[Lack of] Rent Payments

We have one house that seems to always have a story. Well, we have two that are consistently late, but the one just says, “it’ll be late,” while this other one has a crazy story. While trying to gather my information on how we’ve worked with her so much, I thought I’d share some of these stories. Perhaps if you’re a tenant, you can see the landlord’s perspective on how this just doesn’t add up and there’s eventually an end to the rope. So just for fun, it’s story time.

This person has a history of fraud. She also had domestic abuse and restraining orders against her that caused us to lose one of the tenants at the beginning of 2020. There are the typical excuses like car maintenance issues, and then there are interesting ones.


March 2020

We started the pandemic off with a “furlough” letter. Knowing the history we have with this tenant, I didn’t take it at face value. I struggled to find a contact for the company that the letter was from, and then I eventually found a way to get in touch with a local office (as in… where she works and not the one in Florida where this letter seemed to come from). I asked for an employment verification for the tenant’s name and whether she was furloughed. The woman on the other end did a laugh/sigh thing and said, “She’s not furloughed. We’ve been over this several times. Her hours were reduced, but she is still employed and expected to show up to work.” I let her know that I received a letter from the company stating a furlough, which she said she was unaware of.


January 2021

Virginia has a Rent Relief Program for tenants that were affected by the virus and lost income. The program is for unpaid, past due rent. I pretended to be a tenant and went through the application process; it very clearly only let me input unpaid rent that’s past due (i.e., I couldn’t claim that I wouldn’t be able to pay a future rent owed). I even went through the trainings available on the system. I was very thorough. The tenant paid January rent, and then I received notification that the tenant applied for assistance. I can’t remember how I knew it was for this tenant (because in the future, I’ll get emails from the system that I can’t tie to any tenant), but I knew. I called the hotline and asked what month was being claimed as unpaid and was told January. I sent the tenant an email letting her know that she was not eligible and that I had done my due diligence acknowledging the information. I had actually also called because I didn’t appreciate that the documentation on file required my social security number to be on paperwork that the tenant had access to. For some reason, this didn’t bother any other landlords, but it’s not something I want this person having! When I told her she was ineligible for the assistance, she said it was because she expected February’s rent to be late, which she then paid without the assistance.


August 2021

She paid August’s rent on August 31. Why? She was in a car accident. When? On April 24, 2021. How is this related to August rent? I don’t know.

This doesn’t exactly explain why she doesn’t have income or what happened to her job. She said in passing that she would start a new job on August 30th, but we don’t know what happened to her last job or how long she had been unemployed.



It’s now October 6, and she hasn’t paid September or October rent yet. Why? Because she went to Costa Rica on September 1 (or 3rd?) and tested positive for COVID, so she had to quarantine. She shared several pieces of correspondence related to the car accident, which told us that she received over $5,000 in the insurance settlement. Questions that I have, which have not been asked and/or gone unanswered:
1) If you don’t have any money to pay rent until a car accident settlement check arrives, how are you affording to go on a trip?
2) If you received the settlement check in time to pay August rent on 8/31, why didn’t you pay rent with the rest of that check on 9/1?
3) Why didn’t you pay rent before you left town?
4) If you were unemployed for a while, and were starting a job on August 30, how and why did you leave the country (during a pandemic)?
5) Through communication with her girlfriend, we learned that she went to Costa Rica on 9/1, but she tested positive on 9/3. How did you get into the country and not get tested for 2 days?
6) I received an email on 9/6 stating she couldn’t get the payment to go through. What were you doing between 9/1 and 9/5 that I’m receiving this email on 9/6?
7) I responded to that email and gave other electronic options for payment. I received no answer or acknowledgement. Why couldn’t you respond to this email or attempt to pay rent again?
8) Assuming internet issues, I let it go for two days before sending a follow up email. No response to that email. Why?
9) At this point, I got stern. I very rarely get stern with people.

10) I received a response from someone stating they were her girlfriend and monitoring her email. If you’re monitoring her email, did you not find it urgent to address the lack of rent payment emails you’ve been seeing?
11) This person says she’s working with the family to get rent paid timely. I receive no rent nor do I receive an update.
12) Even though I had said I’d give until the 13th for an update, I ended up being responsible for my household while my husband traveled and didn’t get to the follow up until the 15th. I sent an email asking for an update. No response.
13) I don’t handle the text communication, so I waited until Mr. ODA was unoccupied with his work tasks, and asked him to text her on Friday. She responds! She says she’s been back for several days. Really? Why didn’t you get in touch with us? Why didn’t you let us know your status?
14) She says she can’t pay rent until Wednesday (the 22nd) because she had to pay for the extra costs for staying in Costa Rica for longer than anticipated. What if you had paid rent before you left? How would you have been able to pay for that hotel stay and getting out of the country? Why is it on me to float this financially?
15) Mr. ODA texted and asked about payment on the 22nd, we got no response, and I sent a notice of default. She suddenly was able to share that the person she was going to get the money from didn’t have it, and she couldn’t pay rent. Then she responded to my email and said she wanted a payment plan (Virginia requires me to offer a payment plan once every 12 month cycle).
16) I put together a payment plan to start payment on 10/1. She responded that she wouldn’t be paid until 10/8 because of the start date after she returned to the country. So she can’t pay anything towards TWO MONTHS worth of rent until it’s late for both months.

PAYMENT PLAN

I front-loaded the payments in the plan. First, I need to pay my mortgage, which I’ve now paid twice without offset from a tenant living in my house. Second, I’m not offering a payment plan for the next six months worth of rent, so come November 1st, she needs to pay rent in full. She can’t have evenly spaced payments while also paying full rent in future months. I put the due dates as every other Friday, starting 10/8, as she claimed she had no money until then.

I stated several times that the money is due on the date that we have agreed upon, and there is no five-day grace period like there is in the lease. Too many people think rent is due on the 5th because there’s a grace period. It’s due on the 1st, but there’s a grace period to allow for payment without penalty. October 1st was a Friday, and I still received rent on the 4th and 5th. Since this is overdue rent, I wasn’t going to play the follow up game that I’ve already had to play far too much in the last two months, so it was due that day, and that’s it.

