May 30, 2008

Tenant Woes

Category: News — Ira @ 7:03 pm


“The poor you will always have with you….”

—Matthew 26:11

They exist out there. In their own subculture. In another dimension, almost under-ground, in conditions most of us cannot fathom. Men, women, young adults, children. They work paycheck to paycheck, doing the service jobs. Attendants. Gas station clerks. Servers. Some don’t work at all, but sit around collecting welfare.

They are the poor.

Now, being poor is no sin. It’s not a virtue either. I’ve been there myself. More than a few times. Years ago, when I wandered the earth. Many times not knowing where I’d be next week, not having a hundred bucks to my name, or even ten. Hitting bottom meant I didn’t have the money for a pack of cigarettes. That happened once or twice. And that was back when cigarettes didn’t cost an arm and a leg like they do now.

To me, being poor was so miserable that I worked hard not to be. The experience of poverty is a great motivator.

The poor are all around us. We deal with them every day. I have no problem with that. But some few of the poor have had a strange tendency to end up renting my upstairs apartment. And that has caused some minor tribulations in my life.

It’s a nice apartment. Nothing special, but nice. Two bedrooms. Full bath. Living room and equipped kitchen. Private drive and porch.

When Ellen and I bought the house back in May, 2000, “John Doe” was comfortably en-sconced upstairs. So he came with the house. A single man, fiftyish, who made a decent salary driving for an Amish work crew, John was all by himself in the world. Raised an orphan, he had no relatives anywhere except an estranged son from a previous marriage. Or so he claimed.

He was a kindly fellow, a bit rough and uncouth, on the slow simple side. Put a few beers in him and he’d get loud. But he was kind hearted. He lived upstairs with a large declawed cat and sat by his open window on summer evenings and smoked and didn’t make much noise or bother anyone. He usually paid the rent on time or almost on time.

I felt bad for him and tried to include him when we had cookouts and even on holidays. We invited him down for Thanksgiving dinner every year. I took him along to my brother Steve’s place for Christmas meals.

Then John made an unwise decision. He loved golf and decided to take a full time job at the local golf course as a groundskeeper. All well and good, except that it didn’t pay much. Minimum wage, or a few cents more. Almost immediately money got tighter. He fell behind again and again on his rent. I cajoled and scolded and threatened and sweet-talked. To no avail. And so it went for about a year, with him hanging on by a thread, usually behind on the rent and heating bills.

And then his truck collapsed. Expired. Kaput. And that was it.

With no transportation, he could not work. He took the bus for awhile, but he had to be at the golf course at 4 AM, and the bus didn’t leave early enough. I dug out an old bicycle from the garage and gave that to him. Off he went, at 3 AM, the seven miles or so along the highway, to get to his job by four. The old bicycle soon looked increas-ingly wobbly and dilapidated. Eventually it collapsed as well.

By then John was way behind on the rent and fuel costs. He kept assuring me he would pay. Some fine day. Then he began making noises to move, closer to his job. I did not resist. So one day a friend stopped by with a pickup while I was at work and moved him out. Trouble was, he didn’t take all his stuff. And left the apartment in shambles. Absolutely trashed.

By the time we got it cleaned, we had spent over $600.00. John had left cigarette butts everywhere and his cat had not been the cleanest animal. Up in the attic, I found boxes and boxes of trash, and many little tins full of cigarette butts. Interestingly, one box held hundreds and hundreds of old lottery tickets he’d bought in hopes of hitting it big. Instead of using the money to pay the rent. Irritated me.

He did leave a lot of good tools and hunting gear, so I recouped a few hundred bucks selling those to friends. But nowhere near the $1100.00 he owed.

After cleaning the mess John had left, I rented the apartment to a brother and sister from northern PA, who had come to the area in search of work. They stayed for over a year, and mostly kept up with the rent. When they left, the apartment was clean. I placed the “Apartment for Rent” sign out by the road again.

