Housing Horror Stories (and How to Get Help!)
In the world of real estate, there’s a chance that you or someone you know may eventually find yourself in a housing horror story.
From tenants turned bad apples to contractors playing magic tricks, let the trusted team at MilitaryByOwner light the way to your options and available recourses. Let's take a look at a few scary scenarios you may encounter.
Tenants Behaving Badly
Becoming a landlord can be a rewarding experience on the road to building wealth, but it isn't without risks. If you fear you've encountered a monster tenant and you're struggling with late rent, noise, cleanliness, pets behaving badly, or neighbor complaints, start with these steps.
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Review your lease, any resident handbooks, HOA policies, and tenant responsibilities under your state's Landlord/Tenant Laws. Before you engage a tenant, you'll have a stronger argument if you can cite a specific reference or clause in the lease or elsewhere as to why their incident is an issue and when they must correct it. An initial phone call may be a good first step, but it's also pertinent to capture your attempts via email or mail as well.
Unfortunately, some tenants may not respond at all to requests for correction, whether issued by you, a property manager, or legal statute, and may even become defiant or aggressive. In the event you find yourself with a truly bad tenant who won’t correct their violations, or worse, will not leave, you will need to evaluate legal options for resolution and to preserve your property.
There may be pro-bono or low-cost options for local mediation or arbitration in your city or county, but in egregious scenarios, you may need to consult legal counsel to proceed with formal eviction.
Depending on the issue, or potential damage to the property, cutting your losses and selling the property may be the best exit, particularly if the property has appreciated well and you'll still make a profit from the sale. Be upfront with any potential real estate agent, both sellers and buyers agents, as to why you've decided to list the property. Seeing a "For Sale" sign in the front yard can provide the necessary jolt and writing on the wall for an unwanted tenant to voluntarily vacate. With a vacated property, you are then free to make any needed repairs or sell as-is, with a full disclosure of needed repairs, cash in your capital gains and move on.
Landlords Who’ve Ghosted
Whether you're renting from a private landlord or a property management company, unfortunately there is a possibility to encounter a bad experience. Problems can arise in a variety of ways, from a long-distance or overwhelmed landlord who struggles to coordinate needed maintenance, to a slacking, or worse, embezzling property manager. If you've encountered an unresponsive landlord or property manager as a tenant, you do have several options for resolution.
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First step? Consult your lease.
As a Tenant you are afforded several landlord responsibilities under State Landlord/Tenant law.
For example, your landlord must:
- Maintain all vital services, such as working plumbing.
- Provide access to heat, electricity, and running water, proper trash receptacles, secure entry (such as locking doors and windows).
- Address any repairs that would jeopardize health and safety.
Most problems arise with repairs that a tenant has requested, yet the landlord fails to do.
A good lease should outline how a tenant may request repairs, either via an online form, email, or phone, and what the process is for an emergency repair, for an issue that threatens life, or property. As a tenant, be mindful that common household maintenance such as changing light bulbs, mowing the lawn, clearing snow from the sidewalk, or a repair that's needed due to tenant damage, will most likely be the tenant's responsibility. If life is in danger, always evacuate the property and call emergency services, then notify your landlord or property manager.
Request the repair first, as dictated by your lease. This may be through an electronic work order system.
If no response, send a personal follow-up email (or phone call) to verify the request was received, and try to get an estimated timeframe of when the issue will be fixed. Email is best, as this offers a “paper trail” of both notification of the repair and the landlord’s response.
State law often dictates for a “reasonable time” for the repair to be made.
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But if sufficient time has passed and multiple requests are going nowhere, it's time to pursue further action. Here are some options.
1) For a private landlord, consider contacting your local housing authority.
Your county or local city government usually has public offices for a Department of Housing or a Housing Authority, either of which you can easily look up and contact. Often, governments require a landlord or property manager to maintain a current Rental License to operate the property, and if they are in violation of this licensing agreement, you now have the backing of the local government to assist you.
2) For a property manager, contact the owning broker for assistance.
If the owning broker also refuses to help, look up the Local, City, or State Real Estate Licensure Board. If the rental is being managed through a property management company, often these managers must also hold current real estate licenses to operate as a leasing manager. If the offense is egregious enough, the Real Estate Board can investigate, reprimand, or even revoke a licensee.
3) Contact the property owner.
Unfortunately, an owner may not realize they've employed a bad property manager, and may regrettably be unaware of much-needed repairs. Even worse, the property manager may actually be creating fake invoices and billing the owners for repairs that are never being done! Most counties have an online residential property look-up, where you can search for the current ownersb y the property address. Additionally, you could request property information via the County Deeds office. If you’re struggling with a bad property manager, resolution might very well be had in alerting the owner.
4) City Code Enforcement Division or City Health Inspector.
Problems with faulty electricity or building construction can be reported and investigated to your local code enforcement division. Pests (those not due to tenant neglect) or health issues, such as mold growing in ventilation shafts, can be reported and pursued by the local health inspection department.
5) JAG and base legal offices.
Although they don't typically handle civil matters or disputes, they may be able to direct you to an applicable real estate or civil contracts attorney who can.
6) Local or national media.
Unfortunately, even military members living in military privatized housing have experienced hazards and housing so fundamentally flawed it deserves to be broadcast at the highest levels.
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It's a scary thought, but sometimes a seemingly well-vetted contractor turns out to be trouble. Trouble with contractors usually manifests in the form of sub-par work, or worse— the discovery that a contractor has taken your money and provided no repairs at all. Most states, and often counties and cities, require contractors to be professionally licensed, and your local licensure board is often a good next step in the event you're unable to resolve issues at a lower level.
Similar to a real estate lease, if there's a problem, begin by reviewing your contract and Scope of Work provided for the project. (Tip: Always ensure you get a detailed line-item Scope of Work from your contractor, particularly for renovations).
Ideally, the contract will provide sufficient detail to provide justification that work was not done as agreed upon. In the case where permits were needed, such as a roof replacement, request an inspector from the permit department to assess if the work meets acceptable workmanship and residential building code.
Ensure you have a written record of your request, via email, certified mail, or perhaps even text. Take pictures and video if you can of the work in question or as proof that no work has been done.
If resolution attempts at a personal level fail, file a complaint with your local licensure board and dispute the charges via credit card or online payment vendor, if possible. Additionally, many states have Consumer Protection Boards, often operated in conjunction with the state’s attorneys general office, and may be able to assist.
With a grain of salt, you could try shining light on the problem, via online business reviews, but this suggestion is offered with a caveat. The contractor could sue you for libel and defamation of their business. If the contractor fails to correct sub-par work or issue a refund, you will likely need to engage legal counsel and seek recourse through small claims court or consider contacting the local police to file an incident report for fraud or theft.
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Real Estate Agents Gone Rogue
Buying or selling real estate can be fraught with emotion, but few things make the experience worse than a difficult real estate agent. The good news is that each state mandates prescribed real estate regulations, both in state law and consumer protections and the training and licensure required to hold a real estate license. Depending on the issue, having a frank conversation may be enough to correct course if problems center primarily around miscommunication.
If the issue is not resolved with direct communication or is a more severe issue, consider contacting the owning broker of the real estate firm or the local chapter of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), if your agent is a member, to ask for remedy. If the issue is a clear violation of law or ethics, you may also be able to lodge a formal complaint through the state's Real Estate Commission. If the commission finds the agent has in fact breached their duties, penalties range from fines, to license suspension, or even revocation.
Real estate can certainly carry its share of toil and trouble! But not to worry, we're here to help with each step of your military housing journey, horror stories included.
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