During this process, she applied for assistance from the State for COVID relief. I also included the following:
Any monies received from the State’s program will eliminate the last payments first. If and when I receive money from the State, I will let you know, and I will update the schedule accordingly. Do not assume any payments received; adhere to this schedule until told otherwise. If you can pay more than the amount throughout this timeframe, please do. Any and all payments received will work to eliminate the latest payments due first. 

Since I didn’t find any requirements on the how the payment plan was to be set up, I didn’t extend it very long. The final payment is scheduled for 12/17, so that’s just 6 payments. As I mentioned, I front-loaded the payments, so the first two are $550. Then they taper to $350. The payments to be made also include the two months worth of late fees.

If she doesn’t adhere to the payment plan that she had to agree to, then I can seek possession from the court for default on the lease. Hopefully we’ll have some money here by the end of the week!


There’s really no point to this except to share in our experiences. The excuses are creative and entertaining. We’re lucky that we have the ability to float one house under the payments of all the other houses, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating to be two months behind on income.

House 9: Hoarding leads to mice and eviction

This is a good one. This is the one we use when people say “how can you handle all those properties,” and I respond, “if we survived this one tenant, we know we can handle whatever gets thrown at us.” Hoarding, mice, court dates, eviction. But its not always like that. The sun shone down on us for the current tenant though, who signed a two year lease and take care of the house (like, even power washed it on their own accord). The stories below show that you need a thick skin and a smooth temperament to be a landlord. Treat this as a business.

LOAN

This house was purchased ‘as-is,’ but we still had a home inspection contingency in the contract. It was listed at $139,500; we purchased for $137,500 with $2,500 in seller subsidy. We went under contract on 8/14/2017 and closed on 9/22/2017. The appraisal came in at $141,000, so we were content with our decision.

We refinanced the loan in May 2020. Our original loan had a balance of $105,800 at the time of the refinance. We rolled closing costs into the new loan and cashed out $2,000, making our new loan amount be $111,000. The refinance reduced our interest rate from 4..875% to 3.625%, shaving $104.25 off our monthly payment. I went into detail about the refinance in my Refinancing Investment Properties post.

Following the 1% Rule, we would be looking for $1,340 in rent (net of seller subsidy), but we haven’t received that yet. The first tenant’s rent was $1,150 and the second at $1,250. For the third potential tenants, we listed at $1,300, but the new tenants negotiated to $1,280 for a 2-year lease.

TENANT #1: OUR WORST

The application. It’s hard to not give someone a chance when their application is borderline, but I suggest letting the information on the screen speak to their character. Before the official application was run (which includes a background check), she admitted to a felony that she served 2.5 years for, and she filed bankruptcy due to a stolen identity while she was incarcerated. It seemed like she paid her dues and was building a new life. We got her application about two weeks after closing, so it wasn’t like we were desperate to rent it at that point. But she was quick to fill out an application and provide necessary documentation, so we decided to give her a chance. She moved in on 10/1/2017 with her 3 children, one of which was born days after she moved in. Her rent was $1,150.

We didn’t have any unreasonable situations with her in the first year. We did have a maintenance call for a leak under the kitchen sink, and we noted that the house wasn’t tidy. It seemed like she was a coupon-er, where she stocked up on a few items and probably resold them, which supported how she kept wanting to pay us in cash. The house wasn’t to my standard, but I didn’t look close enough to notice that it was dirty in addition to cluttered. I wanted to say something, but didn’t know my place at that point. Hindsight: I should have told my property manager and had her issue a written notice. This won’t matter down the road for legal proceedings, but perhaps we could have saved ourselves some headaches if she took the notice to heart; I was just afraid of offending her. But, other than that small concern at the time, we had no issue renewing her lease for another year.

The tenant complained about seeing a mouse around February 2018. We informed her at that time that pest control was up to her because of her living style that was attracting the pests. She claimed to have a quarterly treatment through Terminex. She complained further of mice in November 2018, but I wasn’t part of that conversation. It appeared to be that she was upset that there were still pest issues while she was paying Terminex. Well, that’s an issue to take up with the pest control company, not us. Our property manager gave her the information to our pest control company and shared that it would be a bit cheaper for the quarterly plan too. We heard nothing more until all hell broke loose in April 2019.

She sent pictures of mice poop all over the house on April 9, claiming that she had been out of the house from March 31 through April 8 and came back to this sudden mouse infestation and would be leaving the house. Well, that’s not how it works. She claims that was her ‘prompt’ notification, as if mice set up camp in a lived-in house that’s well maintained out of nowhere (news flash: it wasn’t well maintained and clean). She claimed that because of the living conditions (that she perpetuated), this would be her last month in the house. We knew we had the lease to fall back on, so we continued to remind her that this wasn’t on us and she couldn’t leave us with the financial burden and walk away. We had our pest control company go to the house as soon as possible, and we received their report on April 12.

But wait! While complaining about the condition of the house (that she caused), she wanted to know if she could buy the house!!!! Logic always seems to abound in these situations; it’s hysterical. We offered her to purchase the house from us at $148,000. She ignored it after that offer.

Both the pest company and our HVAC person noted a dog on the premises, which was in violation of the lease. HVAC was called out to fix a wire on the outdoor HVAC unit that the dog had chewed through. She also wasn’t taking care of the yard, and the City of Richmond was fining houses that violated their weed and grass clauses, which we notified her of on May 9.

She didn’t pay April or May rent, so we had a court date set for May 10. We had told her that she had to pay all overdue rent and late fees for us to cancel the May 10 court date. She didn’t pay, so our property manager went to court. The judge awarded us possession of the property, but since there was such outstanding rent and damages, another court date was set for July 1 to award us the money owed. In front of the judge, the tenant handed the keys over to our property manager, saying she was moved out. Immediately after leaving the court house, the property manager arrived at the house to do a walk through, only to find several people inside. She called the police.