Many people stopped by to look at the apartment. Most from the lower strata of society. I had each one fill out an application, including details on income and so forth.

And then one day she walked in and announced she was going to rent the apartment. She loved it. She had to have it.

I’ll call her “Jane Roe.” A single mom with a teenage daughter. And a cat. And a job. She very much wanted the apartment and seemed to make enough to manage. Her references checked out pretty well. So I decided to rent to her.

Jane came up with the first month’s rent and the security deposit, which was an ad-ditional month’s rent. Unlike my previous renters, Jane took pride in the apartment and hung curtains in the windows and added other homey touches. I thought this one might work out. And it did for awhile.

I soon discovered that Jane had an interesting relationship with the truth. And that’s being kind. The woman lied for no reason, lied when the simple truth would have served her better. I have never known anyone who would lie so freely, even when there was no reason to. It soon got to where every word she said went into one ear and out the other. Everything she said, I just automatically figured was a lie.

But she managed to keep up with the rent. And that’s all that really mattered. All that was any of my business. I often had to remind her it was due. Sometimes it took her until mid-month to get it all to me. But she kept at it and pretty much kept current. And so it went for more than two years. Jane had now rented from me for longer than any other tenant.

Things began to unravel last summer. She made a series of unfortunate job changes. Never lasted long at anything. Always the story of how the money would be here next week. Always behind, always just hanging on.

Somewhere along the line, her fifteen year old daughter established an online relation-ship with some creep from New York. The next thing I knew, an old sedan kept show-ing up in my drive when Jane was at work. I paid little attention; it was none of my business. Until one day the driver took a detour through my yard with the old sedan and left deep tracks in the grass. I was furious.

When I next saw Jane, I berated her. I showed her the tracks in the yard and told her the car with New York license plates had done it. She’d better tell her friends not to do that again. She stared at me and claimed she didn’t know what I was talking about. I just passed off her protests as another lie.

Turned out she didn’t know. And the guy from New York, a thirty year old creep, was upstairs with the daughter when no one was around. Jane notified the cops. They inter-viewed her daughter. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

The daughter became pregnant. It kind of freaked me out that this stuff was going on right above my head, sometimes when I was at home, even. They decided to keep the baby. The cops nabbed the thirty year old creep. He’s now sitting in the Lancaster County jail.

The baby arrived in March. Cute little boy. I went upstairs and admired him. But I felt sorry for him. He has absolutely no chance at all of amounting to anything in life.

And about exactly then, Jane’s decrepit old station wagon breathed its last.

With no car, she couldn’t get to her job. With no job, there was no income. With no income, there was no rent money for the landlord.

By late April, she had made no move to pay the rent, but kept weaving whatever tales her fantastic imagination could contrive to convince me the money would be here by the next weekend. The weekend always came and went, and no money. With the baby arriving and all, I held off for awhile. She and her daughter both went on welfare.

In late April, I’d had enough. I’m not a bank, I told her. If I don’t pay my mortgage, my house gets repossessed. I then told her that if some of the money wasn’t forth-coming by the next weekend, I would be forced to file eviction procedures. The next Saturday morning, she bundled up her daughter and they both disappeared for a full week, staying with family in a nearby town. No explanations, no communication with me, nothing. They just disappeared.

The following Monday, I filed an eviction notice at the local District Justice office. With all the appeal periods, notice and so forth, eviction takes about a month. I figured to have her out by late May. In the meantime, we quit talking to each other. They existed upstairs, and I lived below. Seething each time the furnace kicked on, burning up expensive fuel to heat their apartment. Seething at the fact that they were living above me in my house, making no attempt to pay the rent due. And that it was taking so long to get them out.

The hearing date arrived. I went, but Jane never showed. The Judge granted me possession of my own apartment. Now a ten day appeal period had to pass. I sat downstairs and continued seething while they clumped about above my head.

After the ten-day appeal period, they would be trespassing. I concocted all kinds of schemes to shut off the water and the satellite TV, both included in the rent. Just wait, wait until that day, then righteous revenge would be mine.

