Lifehack logo

Two fish in a coffeepot

They seem happy enough

By Jill Harper-JuddPublished 3 months ago 6 min read
Two fish in a coffeepot
Photo by imso gabriel on Unsplash

My husband and I bought a fixer-upper right before housing prices doubled in our area. We were thrilled – we knew that when we decided to sell, we would not only be able to pay off the mortgage and home repair bills, but we would also have enough left over for a nice little nest egg for the future. Sadly, he passed away only a few years after we purchased the home. In addition to grief, I felt completely overwhelmed by all the same fixer-upper tasks that we had so enjoyed previously. For my own mental health, I needed to go somewhere without so many memories…but despite pressure from my family to sell my home, I wasn’t quite ready for that either. As a short-term solution, I decided to rent it to some acquaintances of mine.

Now, there are a whole slew of common-sense recommendations for when you are renting out a home – the goal is to at least have that home’s expenses covered. Those recommendations include (this is not an exhaustive list):

1. Have them sign a lease (better would be through a property manager or attorney but there are leases online you can use). Chase Bank has a wonderful article about renting to friends here. For my lease, I added stipulations that my tenants could paint and do minor repairs but could not make any structural changes to the house. I also made sure we had a list of all the animals allowed in the house (and the names of the children). Obviously, no smoking or drugs.

2. Do the background check. Evaluate carefully, even if they seem to be nice people. Even if you’ve known them a while. Any history of arrests for acts of violence or abuse of alcohol/drugs should be a red flag. Here’s a great article from US News and World Report on what a background check consists of and how to do it.

3. Check the job history. If they’ve been in their current job less than a 3-6 months, or have held a string of jobs over the past 6-12 months…. get out of there! Job insecurity frequently suggests financial insecurity. Financial insecurity means you might not receive your rent. Read more about why job history is important here.

4. And following up on 3: Make sure you get a security deposit and 1st (and/or last) month’s rent. This should not be negotiable – there is a reason for it!! (see my comments below) This article by lays it out nicely.

5. Check in occasionally. Walk through the house. You have that right as a landlord as long as you give proper notice (usually 24-48 hours) and are not harassing the tenant with too frequent visits. What do you see? What do you smell? Are the toilets still flushing? Dishwasher working? Ask specifically if all appliances are operational or if there is anything that needs to be tended to. Small problems can become big problems if not addressed early. This article gives an excellent summary of the rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants.

6. If they don’t or can’t pay the rent on time (or pay the rent at all) don’t keep giving extensions or additional opportunities. While you may think you are being nice because they are in a bad situation, this can cost you thousands of dollars and it doesn’t help anyone. End it. If they can’t pay the bills now, there is a reasonable chance they won’t be able pay them in the future. If they have any conscience at all, they are almost certainly feeling chronically stressed and frustrated about the situation anyway. So while it isn’t fun and you’ll probably feel mean, sometimes cancelling the lease and asking tenants to leave is the best path for EVERYONE. Note: collect all keys and door openers. Do not allow ANY of their items to remain on the property. If you need to, change the locks.

7. That leads us to #7. Instead of asking your tenant to move out, you can proceed with a legal eviction involving written notices, a court order and often the sheriff’s office. It is definitely more complicated, but following through with a formal eviction ensures that there is a court record of the judgement. Your tenants WILL get themselves and their stuff out of your house – and if they don’t leave, the Sheriff’s office will “help” them. The drawback is that those legal hoops do cost money whereas sometimes just saying “I need you out by X date or I’ll have to do a formal eviction” takes care of it. But…do NOT make empty threats.

So, in my case, I did many, many things my friends and family argued against and I made the “wrong” decision nearly every step of the way. I DID get a signed lease, but I never enforced it. I let them pay me a lower security deposit (much lower) than we had agreed and I accepted a lower first month’s rent once they had moved in. After a few months, I wasn’t even receiving that…but I kept giving them “more time”. In hindsight, this all seems ridiculous, but I always want to think the best of people. In my mind, I was giving them a “chance”…but it never came together for them.

Additional lessons learned: Since I knew them and knew they were hard workers, I never ran a background check and never requested job histories. I learned in conversation a few months later that one of the two had lost their job just days before they moved in. I also knew there were more animals on the premises then had been agreed but never said anything. I did walk through occasionally…and smelled incense. Yep, I was that gullible – or maybe I just didn’t want to know.

Eventually – a 6 month long eventually – I asked them to move out. And they did…a month after my “deadline” because (no surprise) I didn’t file a formal eviction. And despite all of that, I think the hardest thing for me to accept was not the money I had lost but the general filth and lack of care given to the home by my tenants. Once they were out, I found more trash in more places than I could ever have imagined. I had to pull up the laminate flooring throughout the house because it and the subfloor were soaked with pet urine. Most of my regular (pet accessible) window blinds were destroyed, and my floor to ceiling vertical blinds had been…chewed on(?). A pull-out couch and mattress were covered in dirt and footprints and several doors needed to be replaced. And the yard…well, it looked like rentals often do – there was litter in the yard and most of my plants were dead. The bottom line is that they left a lot of stuff I had clear out and clean up, including a pair of goldfish currently living in a large coffeepot.

So did I learn to be a landlord the hard way? You betcha. I’m stubborn like that. But I won’t ever make those same mistakes again! And with the passage of time, I’m emotionally in a much better place to make decisions about the home my husband and I shared. Selling it now feels like a more reasonable and practical option, especially since I have started building a new life somewhere else. Most importantly though, now I can imagine “my” old home filled with the laughter and love of a new family…and that does make me very happy. Plus, I’ve got goldfish.

how tohouse

About the Creator

Jill Harper-Judd

I've been writing poetry and short stories since childhood....but my life has often been chaotic so (mental) space to write can be hard to find. I am a lover of words and the worlds we can create with them. I seek beauty in all things.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.