Initially Nice But Later Incompetent And/Or Crooked Landlords

College Green, Iowa City, Iowa, 1999
My first residence out of college was a single-room sublet with a communal bathroom and kitchen in a giant old house. My roommates and I were in a band and we recorded an album in the attic. I was underemployed, temperatures hit record highs, and I was in the midst of a protracted, summer-long breakup with my college girlfriend. Of course I have fond memories of the place.

Any elisions in this timeline represent long stretches without unpleasant interactions with landlords, and uneventful tenancies make boring stories. I rented many apartments throughout Iowa City and Chicago before my first full-scale landlord-induced meltdown, which set into motion a series of motifs I’d revisit over the next eight years:

1. The Initially Nice but Later Incompetent and/or Crooked Landlord;
2. The Lost Forwarding Address;
3. The Unhinged Phone Call and/or Letter;
4. The Fuck-Off Money;
5. The Admittedly Unwise Decisions on My Part; and
6. The Ineffectual Legal Half-Measure.

Northeast, Minneapolis, Minn., 2005-2006
Shortly after I was accepted to grad school in Minneapolis, I rented a place sight-unseen via email; an alum of my program needed a roommate. Our apartment was the ground-floor unit in a large, extremely neglected house. We were burgled once (the back door was rickety enough that the culprits simply forced it open); the shower was a cold trickle, the bathroom floor was missing tiles, and there was a two-inch gap between the window pane and the frame in my bedroom window.

Our landlord was a single mother who lived on the second floor and was working on a Ph.D. in American or maybe Gender Studies. She was sweet, but when we asked her to fix the shower or the windows she told us she’d “already done everything [she] could” (Motif #1). I will call her Martha Nussbaum, despite my affection for her namesake’s work.

When we moved out, Martha called us to say she’d lost our forwarding addresses (Motif #2), that she was withholding our deposit, and that we owed her even more money to fix up damage to the apartment (damage that had undoubtedly been there for years before we moved in). We each sent her letters pointing out that because more than 21 days had passed since we moved out, she actually owed us our full deposit plus late fees, according to state law. Martha responded with Motif #3, sending us each extremely long letters (mine was seven single-spaced pages) enumerating the ways in which we were terrible people, had ruined her heretofore pristine property, and had put her daughter’s life at risk by allowing our apartment to be burgled. With mine, she enclosed a check for $7, the fuck-off money she’d decided I deserved according to her mysterious calculations (#4). I never cashed it.

Yes, it’s possible that we could have cleaned the place better when we moved out (#5), though with such derelict properties it’s hard to tell where mess ends and decrepitude begins. I can’t claim complete faultlessness, but, in a dynamic that has become unsettlingly familiar over the years, there is a great leap between me neglecting to take care of some basic tenant-maintenance matters and an adult, in some cases decades older than I am, maligning my character and screaming at me.

I went to the University of Minnesota’s free legal-advice service and met with a woman who told me I had a pretty strong case. She called Martha and, after getting an earful, got her to agree to giving me $55 (#4 revisited), which she never paid. In retrospect, I should have just taken her to court (#6).

Lowry Hill, Minneapolis, Minn., 2009-2010
This was a tiny unit in an old brick building in a nice part of town, which justified the relatively high rent for closet-sized kitchens and a sinking foundation. The superintendent was a man whose actual name was Michael Jackson. The unit I moved into had been painted garish colors, so Mike kindly bought me paint and my girlfriend and I had a grand old time painting the rooms together.

Mike was nice enough, but after a few months started offering the tenants deals where we could get rent reductions if we paid him in cash (Motif #1). I foolishly took him up on this offer (#5) until I began having qualms, which was also around the time the landlord (whom I’ll call Bill O’Reilly, for reasons which will soon become apparent) found out about the scheme, fired him, and replaced him with an affable hipster who was probably younger than me.

After I moved out and three weeks went by without any returned deposit, I called Bill. He told me that the new super had never given him my forwarding address (#2), then told me I was “a nice enough tenant but a horseshit painter,” and that he was withholding funds for re-painting. I’d left the walls as they were because the super hadn’t raised any objections about them during our walk-through. If anything, I felt like I’d done Bill a favor since my colors were much more palatable than the previous tenant’s.

