There is a certain level of trust which needs to exist between tenants and their landlords. Landlords need to be able to trust their tenants to make payments on time and take good care of their living space. Tenants need to be able to trust their landlords to give them a fair price, complete maintenance requests on time, and treat them like a human being, not an unlimited source of income. That's where the trouble begins for our friend, "Sarah."
Sarah always had a great relationship with her ex-husband, "Tyler." They even lived in the same house for a while after divorcing and always tried to live close together for the convenience of splitting time appropriately with their seven-year-old daughter. In terms of co-parenting, they were absolutely crushing it.
Sarah had always admired the location of the house across the street from Tyler's. It belonged to some of her and Tyler's couple friends, and they were super nice people. She had even been in the house a time or two. She had known they were selling their house but knew it was too expensive to purchase.
A year or two after the couple had moved out, she was browsing the listings in the area and saw the house was available for rent. She thought it was her lucky day, but little did she know this was far from the case.
Sarah and Tyler had gone out to lunch one day and saw the landlord, "Rob," working on the house. They knew he was there because his gigantic truck was parked in the driveway with his company name plastered on the side. When they approached the garage and spoke to Rob, he immediately began lying.
Rob told Sarah the house was his family's home and he was fixing it up to rent out. He told Sarah there were a lot of memories in the home because his kids had grown up there.
Sarah quickly realized he was using a shady way of adding value to the home. She decided to keep her mouth shut because it was directly across the street from her ex-husband's house and it was literally the bus stop for her daughter.
Rob agreed to show Sarah around the house and it didn't look great. The entire house was dirty, the carpet looked disgusting, and the paint was chipped in every room.
Sarah made a comment about a broken light switch in the living room, and Rob responded he was going to have a cleaning crew come through to clean up the house. He also said he was going to have the rooms re-painted and the carpet re-done.
The price for rent was a little high but only two hundred dollars over what Sarah was expecting and she really wanted the house. Little did she know how expensive it would be before she even moved in.
Sarah had a small Australian Shepherd and she knew pet deposits were always going to be a factor as long as she was renting. What she wasn't expecting was the pet deposit to be as expensive as the rent. The first month's rent, last month's rent, and pet deposit were all the same exact price. Twelve hundred and fifty dollars. Sarah was out almost four grand before she even moved into the house. This on top of the lying should have let Sarah know what type of landlord she was dealing with, but she really wanted this house.
Sarah still signed the lease.
Two weeks later, it was moving day. Sarah should have seen the trouble coming from a mile away when she arrived at the house to find the key in a lockbox on the front door and Rob nowhere to be found.
She walked into a complete mess.
The only thing Rob had actually replaced was the rotted outdoor steps. Which he probably did the maintain the outward appearance of the home.
There was, hopefully, ketchup smeared on the floors and walls of the kitchen. Not a single thing in there had been cleaned. The fridge still had moldy food in it from the previous tenants.
Something that smelled like air gel was rubbed into the carpet of the dining room and outside of the front bathroom door.
The fireplace and area around it were covered in soot up to the ceiling.
When the light switch magically worked, Sarah realized that Rob had disabled it to purposely keep the living room dim for showings.
The trash cans in the garage were completely full and smelled like they hadn't been emptied since the previous tenants moved out.
Rob conveniently had a big saw set up in front of the basement door when he showed Sarah the house. It never registered with Sarah to look in the basement because it wasn't a major selling point of the house to her. Unfortunately, if she had, she would have seen the massive amount of mold in the basement while looking at the house rather than on her moving day.
Sarah immediately called Tyler over, who brought his digital camera. They took eleven hundred pictures of the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house.
Next, Sarah called to confront Rob.
Rob picked up the phone and Sarah asked, "What on Earth did I just walk into?"
Rather than offering any sort of explanation, Rob responded, "The money and keys have already exchanged hands. If you have a problem you can submit a maintenance request."
Ignoring him, Sarah told him everything that was wrong with the house.
Rob responded, "I don't remember it being that bad, sounds like you made a mess moving in," and hung up.
