possession, I found more mold, everywhere, some recently created in washer, dryer and bathroom by the disgruntled tenant who was forced to move. They soaked the bathroom floor to destroy the subfloor. Mold behind the plastic shower walls. Horrible smelly stains everywhere under the gross carpet, on crunbly particle board subfloor. crud everywhere in the kitchen. Two months of work. I replaced the subfloor in every room, replaced some sheetrook, scrubbed every wall, painted with Kills, I hope to be done with the tile install and final coat of paint in the next two weeks. A lot of expense. the other half of the duplex has some mold, and a strong pot smell. His lease is up this month.

    Fortunately, the other two,duplexex have tenants who are not pigs. I already turned on of those units when the tenant turned out to be section8 and would not pay his rent: he didn’t feel it was his responsibility to notify me, or the housing authority. A lot of cleaning, and a kitchen remodel later, and that unit is ready to rent. Another tenant has recent assault charges, and acts agressively everytime I see him. yhe last two tenants are nice people, who are clean, and pay rent on time. Unfortunately, when their leases expire, and I raise the rent to market rate, they will not have the income to pay it. So, I will have 6 out of 6 new tenants within 6 months of the purchase.

    My advice: if you buy with tenants in place, make sure they are all in month to month leases, and don’t hesitate to investigate behind their wall to wall furniture and under the heaps of dirty clothes anth other junk. And, insist that the seller pay for cleaning and painting when the tenants leases are up, after escrow closes. or, at least factor that into your calculations. I did factor the cleaning painting remodeling costs in, but did not factor in enough time spent doing management in getting the tenats turned over.

    • Kevin Perk

      Cindy,

      As I said in the post, sometimes we have to learn the hard way.

      I’ve been there to and I feel your pain.

      Thanks for sharing your experience and advice. Hopefully it will help someone in the future.

      Kevin

  3. Teresia Sayler

    I had a house near a university. Nice young man had finished his degree and was starting his career. One day he called saying he had to break the lease. Unfortunately, he decided to try herion, passed out on the floor in his room with his leg bent that had cut off the circulation, so he had to have it amputated! Just say No people.

  4. karen rittenhouse

    I wasn’t sure where you were headed with this list, but your transition to ” It was these nightmares that likely made the property a good deal to buy” was fabulous.

    Yes, burnt out landlords make excellent sellers.

    And I’ve had literally thousands of tenants over the years but, as you allude to at the end of your post, probably 95 percent of them are great people. Bad tenants would never dissuade me from buying rentals.

    Thanks for your excellent post!

    • Kevin Perk

      Karen,

      I wonder if we will all eventually become burned out landlords 🙂 ?

      Hopefully not.

      I should reiterate both your and my point that MOST of our tenants are great and do not cause problems. It is all in the screening you do.

      Those landlords that do a poor job of screening, keep them on your radar because you will be able to buy their discounted properties in the future.

      Thanks for reading and for the kind words,

      Kevin

  5. Christopher on

    My friend evicted a tenant from a house for non-payment of rent. The tenant moved all his stuff into the guest house behind the main dwelling, put a different street number on the guest house and now refuses to leave. My friend should have done a background check on the tenant—she has since learned that he did 10 years in prison for accessory to murder.

    • Kevin Perk

      Christopher,

      I have an investor friend who calls those seminars.

      You end up paying for these seminars one way or another. You can either pay upfront and learn while sitting at a desk and taking notes or you can learn the hard way on the back end like your friend did.

      Which way do you think is cheaper and less stressful?

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  6. Bernie Neyer

    I have a rental where the HV of the HVAC is in the attic. During the summer dust can collect a little on the heat exchanger and when you turn the heat on in the Fall, it can set off smoke alarms. I warned the tenant, but all landlords are idiots. She called the fire department and they decided to investigate enforce, and fell through the ceiling. Then they declare there was no fire found and left.

