Thursday, July 4, 2013

Renting to Junkies

It's funny how a single bad decision can set in motion a domino-like chain of distressing events, leaving an irreversible wake of destruction in it's path.  OK, that statement may be a little melodramatic but it certainly describes how we felt on returning to our house in Bend.

We left our home in October of last year after spending the summer working down a long list of repair and renovation projects.  The idea was to give the old house a makeover in an effort to generate maximum rental income while we were cruising Mexico.  With new paint inside and out, a 6-ft cedar fence, and a landscaped yard the property never looked better.  Then the tenants moved in.

My brother, Denny, agreed to manage the property for us while we were out of the country.  He has two rentals of his own and understands the process.  I put an add in Craigslist and quickly received a few responses.  We met with one particular young woman who was very interested.  She worked as a waitress and was looking for a place to rent with her boyfriend and his cousin, a manager at the Starbucks in downtown Bend.  We liked the woman and the cousin -- they came across as sincere individuals with steady income.  I did a background check on all three using an online tenant screening service which came back clean.  Their combined income was right at the minimum required for a year lease, so they agreed to sign a 6-month lease instead that would be renewed if all rents were paid on time.

Our only hesitation was with the boyfriend.  And, in retrospect, the biggest lesson learned here is to always trust your instinct.  He talked fast and seemed to answer each question by simply saying what we wanted to hear.  My initial reaction was the same as Denny's -- that dude's a tweeker.  We should have tossed out the application right there.

Instead, flawed reasoning overcame better judgment.  It was getting late in the season.  We would be back in Mexico soon and I wanted to have a rental agreement in place before we left.  They had the money to move in and two out of the three seemed like good tenants.  So, we took a chance and gave them the keys.  And, they paid the rent on time...for three months.

By mid-January we were in Mazatlan on Jean Marie dealing with our never-ending engine problem.  I called Denny to find out why there was no deposit for the month's rent.  That's when the drama began to unfold.  Apparently, the boyfriend went off on a drug-induced rage and beat up the girl.  At some point, the cousin attempted to intervene and was slashed across the arm with a large knife.  The wound was so severe it almost severed his arm.  It turns out, the boyfriend already had a felony record  for attempted murder -- an important little nugget of information that I expected to see on the tenant screening report.

So, the boyfriend goes to jail, the girl moves to Arizona to live with her mother, and the cousin remains in the house with a surgically-repaired arm, living on disability checks.  Needless to say, the lease is terminated.

The cousin would like to stay in the house, though, and offers to pay his share for the month and find new roommates to cover the rest.  Our ongoing engine problems require us to spend another season in Mexico and another summer in Oregon.  So, Denny agrees to allow subletting the house for the next three months until we arrive.  Another ad is placed in Craigslist and two guys, who seem normal, pay for the first month and move in.

These two "normal" guys turn out to be heroin users.  The little drama has now become a mini-series.  Over the next three months our house is turned in to a heroin den.  My new tenants refuse to pay rent and refuse to leave.  Denny serves eviction papers and the cousin spends most of his time locked in his room.  A dealer/friend of the two tenants is spending a lot of time at the house which gets the attention of the local Bend police, who are following this guy.

One day in early April Denny goes over to check the property, looks in a bedroom window, and sees a guy with a needle in his arm.  He calls the police and is asked to come to the station, where he soon learns that the cops have been surveilling the house for some time and are planning a raid.  They ask Denny to be patient.  His response is, understandably, less than patient.  By this time, the eviction date has passed and the sheriff's office is scheduled to remove the tenants within a couple days.  So, the drug force, not wanting to miss out on a bust, issue an immediate arrest warrant (apparently by waking a judge in the middle of the night).  Denny gives them the key to the front door and asks that they not damage the property.  What he doesn't know is the tenants have changed the locks.  No, I am not making this up.

So, the next day the Bend police raid our home.  After unsuccessfully trying to use the key, they smash the front door in with a battering ram, handcuff the occupants, and haul them off the jail, confiscating a stash of heroin and an undisclosed amount of cash in the process.  The cousin, fearing for his safety, had already moved out.  End scene!  We finally get our house back, although, not quite in the same condition.

My brother then spent April and May cleaning up the mess.  Walls were repaired and painted, carpets steam cleaned, and the whole house disinfected.  Three interior doors, as well as the front door, were destroyed and the beautiful cedar fence in the back yard was damaged.  Fortunately, our homeowners insurance stepped up and by the time we arrived most of the repairs were done and we were spared the ugly details.  Thanks, bro!

We finally made it to Bend two weeks ago, after enduring an 18-hour bus ride from Guaymas to LA and then hitching a ride with my uncle to Templeton, where we picked up our car.  We then spent the next two weeks visiting our family and friends as we drove north through California and Oregon.  I'm now, once again, working down a list of home repair projects as we settle in for the summer.  I should have the place back in pristine condition by the end of the month, and ready for new tenants again.  This time we may go with a management company.
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Liz Chesney said...

Holy Jesus, you guys. I am so sorry for your ordeal. Thanks for sharing, though -- that is definitely a "cautionary tale." Stay safe! :-) Liz and Chris s/v Espiritu

Theresa said...

Oh.My.Gosh. Well, you guys definitely get the Craziest Tentants Award of the year! Not that it is something your were shooting for ;) Glad that is done with and you can move forward with getting the house back into shape. Glad you all made it back safely to the states!

Anonymous said...

Dang! That's nuts! Sorry to hear 'bout the tenant ordeal. Back on the boat in Mazatlan for a few boat projects. It's pretty quiet around here - miss you guys.
Colin and Wendy
s/v Bangorang