Sun | Jun 16, 2024

Tenants from hell

Several frustrated property owners turning to short-term rentals to escape horrors

Published:Monday | March 20, 2023 | 12:30 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer

An attorney, who handles contentious landlord-tenant cases, says there is a noticeable increase in the number of local property owners deciding to list their properties for vacation rentals as opposed to long-term options as a result of harrowing experiences with tenants.

Rowan Mullings told The Gleaner that the tenants often leave behind large sums of outstanding rent, unpaid water bills, and extensive damage to property running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, leaving landlords frustrated and bewildered.

Through his experience doing conveyancing, Mullings has noted that many people who are buying property for investment are now shunning long-term rentals, with more clients saying they list their premises on services such as Airbnb to avoid problematic tenants.

This situation, Mullings reasoned, could result in a diminishing market of available long-term residential properties, making it more difficult for people who are unable to buy a house to locate places to rent at reasonable prices.

“I am now seeing quite often where the by-laws, which never used to be the case before, of these gated communities and stratas are now making provisions for Airbnb on how it is to be done. That says to me that they are aware of the significant demand of properties for Airbnb properties rather than long-term rentals,” Mullings said.

The commercial lawyer noted some tenants made being a landlord a difficult job and the court process through which landlords seek redress is usually tedious and expensive, and, in most cases, the tenant ends up vacating the property and evading the landlord.

“The applications or claims for recovery of possession is not always about the rent because the law says, if the person should [come to court and] pay the rent, then your cause of action goes away,” he explained.

Therefore, the landlord would, in most cases, cite some other permissible cause prescribed by law, such as the premises being in disrepair, he added.

Landlords are unable to claim for rent until it is past due by 30 days.

“When you start the action, the court is not going to give you a date immediately. So the time between the cause of action for non-payment of rent ... and when you actually get a date for the court, you are looking at another possibility of three of four months may be lost,” he said.

The unfortunate circumstances, Mullings added, included those individuals who, once served with a notice to quit, “think that it is a licensed notice for them to no longer pay any rent”.

After the matter is heard in court and an order for recovery is issued, the landlord then has to wait for the order to be enforced and then for the bailiff to serve it, resulting in more time ticking away.

If a warrant of levy is issued, the bailiff may charge fees based on the number of rooms at the property. They might also have to break locks to the property to get in [and] contract a forklift to remove assets of value, which may be levied for rent which is outstanding.

Water bills

Unpaid water bills is also cause for concern, as Mullings shared that he dealt with a case where the bill went up to $220,000.

Water charges are linked to the land, so if a tenant leaves a bill behind, it is the responsibility of the property owner to pay the arrears.

A number of landlords detailed their experiences with tenants from hell to The Gleaner, sympathising with those who were now only accepting short-term stays.

Charles*, a middle-aged man who has been renting property for a decade, recalled what he described as a “horror story”.

The tenant was referred to him by a real estate agent, who said they had verified the potential occupant. But once the family moved in, they paid one month’s rent and failed to hand over another dollar.

“I took them to court, and this took nine months, during which time no rent was paid and no water [bills],” he said, indicating that the arrears for water charges totalled more than $100,000.

Through a court order, the tenant finally vacated the property, leaving the bathrooms with filth and substantial damage to the home, including stealing a copper pipe, which was used to channel cooking gas, he said.

The outstanding rent stood at $1.2 million, Charles said, adding that he has not been able to locate the tenant since to collect the funds.

Added to that are legal fees of roughly $200,000, which he had to cover.

Dogs damage property

At his second property, Charles said that a female tenant brought dogs into the house for breeding and turned the premises into a business, unbeknown to him.

“The dogs totally destroyed the wood and everything in the house,” he said as he bemoaned the malicious intentions of potential tenants who “are coming into premises and don’t intend to pay”.

Mike*, who owns property in Hellshire, St Catherine, recalled failing to do background checks on a tenant because he was familiar with her.

“I said because I know her and is a female and she have a young child, that is what caught me off-guard, trust me,” he recounted.

They agreed on three people living at the home, which included a child. However, within months, some eight people inhabited the home with the initial tenant absent from the property.

“She told me that she spending most of her time in town and her sister was the one supposed to pay the rent,” Mike recalled.

After serving notice, he went to the court to get an order for them to vacate the premises.

The outstanding rent at the time totalled $271,000, which he has not yet recovered despite allowing them to pay in instalments. They also owed $144,000 for water.

“I spent days upon days wasting my time at the court and I lose more than that, to be honest, and I just couldn’t bother [any more], and that money gone down the drain,” he told The Gleaner, adding that is was understandable why some property owners could now be seeking only short-term tenants.

“I don’t blame them at all because it rough, y’know, because you going to the court and sometimes you feel as if you are the one that has committed a wrong,” he said.

Maria*, who owns property in Molynes Gardens, St Andrew, also recalled her nightmarish experience.

She told The Gleaner that her male tenant stopped paying rent after three months of occupancy and refused to leave when he was served notice.

The landlord said she then sought the intervention of the police, “but it wasn’t working out and the police told us that because we agreed to have him stay on the property, he has as much access to the property as we do, so he’s not trespassing, and they basically said that they didn’t have any cause to take him off the property”.

She said that the tenant kept the room in an unkempt state and had damaged the door hinges, the toilet system, and a pipe that connected the bathroom sink to the septic tank.

“It was just a horrible, traumatic experience,” Maria said.

*Names changed.