I pointed out to Bill that none of that really mattered, deposit-wise, since it had been more than 21 days since I’d moved out and that he now owed me my full deposit, plus a fee, etc. I even cited the Minnesota state Tenant’s Bill of Rights, a pamphlet I’d picked up during my Ineffectual Legal Half-Measures with Martha, hoping to give my words a patina of formality.

This was a mistake. Bill, screaming now, told me that “that Bill of Rights is a bunch of liberal bullshit [I] can cram up [my] ass,” and that “[I] could go ahead and take [him] to court, because [he] wins those cases 99 out of 100 times.” He then hung up, preventing me from asking him why he’s been to court 100 times.

I sent Bill a letter officially asking for my deposit back, plus fees, or I’d take him to small-claims court. He wrote back, calmer now, and despite his early confidence in a courtroom victory, suggested that surely there must be an amicable solution. He offered me about $300, which was too much to be fuck-off money but still considerably less than my deposit. And, in keeping with Motif #6, I accepted, because conflict makes me physically ill and I just wanted to be done with Bill.

Hamline-Midway, Saint Paul, Minn., 2012-2013
After Amanda and I got married last summer, we wanted to rent a house where we could have a dog. Unable to find such a place in Minneapolis within our price range, we did the unthinkable and moved to Saint Paul. To certain partisans of either Twin City, moving to the Other One is an act of betrayal tantamount to going from Mac to PC or voting for the Other Party. We had our doubts about crossing over, but we were reasonably happy with our surroundings, and any misgivings we have for our Saint Paul spell have nothing to do with the city and everything to do with our landlord.

Our new landlord lived literally across the alley from us; for reasons we never deduced, he’d moved his family into a new house one hundred feet to the south and was renting out his old one. He was a personal-injury lawyer, so let’s call him Robert Kardashian. Robert loved us at first; he told told us we were ideal tenants. We told him we had a cat and wanted to get a dog; he said he’d allow pets with a pet deposit. When we sat down to sign the lease, our first red flags went up: he wanted a pet fee—not a deposit—of $50 a month, per pet, non-refundable. This would amount to an additional $1,200 if we lived there for a year, kept our cat, and got a dog. We signed the lease anyway (Motif #5), and he said perhaps we could renegotiate the pet fee when and if we adopted a dog. We were charmed enough to believe him.

Robert was often visible through our rear window, since the lease he’d drawn up allowed him to continue gardening in the backyard and using his/our garage. He already felt too close for comfort, and we couldn’t help feeling like he was ripping us off. Our conversations with him were amiable but strained; he had a way of hijacking any discussion by free-associating aloud at great length before finally delivering his bad news or nonsensical ultimatum. When we informed him we were planning to adopt a rescue dog and asked if he was still willing to renegotiate the pet fee, he held forth about how he was already doing us a favor because he’d researched the rental market and should be charging far more for rent, and wished we didn’t have any pets at all (both things he should have expressed before we ever signed a lease), before finally announcing that we still had to pay an additional $50 a month. A simple “no” would have sufficed.

This additional $100 a month on top of our already steep rent, and our burgeoning resentment toward Robert, is what truly catalyzed our decision to begin the house-hunting process. We figured it would probably be at least a year before we even found, much less closed on, a place we liked. Instead, thanks to an amazing realtor and a favorable market, we found a newly renovated house back in Minneapolis almost immediately. We talked to Robert about leaving the lease early, and he agreed to let us if we found new tenants, which we immediately did. We confirmed our closing date with our realtor and informed Robert of our move-out date.

But of course nothing was ever that simple with Robert. The amended lease was accompanied by a letter that began in very officious legalese before lapsing into run-on sentences about news stories he’d heard regarding widespread delays in closing dates due to irregularities in the housing market.

(Robert’s correspondence, like his speech, throbbed with first-draft sloppiness; I had to read his letters multiple times to decoct their meaning. His sudden shifts from the elevated diction of his profession to informal and meandering non-sequiturs made his correspondence sound like it had been written by a Yale 1L on peyote. I feel sorry for his clients.)

The apparent upshot of his letter was that even if our closing date was delayed, we still had to be out of the house, and he would not let us stay a day longer. Okay, boss.

Despite Robert’s expert real-estate analysis and Dickensian ultimatums, we closed on the house with zero delay or hassle. Having learned my lessons with past landlords and internalized all the motifs (or so I thought), I gave Robert our forwarding address in writing. I had the house professionally cleaned. We even agreed to vacate a week early so that Robert could do some maintenance; we thought maybe he’d even refund us that week’s rent. By now we should have known that was a very naïve hope.

