Tenants from hell

CHEWED UP: Landlord Cassian Steidle’s last tenant left him with chewed doorhandles and ripped up carpet in the main bedroom.
Bruce Mercer

CHEWED UP: Landlord Cassian Steidle’s last tenant left him with chewed doorhandles and ripped up carpet in the main bedroom.

A disappearing tenant has left a Hamilton landlord with a damaged flat full of rubbish and a repair bill of several thousand dollars.

Carpet has been ripped out of the main bedroom of the Dinsdale property, doorknobs chewed by the woman's puppy and cigarettes have been stubbed out in the sink.

Plus there's the missing rent.

Cassian Steidle's tenant disappeared, leaving behind rubbish, food leftovers, old clothes, enough beer bottles to fill ...
Bruce Mercer

Cassian Steidle's tenant disappeared, leaving behind rubbish, food leftovers, old clothes, enough beer bottles to fill the garden shed, and in the garage piles of rubbish - and the carpet from the main bedroom.

Landlord Cassian Steidle's had to call in family and friends for a clean-up effort - and it's going to hit him in the pocket.

"We're going to paint the whole house, we need a new carpet from top to bottom. I might need a new vanity plus the plumbing, probably need to get the bathroom door replaced. Counted without the missing rent, on damage, probably about $6500."

The woman was two weeks behind in her rent and clearly wouldn't be paying this week's.

"Before someone can move in there's going to be another one, two weeks at least. Every time that's more than $300 missing," he said.

The woman was a mother with two young kids and moved in about halfway through 2013.

"It started really really good. She was lovely, she was forthcoming, she was co-operative," Steidle said.

After about nine months, when her partner changed jobs, it "started to stutter".

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The woman started running $300-$400 behind with rent, despite frequent reminders.

She didn't respond to a notice about a coming rent increase and when Steidle got hold of her she said she'd given notice she was moving out.

By the time the Steidles got back from a holiday last weekend she'd gone.

But she'd left rubbish, food leftovers, old clothes, enough beer bottles to fill the garden shed, and in the garage piles of rubbish - and the carpet from the main bedroom.

There was a bent windowframe, door handles were missing and several of those that remained had been chewed on by the woman's dog.

Yet Steidle's philosophical about the experience, saying renting houses has ups and downs like any other business.

"I suppose you can learn from your mistakes when it comes for looking for the right tenants. . . But there's no crystal ball where you can find the right answer."

A good insurance policy was also vital, he said.

PROTECTION LESSONS FOR LANDLORDS WHEN TENANTS 'GO BAD'

There are signs that a good tenant is "going bad", says a Hamilton property manager.

Melanie Yeoman, general manager of Harcourts Rentals, says monitoring and prevention is better than a cure for damaged properties.

"There are signs that that's going to happen," she says.

"Just little things like they stop paying rent. Or if they miss a week or if they're getting erratic, if they've usually paid really well. Because sometimes tenants just go bad."

Harcourts inspects each of the properties it manages every 13 weeks, or more often if the manager has concerns about how the property is being treated.

The maximum frequency that a landlord or property manager can inspect a property is once a month.

Yeoman says a warning sign is when the tenant gets defensive or aggravated, rather than apologising and agreeing to fix damage.

She says the company checks the banking every day to make sure rent payments are in order.

"So we know that same day if they've missed the rent the night before."

Vetting tenants when they first apply for a property is another good preventative measure, says Yeoman.

They look out for signs of drug use and other obvious indicators.

"But sometimes people present really well. So we have an application form where people have to give three rental references."

Check all of the references, and make sure they are genuine references rather than family or friends, says Yeoman.

She also runs a credit check and finds out if the prospective tenant has any history at the claims tribunal.

If it's a first-time tenant or they don't have enough rental references, a reference can be taken from an employer. Or a family member could act as a guarantor for the property.

Yeoman says these are all services that property managers provide that reduce the chance of a rental disaster.

"It happens a lot more with DIY landlords.

" It doesn't happen that often for us."

It is common for money to be taken out of the bond at the end of a tenancy, but it's usually for minor repairs, cleaning, or occasionally rent arrears.

Big issues like holes in walls usually get noticed at an inspection and tenants are made to fix them at the time.

Evictions do happen, but not too often, she says. Harcourts Rentals has evicted fewer than 10 tenants in the last year.

Only one property the company manages was trashed in the last year.

"She'd been a good tenant up until basically she stopped paying rent and then she did abandon the property."

The case went to tribunal and the owner got $7000 back to cover damage and rent arrears.

While some cases can be mediated, if it goes to the tribunal at a busy time of year the complainant could have to wait six weeks and may not be receiving rent for that time.

Yeoman says the property in this case wasn't in excellent condition to start with, and that's typical of these cases.

There are very few issues with high-end properties, she says.

The other problem is if a tenant abandons a damaged property it can be hard to find them to get compensation, says Yeoman.

"You might never get it back . . . Or they pay it off at like $10 for the next 900 years."

 - Waikato Times

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