    This was a straw well beyond the final straw. Since the tenant was Section 8 and we weren’t renewing her lease we waited the remainder of the final month for her to leave. Suprise, suprise, suprise, it took her half of the next month to get out before I could begin repairs, and then after getting her stuff out of the house, abandoned it in the yard.
    —–

    I had another tenant that was disabled and used an electric scooter to get around. They seemed nice, but their children, all older than 40 came with them, though they insisted they wouldn’t be living there.

    That was when I just got started being a landlord and did month to month lease. When a neighbor complained about them intimidating his family, I checked up on them after only a single month’s tenancy.

    I found one of their kids living in the garage. They had run an extension cord for electricity and coax for cable. I found the mother had been bed ridden and they moved the bed into the living room so she could watch TV and so she could throw chicken bones into the window jam between the window and the storm window, so as to attract as many flies as possible.

    I also found the the gentleman needed a training class for driving his scooter as he hit pretty much every wall in the place. Now this was an older plaster lathe walls, which can be damaged but are harder and stiffer than dywall. He must of had some kamakasi tendencies as he whacked pretty much every wall and door in the place. In 3 months of tenancy they did more damage than two years of rent would cover.

    Needless to say we evicted them, but then they disappeared so we were unable to litigate the damage.

  7. Susan Maneck

    I once rented out a house to a man and his family who claimed to be a barber and run his own business. I suppose he did, but what I didn’t realize at the time i that in Jackson, MS having a hairdressing business is one of the favored ways to launder drug money. I found out when there was a shoot out at my house! My tenant was shot five times (he survived) and a bullet went straight through their baby’s room. Fortunately, they left quietly. Their whole purpose in moving to South Jackson was apparently to hide from some problems in North Jackson. I tried to get our incompetent police department to come over and dig out the bullets before I repainted things, but they couldn’t be bothered.

  8. Debbie Farmer

    In one of my rentals I had a “nice” disabled little old lady on an oxygen tank with an adult granddaughter as a live in caretaker. Unfortunately the granddaughter had a gang member boyfriend and there were several bullet holes in the garage door from attempted (and failed luckily) drive by shootings. The same little old lady had somehow managed to illegally hook up the P G & E and had the entire electrical box removed when they found out. In order to get it back she’d have to pay the $6,000 she owed or they’d waive the charges if she moved out. She ended up passing away instead and we were able to put electricity back in and rerent the place after 3 months of vacancy for repairs. Guess I’m a glutton for punishment.

  9. Virginia H Rockwell

    Our section 8 lady forgot to order heating oil and didn’t put water in the boiler (even though we trained her twice and made one midnight trip up to fill the water because the boiler wasn’t working!)
    Surprise! The heater didn’t work. So she turned on the oven full blast with the door open which caught the cabinets on fire in our new granite kitchen resulting in an extended remodel/remediation job. She moved immediately into a new place and we were left with the mess.

  10. Jerome Kaidor

    Ooh, this is fun! I once rented to a retired nurse, E*****. She was a perfect tenant for eight years. Paid the rent like a clock, always before the first of the month, until….

    ….She stopped paying. The first month, I took note, but she was such a good tenant that I didn’t immediately react. Second month rolled around. I sent my manager up to talk to her, as if she needed a payment plan or something. She just said “Tell Jerry to File”. You don’t have to tell me twice.

    Her answer was 10 pages of tight, crabbed writing. Along with a laundry list of things wrong with the apartment ( about which she had never complained ), she accused me of stealing her electricity. She said that I was running the whole apartment complex off her meter!

    I had my manager check that our stuff was all running off our breaker. He turned it off and, yep all of our stuff turned off. I called our usual electrician and asked him the same question, and had him document the answer on his invoice. I also had my maintenance guy address every last squawk she had about the apartment.

    So we went to court, and duked it out in front of the judge. We won, she lost.

    In the fullness of time, came the day of the lockout. Here’s what she did:
    * She took a hammer to the ceramic tile floor in the kitchen.
    * She broke the water heater.
    * She broke the stove.
    * She removed all the electrical outlets, switches and fixtures and CUT THE WIRES SHORT.
    * She set a fire in the bathtub.
    * She removed all the doorknobs and locks
    * She cut the supply lines to the sinks, causing a flood.
    * She slashed my managers tires.