The officer assessed the situation. He said that since they’re still moving things out (and there was a lot to move out), that it was a benefit to us that they were still working on it. He suggested asking their input on when they thought they would be done. One guy said at 3 pm. We agreed to let them stay, and I would go by after work to change the locks.

I showed up at 4 pm to change the locks, only to find people still coming in and out of the house. I called the non-emergency police line and waited for the cops to show up. It’s officially trespassing, and we were prepared to press charges. The officers knocked on the door and asked the people inside (none of whom were the tenant on the lease) to leave. One woman started a whole spiel about how she’s on probation and everything that she’s been arrested for, so she didn’t want to be arrested. The officer was funny to watch, and he just kept saying, “I’m not arresting you. I just want you to leave.”

After they drove away, the officers let me walk the property to ensure everyone was out. The place was destroyed!

By Virginia law, we are required as landlords to make every attempt possible to get the unit re-rented and let the old tenant “off the hook” for unpaid rent. Meaning, we can’t hold them to the entire term of the lease and have a vacant house. Regardless of this, we wanted to get everything fixed and replaced in the house so that we had an exact amount to claim during the July 1 court date.

The linoleum replacement was the critical path. She had destroyed it (looked like some chemical ate through it) beyond repair and it had to be replaced before we could re-rent the house. Home Depot’s timeline was really behind, and they weren’t able to get us scheduled for installation until June 20th (after she had “vacated” May 10th).

I compiled a list of lease violations with my documentation to support the claims in which she violated the lease on top of the obvious (e.g., dog on premises, smoking in the house). We had invoices from the pest company, the HVAC company, the trash removal company (over 40 cubic yards of garbage was left in the house when they finally vacated), and the “hazmat” cleaning company, all corroborating an unclean and unkempt living condition.

We went into court with a claim of $9,250. This was unpaid rent for 3 months, late fees, junk removal, pest control, HVAC fixes, professional cleaning that included a ‘hazmat’ charge, and all our paint and flooring charges.

We won the first judgement in court, simply because the defendant didn’t show up. We were awarded $9,250 plus the court fee and 6% interest. Well, somehow the court accepted her plea of needing another court date after not showing up to this one, and that was on July 10th. The judge that day reduced our rent and late payment owed by one month, and reduced our reimbursement total by a bit more than the security deposit we had already kept, bringing the judgement to about $6,600 plus the court fee and 6% interest.

Per the court process, we were required to work with the ex-tenant to develop a payment plan. We offered her a payment plan via email that was never responded to. From there, the next step is to retain an attorney for wage garnishment.

I contacted the attorney we use to help with wage garnishment, but he wasn’t experienced. He referred me to someone, who let me know that he’s already representing someone who has a claim against her. He said that he could still represent me, but I’d be second in line to any money they get from her. He offered me another attorney’s name to see if that one could help me instead, but that attorney said he couldn’t represent me because he already has another client looking for money from this woman. Interesting that two attorneys had different answers, but we went with that first. We haven’t seen a dime. Once the money was spent and we paid off the credit cards, it wasn’t on our radar anymore. Anything we get from this woman will be a bonus at this point.

TENANT #2: BLISSFULLY UNAWARE OF HOW LIFE WORKS

Two kids just out of college were our tenants that came in after that mess. They were great tenants, but a bit unaware of how the world works. They didn’t get the utilities into their name timely, so we charged them for the bills that came to us. After that, they paid their rent on time, and even when their restaurant jobs shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, they prioritized paying rent over other things they could have spent their limited income on; I was impressed. At the end of their lease, they were a bit lost too. Our lease requires 60 days notice of your intentions – either leave, or renew. Our property manager reached out to them at the 60 day mark, and they said they weren’t sure what they wanted to do, but were looking for other places. Since, realistically, we weren’t going to list the house for rent at 45 or 60 days, we told them that was fine. They came back after a week and said they were going to move out.

We moved forward with listing the house for rent and vetting new tenants. We had our property manager show the house on June 10 for what would be a July 1 lease. About a week later, the current tenants asked if they could stay longer because they didn’t get the place they were looking for. Sorry, but that’s not how it works and it’s already rented. The new tenants were OK with moving in July 15, so we allowed the college guys to stay until July 10. Then we hustled to get the house put back together before the new tenants. Specifically, one of the tenants was an artist, and he hung a huge canvas on one of the bedroom walls to paint on. Well, the paint bled through.

They also didn’t tell us that the range wasn’t working. When we asked about it, they said something to the effect of, “oh yea, we smelled gas, so we just cut it off. That was back in March.” Goodness!! So we quickly ordered a new range. We also had to have the carpets professionally cleaned, which was especially frustrating since they were only a year old. Luckily, the ladies who came to clean the carpets worked their magic, and they came out looking good as new. The microwave handle was broken off, and when we looked to buy a replacement, it was essentially the same cost as a new microwave, so we installed a new one.

While we were working in the house, we noticed that the air conditioner wasn’t keeping the house cool. We had an HVAC tech come out to the house, and it was either $1,400 to repair (after we had already previously put money into the HVAC unit), or $5,000 to replace it. We decided to replace it after it died shortly after the third tenants moved in.

TENANT #3: SOME OF THE BEST

These tenants have been wonderful. They’re both pharmacists at the local college and have been very self-sufficient. They’re great about alerting us of issues, but not in a way that it seems like they’re nitpicking. For instance, they wanted to store their lawn mower and other things in the shed out back, but the handle was broken off it. We told them that if they wanted to purchase a replacement, we would reimburse for the cost. Then they noted that the closet dowel was broken and they replaced it. I told them I would pay for that, so just take it off the next month’s rent. When they sent me the receipt, they had only taken the rod itself off the rent, but not the brackets to hang the rod. I immediately sent them the rest of the cost!

They’re one year into a two-year lease, and we’re very happy with them. They always pay their rent on time, they communicate regularly, and they’re taking care of the house.