Longfellow, Minneapolis, Minn., infinity and beyond
The day after we’d vacated Robert’s house and turned in our keys, he sent us an email dangerously close to embodying Motif #3: a litany of ways in which the house was apparently still a mess, including the memorable phrase “the whole house smells like a cat,” which Amanda and I have adopted as one of those grim one-liners that couples invoke in times of much-needed levity.

Amanda and I freaked out, because, in keeping with Motif #5, I hadn’t done a walk-through after the cleaners left, because I’d had very good experiences with the company in the past. But it was possible they’d missed some things, and I was willing to pay whatever it took to end our tenancy amicably, so I called the cleaning company and arranged for them to return to the house, do a walk-through with Robert, and clean absolutely anything he wanted them to, at our expense. They did so, I paid for it, and we assumed all was resolved. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.)

Exactly 21 days passed before we received a letter from Robert containing our deposit, minus deep deductions for cleaning tasks he’d decided to perform himself. This meant we’d paid for all this cleaning twice: once when the cleaners did it, and once when Robert did it. (He paid himself $40 an hour for rudimentary tasks like wiping off the windowsills; we theorized that because he’d been in the professional sector for thirty years, he thought $40 was now the minimum wage.)

And please don’t forget about the $600 in non-refundable pet fees we’d paid. Robert used $425 of this sum to ostensibly make the house smell less like a cat, which means he pocketed $175. He also took $125 out of our security deposit to change the locks, an unnecessary procedure not covered by damage deposits, according to state law.

In keeping with Motif #6, we decided to challenge Robert on only one point: the $125 for changing the locks. We sent off a very polite letter asking for that sum, and waited. A week later, Motif #4 came hurtling into our mailbox in the form of a lengthy screed (three single-spaced pages, this time) that, in keeping with Robert’s rhetorical style, was one-third legalistic obfuscation and two-thirds hysterical grousing. On the first page he informed us that he wasn’t going to refund us the money for changing the locks because we moved out early, but offered us $27 in fuck-off money. This made no sense, but was airtight logic compared to the next two pages, which were mostly devoted to telling us what disgusting people we were (his actual charge was that we “lack basic hygiene”) because he found some cat litter on the basement floor, and his broken toilet, which remained broken even after he’d come over and “fixed” it, wasn’t flushable. (“It is standard practice to flush a toilet after use” is a sentence he actually typed.)

As I read Robert’s crazy letter, all the other motifs descended on me like angry, estranged relatives. My face grew hot, my stomach contracted, and I became paralyzed with impotent rage. I am not prone to flashes of temper; I don’t scream at people; I’ve never hit someone or threatened to. I don’t belong to a boxing gym or go to a firing range, so I don’t really have any of the stereotypical outlets for my anger. I can only silently fume and then look for legal recourse.

There is a tenant-advocacy organization in Minnesota that provides free advice over the phone. They told me I probably had a strong case, but an in-person consultation would cost $75 an hour. With very little money to begin with, and an uncertain outcome in court, we dead-ended at Motif #6.

At this point you might be experiencing a certain nagging skepticism that usually manifests as two utterances of paternalistic devil’s advocacy: 1. Maybe the author keeps having bad luck with landlords because he’s just not a very responsible tenant; and 2. This guy sounds like he has a real axe to grind and can’t let it go. He should shit or get off the (broken) pot.

Both of these points are fair, to some extent. In response to the first, I will point out that I rented nearly a dozen apartments that aren’t on this list, because everything turned out fine. But in the cases I’ve described here, Motif #5 does apply: There are wiser, more responsible choices I could have made along the way; damage and irregularities I should have documented; sketchy scenarios I should have avoided; walls I should have repainted.

My beef with Martha, Bill, and Robert isn’t so much that they found me at fault: in every instance I acknowledged my errors, and my complaints would still have merit even if I’d done everything perfectly. My exasperation stems from the fact that that, as soon as they were challenged (politely, reasonably), Martha, Bill, and Robert immediately went from 0 to 100 on the Hysterical Childish Behavior Metric, rendering reasonable negotiation impossible. In every instance, I was the younger, ostensibly less empowered party, yet I maintained a dynamic of professional decorum; they were the ones who tipped their hands by having epistolary and telephonic meltdowns that, while undoubtedly genuine, are also strategic: They’ve learned that they can get their way if they just kick and scream enough, derailing the argument and exhausting the other party. What I did wrong or could have done right becomes immaterial.