Sarah was already having serious doubts about Rob as a landlord and this conversation solidified everything.
Sarah submitted a maintenance request for the mold. After doing so, she went and bought a ton of bleach, other cleaning supplies, and a carpet cleaner.
Sarah, Tyler, and some of their friends spent two whole days deep cleaning the entire house.
Rob showed up during their deep clean.
He grabbed some paper towels and bleach Sarah had purchased from the garage, and started wiping it down from the basement walls. He didn't even talk to Sarah before he started. She found him in the basement about halfway through his "cleaning job." All he did was wipe down the mold with bleach and called it a job well done.
Three months later, it was time for an inspection.
Rob told Sarah he would be at the house at eight o'clock in the morning, he showed up at seven o'clock at night. He demanded to be let in when Sarah told him she was in the middle of dinner.
Sarah reluctantly let him in and he immediately began taking pictures of the dirty dishes in the sink. Dinner was still on the table. Sarah wasn't having it, pulled out the digital camera, and started taking pictures of Rob photographing her sink with dinner still on the table.
Rob wanted to go through the drawers in her bedroom and Sarah laughed him off.
At this moment, Sarah decided she wouldn't be renewing her lease. Lucky for her, she didn't hear from Rob until it was time to move out.
Rob sent her a move-out checklist that included professional steam cleaning, professional white-glove cleaning, new pine straw for landscaping, and he wanted all of the rooms repainted to "wheat." The walls were turquoise in the bathroom when Sarah moved in.
Ready to get out of there, Sarah got to work with the help of her friends. Then they took another thousand pictures of every detail of the house.
Luckily, Sarah knew a professional steamcleaner who gave her a hefty discount on their service.
When Rob walked through to inspect the house, he was furious. He inspected every inch of the house and even ran a white rag over the top of the ceiling fans. It was obviously way more effort than he put into preparing the house for move-in. Rob snatched the key out of Sarah's hand and told her she would hear about her deposit in ten days.
That doesn't sound promising, Sarah thought.
Instead of getting her deposit back, Sarah got another bill for almost four grand two weeks later. Rob billed her for additional professional steam cleaning, an HVAC cleanout, and apparently, they didn't use the right brand of "wheat" paint. Lucky for Sarah, her mom was also a landlord, who advised her to call Rob and record the conversation. Sarah grabbed a recorder and called him.
Rob's oldest daughter answered the phone and transferred her to him. Things turned ugly fast.
Rob started by accusing Sarah's Australian Shephard of urinating into the air vents on the floor, then quickly transitioned to threatening when he said authorities would find the way she took care of her daughter 'very interesting.' He pretended to be accommodating and said he could help Sarah set up a payment plan, but threatened they would be in collections territory pretty soon.
At one point, he even said, "All tenants are liars."
He spent about twenty minutes threatening Sarah, all recorded. Shaken up from the conversation, Sarah called her mom for advice. Her mom advised her to play along and tell Rob her mom would be covering the expenses. However, before doing so, she would need an itemized receipt. Sarah called back and had an itemized receipt ten minutes after asking.
The majority of the items on the receipt were a complete scam. The HVAC vents were painted into the walls, both at the time Sarah moved in and moved out. There was no way of getting into them to clean without ripping the paint off the walls. The most interesting part was when Sarah looked up the HVAC company listed on the receipt.
It turned out the HVAC company belonged to Rob's brother-in-law. Even more interesting was the company was out of state and had actually gone out of business ten years prior. In addition to this, the paint brand and color listed on the receipt were the exact same that Sarah had used. With photographic evidence, of course. Sarah called Rob back.
Rob's daughter picked up the phone and Sarah said she would be taking him to court, followed up by, "No one threatens my little girl."
Rob's daughter had no idea what she was talking about, so Sarah put the phone on speaker and played the recording for her. She clearly had no idea how big of a scumbag her father was, but made it most of the way through the recording before asking Sarah to turn it off after Rob threatened to contact CPS if she didn't pay up. Rob's daughter put Sarah on hold and went to get her mom.