MAINTENANCE AND REPAIRS

Since I’ve covered a great deal of the repairs we’ve managed in this house through each of the tenant stories, here’s a quick summary of other items.

Shortly after the third tenants moved in, they politely let us know that their dishwasher wasn’t cleaning the dishes. They very clearly identified the problem and the steps they had already taken to attempt to fix it, but it wasn’t working. We purchased a new dishwasher the day after they let us know. So in the matter of a month, we replaced the built in microwave, range, dishwasher, and HVAC. The only appliance we haven’t replaced in this house now is the refrigerator.

There was an electrical issue that we had sort of noticed before, but hadn’t pinpointed it without having things to plug into all the outlets. We had an electrician go out and fix the switches and outlets that weren’t working in master bedroom.

AN OVERALL LOOK AT THIS HOUSE AS AN INVESTMENT

Remember how real estate investing provides multiple avenues for wealth building? Here’s how they’re looking for this property.

Cash Flow – As we have had to replace nearly all appliances, including HVAC, and all the flooring among several other smaller issues, our total cash flow on this property is nearly nothing. But, like mentioned before, we shouldn’t have any big purchases coming and will start to be able to pocket the profits on this house once again.

Mortgage pay-down – The tenants have paid our mortgage for us, but due to closing costs of refinancing and choosing to take $2,000 cash back from that refi, our principal is actually higher than when we bought it.

Tax Advantages – We always depreciate the cost of the structure for paper losses that help offset profit on properties for tax purposes. All those repairs and appliance replacement expenses that eat into the profit margins are written off. So come April 15, the silver linings of those expenses are realized.

Appreciation – This one is good for us. This house is in a developing neighborhood and the area around it is being revitalized. Coupled with standard appreciation and the *hot* real estate market we’re in now, the value of the house is 150% of what it was when we bought, in less than 4 years.

SUMMARY

We’ve put about $10,000 into this house at this point. But that means we have a lot of brand new things in it. Now isn’t the time to give up on the house, since we should be in a position to not deal with many maintenance requests. Rent continues to climb, increasing our cash flow, while we just brought our mortgage payment quite low with the refi, and the property will continue to appreciate in value.

We learned a lot about the eviction process, even dealing with local police officers in the process. The court system and law enforcement are fairly simple to work with, as long as you are a fair and respectful landlord, keep documentation, and follow landlord-tenant laws. When the tenant doesn’t live up to their end of the bargain, justice will be served.

May Financial Update

RENTAL PROPERTIES

We paid $2,850 in extra principal towards the main mortgage we’re paying down, leaving that mortgage with a balance of $5,500. We had a $4k flooring purchase on another house that has set our pay off timeline a few weeks back, but we’ll still have that mortgage paid off in the next couple of months. We have a rental property that we purchased in 2016 that has flooring that’s at least that old. The carpet has long passed its useful life, and the linoleum in the kitchen and laundry room has started to peel up at the seam. Typically, we wouldn’t want to replace flooring while a tenant still lives there, but they’ve lived with this for almost a year, and they’ve been our tenants since we purchased the house. As a means of keeping the tenant happy, we agreed to replace the flooring in all the rooms except the bathrooms.

We had two of our tenants not pay rent by the 5th, as required by the lease. They’re the two that are typically late, and they’re typically not up front with telling us about it. We’ve said several times that we’re really flexible landlords, but we can’t be flexible if we’re not told what is happening. With one tenant, who had just recently irked us with a plumbing issue and being incommunicado, we didn’t even reach out for information. We’ve had enough of their antics and having to chase them for rent. So I simply sent them their notice of default letter, outlining all their rights as tenants as now required under COVID-related procedures. I received an email letting me know that they’d pay on the 7th. I love their nonchalant response, like they hold the power and will pay whenever they feel like it (hmm). For the other tenant that was late, she texted to say she’d be late with the payment on the 7th, and then on the 7th only paid part of the rent due. She said she was in a car accident and there was an issue with her sick leave pay out, but she’d get it to us when it got fixed. She resolved it on the 12th, although still without the late fee.

We were able to get the invoice on the HVAC replacement for one property, which meant we paid our partner the $3,288 we owed him, on top of his usual $2,167 that we pay out for him to pay the mortgages and then his share of the profits (since I manage all the rent collections).

OUR SPENDING

Our credit card balances are high for several reasons. The $4k flooring purchase; as well as the insurance for one of our properties that isn’t escrowed because we paid off that mortgage, which was $436; an expensive gift purchase that isn’t transparent in the cash and credit line items because that cost was split 3 ways (i.e., we received 2/3 of that cost back in cash, but it’s still reflect in the credit line); and our travel.

We booked a camp site for the end of the month that required payment up front. We just got back from a trip, which increased our spending. But I’ll note that when we travel, we’re not eating expensive meals. Our interest is in the experiences and activities, rather than exploring sit down local restaurants. Our food for 5 days cost us $161 as a family of 4. We also ended up only paying for 2 of the 4 nights in the hotel because the air conditioning was broken, even after they came to ‘fix’ it, and then, when I was checking under the bed to see if any toys or socks got left behind as we were leaving, I found a large, dead roach. We didn’t ask for any comps; one was automatically reflected in my final invoice without my prompting, and then when the manager was speaking to Mr. ODA about his stay, he volunteered removing another night.

We opened a new credit card to take advantage of the bonuses since we knew we’d have this travel and the flooring cost to meet the $4,000 spending threshold for their bonus. This credit card has an annual fee of $95 and no 0% interest period, which goes against our norm when looking to open a new credit card. However, the bonus can be transferred to our Chase Rewards Portal, where we can use it to book travel at 50% the cost. We also received a $50 grocery credit.