The International Law of Mansplanatory Fault Finding still dictates, however, that at least one person bang out a comment thusly: “I can’t believe how naïve you were. Here’s what you should have done. ADMONITION THE FIRST …” etc. We see this tendency to second-guess the complainant and side with The Man in everything from customer-service interactions to wrongful arrests. It’s a weird impulse that causes strangers to give violent criminals, financial institutions, and overzealous law enforcement the benefit of the doubt, concluding that because the victim didn’t do everything completely perfectly, his or her grievance is not legitimate.

Not that I consider myself a victim. To do so would be gauche and insulting to actual victims, which brings me to my hypothetical reader’s second point, that I have an axe to grind. Another fair point—after all, the thousands of words I’ve just devoted to Robert certainly suggest as much. But I’ve dwelt on Robert here only in a clumsy attempt to impart a larger cautionary lesson to those patient enough to keep reading: that, even when our axes cry out for so much more grinding, it may be time to give the old grindstone a rest.

I have to choose my battles. I am older and (marginally) wiser than I was earlier in my rental history, and so very, very tired. I didn’t take Robert to court; I didn’t accept his fuck-off money; I didn’t seek any sort of redress or revenge. More tenacious or litigious readers might consider this a failure of character, but I can only speak for my desire to forget the whole incident. Initially, I wanted to keep fighting, hire a lawyer, humiliate Robert. But I could see that my crusade for justice was already stressing Amanda out, even scaring her a little. I apologized and asked her how she could be so calm, why she wasn’t seething like I was. She said that if we didn’t turn our backs on Robert right away, and permanently, he’d gain more ground than he already had. She said she hated Robert so much that she didn’t want to allow him one more second of rent-free metaphysical residence in our heads or home. She said the best revenge was living well, without Robert in our lives. (I was wise to marry someone smarter than I am.)

So weep not for me. My complaints are petty, my axe already ground to slivers. Weep instead for the tenants, great in number and multiplying every day, who live below the poverty line and risk eviction every month; who lack any sort of advocacy or legal representation; who might not be fluent in English, much less legalese; whose education might have stopped in high school; whose access to shelter relies on the mercy of truly corrupt slumlords who make Martha, Bill, and Robert look like Mother Teresa. Owning a home is often a pain in the ass (and I would know), but renting an apartment is a rigged game where the winner is the person who yells the loudest. I feel a hundred times more empowered dealing with a clogged sewer in a home I own than I ever did dealing with Martha, Bill, or Robert. They are bullies, and you can’t truly win against bullies. You can only walk away, and fight the fights that really matter.


Previously: Adventures at the Intersection of Homeownership And Sewage

Jake Mohan is a writer, teacher, and musician who lives in the Twin Cities. He is on Twitter.


35 Comments / Post A Comment

honey cowl (#1,510)

Jake is the best. Write all the things, Jake, we will read them.

bgprincipessa (#699)

Yes, well done, sir.

wallrock (#1,003)

It must be a common trait for Midwestern landlords to go from 0 to 100 on the rage-o-meter because I’ve had a few in Madison as well. The worst one was an initially genial older man that was very concerning as to the well-being of the apartment walls. He expressly forbade hanging pictures or posters unless you utilized the corkboard strips he’d affixed to the walls. My roommates and I agreed and tacked up a few posters in the living room but otherwise left the walls alone. Two months in we received a letter decrying our defacement of the kitchen and threatening eviction. When I called him about it he said that he’d been checking on the apartment during the day when we were all out and claimed the kitchen was “just ruined now” and that he was “incredibly disappointed in our behavior.” I think it might have been the ironing board leaned up against the wall behind the back door. The remaining eight months were strained to say the least, and that security deposit was of course used up by “wall repairs.”

@wallrock Ha! What is it with landlords “checking on things” while you’re out? Isn’t that… not legal? My landlady let it slip to my grandparents (while they were cat-sitting) that she would pop in during the day to “make sure the kitty isn’t lonely.” ???!!!

ETA my landlady lives 25 minutes away from my building, so it was a big effort on her part.

bgprincipessa (#699)

I would feel so, so violated. I am so happy that has not happened to me (at least that I know of?!)