The ten days passed. It was a Friday evening. I got home from the gym. Now I could shut off the water. But something held me back. I decided, what the heck, just talk to her and see what’s going on. So I knocked on her door. She came down and opened it a crack.

And suddenly my anger dissipated. Didn’t disappear, but dissipated. I saw a scared woman, out of options, out of stories, out of lies, out of choices. Yes, she was a liar. A deadbeat. A fraud. A freeloader. But she was scared. I would have been too.

I smiled at her. “I just wanted to see what your intentions are,” I said, not unkindly. “When will you be out?”

She opened the door and stepped out. “By the first of June,” she answered.

“You are trespassing now,” I said. “I could shut off the water. But I won’t, if you leave and clean the place up. And leave the stuff that’s mine.”

“I will,” she said. “My daughter and the baby have already moved in with my family. So they aren’t here.”

That was a positive development. I was relieved. When it boiled right down to it, I didn’t want to shut off the water supply to a baby anyway.

“You know,” I said conversationally, “you will never find an apartment this nice for such reasonable rent with such an easy-going landlord. What went wrong?”

“I know that,” she said. “You’ve always been good to us. When my car broke down, everything just went to h—.”

“I understand,” I said, “but that doesn’t make it right. You can’t go around ripping people off like you’re doing to me. It won’t work long term. It’s wrong. At some point, things will balance out. At some point, God will see to that.”

“I know,” she replied, “and I want to pay you the money I owe. Once I get a job.”

That statement didn’t even go in one ear and out the other. It just disappeared, whoosh, straightway into the ether. She owed me almost $2000.00. It might as well have been $2 million. I would never see a cent.

“And I will clean the place when I leave,” she promised.

Fat chance, I thought.

She moved out this week. Strange thing, she almost kept her promise. As near as she was able to, I suppose. Her stuff is moved out, except for a few odds and ends of junk. The apartment, while not sparkling, was vacuumed. Decently clean. The stuff that was mine is sitting in a neat little pile.

And so she’s gone. To pester and terrorize some other poor landlord, and regale him with ever-escalating tales of woe and grief. I hope he’s got a good airtight lease, like I had. I almost wish her well, and I’m relieved that she’s gone. And more than a little irritated. But overall, not really that angry. It is what it is. No sense popping a blood vessel about it.

People, and especially the poor, do what they have to do to survive. Like she did. Things got a bit out of hand, and before she knew it, she was under the waves. And couldn’t resurface.

She could have made better choices. She could have walked to jobs within half a mile of my house at about ten different businesses. But she didn’t. Chose not to.

Some people can’t be helped.

Now she’s gone. I’m wiser but poorer. That’s life.

Next week: My first reflections on Elmo Stoll.



  1. I’ve known “Jane” and others like her. Some folks are really dealt hard blows and can’t help their situation. But others are doomed to be poor; they do anything to preclude good things happening to them.

    P.S. Do you know where a fella could rent a good apartment in the Lancaster area?

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — May 30, 2008 @ 10:27 pm

  2. Stories like yours are the very reason I have never considered owning rental properties!

    Comment by John Wagler — May 30, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

  3. “The quality of mercy is not strained.
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
    Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
    The throned monarch better than his crown.
    His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
    The attribute to awe and majesty,
    Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
    But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
    It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
    It is an attribute of God himself;
    And earthly power doth then show like God’s
    When mercy seasons justice.”

    -Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

    Comment by Glo — May 31, 2008 @ 12:49 am

  4. One of my friends in Pine Craft had to do what you did. Their’s was a nest of drug dealers. While the man or men remained in jail the girl returned to find all of their belongings out in the front yard and other people digging through to find treasures they wanted, as the police gave the public permission to take whatever anybody wants. I admire my friends for doing what they had to do and at the same time felt compassion for the girl who was homeless. Such is life.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — May 31, 2008 @ 9:33 am

  5. I would contest your assertion that you have been poor. Broke, yes, but poor, I doubt it. Jane was poor. Being broke is ‘passing through’. Your statement that that period in your life was a motivator to work to never be like that again tells me you were merely broke. Poor is in your head, and in your heart. I’ve been broke – real broke, but never poor.

