John the maintenance man pushed open the door of the empty apartment. The tenant had died in a head-on car crash 3 weeks ago. Poor guy never even got a chance to move in! The place was immaculate as the day he signed the lease. But that shower door never closed right, and the special-order part had finally come in. It gave John the creeps walking in here. And that smell! What the…? John’s eyes darted across the living room to a closet…
Roll the opening credits of the show and the theme music. Got your popcorn? Good! Now –the payoff to the cliff hanger.
The closet was locked. John got his screw gun and removed the lockset while Tommy, his young assistant looked on. “Oh my GOD,” Tommy gasped as the lockless door swung open to reveal stacked bricks of marijuana from floor to ceiling, and a small arsenal of weapons. “Man I’m out of here, what if he comes BACK?” John looked up and noticed 2 tiles on the drop ceiling had been removed. Were there more drugs? “I’d better call the cops. Tommy, just go. I’ll lock up and wait outside. If he comes back I’m just here for the front apartment.”
Landlord reality show.
This would make an awesome opening scene for an episode of Law & Order, The Wire, or even Weeds. But alas, this is my life. This is my building – the first one we bought back in 2008 when our dreams were new and rental real estate was untried and full of possibilities! We never imagined this possibility!
That apartment had been occupied by an older, disabled man who had lived there for 30 years when we bought the building. We didn’t have the heart to raise his rent. So we let him stay on until last Christmas when he was taken to the hospital by ambulance and never came back. No family ever came forward, it was a sad situation. We gave them until mid-January before we did what we legally had to do to gain possession of the unit, then we had to dispose of all his belongings and renovate the place from top to bottom. When it was done we had a nice, modern 1 bedroom with a private entrance for $550/month - $100 more than what the old man was paying. We rented it to a nice young, single man with a clean criminal background who worked for UPS – a good job with a good income and random drug-testing. The ideal tenant for that unit! Illana, our tenant manager, got the security and the first month’s rent, and signed the lease with him. The new modern shower installed by the company that did the remodel did not close right – some part was missing for the door that had to be ordered. The tenant said he didn’t mind, just fix it before he moved in. He was going to move in slowly and wouldn’t be staying there for probably a week or two after the first of the month anyway.
There was a problem getting the part – this shower was a custom job, kind of looked like something out of Star Trek. Illana tried to call the new tenant but got no answer. We sent our maintenance man over– maybe there was something we could rig up from Home Depot until the part arrived so at least the guy could use the shower. The apartment was immaculate. No sign at all that he’d been back to drop off boxes or anything. Strange.
He never returned Illana’s call. She called a few more times, got voicemail. The first of the next month came and went, with no rent. She called again. No answer. She went to the apartment and knocked on the door, no answer. At our weekly staff meeting, I suggested we call PPL and find out if the utilities were on. They were – but in the name of the old man still. In our lease that constitutes abandonment of the apartment so I sent her in – and she found the place empty. He had never moved in! Illana called the emergency contact number on the rental application, listed as his mother. And that’s when she found out the horrible news – our new tenant had been killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver 3 weeks ago. He left behind a four-year-old son from a previous relationship. So sad!
Then the part for the shower came in. And we sent John, the maintenance man over to install it. That’s when he found a closet full of drugs and guns!
Our new tenant did not die in a head-on collision with a drunk driver – he was in jail! And the woman on the application wasn’t his mother – we don’t know who she was, or why she told such a convincing, elaborate, detailed lie. These were professionals, I guess.
A narrow escape from Wilkes-Barre’s One Strike.
I work a full-time job other than my rental business. I am also a mother of a 5-year-old. By the time I heard about the drugs and the guns in the closet, it was all over. John had called the police. The contraband was removed. There was nothing in the ceiling yet, thank God. And we did not get One Striked. As the police officer told Illana, “if we shut you down for One Strike, next time this happens you’re going to try to get rid of the stuff yourself instead of calling us!” I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t know about this until after the fact. Because I may have decided to put on some gloves, a ski mask, get everything in the back of my non-descript gray Prius (with the tag removed of course) and dump it all in the Susquehanna river under cover of darkness.
Wilkes-Barre’s One Strike law is the reason I started this blog. Please go back and read the 3 previous entries – it’s quite an education! And I try to make the writing entertaining besides.
Here’s One Strike in a nutshell – crime is up in Wilkes-Barre because drug dealers are moving in from the cities to take advantage of the ill-equipped police force and the willing customer base. Mayor Tom Leighton blames Wilkes-Barre’s landlords for the problem and added One Strike to the rental code – if a tenant or anyone at all is arrested on or near a property, that property can be shut down for six months. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit in Federal court on Constitutional grounds. Mayor Leighton says he intends to continue enforcing One Strike, and he has. And crime has continued to escalate, because landlords are not the problem. Drug dealers are. And they’re not stupid – they recruited our tenant for their operation, because he had a clean criminal background and a good job at UPS and therefore, access to the rental market. Good landlords do not knowingly rent to drug dealers.
If we hadn’t found the drugs – if the police found them first, our unit would almost definitely have been One Striked. Of course then, I would have had my lawsuit to take to Commonwealth Court on constitutional grounds. I’ve already got the lawyer lined up – I was going to persue a lawsuit when my friend’s rental got One Striked but he didn’t want to go through with it. Like I said – read my previous three blog entries, you’ve got some catching up to do!
Fewer rights than criminals
Here’s a case of where we, law-abiding property owners, active contributors to society, have fewer rights than criminals. Our “deceased” tenant came back from the dead shortly after we had his drugs hauled off to the police station. At first he denied any association with the apartment. Illana copied his lease and brought it to the police.
Then things started getting weird. He started calling Illana at the rental office number, “where’s my stuff! You can’t keep my stuff, you have no right!” What stuff? We gave all your stuff to the police. Maybe if you ask the officer very nicely he’ll go to the evidence locker and give you back your pot and guns. Go away!
Then he confronted her on Madison Street. She was there to speak to tenants at the building we are thankfully no longer managing as of July 1st. He recongnized her and came right over to her car “where’s my stuff!” Illana told me that was the only time she was ever scared on that rough street. I told her “no contact” – if this guy calls or confronts her anywhere again she is to call me and we will both march into the police station and demand a PFA be filed. I will not have this! That PFA by the way, is more for HIS protection than ours. Because this ginger just snapped!
A few days later we got a call from Officer Collins of the Wilkes-Barre police department. This drug dealing ex-tenant is claiming that in addition to the drugs there was a box for of Air Force Ones and expensive leather jackets in the closet, along with a jar full of hundred-dollar bills. And he’s already spoken to a lawyer. This guy has got balls of steel! I hope he has an ass of steel, too, where he’ll be going once he’s convicted. At least I hope so. It seems that criminals have more rights these days, maybe he’ll just get a slap on the wrist for that closet full of drugs and guns. After all he is walking around the city! Can anyone tell me what’s wrong with this picture?
Actually I hope he does try to sue us for keeping his fictional belongings. That will be a fun day in court. I’m not even getting a lawyer for that one, I’ll cross-examine all the witnesses myself. “So, Mr. White, were the leather jackets hanging in the closet behind or in front of the stack of marijuana bricks and the arsenal of shot guns?”
Then of course the poor magistrate will be forced to hear the countersuit I’ll be filing, to be heard simultaneously. The one where I’ll be suing him for $5,575. The balance of the lease. After all, he broke the contract.
Next week: Standing Ovation. Ginger Snapped brings the reality show that is landlording in Wilkes-Barre in front of City Council. Local media described it as “raucous.” It’ll be an entertaining blog, I promise!