@wallrock Ah landlords in college towns… I think they’re sure they can get away with it, as many of their tenants are young and naive. However, I must admit that I do my fair share of undergraduate bashing. Kids these days *shakes fist*.

chic noir (#713)

@bgprincipessa- Yup as far as you know of. I hope I haven’t had one of those creapy landlords who installs hidden cameras around my apartment to catch me while I’m naked.

Megano! (#124)

@Madeline Shoes It is 100% illegal in Ontario! (It doesn’t stop some people from doing it though, though as far as I know it’s never happened to me. I would FLIP THE FUCK OUT if I found out it had, I don’t like strangers coming into my apartment when I’m not there AT ALL.)

MissMushkila (#1,044)

I do not think this is an unusual number of batshit crazy landlords to have encountered in Minneapolis in the last several years. I also think you would have won if you had taken any of them to court.

I say that as someone who filed to take her last landlord to court. The woman I had rented my last apartment from (which was technically in St. Louis Park, but walking distance from Calhoun and uptown) sold the building to a rental company after I had given my two months notice one month earlier. The new company tried to tell me I wasn’t allowed to move out at the end of my lease, withheld the entirety of my deposit, and yelled at me a lot. So I filed in conciliation court. They agreed to settle for twice my deposit the night before we went to court (but claimed they wouldn’t and I had no case literally up until that evening).

Which was awesome, but also a real pain in the ass and extremely daunting for the conflict-averse. I think often landlords of the sketchy variety deliberately rip people off because they know that 9/10 renters don’t want to spend 3 months writing official letters, calling renters’ hotlines and the attorney general, documenting emails and phone calls, and paying filing fees (not to mention the time it takes to go to court on a weekday).

I totally understand why a person chooses NOT to do those things. But I also would encourage someone to do it, and felt morally required to myself, because part of the reason those living below the poverty line have to deal with being ripped off is because everyone lets these guys get away with ripping them off. It is really a lot of work to navigate the justice system, even as someone with a lot of privilege.

I guess I disagree that there is no way to win against bullies or that fighting to hold landlords accountable is not (in general) a worthwhile fight.

selenana (#673)

@MissMushkila I like this comment very much.

skyisfalling (#3,769)

I’m similarly conflict-averse, but this inspired me to call my old landlord to ask about my never-returned security deposit. No answers yet, but salvo No. 1 was friendly enough. Thanks, Jake!

julebsorry (#1,572)

Oh man, I felt all of these so much. I have only once gotten a deposit back in the many apartments I’ve rented, despite being a clean freak who both cleaned personally and had professionals clean afterwards.
I had a great landlord freakout story last year. My husband and I were experiencing a cockroach problem of epic proportions. As in, you couldn’t leave a drink unattended for more than a minute because bugs would crawl into it (gross, I know). Months go by with daily phone calls to the management company, who keeps promising to take action but never actually does anything. Finally, it gets to the point where we start withholding rent. The actual owner of the apartment then emails us an extremely angry note, threatening to throw us out in the street us that very day if we didn’t give him the money (this is not legal according to NYC tenant law, but whatever). We calmly ask him if he’s aware of the roach situation and detail our documented attempts to work with the management company. On receiving our email, the owner (who lives in FL and has never seen our house, which btw was spotless and professionally cleaned once a week)sent the following reply (posted verbatim):
“Thanks for bringing the roach situation to our attention. We will be adding the cost of the extermination for your apartment to the late rent that you have not paid. Obviously the roaches are due to your inability to maintain a clean environment which has created surroundings that they thrive in. Again thanks for bringing this to our attention. Please note: we will need to exterminate as often as possible to elevate the situation you have caused and all associated costs will be your responsibility.”
Later, we received a followup email that again told me he was going to “have the sheriff throw all your possessions in the street” (again, not according to NYC law he wouldn’t) and that he’d be contacting his lawyer. Finally I just responded “wouldn’t it be easier, and more likely to solve the problem, to just send an EXTERMINATOR?”
Two days later, he sent a professional exterminator to treat the entire building which nearly immediately solved the problem. We sent him the money, and never heard from him again. I can’t help but wonder if he finally asked his lawyer, who let him know that he was lucky his ass hadn’t been sued by now and told him to calm the eff down.

jfruh (#161)

Oh, man, I had Initially Amicable But Then Eventually Revealed To Be Insane Old Hippie Landlord when I lived in Oakland, CA! Among his other crimes he “fixed” a leak in a skylight by painting over it, put up an crazy all-caps typed note around the property warning us of a “rogue tenant impersonating a landlord whom you should not talk to”, and responded to questions about getting a dog with outrage that we would even THINK about abusing a dog by cooping it up in such a small apartment, despite the fact that our apartment was quite spacious and other tenants in smaller apartments in the same property had dogs.