    Semantics, you say? Maybe. I think not, though.

    Comment by Patrick — May 31, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

  6. The only good reasons for staying poor are ignorance, laziness, bad habits or poor decision making, or a combination of some or all the above.

    Comment by Andrew Yutzy — May 31, 2008 @ 10:56 pm

  7. We in education (especially at the community college) spend an awful lot of time discussing what is poor and what is poverty etc. — For me it has come down to the distance between yourself and opportunity. I mean opportunity in that truly American “land of opportunity” sense. There is an amorphous group of “things” that I have begun to refer to as “bourgeois happenstance”. For lack of better terminology it is those “things” that by geographic, economic and cultural place of birth you have handy access to, for the rest those same “things” are several steps away.

    I have held my last dollar, I have seen my income cut in half and I have, perhaps rightly, been judged for being in those circumstances. Poverty, real poverty is a killer, but it can also be an indulgent or pious choice.

    Comment by Glo — June 1, 2008 @ 8:40 am

  8. First, Ira, consider requiring that your next perspective renter obtain and show you their three credit reports, Experian, Equifax and Transunion. Any person may obtain each one of these reports free once each year at (the other sites are scams or pay sites). Your soon to be tennant could sit at your computer, prove their identity to the credit agencies (one at a time) and print out their report. If they cite privacy and refuse to show you a report, you cite private property rights and refuse to consider them as a renter anymore.

    Second, Americans do not suffer poverty. We do not have mass starvations in refuge camps, we do not have lethal pandemics caused by airborne or waterborne disease raging through our nation and the usual differentiation between poor and rich is poor drive used, rusty Kias and rich drive new BMWs. Notice that both have a car. Now visit China, India and Russia and apply the same standards through those nations. In the nation of Moldavia, deaf are refused any chance of employment and then are paid $2.00 each month to support themselves in the hope that the useless parasites will starve to death. In the United States, deaf have a federal law called the American with Disabilities Act to help them gain access to education and employment, they may fall back on Social Security Disability and several employers such as USPS and Walmart have outreach programs to hire deaf. Jean never took SSI or other government welfare and chose to live on $2,000 to $3,000 each year while living in a horse and buggy church and afterwards. Her choice would be Glo’s pious choice, the same as a Roman Catholic brother or sister who takes and honors a strict vow of poverty. She was “poor” or in “poverty” but not a loser. I think that is the better term to apply to those who are poor because they refuse to get out and get any job in a near full employment economy. Many illegal immigrants from Central America are amazed that they can get two or three jobs, even minimum or below minimum wage jobs, in this country. Back home, the job options were zero. These immigrants are the exact opposite of losers. They risked life and what little stability they had at home to take the risk to go north into a strange land.

    Comment by Mark Hersch — June 2, 2008 @ 1:46 am

  9. I would not consider Jean’s choice pious – I meant pious in a much more pejorative sense. What I mean is something I’ve observed in folks who attend plain churches as well as unitarian universalist, it’s behavior and choices that put themselves and their families at risk for no other reason then some assumed “guts and glory” award (temporal or spiritual) from their respective religious organization. Agreed, we in America have no idea what it means to live as they do in the third world. At some point however, being constantly brow beaten with “at least you’re not starving in Africa” is cold comfort.

    Comment by Glo — June 2, 2008 @ 1:08 pm

  10. On comment #6:

    Since Christ came and said “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and “blessed are the poor” and “woe to you that are rich” and many other simple words about poverty and wealth… since that time there have existed small groups of people scattered here and there across the earth and throughout the centuries… they have been despised, forgotten, the off-scouring and scum of the earth; the poorest of the poor: the voluntary poor. They have been the primitive Christians of the first centuries; Christians from later centuries as well. The world gave them such names as Waldensians, Anapabtists etc.

