Landlords often unfairly characterized |

Landlords often unfairly characterized

Christina Proctor

They are often portrayed as the villain. In silent movies the evil landlord evicts the innocent tenants, but in reality the pendulum swings both ways and not every tenant is an innocent.

Evictions are rare, according to Charlie Hamm, property manager with Mountain View Management, but when it does happen the landlord always loses.

“You never get the unpaid rent, all you get is the person out of the property,” Hamm said, relating a story where an eviction became even more costly.

“The tenant was behind on his rent and we started the eviction process. He literally took a sledgehammer to the house. The living room had a hole in it where you could walk out onto the deck. Each stair was broken, both toilets were smashed, there was more than $20,000 in damages to the house,” Hamm said. “The insurance company covered the lost so the owner wasn’t stuck with the bills and the man went to jail. I not sure what he was thinking.”

Although each landlord can usually relate at least one bad experience with a tenant, Hamm said the majority are good.

“I’ve been in the business for 13 years, here at the lake, and 90 percent of the tenants are great. It’s the other 10 (percent) that create the problems,” Hamm said.

Hamm said to avoid the 10 percent property managers screen, check credit history and use tools like an eviction registry offered on the Internet.

“It’s a private company that lists all evictions. It’s a great tool,” he said.

Bruce Grego, a private attorney who specializes in landlord and tenant law, said failure to pay rent it the predominant reason for evictions at South Shore. According to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s office, in the last few months an average of 15 evictions were served each month.

“There tends to be a greater number of evictions in the off-season,” Grego said. “People lose their job and get behind. Most landlords don’t react as quickly as they should. If the tenant is more than 15 days late on rent they should move to evict.”

Grego said landlords who try to do the paperwork themselves often find the process frustrating.

“It is a highly technical, unforgiving process and if one thing goes wrong they lose and have to start all over,” Grego said.

The process begins with a three-day notice to pay or quit the rental, and a landlord can only demand past due rent.

“They can only ask for pure rent,” Grego said. “Landlords sometimes try to tack on fees and then the three-day notice is thrown out.”

If rent is still not paid landlords then obtain an unlawful detainer action. The tenant has five days to file a written response to the lawsuit. The landlord must go through the courts to evict a tenant. A landlord can’t legally physically remove or lock out a tenant, or cut off utilities.

If the tenant doesn’t respond to the unlawful detainer and the court decides in favor of the landlord the court issues a writ of possession. This orders the sheriff to remove the tenant from the rental, but gives the tenant five days from the date it’s served to move voluntarily.

Grego said if everything runs smoothly a landlord could evict a tenant within 21 days even with a trial.

“Depending on the court calendar and holidays it can take about 21 days, 30 days on the outside,” Grego said.

Grego said landlords are sometimes taken by unruly tenants.

“I’ve taken possession of rentals where the place is decimated – closets piled to the ceiling with trash. There was one place where the tenants were changing the oil in their motorcycles in the living room. One property was rented furnished and the tenant sold all the furniture,” Grego said. “Landlords should never let tenants move in without a written agreement, documents signed and rent paid.”

Grego said one landlord ended up having to go through the eviction process after giving some prospective tenants a key to look at the rental.

“They moved in,” Grego said. “The police view it as a civil matter because they obtained the key legally and they had permission to be on the property.”

Marti Lucksinger, co-owner of Lake Valley Properties, said her eviction rate is extremely low.

“We’ve had years where we’ve had maybe two evictions. Other years we’ve had none,” Lucksinger said. “Sometimes a good person can go bad. It’s a resort community. People can lose their job or go through a divorce.”

Lucksinger said keeping properties maintained attracts steady tenants.

“Most owners keep up their properties. If they don’t those are the ones that don’t attract the best tenants and it goes from there,” Lucksinger said. “Units that are kept up, and it doesn’t have to do with cost, attract tenants that treat it like a home.”

Bobbi Cole, owner of Alpine Realty, said it’s part of a property manager’s job to ensure that owners maintain their rentals.

“I make the owners come up to my standards or I don’t manage the property. I feel very strongly about this,” Cole said. “I have a lot of units I call humble housing, but they’re clean and everything is in good working order and safe.”

Cole said the bare “habitable” condition that landlords are legally responsible to provide is not enough.

“Habitable is just not OK,” Cole said. “If you let a tenant move in with ugly carpet that’s their mentality and maybe when they move out the walls need repainting. And if someone is willing to move into a place that’s not clean and in need of repair what does that tell you about the people who are willing to move in.”

Charlie Hamm said owners aren’t always doing much above the bare minimum.

“Housing in the city is getting run down. Especially the apartment units,” Hamm said. “It’s unfortunate because it’s a blight on the city.”

– Friday, renters’ stories and tenants’ basic rights.

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