Rob's wife tried to reason with Sarah, but she cut her off by playing the part of the recording where Rob talked about what happened to kids in the foster care system. Both Rob's wife and daughter began profusely apologizing on speakerphone. They tried to explain how the business was divided and Rob handled all of the rental stuff. Sarah said she understood they weren't at fault, but she would still be taking Rob to court.
Sarah and Rob ended up in arbitration.
Sarah showed up with two separate laptops to show before and after photos, proof of his fake HVAC cleaning scheme, a stack of receipts from everything she purchased to clean the house, the recording of him threatening her, and a decent knowledge of the rental laws in her state. The arbitrator was so impressed he asked Sarah if she was a paralegal at one point.
Meanwhile, Rob showed up with one picture of dirty dishes in the sink and tall tales of how Sarah 'lived like a pig.' Unfortunately for Rob, Sarah pulled up a picture of the same sink of dirty dishes that included dinner in the background, along with a time and date stamp.
The arbitrator asked Rob, "Did you actually expect her to do the dishes before she ate dinner?"
The woman taking notes was gagging when Sarah showed the pictures of the ketchup and mold in the basement. Thanks to her state's laws, Sarah got three times what she asked for in her rental dispute. The arbitrator described Rob's behavior as "appalling." When Sarah went out into the hallway, there was a young couple asking the clerk if Rob was available for arbitration yet.
Sarah asked, "Is your case HVAC related by some chance?"
They confirmed. Sarah handed them all of her notes along with her number and sent them in there to tear Rob a new one. She actually got a lot of calls from Rob's previous tenants asking her for information on how to pursue legal action against him. She learned the young couple had looked up every address listed on Rob's website and gone door-to-door, warning them and presenting them with Sarah's notes.
Meanwhile, Sarah's mother filed a complaint with the real estate board because it turned out the address of Rob's 'company office' was actually a P.O. Box. This is very frowned upon because real estate businesses need to be in a location where they can be served by courts. It didn't take long to figure this one out in Rob's case.
A year later, Sarah was having dinner at Tyler's house and saw a truck drive by with Rob's company name plastered on the side. It seemed he had significantly downgraded vehicles so Sarah and Tyler looked him up on the county clerk's website.
It turned out, Rob's wife divorced him and got almost everything. She got their house, his big fancy truck, and sued him for the business on top of it all. Rob got to keep the name but she took everything else.
Sarah's mom got a notice stating her complaint was addressed and Rob had had his license suspended, then he had to pay a massive fine to get re-instated. All but two of Rob's rental properties were sold at auction.
Rob was a prick to the wrong tenant.
My biggest takeaway from the story is everyone should follow Sarah's lead and take thousands of pictures of their living space both before and after moving in. I can't even imagine how much extra income sketchy landlords have made from additional "cleaning fees" required after a tenant has moved out. I don't understand the reason why it is the responsibility of tenants to make sure their landlord doesn't pull a fast one on them or how we have even gotten to this point but remember to take every opportunity to cover yourself when renting a new place. Most landlords aren't like Rob but there are still too many out there like him or worse.
My girlfriend once moved into an apartment with a blood-stained mattress in the living room when she arrived and I still think Sarah walked into a worse situation on her move-in day. I'm pretty sure houses get condemned for having black mold in them so your lazy landlord wiping down the walls with a rag and bleach you purchased probably isn't going to do anything. If I walked into a scene like this on move-in day I would probably just turn around and immediately walk out of the door.
I don't even know where to begin on Rob. Sarah probably should have ran far away as soon as she realized Rob was willing to lie about something as simple as who actually lived in the house. I think an, "I've rented this house out for the past two years, it's a complete trainwreck inside, and you get to clean it all up," would have been less of a red flag than what Rob did. I never imagined cheering for a real person to have their life completely ruined and lose all of their belongings but this completely changed with Rob. If anyone deserved to lose their family, belongings, and career it was definitely him.