The best part though was that after I moved out I joined the same YMCA he belonged to and started seeing him naked on a regular basis. Thank goodness he didn’t remember me.

xenu01 (#4,239)

@jfruh I really almost thought your old landlord was my current landlord except he doesn’t live in Oakland, just owns property there. Mine rented us an apartment three years ago with a kitchen counter that he promised to fix well before we moved in (there is a gap of about an inch between counter and wall, which I try not to fixate on while washing dishes because it OPENS UP INTO THE WALL’S INTERIOR AAAAH), “fixed” the actually-falling-apart-stairs by painting them a bright shade of Hideous Leftover Red I Got Cheap Somewhere, and leaves hilarious notes for everyone in the building about how we shouldn’t wash socks and underwear or shower.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

Oh, my other big advice with landlords like this is find out if there is a nonprofit that offers legal advice to those making smaller incomes and dealing with renter/landlord problems.

In MN, is excellent – you can email or call them whenever you want and ask questions about different aspects of the law. They are prompt and patient and wonderful. I could not have pushed my most recent issue without their assistance.

sandwiches (#1,688)

oh, so glad i read this right before i’m going to tour an apartment building that has 1 star on apartmentratings. so glad. :/

hellonheels (#1,407)

This actually does not seem like that many crazy landlords to have encountered over a period of several years. I’ve lived in seven apartments over the last 10 years and three of the landlords fell somewhere on the crazy spectrum (and my landlord now is pretty much a straight up slumlord, so, four?).

The worst was a mother/adult daughter landlord/building manager combo who lived together in the apartment above me. I lived there for a year in peace but planned to move cross country sometime in the six months after the lease expired. About six weeks before the lease ended I asked the daughter if I could have a month-to-month lease, and she said she had to talk to her mom about it but that she did not think it would be an issue, then proceeded to avoid any and all contact with me until the day my lease ended, when she just dropped a new one-year lease in my mailbox. I refused to sign it, because by that time I knew I would be moving in four months. I won’t detail all the crazy that transpired, but in a nutshell:
-They tried to kick me out at the end of that same month, which was illegal (and verbally, which, no)
-I responded with a polite certified-mail letter detailing why they were only legally able to kick me out at the end of the following month;
-The daughter responded with a voicemail diatribe in which, in addition to assailing my character, she informed me that it was not their policy to conduct any business communication in writing (oddly enough, this policy extended to eviction notices; she again thought she could just do it over the phone) and claimed not to have an email address (this was 2011);
-I responded with another certified letter stating that, with the law on my side, I would be moving out only on the last day of the next month, even though they had not actually gone through the proper channels to evict me and technically needed to do that before the current month ended;
-They did not take this well and banged on my door and windows screaming at me on two or three consecutive nights, but still did not serve any formal notice to quit;
-I moved out anyway, and the process went as smoothly as could be expected, which in this case meant the daughter spent several minutes screaming at my mom and my brother’s girlfriend while I was driving stuff to the friend’s house where I would be crashing for two months.

They did, shockingly, return my security deposit on time minus a replacement refrigerator. Due to a technicality in MA state law I was entitled to the whole thing, but I did not press it because a) I had inadvertently damaged the refrigerator and fair is fair and b) I just wanted to be done with them. What was really ironic, though, was that in the beginning, before she went total sociopath on me, in an effort to be gracious I told her that if they could not immediately line up another tenant, I would be willing to stay on another month (or two, up until the end of December when I had to move) and vacate on less than the 30 days/one rental period’s notice that was required by law so they would not be out of the rental income (for the record I do acknowledge that I was partly responsible for the miscommunication that led to this mess, though I’m not sure what I could have done differently short of resorting to her tactic of ambushing me at home). She vociferously declined this offer, which turned out to be a bad decision, because when I finally moved to CA, the apartment was still vacant.

EM (#1,012)

@hellonheels That is CRAZY! Also were you ever tempted to call the cops when they were banging on your windows screaming at you??

hellonheels (#1,407)

@Michelle I probably should have, but I just ignored her. The funny thing is, there were no lights on that were visible to the outside, and I did not have a car to park in the lot, so she had no way of knowing I was even there.