    …Are we having fun yet? So what happened to this faithful 8-year tenant? My guess is Meth.

    I also had the motorcycle rebuilders. No chance of shampooing THAT carpet! And they washed parts in the bathtub. A few years after the eviction, one of them called me to try to rent an apartment. Best laugh I had all day :). I keep *good* records.

    • Kevin Perk

      Jerome,

      Wow, she had it out for you. That all cost a pretty penny, especially the electrical.

      I hope you can laugh about it now.

      Motorcycles are not a protected class. I know landlords who will not rent to folks who own them, for exactly the reasons you describe.

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your nightmares,

      Kevin

  11. Brandy Gamblin

    This is TERRIFYING, People! How are we supposed to make money renting out 4-plexes like Brandon Turner suggests with these horror stories??? Please let me know if you’ve learned how to avoid all these crazies. We required HIGH credit scores on our rental, but that won’t prevent a “I think I’ll do a complete 180 and ruin my life with heroin tonight” type situation.

    • Jerome Kaidor

      I’d like to clarify something. While I was evicting my crazy nurse, I made money. Just not quite as much. While we were rebuilding her apartment, I made money. Just not quite as much. The secret is quantity – at that time, I owned about 90 apartments. So a vacancy or a turnover or an eviction here or there, was not deadly. Just annoying.

      If that nurse had been my first tenant, back when I only had one fourplex, and was swinging my own hammer, I probably would have given up and sold it.

    • Kevin Perk

      Brandy,

      Remember that most tenants will be just fine as long as you thoroughly screen them. You can’t prevent everything, but you can prevent a lot of it.

      Remember too that most of these are from tenants I inherited. They made the property a good deal and I just had to work a bit on getting them out, cleaning the place up and getting it cash flowing.

      Those that were my own creation I have hopefully learned from and will not do again.

      Should this stuff scare you? Yes. But we tell these stories so you will learn from them like we did. Hopefully, if you learn, you will not have the nightmares we did.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Now go buy that four-plex,

      Kevin

  12. Christopher Smith

    I’ve never had any of these issues, but I have two great managers who screen very carefully and nearly every tenant I’ve ever had were/are white collar upper middle income folks with generally very high credit scores (last one screened just this past week was 791 – we accepted them at a rental rate of $3,050 per month). Not that that is an absolute guarantee, but I think clearly it helps mightily when you rent to folks that have a fundamental appreciation and respect for property ownership.

    • Kevin Perk

      Christopher,

      Higher incomes clears up some issues but not all. People are still drunks, get “angry” at their spouse and commit fraud.

      I’m glad you have good experiences so far.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  13. I have 16 rentals…mostly bought for under $100,000 in 2009-10 in bad areas in a suburb 50 miles east of San Francisco, Ca. Half are Section 8. While I’ve had stressful months, all have tripled in value and cash flow enough for me not to work unless I want to (I’m a realtor). My secret besides having a property manager who’s an eviction attorney (and drinking a lot of wine) is to have as large a cash safety cushion on each rental as possible. (I like to have at least 10,000 for each rental) So far I’ve been able to weather even the worst situations. Everyone thought I was nuts 10 years ago, and those people are still working day jobs. So it’s possible to survive and thrive in low end properties.

  14. Beatriz De Jesus

    I once had a tenant who we had to remind and chase down for the rent. We went looking for her because she was 9 days late on the rent, knock on the door and the door was open. Apartment cleared out and keys were left on counter. Found out from a friend they saw her moving out and putting her stuff into a Uber. We used her security to cover that month and luckily we rented it back out within a few days.

  15. Cody L.

    These are amateur. One of these days I’m going to type up a collection of tenant stories 🙂

    (jk, everyones funny tenant stories are valid. It keeps this business interesting and us humble)

  16. Dan Heuschele

    Like many of the posts I have many landlord horror stories but perhaps the most entertaining was an STR duplex unit where the tenant turned the little front yard into a mud pit for bikini clad women to wrestle in.