ROUTINE UPDATES

  • My husband and I cashed in the last of his savings bonds that we got as children, so that was an extra $735 that we brought it that wasn’t planned.
  • We paid about $6,074 for our regular mortgage payments. Several of our properties had mortgage increases due to escrow shortages. I haven’t figured out which I dislike more: planning for tax and insurance payments, or the large escrow increases that seem to happen year after year. I think it’s the escrow though.
  • Every month, $1100 is automatically invested between each of our Roth IRAs and each child’s investment accounts. I should also note that I don’t speak to other investments because they happen before take-home pay, but my husband maxes out his TSP (401k) each year as well, which I had also done when I was employed.
  • Our grocery shopping cost us $700. Honestly, I don’t even know how to explain that cost jump. I think it’s because my husband shopped some deals at Kroger and Costco, so we stocked up on some things that aren’t part of our routine purchasing.   
  • We spent $200 on gas. Two trips to Cincinnati, our trip to Atlanta, and then more-than-usual trips around town. 
  • $400 went towards utilities. It’s higher than last month because we paid 3 months of our cell phones, which gets us back on quarterly billing as a family. Utilities include internet, cell phones, water, sewer, trash, electric, and investment property sewer charges that are billed to the owner and not the tenant. We still haven’t sought reimbursement from the builder on our electric bill, but this month’s bill was even less than the last month’s. 
  • Our entertainment costs included baseball game tickets for our trip as well as two games later this summer, parking for the games this past weekend, a new shirt for our son, activities for the kids, and the hotel. This past month, we spent $650 on things I’d classify as entertainment related. I also included boarding for our dog ($100) in this total.
  • Speaking of our dog, he had his annual appointment (shots and the year’s worth of preventative medicines), and that cost us $500.
  • We spent $292 eating at restaurants and ordering take out. We utilized a Door Dash credit on one of our Chase credit cards, which was about $30.
  • But! I killed it with running errands this month and actually returning things that needed to be returned. I returned $150 worth of items one day!
  • We paid our State taxes during this period too. Between two states, that was $954. Also, anecdotally, I’ll share that we spent $6.40 to mail our Virginia tax return. We processed our taxes through Credit Karma, as we had done last year. We got through the federal e-file and moved onto the state filing, only to find out that if you’re filing partial states, Credit Karma doesn’t support it. I had to print 70 pages of our federal return, sign it, and ship it off to Virginia.

SUMMARY

Our net worth actually dipped this month. The stock market is the main factor in that, but the house valuation estimates are starting to level off and look more realistic as well.

Between our personal lives and our business life with these rental properties, we were sure kept busy. We expect the Spring months to be a busy time of year, and honestly it feels good to be active again. While we’ve loosened the purse strings for the summer months, especially after having done hardly anything for the last year, it was still a shock to see just how much we spent in these categories. But that’s the benefit of looking at your finances regularly. We can either choose to remain on course with our summer plans, or we can dial it back if we feel this was more than we expected.

Since we know we’re on top of our finances and have set up a healthy mentality when it comes to spending, we’re comfortable looking at this information once a month. If you’re currently developing these money habits, you may want to do these types of check-ins more frequently.

House 5: Bought and Sold

This was a mess. I learned my lesson to research each property individually and not to make any assumptions. I also learned my lesson to hold true to our standards and expectations for a renter. We owned this house for a year and a half, but we learned a lot about tenants and the selling process. Hey, every struggle is a learning opportunity for next time, right!?


Mr. ODA showed me House 6 first (5 and 6 closed at the same time, and on my numbering list, this one came second… so try to overlook this awkward numbering!). I researched the area and the house’s history in detail, and I decided that it was worth pursuing. Very shortly after that, he approached me about House 5. The house was in better condition than House 6 and was literally only half a mile away. I assumed it was in the same neighborhood. I was wrong, and that’s where things went downhill fast.

LOAN

This house was so cheap that we needed an exception approved to get a loan. The purchase price was $60,000, which means a loan with 20% down is $48,000. The cutoff for even approving a loan with our regular lender is typically $50,000. Since we were below that threshold, we were ‘penalized’ by the rate.

I covered the closing snafu in the House 6 post, which also highlights the decision-making on the loan terms. Since this house was below that $50k threshold, our options were: 5.125% with a $200 credit or 5% with no credit. The higher interest rate would cost us an additional $1300 in interest, which isn’t offset by the $200 credit, so we chose the 5% rate. Hindsight: If we had known we would sell it just 18 months later, the credit would’ve been the better choice!

We purchased the house in July 2017. We immediately started aggressively paying towards the mortgage since it was the lowest balance and the highest interest rate.

We rented the house for $775, which far exceeded the 1% Rule.

WORK ON THE HOUSE

We did a lot of work in the yard. Here’s what the house looked like at some point before we owned it. It’s cute!

While it was under contract, the house sat vacant, so there were a lot of overgrown bushes, flowerbeds were filled with debris and no remnants of flowers having lived there, the lawn hadn’t been cut in a long time, and the tree in the front left had been removed at some point, leaving behind a mound of a stump and mulch that also collected debris. It’s a shame, and I kind of wish we had brought this little 2 bed/1 bath house back to life like it was in this picture. But I digress. Although this picture shows that the previous owner took care of the property, and that’s what attracted us to the purchase.

The floors were in immaculate shape, and the kitchen was quaint, but in decent shape. We purchased a new refrigerator before we could list for a tenant.

The bathroom needed a lot of help, but we didn’t want to overhaul it. The medicine cabinet wasn’t working anymore and the glass was cracked, so we wanted to replace it with just a mirror that covered the old medicine cabinet hole. Interestingly, we found a stash of 100s of razors behind it! (Apparently this is a thing from times gone by. You finish your blade and then you shove it behind the medicine cabinet for it to reside in the wall for all eternity.) We had several plumbing issues in the house. The drain pipe for the tub had multiple kinks in it, which caused the water to drain slowly and be more easily clogged. This would have been a major overhaul to get new plumbing installed in a way that was more direct.

The electric in the house was in need of work. We fixed quite a few electric-related-things while we owned it, but re-wiring the house was a major expense that would’ve come due in a few years.