The craziest thing to me was the flat-out refusal to communicate in writing. I have a theory that she may have been particularly incensed by all of my certified mail because she was a postal worker herself, so it was like I was using her employer against her.

EM (#1,012)

@hellonheels I would suspect they were either (1) clueless or (2) willfully ignorant and hoping later they could claim it was your fault there was no paper trail.

EM (#1,012)

I have had one crazy landlord, but reading this reminded me of when I hired a cleaning service when I moved from an apartment I’d been living in for three years. The professional cleaning was a graduation gift from my mom. They charged me for two and a half hours even though they had only been there for one-and-a-half, and when I called to point out the error the owner of the company tried several abusive tactics, including: (1) telling me that I was stealing from her and she was a nice person and why would I want to hurt her like that? (2) claiming that my apartment was “the filthiest place her employees had ever seen” and so they had charged me fairly for the amount of work (blatantly untrue) (3) she claimed my mother had left her a “threatening” voicemail (also untrue) and that if I refused to pay she would file charges with the police against my mom and (4) calling me over and over from DIFFERENT PHONE NUMBERS so that I would pick up demanding that we pay the full amount and asking me ominously if I believed in karma. Keep in mind this was over like $125.

Worker Parasite (#2,292)

Holy crap. I’ve never had any serious issues getting deposits back from any of the places I’ve rented, which I’m now thanking my lucky stars for. I try to be proactive when giving notice and ask exactly what is expected of me when I vacate, but I don’t think that would prevent crazy. I almost always rent in professionally managed buildings – dealing with owners directly strikes me as dicey because I can totally see the crazy level skyrocketing.

Megano! (#124)

ilu so much, Ontario Tenant’s Act.

fennel (#2,494)

oh, landlord-crazy. I have had all kinds, including one with a genuine Russian mail-order bride.

the wackiest was an elderly landlord possibly going through dementia who didn’t trust her family enough to pass on managership of the rental properties, which were enormous and which had been made into a kind of family “trust.” She had an expensive office downtown, and all the office equipment was vintage from the decades of the 1950s-1980s — phones, adding machines, filing cabinets, etc. She didn’t trust the super to empty out the laundry machines quarters, so from time to time I would see her going between properties and her car with an actual grocery cart filled with sacks of quarters like Scrooge McDuck. She wouldn’t pay for maintenance too big to be taken care of by the super, who was a raging daytime alcoholic, and she wouldn’t follow through on paying back deposits when people moved out (she would just say “the receptionist will do it as soon as she gets back” over and over), but she would also occasionally forget to cash checks or do it really belatedly, especially if it was the check of separate rent that I had to pay for my parking space (in an unpaved back yard — in the city). This was all very annoying at the time, but I think that in the end I may have come out ahead financially? After I moved out, and her family took over, they would send sheets of photocopies to me of my old rent checks to my workplace with the word “UNPAID” written in capital letters but no letter or explanation attached. The total amount was over $5000, which is definitely way more than the amount of actual checks of mine she left uncashed. A friend said they were sending the photocopies without any letter/explanation for legal reasons, because they didn’t have the right to demand it anymore legally, and they were hoping I would just pay up out of fear?? (I didn’t).

And the apartment was in a beautiful building despite being very cheap — on the National Register of Historic Buildings. So confusing.

xenu01 (#4,239)

@fennel So awful, but so funny! But so awful.

I spent a solid six hours cleaning my studio apartment before I moved out. It was freaking spotless. Flash forward three weeks later, not only do I not get my security deposit back, I get a freaking BILL for $280. The rental sheet stated that the apartment was filthy and that I had destroyed the blinds. I know I should’ve asked for photos/taken it up in court, but I just didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with it so I just paid them.

tiktaalik (#778)

My last landlord was a GEM. Backstory: We lived in FL. She was an older (late 50s/early 60s) woman that had lived in Maine her whole life with her husband, and then they saved up to buy this house in FL, but he died of some fast-moving cancer before they got to move in. She didn’t want to sell the house, but she also didn’t want to live in it alone. As far as I know, they never lived in the house themselves.

She was an OK landlord at first. She did have an annoying habit of finding excuses to come by our house 2-3 times a week, but she was kind of motherly and never stayed long. She always complimented my decorating and housekeeping skills and played with our pets. I could write a book about this woman and our time in her house, but here are some highlights:

1. Despite the fact that we were not her first renters, she didn’t have a lease. She preferred month to month. My dad is a property manager, and this ain’t my first rodeo, so I insisted on a lease. She let me write it myself. In a surprise to no one, it was shockingly biased for the tenant.

