Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Reluctant Landlord - Part 8

Still in England for a couple of days before I would need to return home, the problem of my second delinquent tenant in Garage # 5 was now at the top of the list. Having already hack-sawed off the lock to discover a nice little rally car inside, my approach was going to be a little different.  The registration was current so this was a road-worthy vehicle with an owner.

Back to the police station with a photo of the license plate on my IPhone should do the trick. But no! "I am terribly sorry....." Aagh!! Is there anything the police can assist with?

Next stop was to the last known address I had for this tenant.  I had mailed notices here over the past couple of years but had never received a response.  It turned out that this was his place of business - a motor cycle dealership. Bikes were still displayed inside but the notice on the door was daunting.

Not even the correct name!  Time to get a good night's sleep and make a new plan.
Now that the padlock had been changed and I was the only one with the combination maybe I should wait for him to come to me.  Aha! Make a sign for the door inviting him to contact me. Next morning I carefully taped on the notice asking him to email me if he would like the combination to the lock.

Time to head back to the States and await word of success or failure of my various dealings.  

It took several weeks to hear from Garage #5 and it was the son of the tenant who finally made the contact.  It seems that the father had moved on and had told his son to go ahead and use the garage, failing to mention that he was not paying the rent.  I agreed to accept one year in back rent plus the next year in advance in return for the combo.  Mom stepped up and mailed the check immediately and all was well.

By mid summer that year all the tenants in the 8 garages were current with their rent and I could now get serious about selling them.  I approached two of the tenants who lived close by and offered them a good price for a block of three and a block of five with payments split over a 6 month period.  Both of them agreed and although another 12 months had passed before the deals were final, I was free of 8 more tenants.  

6 more garages, the worst of the worst, on a tiny triangle of land with asbestos, leaky roofs and broken doors were still to find a new owner.  With the help of a real estate agent, a buyer was found who was willing to deal with all the problems to get a barely build-able lot at a reasonable price. The deal almost fell through at the last moment due to a Right of Way in favor of the neighbor but I refused to negotiate as it was an 'as is' agreement.  Luckily, I prevailed and we closed the deal late in 2015.


In case you have lost track following this ridiculous saga,  I began with 32 different rental properties and now after 10 years have just 2 flats remaining.  Here they are - one up and one down.


The eviction process is extremely challenging in England but I have begun by serving notices to the the downstairs tenant.  He has given up paying any rent and lives in squalor refusing to answer phone calls, emails and will not open the door.  He is not young nor is he healthy so it's anyone guess as to how long this might go on.  The feet first option may come sooner.  Stayed tuned!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Reluctant Landlord - Part 7

First on my to do list the next morning was to track down my less that cognizant, delinquent tenant in hopes of collecting some back rent or at the very least gathering some information. Presenting myself at the local Social Services office I was given a sympathetic ear quickly followed by a phrase that was to become all too familiar: "I am terribly sorry but due to confidentiality constraints we are unable to provide you with any information".  Not even a dead or alive! 

The phone number of the County office that they provided me with produced similar results and a suggestion to speak to the police. Good idea!

The police station was not a particularly friendly looking building and it took me one complete walking lap to find the entrance.  Once inside I was faced with a single barred window and a speaker system. Struggling to decipher the distorted voice and with no lips to read, I was at a loss.  The voice finally took pity on me and invited me into a windowless interview room where I was to wait.  My anxiety level was quite high by the time the officer arrived.  Again explaining my predicament that I had not been able to make contact with this tenant for several years, her rent had not been paid and her belongings, including a car, were still in my garage and I wanted her out.  She was thought to be in care for dementia or possibly deceased.  What to do?

The officer shook his head and began " I am terribly sorry but confidentiality ......." This can't be happening!  "Can I dispose of her belongings?", I asked.  Negative! Especially not the car since I had no title or keys. Even though I owned the building and had received no rent in several years, I had no recourse, it seemed.  Time to take things into my own hands!!

Checking in with my solicitor seemed like a prudent move. Not your most aggressive sort, he scratched his chin and agreed that this was indeed, a conundrum.  Perhaps best if I didn't say too much more.

