Friday, March 1, 2013

What to do when you meet tenants from hell

LANDLORD'S HEADACHE: While many of us have to deal with unwelcome house bugs, some unfortunate home owners are battling another sort of "bug" - tenants who refuse to pay rent, vacate the premises or run off at night to escape loan sharks, leaving behind utility bills as souvenirs.

Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013

SINKS and toilet bowls filled with cement, walls broken by sledgehammers, damaged furniture and front doors adorned with red paint.

At one point or another, we have all heard horror stories about tenants who ruthlessly destroy a place you once called home, or worse still, refuse to leave your house.

So much so, that many home owners would rather leave their houses empty than rent them to strangers, who may turn on them from one rent cheque to another.

Louisa (not her real name) is one such victim who has sworn off renting her house indefinitely.

"My nightmare began almost 15 years ago when I rented out my bungalow in Petaling Jaya to this seemingly nice, small family.

"They were good paymasters in the beginning, never defaulting in their rent and hardly ever complaining about the condition of the house. As I was working outstation, this was an ideal situation for me and my family.

"Problems started happening as soon as they showed interest in buying the property. At first, my husband and I thought it was a good idea because our children were all grown up and the house was too big for just the two of us.

"However, as soon as the sale and purchase agreement was signed, our friendly tenants became our worst enemy.

"Six months after paying the 10 per cent deposit, we stopped receiving any money from them, be it rental or the balance due for the sale.

"After numerous calls which went unanswered, we decided to pay them a visit. We were horrified to find a 10-foot brick wall surrounding the house.

"I immediately engaged the services of a lawyer, who advised me to sue for distress. After many months and thousands of ringgit later, I realised that my lawyer was looking out for his own interest.

"Although we managed to collect one year's rental, he pocketed most of the money and discharged himself from the case for some trivial reason, right before the matter was to be heard in the High Court.

"We then engaged another lawyer who represented us at the High Court and a decision was made in my favour. But the 'tenants from hell' appealed against the decision, because my lawyer had not submitted sufficient documents. This caused the matter to be sent back and forth from the High Court to the Court of Appeal.

"After the second lawyer discharged himself, I had to fork out even more money to get a third lawyer. Through him, I finally got a decision in my favour, but the tenants still refused to leave.

"I received a call from one of the neighbours in the middle of the night, informing me that my tenants had run off. They were never to be seen or heard from again."

Although the experience had been costly, Louisa is grateful to have her house back.

"We had to spend about RM80,000 (S$31948) to restore the house to its original condition and pay RM50,000 in legal fees and RM2,000 in unpaid utility bills. We also lost out on 13 years of rent.

"Besides having to stay in a rented home ourselves while someone else lived for free in our house, the distress and grievance experienced by my family cannot be measured by money.

"People often ask me why I did not track them down or get gangsters to teach them a lesson, but I just want to put this whole experience behind me and sell the house that is now filled with unpleasant memories. I want to move on with my life."

Nason Ponniah, principal owner of a renowned property agency in the Klang Valley, said the issues surrounding tenancy are never-ending.

"Over the years, we have seen a lot of similar problems involving landlords and tenants. Sometimes, the premises are even used as massage parlours or brothels. Such activities are easier to spot if they occur in condominiums or apartment buildings.

"However, it is not easy to prove such things because they happen behind closed doors. We just have to wait for the tenants to default in their payment, which gives us a valid reason to evict them.

"On the other hand, property owners should not be quick to jump to conclusions. It does not mean that if six young girls are renting a house, they are involved in prostitution."

Ponniah said that the police can do very little in matters involving tenancy.

"For instance, there was an occasion where I was forced to lodge a police report because a female tenant and her boyfriend refused to pay rent. The police informed me that their hands were tied because this was a civil matter.

"They advised me to put a chain around the house gate. The girl's boyfriend had no choice but to pay the rent in order to get their belongings out of the house.

"In such instances, there is no point in hiring gangsters because in the end, someone may get hurt or killed.

"I always advise tenants to communicate with their landlords. Everybody goes through financial difficulties, but there needs to be a balance, like a give and take.

"If you cannot pay your rent in full, give whatever you can for the time being and ask for more time to complete the payment."

Unfortunately, some tenants avoid calls or become aggressive when confronted by the home owners, he added.

"I even had to step in when a newly-married tenant waved a parang at his landlord when he was asked to pay his rent, which was overdue. The owner lodged a police report and the man was jailed for six months."

Landlords, Ponniah said, should also try to accommodate their tenants' requests at times.

"When your tenant calls with a problem, always try to help whenever possible. Of course, this does not mean you have to run over to change a light bulb or repair a toilet flush as these small repairs should be taken care of by the tenants, but if a wall collapses, do not start pointing fingers and refuse to do anything about it."

Ponniah also said that although background checks were helpful, there was only so much information that one can gather.

"How much honest information can you get, after all? In this country, the most you can do is check on where your potential tenant works. You have no legal right to check on his or her private details.

"Usually, there are indications of a potentially problematic tenant. For instance, if the tenancy agreement calls for two months' deposit, but the tenant can only afford to pay for one month, you know you will face similar problems in the future.

"Also, if you meet a potential tenant who insists on moving in on the day itself or within the week, you should be cautious. He or she may be facing problems with his or her previous landlord."

Home owners, he stressed, needed to find good agents who would not ditch them after receiving their commission.

"Some responsible agents will be the 'middle person' in the case there are tenancy issues, even if it is not their duty to do so. After all, it helps to have a neutral party involved when things get heated."

Martin Koh | 86666 944 | R020968Z
Sherry Tang | 9844 4400 | R020241C

Senior Sales Director
DTZ Property Network Pte Ltd (L3007960A)

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