2. She did not ask for any sort of deposit for us or for our pets, but they were mentioned by name in the lease. Halfway through our time in the house, she decided that she didn’t like our pet rabbits and demanded that I get rid of them. She suggested putting these (old, geriatric) rabbits into outdoor hutches (in FL in August) or that we give them to anyone we might know living out in the suburbs with more space. I refused, on the grounds that we had specifically gone apartment-hunting with our pets’ well-being in mind, and this was a dealbreaker for us which was why it was in the lease. I should mention that while rabbit hutches can get gross and she saw them on a particularly gross day, we cleaned the cages weekly and we took very good care of them.

3. When I got a new job in another state that would mean we had to break our lease (something I specifically planned for in the lease so that we could do it with no penalty; we just had to give 30 days’ notice), she tried to get us to give her an extra $1000 for breaking the lease. This was not our monthly rent or any other reasonable number – she pulled it out of her ass. I declined. I offered to try to find new tenants, which wouldn’t have been hard given the popular neighborhood and low rent, but she decided that renting was too much trouble and we were taking advantage of her so she’d just rather sell the house. Our last month there we were instructed to keep the house (in the midst of trying to pack for an inter-state move) “show ready.” She never showed it.

4. When we moved out, she left a series of abusive voicemails on my phone about what disgusting pigs we were and how her house would never be clean again, etc. Please note: I was 6.5 months pregnant on moving day, and I spent HOURS cleaning on my hands and knees. It was much cleaner than when we had moved in, and even the realtor that did a walkthrough with her commented on how much nicer the house looked. She complained that the whole place smelled of cat, that there were tufts of CAT HAIR under the FRIDGE, a splatter of GREASE on the side of the stove, and worst of all, a bit of ONION SKIN in one cabinet. For these things, she wanted $250 for cleaners. I refused and told her that all of those could be easily cleaned in seconds, and reminded her of the money she promised my husband for painting the outside of the house that she never paid him. More grumbling about how we were taking advantage of her, etc.

I finally had to block her number so she would quit calling me to yell at me, and we never gave her a forwarding address since there was no deposit to worry about. I saw the house on Craigslist a week later with photos specifically of upgrades my husband and I made talking about how “pristine, well-kept, and immaculate” the house was. She was a total nutjob.

szarah (#3,666)

I work at a property management company and these stories are AMAZING. It’s funny how even though I work in aspects of landlordship (basically I’m the person who gets everything repaired) I also have a pretty strong distrust of landlords. I feel like I’m very laidback since I know how crazy tenants can be, but I’m also still waiting for my landlord to screw me over.

ThatJenn (#916)

Gah! I am a landlord (and have been for most of the last nine years), and these stories make me weep. They also make me feel a little bit better about my few shortcomings as a landlord (not that it encourages me to keep having those shortcomings, I just… understand now why the few things that are non-ideal have not made my current tenant move out over the last six years). They also make me grateful for where I live – I almost never hear terrible landlord stories beyond “they didn’t fix things quickly enough” around here.

The first apartment I ever moved into was $900 a month for one bedroom, one living room, a small kitchen and a tiny bathroom, which I still think is a pretty great price by Hawaii standards! However, it was in a bad neighborhood, our neighbors had a terrible rat problem that the landlords refused to take care of, and pale white mushrooms periodically grew out of the bathroom. I will never move into an apartment again without taking pictures of everything first, documenting every landlord-tenant interaction, and getting all the landlord’s promises of repairs put down in the lease. UGH.

Yep. I don’t know if I can blame it on MN, but I can say that the places I rented in ND were no problem.
It really doesn’t help that most municipalities don’t require licensing of landlords or education / testing.
Every place I’ve rented here has been a nightmare.
My advice to everyone is the same: Get a copy of the Tenants’ Rights handbook from the MN Attorney General office (it’s free). Give one to your landlord too. It’s all pretty crystal clear.
Ultimately I think the real solution is to start petitioning State and Local Governments to seriously tighten up the laws and crack the hell down on all Landlords everywhere, requiring licensing, classes, annual inspections (with fees) including time with the tenant without the Landlord around so they may speak freely.

Wonderful sir, its too awesome!
Ramadan Mubarak Quotes 2014

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