TENANT ACQUISITION

The house was in great condition, had a big lot, was in a located close to the downtown area, and was on several bus routes (I even had a bus driver stop and ask me what the rent was on the house while I was working out front). It seemed like a great investment. We had several showings to qualified individuals….. who then went home, researched the house, and saw that it was in the highest crime area on Trulia’s crime map.

After sitting on the market for 5 weeks, we lowered our standards. There’s a reason you have standards as a landlord – it’s because if you select the right tenant, you’re saving yourself time, money, and headaches in the future. Here’s the email from our property manager. There are multiple red flags, and yet we gave her a chance.

The prospective tenant provided us with an employment verification letter showing that she had just started a new job, her most recent pay stub corroborating the employment verification letter, and wrote a decent introduction in her application. Between it being 5 weeks with no tenant and it now being mid-August (with it harder to rent in the Fall), we overlooked her credit score of FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY EIGHT (448) and SEVEN (7) accounts sent to collections. I don’t recommend you do this. Oops.


EVICTION

This is the fun part to recount. It’s detailed, but I think it’s interesting.

RENT COLLECTION

She moved in August 2017. By December 2017, we already had enough issues that she wasn’t going to be trusted going forward. We’re very flexible landlords, and we’re happy to work with you on any issues as long as they’re communicated up front and timely (meaning, if we have to continuously reach out to you for rent, you’re not in a position to ask for favors).

We had allowed PayPal to be used to pay rent, but every month there was an issue. She either sent it in a way that incurred fees (after being told that she would be responsible for such fees) or it was sent in a manner that caused PayPal to hold the funds and not immediately release them. After December’s rent was late, the late fee wasn’t paid in full, and there were fees taken out by PayPal, we cut her off from electronic payments. Our property manager informed her that going forward, all rent had to be received by her office (either by mail or drop off) before the 5th.

Speaking of flexibilities – we noticed that she needed to send us rent based on each pay check, versus having all the rent money at the beginning of the month. She was paying us a late fee every month. Her rent was $775, and her late fee was $77.50. That meant every month, we were collecting $852.50, which really wasn’t necessary. We offered a change to her lease terms – rent was due on the 1st and 15th. As compensation on our part, rent would be increased to $800, split into two $400 payments. However, if rent was late, the late fee was now 10% of the late payment ($40) or up to $80 if she was late on both installments. She agreed to this, as it saved her money each month and set her up for success by being able to set up a system with each of her paychecks. We didn’t like that our relationship with the tenant had come to us hounding her over money, so we thought this was the best path forward for both sides of the party. Here’s the addendum to her lease.

And yet this didn’t change anything!! The addendum was signed at the end of January 2018. She paid February’s 1st $400 late. Then she didn’t pay February’s 2nd $400, and we had to reach out to her several times before even getting a response… after she also didn’t pay March’s 1st $400.

Our property manager filed unlawful detainer (eviction) with the court, and that got the tenant’s attention. She then had to pay the balance due, as well as the court filing fee, before March 30th (court appearance date) to dismiss the court action. She showed up to court with the cash to pay and then everyone just went home. You can’t evict someone who has paid in full, even if the process of collecting rent was unnecessarily burdensome.

And then came April. There was another story about a medical emergency and a new job on the books. We had agreed to a new one-time schedule for April’s rent payment, and she missed those deadlines and was incommunicado. We sent her another default notice on April 25. Note that this medical emergency was for her “husband.” This is the first that she had implicated herself that someone may be living in the house other than her and her son. She paid her balance owed on May 4th.

On May 8, she was given another eviction warning notice for lack of May rent (the 1st $400) and gave no response to requests for information on when to expect rent. After continued lack of payment after that notice, she was served with another eviction notice. On May 17, she was given 30-days notice to vacate the premises by June 17, 2018 at 5:00 pm. But then she paid in full and on time. We then changed her lease terms to state she was on a month-to-month basis and she would be granted 30 days notice when we (or she) decided to terminate the lease agreement. It was signed on July 16.

Guess what? She didn’t pay September’s rent. At this time, we also addressed her husband.

She was married when she applied, but we didn’t know. Just now as I was looking back through our files to write this post, I saw that her pay stub she used for employment verification said that she was filing her taxes as married. I hadn’t seen that before. In all our visits to the house, there were always other people there. There was one man that seemed to be around 90% of the time. We overlooked it, but our lease did stipulate that anyone who stayed for more than 2 weeks was required to pass a background check and be on the lease. I strongly suspect that this individual was not going to pass a background check, which is why it was never disclosed to us that she was married and another adult was living there. Our property manager informed her that only she and her son were on the lease, and that if anyone else was living there, they had to be on the lease. She asked if we were referring to her mother-in-law visiting, our property manager said that it appeared to be her husband was living there, and then she ignored us.

We gave her our 30 days notice on October 5 to vacate, meaning she had to be out by November 5. Our property manager reached out to her on October 26 to see if she would be out earlier and set a time for key pick up. The tenant nonchalantly stated she wouldn’t be able to make it out by the 5th and she’ll be out by the 9th. Umm, excuse me, ma’am, but that’s not how this works. We held strong to the 5th and she lost it. Our property manager said that her lease is over on the 5th, and if she was not gone by then, the court fees would be her responsibility for us to get the court and local police department involved for her removal. She got angry and claimed that we didn’t handle the rental well at all, that we couldn’t charge her any court fees, and that she should charge us for not being able to use her tub because it was clogged (guess what on this one? The plumber removed things like a dental floss pick from the drain, immediately making it her fault (and at her cost) for said clog). She then said: “Lets just hope your (sic) as speedy with my deposit as you all were with terminating the lease.” I laughed out loud on this one just now. We should have terminated her lease an entire year before this discussion happened, but we kept working with her! Hysterical! Gosh, and to think this wasn’t our worst eviction process (more to come :)).

SELLING

A friend-of-a-friend was attempting to purchase a house in the same neighborhood as this house, and they ran into multiple issues causing them to walk away from other deals. Mr. ODA approached him with an opportunity to sell this house, which had similar specs to the one that they were pursuing. The buyer spoke to his wife and father about the deal and agreed to move forward. Of course, this deal was not easy.