Time for some lunch.  Bangers and mash at the local pub where I used to take my mother hadn't improved since the last time we sipped sherry there. This time I thought it best to decline anything stronger than a cup of tea to drink. I needed my wits about me.

I had to find a garage with a tow truck willing to help me out.  The first one I found couldn't help but perhaps his neighbor could. At first the owner declined on the basis that a car cannot be taken to a junk yard without a title. What if it was left on the side of the road, I suggested. The registration plates were still on the car and so the owner would be contacted to remove it, I reasoned. Hmmm!  I'll take a look at it some time, he offered.  No time like the present I insisted and unbelievably he stopped what he was doing, climbed into my car and we were off to the site of the crime.

On seeing all the junk he started shaking his head until I assured him that I would remove it personally with my little car.  "You need a van", he said. "Do you have one?" I asked.  What a nice man, I had found.  He was willing to clear out the entire garage, for me, car included, and not accept payment until it was done. I was ecstatic.  One problem solved.

A few days after my return to the States, I received an email that the garage was empty with an invoice attached for a very reasonable amount.  I promptly paid him and notified another tenant that he could now take over the rental of number 7.  

Before I had finished patting myself on the back, I received another email.  The head honcho at Social Services had gotten wind of my inquiries and would be putting in a request for payment of back rent for Ms Phelps' garage and would be making arrangements to have it cleaned out.  It might take a while but if I would submit an invoice for the rent, I would be paid the full amount. At this time I thought it best not to mention my shady dealings or at least not until I had check in hand.

It was a good three months later that the check arrived, money I never expected to see. Once deposited, I thanked my benefactor and let her know that the garage had already been cleaned out and not to trouble herself.  That did not sit well! She wanted to know where the car had gone.  Vaguely I explained that I had found someone to tow it away but at this time couldn't remember his name.  Partly true but I might have been able to find the invoice if I looked hard enough.  Several more, somewhat threatening emails arrived suggesting that knowing where the car had gone was very important and that if I was unable to provide the information, the police would have to be involved.  Not too concerned that the police would be any more helpful that they had been to me, I stuck to my story and deleted the emails.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Reluctant Landlord - part 6

The Reluctant Landlord - part 6

In March 2014, I landed at Heathrow Airport, picked up my tiny yellow rental car and braved the early morning London traffic.

The journey to Warwickshire where I would be staying with one of my nieces and family, was less than 2 hours, allowing for some good family time before launching into the next four days of problem solving.

My prospective buyer claimed to be interested in purchasing all of my remaining property if we could agree on price. As much as I would like to unload the lot, I wasn't about to give them away, just yet!

The 8 garages in 'Back Lane' were in reasonable shape so we agreed to meet there first. The tenants have their own padlocks so I knew I couldn't get access to the insides. Arriving ahead of time, I was surprised to find one of the doors unlocked and even more surprised when I looked inside.

Beneath all of this junk was a car that had probably not been road worthy for at least 10 years. From the looks of things, the family of Miss Phelps had emptied the contents of her home into Garage 7 hoping someone would come along and help themself. Miss Phelps, it turned out, was in state care with dementia.

Not a good start to the day! The arrival of Felix, the prospective buyer didn't make the day go any better. The son of a well known author with money in his pocket and an oversized ego, appeared to have some interest but only as a hobby. We went through the motions but his lack of questions and knowledge was not encouraging.

We moved on to Park Road where I held my breath as we took the tour of the two flats. Upstairs is tiny but clean and orderly but downstairs was a disaster. It was so awful that I am embarrassed that anyone is living there. If I could just move the tenant out, basic improvements could be done and the building sold. The way it is, there is not a chance. The six garages are in fair shape although some of the roofs leak. There is an abandoned car tucked in a corner of the property belonging to ??? To give the buyer credit, he didn't gag but politely told me he would get back to me.

Returning to Back Lane, I met with the tenant of Garage 6. He expressed interest in renting #7 once free of contents. That was certainly incentive to dispose of the contents and start collecting rent again.

My other delinquent tenant was in #5 and that was locked up tight. Nobody, it seems, had seen anyone coming or going from #5 in a long time so now my imagination was running wild. What could be in that one? Treasures, junk, a dead body? The possibilities were endless. The neighbor saw me examining the padlock and offered to cut it off. I guess he was as curious as I. This time, the surprise was more welcome!