    A woman from the latter group, on the morning of her death by drowning at the hands of cruel men gave this advice to her infant son in a letter: (hopefully it reached him years later)¨When you earn money by the sweat of your brow do not guard it for yourself. Do no keep it for even the night. Rather go the same day and distribute it the poor. In this way the Lord will bless you¨ The blessing she was talking about, incidentally, was not a blessing of material:( as supposed evangelical Christians; they should read Deuternonomy 28, compare it with Christ´s words, and decide wether they want to be Christians or Israelites.) she was talking about treasures in heaven.

    To the voluntary poor, the Christians of the past centuries: you did well. You wait to receive the promise. You have not yet received it. You are waiting that you may receive it together with those who are yet to pass the same way you came.(Hebrews 11) I hope to God that there may still be a precious few scattered across the face of the earth. (even perchance in the United States of America.) Until the resurrection: Rest in peace, O Christians.

    Comment by Olen Yutzy — June 3, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

  11. Blessed are the poor….in spirit.

    A rich man CAN BE poor in spirit. One doesn’t have to be poor to be poor in spirit.
    Some very rich men were great men of God.
    But, it is not the norm.

    And, just because one is poor, materially, does not mean they are ‘poor in spirit’.
    There are many that are very poor, materially, and have awful attitudes.
    Being poor of spirit is a condition of the heart, not an outward condition.

    What counts is not what one has, or doesn’t have, materially.
    What counts is having a ‘we are strangers and pilgrims here/just passing thru’ kind of attitude.

    A poor person can be just as consumed/wrapped up in this life as a rich person. Even more so.

    It all boils down to the attitude/motive of one’s heart.
    All thru the ages…that is what has counted. This is what He goes by. Always has…always will.

    It is not whether one is rich or poor, but the attitude of heart towards what one has, or, doesn’t have.

    The ‘promise’ mentioned in Heb that O.T saints were ‘waiting for’ was ‘salvation’. There ain’t no need of ‘waiting’ today. It’s either now…or never.

    Comment by Fritz — June 3, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

  12. One of my renters was behind on his rent. I asked him what the deal is. He said he is embarassed that he didn’t pay, so he blocks it out of his mind, then he forgets!

    Comment by DLY — June 5, 2008 @ 11:07 pm

  13. Hi Ira,

    I ran across this article a few days after reading your March 22, 2013 “Mutterings…” article and it was like watching a movie that starts at the end and then goes back to show the beginning. I can see why you’re hoping not to have material for any more tenant stories.

    I also like seeing the connections between articles written years apart from each other. We and our lives change much over time but at the same time much remains the same. We are who we are. I was on holiday with my family last weekend and while visiting a memorial library, the host said “Reading books allow us to live more than one life.” That quote hit me right away because it expressed perfectly what I’ve always enjoyed about reading. Your site has the same effect and I appreciate you taking the time and effort to share your life with us in this way. Thanks,

    Comment by Eric — March 28, 2013 @ 6:02 pm

  14. What a tough situation. It’s very kind that you treated this woman humanely knowing full well you were getting taken to the cleaners. That speaks volumes about your character. Yet, at the same time, you weren’t going to lay down and let her walk all over you. Good for you.

    Knowing that you don’t have to berate, bully, rage at, or nag someone to get them to do what is right is freedom in and of itself. By doing the next right thing, filing claims to get her out since she wasn’t paying you, was the right thing to do for both of you. Enabling people to stay sick is never good. You do right by them, as much as you can without hurting yourself, and the rest is up to them.

    Like you said, she could have found work within walking distance. She also could have gone to counseling to address her incessant need to lie. It’s always sad to see a person be driven to sabotage themselves. When that drive is there, it literally takes an act of God to dig it out.

    Comment by Francine — June 3, 2013 @ 1:21 am

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