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.
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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.
- 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.
- A tenant constantly had loud arguments with her boyfriend. She tore every door in the house off its hinges by slamming them.
- A tenant installed a stripper pole in the living room. Screwed it right into the hardwood floor. But it was just for exercise.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A few tenants were selling cars off the back lawn. “What do you mean we can’t do that?!”
- 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.
- 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.
- One tenant neglected to call us when the heater went out. He just used his stove instead. “I did not want to bother you.”
- 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.
- 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?