Are you frustrated with your tenants not paying rent during Covid? Have you been dealing with maintenance issues while getting little to no rent to support those efforts? Do you resent your tenants? Are you consumed with anger every time those tenants light up your phone? Have you lost sleep, or even worse… is your blood boiling because of those tenants? Are you at the end of your rope?
If you answered YES to any of those last few questions, it might be time to consider hiring a property management company to step in and take things off your hands.
Over the last two years, the laws affecting rent collection during Covid have changed about every eight weeks. There are certain things a Long Beach Property Manager can do . . . and there are things they can’t do, eviction being one of them although this has recently changed.
When the Landlord Loses It
To give you a little framework for what I’m talking about I’d like to share a little story. About 6 weeks ago we received a call from a man who owns a single family home in Long Beach… we’ll call him Tony. Tony was very agitated, upset and pretty much obsessed with these tenants living in his four bedroom home. They had not paid rent for over a year, but because of Covid they could not be evicted for non-payment. The words he used to describe these tenants would embarrass the saltiest sailor. He truly made them sound like awful people. Moreover, Tony would not stop describing ALL the histrionics he’s been through with these people. We could tell Tony needed a chance to vent, so vent he did. He said they trashed a bathroom and Tony had to spend seventeen thousand dollars to put in a new bathroom, shower, toilet, vanity, sink… the works. Currently the tenants are complaining that there is water on the floor in the kitchen and hallway. Tony is convinced that the “water” is there because their little dogs are peeing on the floor. He called his “Home Warranty” company and they sent over a plumber that couldn’t find a leak. All the while the tenants are not paying rent.
After Tony emptied his bucket and calmed down a bit . . . we told him we could help. We’ve been keeping up on all the changes to the landlord/tenant law here in California and he had options. Clearly these tenants had gotten under his skin. At this point, he was way too close to the situation and he wasn’t thinking clearly, this affected the decisions he was making about the property and the tenants. Tony was spending an inordinate amount of time plotting ways to extricate these people from his rental home.
Over the next 45 minutes we came up with a plan:
A physical inspection of the property. If the tenants are saying that there is water on the floor in the kitchen and hallway we need to document that, and fix it if necessary. That is considered a habitability issue. If a property is not habitable, a tenant could make a case that they don’t have to pay the rent until the property is habitable. This is in fact the most common defense for tenants in eviction court, therefore all maintenance issues especially life safety issues must be addressed prior to eviction court. After the inspection we would re-group to come up with a strategy to get the tenants out of the home.
In the meantime, let’s make a claim with the city/state to recoup the lost rent you’ve missed over the last year or so. Tony said he’s tried to make a claim but wasn’t having any luck with the online portal. “I don’t really care about the money… I JUST WANT THEM OUT OF MY PROPERTY.” We’ve helped quite a few people work their way through the system, and while it was a little wonky in the beginning. . . Landlords are now getting paid. We told him we’d look into it for him.
Meeting Tenants During Property Inspection
Based upon what Tony was saying about these tenants, we really didn’t know what to expect. Upon arriving at the property we did notice some deferred maintenance issues on the exterior of the property. Nothing a little paint and a gardener couldn’t handle post haste, and without any rental income some of those issues can wait.
When the tenants opened the door they were so happy to see us. They were polite, respectful and non-threatening, at first blush they were nothing like how they had been described to us by the owner. They showed us through the home pointing out minor things that needed attention, but they really wanted to take us to the kitchen to show us what was really bothering them. The kitchen and adjacent service porch/hallway had brown 9 inch square tiles on the floor. When they stepped on the tiles water seeped out along the edges of the tiles. In some places the water was seeping up where the grout used to be. It’s important to note here that the tenants were all wearing Crocs, you know the plastic/rubber shoe that most people around here associate with casual beachwear. The lady of the home pointed out that, “We all have to wear these so we don’t get our feet wet, we’ve been shocked a time or two.” I asked how long this has been going on to which she replied, “About 8 or 9 months?”
The owner is convinced that they were pouring water on the floor prior to any inspections. I don’t get it? Why would anyone pour water on the floor, and have to live in it? I just couldn’t square that up in my head. I’ve been at this quite a few years and this was presenting itself as a slab leak. I went out in the backyard to see if this home was built on a slab, and yes indeed it sits on the ground, NOT on a raised foundation.
We thanked the tenants for their time and apologized for the months of inconvenience. I promised them I’d get to the bottom of it and told them to expect a visit in the next couple of days from our plumber, a trusted vendor . They were in tears, they finally felt heard and were happy to wait a bit for the proper solution.
We sent our plumber to the property and I was wrong. The plumber discovered that the vendor hired by the owner to install the new bathroom had taken some shortcuts when installing the toilet. That guy used cheap parts and tried to re-use a flange that didn’t fit the new toilet. In a nutshell, every time the tenants flushed that toilet, wastewater was forced into the surrounding sub-flooring. . . and they had been living in it for 8 or 9 months.
Two weeks after the fix, when we were confident that the leak was cured we asked the owner to come into the office for a meeting. We told him that we had looked into the Covid Relief Claim that had actually been filed by the tenant and already approved by the County in the amount of $29,000. The tenant had set it up to have the $29,000 paid directly to them. We re-directed the funds to make sure they would come directly to the owner. Tony was silent as his mouth dropped open… he wasn’t expecting such good news.
At that point we had to deliver the less than positive news. We shared the saga you have just read through and told him it was time to file an insurance claim. He was reluctant to file a claim insisting that, “The leak is fixed… we’re done!” We had to educate him on what happens to wood that has been (waste water) wet for that long of a period of time. A restoration company needs to come in, open it up and dry everything out. People can not be expected to live it that. Tony said the thought of $29,000 took some of the sting out of the bad news, and he told us to move forward with filing the claim and hiring the restoration company.
It’s okay to raise your hand and ask for help
A good Property Management company can save you time and put more money in your pocket . . . oh and let’s not forget the peace mind, we can all use a little more of that. If you’ve had about as much fun as you can stand with your tenants . . . it might be time to let a professional Property Manager help you out. We are here as a resource for you.