Now, I could use that!

I sought out a local hardware store and purchased a couple of padlocks to secure my 'treasures' before packing it in for the day. Will be back tomorrow to track down the delinquents.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Reluctant Landlord - part 5

My tally of tenants was now down to 24! An improvement but still a headache. A row of garages in close proximity to a row of terraced houses had guaranteed zero vacancy for the time I had owned them. Even before I knew it, word got out that there would be one available and the phone started ringing.

A couple of the tenants approached me about buying the one they rented but since there were 8 in all and attached, I wasn't keen on selling just an odd one here and there. They persisted and rallied the other tenants around and before I could catch my breath, I had 8 buyers. It took several months but when the papers were finalized, my load was lighter and my bank account, healthier. Those were good sales!

In a back lane near where my father's business began was another group of 8 garages. 5 were in one block and 3 in a separate block. Again, I had very little turn over in tenants but two were delinquent in their payments. Miss Marjorie Phelps was quite elderly when first I took ownership and had paid annually until she stopped. My attempts to contact her went unanswered so I enlisted the help of a neighbor, who was also a tenant. Two more years were paid up and then nothing.

Around the same time a second tenant stopped paying. The rents were small and didn't justify hiring someone to try to collect so for a while I did nothing. Well, not quite nothing. I fretted, often during the night when I should have been sleeping. Had Miss Phelps died? Had Mr Kemp departed and left me all his trash?

During this time, all remaining properties were being transferred from the company that had been formed, to me personally. This turned out to be an agonizing process that continued for more than 2 years. It seems that two of these garage (2 out of a block of 3) had no recorded deeds and nothing to prove that I owned them. The property in question backed up to the business premises owned by my great grandfather and had been passed down through three generations. At some time, probably in the 1960's my father had built the garages on every available square inch of what he believed he owned.

Proving you own property without documentation is quite daunting. I had been collecting rent for more than 10 years and nobody else had claimed them but that was not enough for the Land Registry. Petitions were filed by my solicitor but no give. We were at an impasse.

To top it off, a certain, rather pompous gentleman contacted me to buy all my remaining property, It was time to cross the Atlantic and face a myriad of issues.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Reluctant Landlord - part 4

Sometime had now passed since the last sale and rents were coming regularly. The economy had taken a downturn so I was happy to sit tight for a while. One of my tenants paid twice a year and never quite the amount he owed but he was affable enough so I kept track and left him alone.

A total of 3 tenants lived at the Birches. A single man in the cottage, an elderly widower in the downstairs flat and a younger woman upstairs. Apparently the widower was a lovely gentleman with all his marbles intact while his upstairs neighbor was much younger but missing a few. They had worked out an ideal arrangement whereby the woman cleaned and cooked and Mr Nightingale balanced her checkbook and paid her bills.

The cottage tenant had paid regularly by direct payment through his bank until suddenly payments ceased. November's payment didn't arrive and nor did December's.. My only way of contacting him was by mail: no email and no phone. By mid January, still no word so Phil was dispatched to investigate. Phil had done some odd jobs and small building projects for me in the past and not too much had surprised him to date. However, on this day, finding no one in residence, he jimmied the lock on the front door and was greeted by a flood of water pouring down the stairs. Water from a frozen pipe had been spilling out for some time it seemed. The whole downstairs was underwater and trash, furniture and even a TV was floating. The tenant was long gone and never to be heard from again. Thanks a bunch!

Another bargain sale ensued and I was rid of one more.

Rents had not changed for several years so I thought a minor increase across the board would be fair. My two Birches' occupants, I knew were on assistance from the state but one pound a month (less than $2) shouldn't break the bank. Huge mistake! Any rate increase immediately triggers an inspection. Within a couple of weeks I had received an official letter telling me that the living conditions were below par and that unless I made major repairs to the floor (it seems it was about to collapse into the cellar) the property would be condemned! Now the second time I had heard those words.

It wasn't that I was opposed to getting the work done but the logistics of a fairly large renovation and quite possibly more rot discovered once the ripping and tearing had begun, was mind spinning. I was informed that if I didn't do the work, it would be done for me and a bill presented.