The contract was ratified on October 31, 2018. We didn’t close until January 8, 2019. Our typical close time on our purchases is 4 weeks. We’ve done faster, and we may have done a bit longer if the time of month lined up better for our finances, but over 2 months was horrendous. Since our tenant was moving out on 11/5, and the closing was expected to be no later than November 30th, we didn’t pursue finding a tenant.

The appraisal was late being ordered, which was somehow allowable. Then it came in at the beginning of December at $65,000; our contract was for $68,000. We split the difference ($1000 from the buyer, $1000 from the seller, $1000 from the agent who was dual representing).

On December 18, our Realtor finally pushed back on the buyer’s side of the transaction to get things done. But it was Christmas time now. With so many offices closing for the end of the year, we weren’t able to get a closing date until the first week of January. The buyers were signing paperwork from Pennsylvania, which caused more delays because of having to send the paperwork back and forth for everyone’s signatures.

We sold in January 2019 for $67,000, after having purchased it for $60k just 18 months earlier. While this seems like a great deal, it’s not an automatic $7k in our pockets. You need to account for our closing costs from the purchase and sale (about $6,500), loss of rent for two months while trying to close the sale and the 6 weeks of no tenant when we purchased it, utility costs associated with vacant times, and costs to fix things around the house during our ownership. However, during that time, we had a tenant paying our mortgage (covering the loan interest and paying down the principal), and we were collecting more rent than projected because of her continued late payments.

1031 EXCHANGE

We made the decision not to pursue a 1031 exchange on this house. A 1031 continues to defer the depreciation to the next property, and it allows capital gains to be deferred. Based on current tax law, it can be done infinite times. However, there are extra lawyers and fees that come into play, so it becomes worth it when you have big dollars at stake, and that you have another property to purchase quite quickly after selling the first one.

The appreciation on the house was minimal given that it had only been 18 months since purchase, we had two sets of closing costs to add to the cost basis, and we hadn’t earmarked a place for that money to go upon selling. Plus, the cost of an intermediary would continue to eat into the “profit” versus tax paid, so we just went ahead and planned to pay capital gains taxes on it. Unfortunately, since we had depreciated the structure and the fridge over the prior 18 months, that paper money had to be brought back into the fold when calculating our taxes the following April. That’s several thousands of hidden money that is easy to forget about.

Depreciation is a great tax break when you own the property. The IRS assumes the value of your asset is being reduced by wear and tear and father time. This is true. It’s why if a landlord neglects the property and isn’t active with maintenance, renovations, and other replacements, the property will turn into a trash-heap in time. However, when you sell the property, you show the IRS that it in fact did not do that. If someone is willing to buy my property for more than I bought it for, then it obviously didn’t depreciate to a lesser value. I have to pay the IRS back for the depreciation assumptions that I was allowed to make over the time I owned it, plus pay the tax on the actual profits. Bummer, but logical.


In summary, we bought a cheap house and got a poor tenant. We had a TON of headaches with that tenant. We had to do a few house/yard projects over the ownership life of the property, but nothing worrisome and not already built into our numbers. Somehow, we made it work that eventually the tenant always paid up and then some (late fees). We made mistakes, we learned lessons. We figured out a set of streets to avoid for future purchases, learned how to sell an investment, and learned how to file taxes on an investment property sale. The story is fun to look back on. I’m glad we experienced what we did. But I don’t want to do it again.

House 2: The Exclusivity Agreement

House 1 was purchased from a family member because we saw an opportunity when they were getting ready to sell their townhome. House 2 was purchased because we were looking for a way to make our profit from the sale of our first home to get to work for us. While in the process of purchasing House 2, the seller said he was interested in liquidating the house next door, which was a mirror image of House 2, and so that became House 3. Both House 2 and House 3 came with tenants, which was a big advantage, but delayed a few lessons in rentals for us.

After we sold our house outside of DC, we moved just outside of Richmond, VA. We spent a few months looking at the neighborhoods and analyzed the markets available in Richmond. I was more interested in the college area, where it’s a market I knew well, having been a college kid who rented in an old house that was sectioned into apartments. Mr. ODA was more ambitious (in my opinion), looking into neighborhoods that families would rent in. Many investors are looking to rent in areas of Richmond that fit the quintessential Richmond mold (e.g., walkability to restaurants and shops, bike routes). However, these houses don’t come close to hitting the 1% Rule.

We’ve purchased several houses on the east side of town, and they’ve worked out very well and most don’t have turnover. The value of House 2 since we purchased it has increased by about $70k as the neighborhoods in the area continue to decrease crime and increase value. Both houses are about 13 years old, 1200 square feet, and have 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. All of the rooms except bathrooms and kitchen are carpeted, which is something we’ve since tried to stay away from.

THE EXCLUSIVITY AGREEMENT

After we saw House 2 and wanted to make an offer, our Realtor relationship went downhill. We had a Realtor for our home purchase when we moved to the area, and we continued the relationship to have access to the MLS. After we purchased our home and started looking for rentals, we soon learned that our Realtor 1) had an agenda to get the most commission, regardless of the best deal or our interests, and 2) kept pushing areas she knew versus areas we were interested in. We had made it known that we wanted to buy several properties, and I believe by the time we wanted to make an offer on a house, she realized we weren’t looking to further this relationship after this deal. Since she had shown us a few houses, we expected to see this deal through with her. That’s when the straw broke the camel’s back. We received the offer to review, and it came with an exclusivity agreement.

An exclusivity agreement is a contract established by the Realtor to protect their interests. If the client signs it, then it means that the client is committed to that agent for the terms in the agreement (e.g., a single purchase, a period of time). We hadn’t needed one in Fairfax, and the one we had for our personal home contract covered a month’s time. When we received the contract for House 2, the exclusivity terms were until October 4, 2016, from the date of the contract, which was May 4, 2016. We requested the date be changed to match the “close no later than” terms in the contract, which was June 17. That’s when the bs-ing commenced. I’m sure the average buyer wouldn’t have noticed nor cared. We saw right through it, and she kept digging in deeper with holes in her story and guilt.

