For years, AOA has asked us for nightmare tenant stories and no one has ever sent one in. Well, here is my story. Hopefully, future new owners will learn from this.
Back in 1980 I bought my second apartment building. It was a six unit building in Redondo Beach one block from the beach. Because the owner was a frail and timid 89 year-old woman who had inherited this building and 32 others from her husband, she did not understand real estate and wanted out of all of her buildings.
Due to the condition of the building and the fact she wanted a quick sale and it was during the Carter era with 18% interest rates, I bought the building for $215,000 with 10% down and she carried the note at 9% for three years.
The tenants had learned that paying on time didn’t matter much to the owner and when I bought the building every tenant was 60-90 days behind. The building was in terrible shape. Every unit needed extensive work and it needed a new roof.
Being 26 and having just been hired as an airline pilot at LAX, I had lots of free time to fix up the building. Slowly, I evicted each tenant and fixed up each unit and re-rented to a new quality tenant who would pay on time. By the time the final unit was fixed up and ready to be leased, I was out of cash and very anxious to rent it.
It had been difficult to rent this unit due to the fact it faced a parking lot, alley and trash cans.
The apartment was a three bedroom, two bath unit that had been vacant for three to four weeks.
On a Saturday afternoon I was mowing the lawn and a nice new Cadillac pulled up in front of my building (first red flag).
There was a nice man, Dr. Hall with his wife and three kids all very well dressed and very polite. He told me he had just finished his residency and was starting work at UCLA medical center as a physician in Internal Medicine.
He explained they were doing construction work on a new house in Westwood they were building and needed an apartment for six to eight months that was close to his wife’s family in Redondo Beach. His wife also worked at UCLA and her parents could watch the kids.
His family went through the unit and he was interested. Being a weekend, I asked him to fill out the rental application and I would let him know on Monday or Tuesday if he could become a tenant.
He told me that would be fine, but they really needed to find a unit now and this was the perfect location and could he please pay me IN CASH a security deposit and three month’s rent and he would fill out the application and return it next week – (another red flag).
During our discussion, he pulled out fresh $100 bills and tried to put them in my hand (another red flag). We talked for 30-45 minutes and he seemed like a quality guy and I really needed that wad of cash. He didn’t seem to have the vocabulary or education of a doctor which I found odd but dismissed. Later, I found out he was a janitor at UCLA in the hospital and not a doctor.
Finally, I made one of the most expensive mistakes of my life which I hope none of you ever do. He gave me the wad of cash and I gave him a receipt and the keys to the unit.
The family moved in and they were perfect tenants. They never called with any complaints.
He never did sign the lease and kept saying when I came for the rent on the 4th month (since he had paid cash in advance for the first 3 months) he would give me the signed lease and pay the rent in cash for another three months in advance (another red flag).
When I showed up on the first of the month to collect his rent, for the first time someone I had never seen opened the door. That person told me he had never seen me before and told me not to bother him ever again. He said he was a friend of Dr. Hall and he did not have the rent and in fact, he did not recognize my ownership of the building. He asked me to prove I owned the building and until I had that proof of ownership, he saw no reason to pay the rent.
For the next two weeks I kept trying to reach Dr. Hall. He always had a great excuse and said he would pay the rent and the late fee. He was always busy at work and had been given a lot of overtime at UCLA.
Finally after three weeks, I gave up and hired a NON-EVICTION lawyer who said he could take this one because an eviction is a “simple matter”. Huge mistake.
We issued a 3- Day Notice and went through all the steps for eviction. He did contest the unlawful detainer and we went to court. On the first visit to court, they asked for another three week delay due to a medical emergency in the family back East. The Judge agreed and gave a delay of three weeks.
Then we went back to court and when the judge picked up the file he told us it had several documents missing. Due to having an incomplete file, the case was dismissed and we had to start fresh from ground zero with a new 3-Day Notice.
Why were documents missing? Dr. Hall or someone else went to the clerk’s office and wanted to see the file the day before the hearing. The clerk left them with the file and they removed some of the documents and gave the file back to the clerk. Instantly, the case goes away because of missing documentation.
When we returned to court again with all new papers in the file, a new problem came up.
Many other people had shown up at the hearing. They told the judge that they were all renting rooms in the apartment but they were not listed on the court documents for the eviction. They had been paying rent to Dr. Hall for the rooms and they had rights too, so again it was dismissed
This time I hired a new lawyer that only specialized in evictions – a great decision. Also, this lawyer charged a flat fee that was 50% less than the previous lawyer.
During this entire 10 month process, I would be at the building doing gardening or making repairs and Dr. Hall and his two sons would closely follow me around the building. They would stand inches behind me outside my line of sight the entire time. Dr. Hall always carried a crow bar and one or two of his sons carried baseball bats. Sometimes, they would follow me around for hours in silence. He would not talk to me; he simply glared at me from behind the entire time in silence.
Before we went to court the fourth time, my parents called me. The Sheriff was at their home at 6:00 AM. Dr. Hall had filed a lis pendens on their residence saying that since the rent was going to their address, that was my business address and that property was part of the case for their eviction.
So we hired another lawyer to get the lis pendens removed. This took three months and cost $3,500.
Finally, after some more delays eight or nine months had passed and I did have a date that the Sheriff would come out to the property for the eviction. The two Sheriff’s showed up. We knocked on the door and the tenant opened the door. Dr. Halls’ wife was pregnant. They showed us a California law that stated if a woman was a tenant and pregnant during the winter months of November-March that she could not be evicted. The Sheriff’s had never heard of this law, but it was enough to stop the eviction.
My lawyer found out that was a law years ago, but it was taken off the books in 1937. More delay. Again, we scheduled the Sheriff to come out for the eviction.
This time when they knocked on the door there were 20 people in the apartment having a church service. They showed us another law that said you cannot interrupt or evict people during a church service in a residence. Again, the Sheriff had never heard of this law but again they left and would not evict. This was not a law at all – it was a law in Ohio, but not in California.
More delay and finally, the Sheriff showed up again. They sent two small female deputies to the unit. The tenant opened the door said nothing and proceeded to hit one female deputy in the face. The deputies closed the door and backed off and called for assistance. In less than 10 minutes two vans showed up with 10 HUGE deputies.
They kicked the door down and entered. Every tenant was lying on the floor. The person who had hit the deputy had left through an open rear window never to be caught. They had to pick up each tenant and carry them onto the lawn in front of the building and told all of them to leave the area.
The entire time, every tenant is yelling they were injured and they were going to sue me.
They kept telling the Sheriff that they had been paying their rent in full the entire time. They had no idea why they were being evicted.
When they were all gone I went inside the unit. They had removed all the drapes and mini-blinds and every light bulb and sink and toilet and stove. Every wall had been hit with a hammer and they had dog and cat feces all over the floor.
So be very careful who you rent to and do your due diligence. When you add in legal fees, missed flights (loss of income), lost rent and the cost to repair the unit it was over $20,000. The unit had no rental income for approximately 10 months.
The funny part is about 10 years after this happened I received a call from a man in Bel Air. He was going to rent his house to Dr. Hall from UCLA for $3,500 per month. Dr. Hall had given my name as a reference. Sincerely, Stephen Lee