Monday, March 10, 2014

Prevention is the only way

Saturday's Lincoln Journal Star contained an article about the frustrations of a landlord with the damage done by her tenants or their guests at her northeast Lincoln rental property. The description of the condition of the house sounded familiar to any police officer, all of whom have investigated child neglect reports, domestic violence cases, party disturbances, and other incidents in such surroundings.

What bothered me a little bit was the landlord's exasperation with the police, who she expected would simply arrest the former residents for the filth and damage they left behind. Oh, that it was simply that easy. In order to convict someone of a crime, you've got to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the specific individual charged committed the crime. In these kinds of cases you have two problems: proving that the damage was intentional, and establishing who actually did the deed.

It's not a crime to be an utter slob, to permit your dogs to defecate on the floor, and to throw your garbage into the  basement--unless it is done with the intent to create damage. This is often difficult to prove. Even more difficult is to determine who did it. If the toilet is smashed apart and leaking all over the house, all the lease-holder needs to do is to claim that it must have been one of the attendees at the party who did it while the renter was passed out, and the police are pretty much at a loss to prove otherwise.

Such was the case for this landlord: four adults were living in the home, none of whom took responsibility for the broken windows, and there was insufficient evidence to establish who, if anyone committed a crime. Even if their had been, arrest doesn't fix the damage. Contrary to popular belief, the judge can't make a criminal defendant fix the fence. The defendant could be offered probation, on the condition of restitution, but the only hammer to enforce that is the imposition of the original sentence. When you lead this lifestyle, the threat of a couple days in jail is not as daunting as you might think.

Nor is the landlord likely to experience much success in civil proceedings. It would be pretty easy to get a monetary judgement from the lessee, but collecting that is a different matter. Have you heard the phrase, "You can't get blood from a turnip"? The type of tenant who would do such deeds, or allow such to be done, is unlikely to have any assets which could satisfy a judgement.

While I sympathize with the plight of this landlord, prevention is the only way to avoid this conundrum. Fortunately, it usually works. Require a hefty damage deposit. Do a good background check on a prospective renter. Take action at the first sign of trouble. And understand that one of the risks of being a landlord is the possibility you will eventually encounter the renter from Hell. Don't blame the police: they deal with such people with depressing regularity, and in all likelihood this isn't their first rodeo.


Anonymous said...

Were these four adults "unrelated/non-related" (whichever the relevant law specifies?

Anonymous said...

I think the landlord in the story thought the article was being written to point out that a pending bill in the State Legislature making it easier for property owners to get rid of problem tenants really needs to pass. The Journal Star writer chose to make it more about how the police did nothing to help the landlord than what the new law would do for property owners.

Anonymous said...

Do a credit check, as well as a criminal history check.

Beware prospective tenants who do not have a checking account. Why? It's OK to prefer to pay cash for many things, like retail shopping, because your account/routing numbers don't go out to every store you transact with, nor do your CC/DC numbers (remember Target?) and CVV number. I prefer to pay cash for most things myself, but I have several bank accounts.

That said, anyone who does not even have a checking account is fairly likely to have civil court-ordered judgments and other reasons for keeping their money from being garnished every month. They might even change jobs now and then to avoid having their paycheck garnished. Stay well away.

Steve said...

I think Tom pretty much nailed it as far as the current situation. I haven't read the actual bill that is proposed, but from the article, it doesn't seem like much of a help for landlords. In three days, tenants or there guests could literally destroy a place. The way I look at it, a landlord ought to be able to immediately evict a tenant if the landlord discovers there has been significant intentional damage to the property or significant damage due to carelessness or neglect, in order to prevent any additional damage. With any waiting period at all, the threat of eviction will likely result in even more damage, for which the landlord will more than likely not be reimbursed.

Tom Casady said...

9:40 AM,

Quite true. Good advice.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:32 AM, I TOTALLY get your comment referring to LJS choosing to show Law Enforcement's lack of action to help the landlord in this situation. I have spoken to the editor of the paper about how LPD, for one LE agency, is often painted in a negative light in the stories they print. Also, how nasty comments about the Police are left on for all to view and the comments that support the Police are deleted. He has assured me that the LJS has no hidden agenda and will be more careful about monitoring comments in the future. So far, he has acted accordingly. I believe in free speech. However, not when hateful, half-truths are written towards the Police Officers by people who, most likely, are angry because they got caught breaking the laws. And since I have the option of 'reporting abuse' on those comments, I will take advantage of that. I know the Cops aren't always perfect, nobody is, but they don't deserve the ugly, written insults that get hurled on them from, again, someone who has a beef with LEOs every time a story comes up that involves the Police. It's just my feelings about it and I don't expect most to agree with me. But thanks Dave Bundy, LJS Editor, for his assistance on this! I have noticed the nasty comments have been deleted sooner than they were before.