First, she claimed that she made it 6 months (although it was 5 months) so that it gets through closing and we didn’t have to sign again. We countered with three pieces of logic: 1) the field can accept an address, so change it to the house’s address to cover us for the entire time it took us to get to closing, whenever that may be; 2) the exclusivity period on our personal residence’s contract expired long before we actually closed (because it was a new build, and the contract was signed before construction began), but we never had to re-sign an agreement; and 3) we never experienced a 6-month closing on a routine purchase.

Instead of addressing that the field could accept the house’s details rather than a period of time, she said: I’m committed to helping you guys look for houses and make offers, are you committed to working with me? Red flag. When we said we wanted it changed to the house address, and that we didn’t mind signing on for each property we made an offer on, she furthered the guilt with: We have know each other for almost a year and I honestly didn’t think it would be such an issue. If you are not willing to sign it I am not going to be able to work with you. If it’s not supposed to be a big deal for us, why is it a big deal for you/your broker?

One of the first things we learned in the real estate market was to not sign an exclusivity agreement. It eliminates your rights as a buyer and ties you unnecessarily to an agent. On the Realtor’s side, I understand that a lot of time and effort goes into working with clients, and there is a possibility that one Realtor shows a client a house, but that client uses a different Realtor to sign the contract, which causes the agent who showed the property to lose the commission. However, I believe that if there’s a good relationship with the Realtor and client, it shouldn’t need to be in writing that they’re committed to each other. I also don’t believe that it’s routine that a Realtor shows several houses to a client, and then that client finds someone else to make an offer. I was also surprised that it’s at the contract stage in the process, and not at the showings stage.

When she wouldn’t write the offer without us signing an unnecessarily long exclusivity agreement (again, we were willing to sign it as associated with this offer/property), we called our old Realtor and asked if she could write the offer for us even though she didn’t cover that area. (An Agent’s license covers the whole state, but typically their access to the MLS is confined to local metro areas unless they want to pay for other regions.) She wrote the offer for us. She also introduced us to a loan officer who we have used for every property purchase since then, and recommended to others.

EXPENSES

This house is relatively new, so we haven’t had any major expenses. We had a couple of HVAC service calls, one was a legitimate concern and one was a misunderstanding by the tenant on how it works in extreme temperatures. What we haven’t paid for in physical house repairs, we’ve made up with in learning new things about tenants.

TENANTS

We had a tenant move in right before we closed on the house. She had gone through a divorce and was living on her own. At the end of the year, she got back together with her ex-husband and moved out. We touched up the paint, cleaned the carpet, cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, and then listed the house for rent. We chose two ladies, one of which had a criminal record for forgery a few years prior. Other than that, they were the best qualified financially.

Our only issue in the first year was that they had a ‘friend’ look at our HVAC unit. We told them that it’s not their property, and had anything been wrong, it would have been on them to fix because we didn’t authorize tinkering with our very-expensive property. The issue was that it was 100 degrees outside, they had the thermostat set at 60, and it wasn’t getting to that temperature. That’s not surprising. Our technician went out, checked the unit, and explained to them that when it’s that hot, you can’t expect it to get to such a different temperature in the house. He suggested using fans.

They moved in June 1, 2017 and one of the ladies is still there.

At the end of their second year, we increased their rent by $50/month to $1100. This is still under market value for the house, but not having to turnover the unit was more important than a drastic increase in rental income.

In February 2020, we learned a new aspect of the law – domestic disputes. One of the ladies reached out to us and requested to be released from the lease because she had a restraining order filed on her roommate. We researched the requirements associated with restraining orders (because the two she gave us were expired) and then her rights as it related to being a tenant. She had paid her portion of the rent each month, so we weren’t aware of issues. We released her from any responsibility immediately and notified the roommate. Per Virginia Code, the remaining tenant is responsible for the entirety of the lease from then-on. We gave her the opportunity to vacate the property within 30 days if she could not pay the full lease amount going forward, but she chose to stay on the property.

The world shut down a month later. Other than an issue here and there with our other properties, this one has been the most affected. She doesn’t communicate up front anymore when she won’t be able to have rent on time. We received a letter from her stating that she had been furloughed, but things in the letter didn’t look professional and piqued my interest (recall the forgery charge). I called her employer who informed me that her hours were cut, but she was not furloughed; the woman who answered the phone sounded exasperated and indicated she had explained this to our tenant several times. I informed the tenant that I had done an employment verification and that we could be flexible, but rent was still expected. Then a few months later, after she didn’t pay rent or tell us what was happening, she claimed she couldn’t pay rent because of an issue with a check showing up. We requested her employment information again, and I verified she was fully employed. When I asked her what was going on, she stated that she wasn’t required to tell me where her rent was coming from and whether she was employed didn’t mean she could pay rent. Fun.

Then, a few months later again, I received an email from the Commonwealth of Virginia asking me for my tax identification number and other information because our tenant had applied for rent assistance. I was confused because the rent assistance program was for unpaid rent balances, and she was fully paid. I watched the rent assistance program training and attempted an application myself so that I could see how the process works before I questioned anything more. I verified that the program was indeed for past due rents and couldn’t be requested for future rent. I contacted the State office to gather more information, and the tenant had submitted that she didn’t pay January 2021’s rent, which she had. The State made a note in her file. I informed the tenant that the program was for past due rents, which she had none, and that she was not qualified for such a program, but we were willing to work with her if she had any problems paying rent timely in the future.

Each time she’s not paid full rent by the 5th of the month, she has paid rent in full before the end of the month. After she took full responsibility of the property’s rent and lease, we had her sign a new lease with just her name. That lease ends on June 30 this year, and we’re currently decided whether we’ll offer her another year at an increased rate (last increase was 2 years ago) or we’ll request her to vacate the property.