While still contemplating the next move, a follow up letter arrived stating that the tenants would be relocated to a town council house and would not be returning. What luck! Maybe not such a bad mistake as I had thought. Now I had a vacant property and could sell it 'as is' plus these two nice people had been moved together into a much better situation.

Soon I found an ambitious builder, accepted his low offer and much relieved, pocketed the change.


Friday, March 27, 2015

The Reluctant Landlord - part 3

Not all the sales I made in the subsequent years were disasters although those are the ones that stick in my mind most.

There was a nice semi-detached, 3 bedroom house that I sold early on. The tenant was an office employee of my father's who was allowed to stay there with her husband for many years after it was found that she was stealing from the business. She was fired from the job but British law being what it is, the tenant cannot be asked to leave as long as rent is paid and even if it is not. Her rent was substantially below the going rate and as I raised it gradually the tenant, now widowed, began looking for alternate housing. Now I could do a few repairs and sell it unencumbered. My luck held, a buyer was found and I came out well.

Similarly, a row house I owned became vacant. Workmen were hired to upgrade the kitchen and bathroom, repair some windows and a fresh coat of paint was applied throughout. This tiny house with just enough garden for a few potatoes and without a garage or even a driveway was a hot commodity. It sold within a week. Scored again!

Then there was The Birches. That was more than one disaster. First built in the 1800's, to what must have been a well to do family, the main house sat regally on a knoll overlooking a small park adjacent to my childhood home. Around 1920, the property became a private girls' school of about 60 students. It had a winding driveway, a grass tennis court and lawns large enough for field games. My sister and I attended from age 4 - 11 under the heavy hand of two spinster ladies. Yes, the ruler came out often and three order marks equalled detention which went on your permanent record.

I remember there being three classrooms and a music room plus the living quarters for the ladies. There was third elderly spinster, Miss Brinkworth who lived in what was once the gate keeper's cottage behind the school. She owned The Birches and taught private piano lessons, in her quarters, to some of the luckless students. Most often the metronome clicked back and forth while the teacher snoozed and the student banged unmusically at the keys. I lasted a couple of terms and remain tone deaf to this day.

Much later after Miss Brinkworth's time, the aging teachers could no longer continue, the school closed and the property went up for sale. My father swooped in and our old school was turned into flats. Houses were built in the gardens, cheek to jowl, and all but the gate keeper's cottage were quickly sold.

What was left to me was a two story cottage plus 2 flats created in the connecting section to the school. All quite tiny I understand, although I never saw more than the piano lesson room. Not prime property as you will hear in my next episode.


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Reluctant Landlord - part 2

The shop that I now owned was in Nailsworth, a small market town a few miles from where I grew up. The streets were narrow and most of the houses were made of stone. This particular shop was part of a row of what was once terraced cottages in an alley only accessible on foot. The shop sold pet food, some gardening products and accessories and was about the size of a single garage.

Above it, although not directly above it but rather staggered half over the neighboring shop, was a vacant flat. I am still not used to the way the Brits sell off bits and pieces of property from the main leaving these odd shaped jigsaw puzzle parts.

I had been to this property with my father at least 15 years prior. I remembered climbing the narrow stairs to a dark and musty couple of rooms where a single man lived. I don't think there was indoor plumbing then and nothing had been done since, I was sure.

This was to be the first property to be sold. The pet food shop was not doing well and the rent was coming sporadically. The owners reluctantly decided to close up shop and at about the same time, I was approached by a woman wanting to open a flower shop and own the premises. Perfect, I thought!

My sister was helping me manage my properties at this time and in a better position to negotiate than I was. A deal was struck and I was delighted. This was going to be easy. Not so fast!

The flower lady was excited and planning her future when suddenly everything came to a grinding halt. I'm not sure who first pointed out that the buildings were definitely not plumb but in fact leaning dangerously but it was probably the local authorities. I was now visualizing the whole row of attached buildings tipping into the street with the first gust of wind.

It wasn't quite that bad but serious measures had to be taken immediately or the buildings would be condemned. This may have been the first time I heard this but as it turned out, it was not to be the last. My inheritance was shrinking fast and there was still that tax bill.

In the end, the flower lady had her shop, the buildings were stabilized and any proceeds I received were negligible. One down and 31 to go!