    We reconfigured the yard so that 50% of it is now a trex like deck and the other 50% is artificial grass. To repair the yard back to original grass situation would not have been as costly as the repair we did but the STR was in a beach area with a reputation for parties so we thought we would make it more difficult for a repeat performance.

    We collected some damages from the tenant but not enough to cover all loses (mostly lost rental time because of course it was in the summer when fully rented: Current summer weekend rate for the one unit is $475/night but this was about 10 years ago but the rent was high (just not as high) back then).

    Follow-on reserved tenants had to be relocated; We were glad this property had a PM with a lot of connections.

    • Kevin Perk

      John,

      Most tenants like I said in my post are actually pretty good. I’ll also say that a lot of these stories I wrote about happened in single family dwellings, so is not just apartment dwellers. It all comes down to how they are managed and the expectations that are set with tenants.

      And yes, I’m glad that now I can look back and laugh.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  17. Jennifer T.

    So interesting to read all these stories! I’ve barely started in my REI and already have some. I screen better now, lol.

    1) He was an inherited tenant. Though “tenant” is a strong word. He’d been living for free in one unit of his sister’s duplex for over 10 years, when I bought the property from her. It was a smoking hot deal, so I factored a “worst case” scenario eviction into my numbers and did not require him to be out before closing, but it actually worked out fine and he was gone in 30 days anyway. However, he had a car engine in the front room. No oil and grease, luckily. It looked clean and brand new. But no idea why it was in the front room, lol. Fortunately, he took it with him.

    2) I just had tenants leave in Feb. because they couldn’t pay the rent. They were on the other side of my personal duplex. They were both drunks who had loud arguments that, unfortunately, sometimes turned violent. When they left, they moved out of state and couldn’t take any of their stuff with them, so they left all their worldly possessions in the unit. Including a futon couch filled with dog urine. There were blood droplets in a few places on the wall and also on the ceiling!

    On an interior ledge in one of the closets…I’d never even noticed there was a ledge there…they had about 3 dozen empty, pint bottles of liquor. It was extra funny for me because my husband was the one taking the bottles down, while I watched from outside the closet. It was like a clown car. Where you just don’t think there could possibly be more clowns coming out…yet the empty bottles kept coming and coming and coming, lol. The kitchen was the very next room, so I have to admit being curious if they were actually so lazy to put the bottles in the closet instead of walking 10 more feet to the kitchen trash can. Or if one of them was trying to hide some of the drinking from the other. Which would also be a hilarious explanation, because they both drank heavily.

    3) Tenant who insisted on parking his car in the middle of the front lawn. He lived in a duplex and would also throw shrimp and crawfish shells directly into the outside trash can without a liner. Super foul smelling and attracted hordes of maggots and flies. He is (to date) my one and only eviction. And it was the full gambit, sheriff needed to be called when he ignored the eviction order. I promised the other tenants at that unit that I would make sure to do much better with the next one!

    4) Tenants broke the 6-month lease and skipped out in Month 4. Of course, without telling me and one day after rent was due. All of my light wood floors had a tinge of gray or black to them, because they were so filthy. When you walked on them, your foot would slightly stick to the floor. Pfft! I’ve seen much cleaner floors in abandoned houses. There was a deep, child-sized hole in one of the rooms where I’m guessing one of their kids had been shoved hard into the wall. One side of the kitchen sink had gotten stopped up by (we think) peanut butter. It was covered in maggots and there were gnats flying all around that section of sink. They also stole just about anything that wasn’t nailed down (though thankfully and shockingly not the appliances), including the worthless, used batteries in the smoke detector. Really!?!

  18. David Clay

    Some of these are laugh out loud funny, but only from the other side of the fence. 🙂

    I’ve had a few almost stories, but I try to screen really well and do as much diligence as is reasonable. I have a few inherited tenants that I’d like to transition, but they pay so for now I’m not balking.

    These stories have given me an idea to include some “Don’t Do’s” in my lease. LOL.

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