A Charlottesville Accidental Landlord Story

What follows is an all-too-common experience in Charlottesville and nationwide.

Accidental Landlords - Google search *

A few years ago, we (a married couple with children) decided to move. Not long after committing to this decision, the U.S. economy went down the drain, so we found ourselves the unwilling owners of two houses. As a result, we decided to rent out our old house, which is easy to do in Charlottesville with so many people moving in and out every summer for sabbaticals at the university or one-year placements at the JAG school. We got lucky with our renters in that they were recommended to us by people we know, so we did not have to advertise at all. We printed out a standard boilerplate lease we found online, tweaked it to better suit our particular situation, and gave it to our tenants. We included very specific information on our expectations for how they would maintain the house and yard while they lived there and also what we expected of them when they moved out — including patching nail holes, thoroughly cleaning the house from top to bottom, and steamcleaning the carpets because they had pets.

Our tenants were easy and didn’t call us in the middle of the night because, say, they had clogged a toilet and wanted us to deal with it. There were a few minor repairs needed throughout the year and each time, we decided together whether they would take care of it or we would.  If we were going to take care of the repair, we agreed on a mutually convenient time that we’d come over to handle it. If they took care of the repair, we reimbursed them for costs incurred. All in all, it was a good set up and we had no complaints.

It was not until after our tenants moved out, however, that we realized that things weren’t as near-perfect as we’d hoped. During the walk-through, we discovered that while our tenants had done a good job of cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen appliances, they had utterly failed to mop floors or remove food smears from the white kitchen cabinets. There was also a track of food and grime at the 2-3′ level on pretty much every wall of the house. Yes, the tenants had small children, but so did we when we lived in that house and we can promise you that jam was wiped off the wall shortly after it was left there by toddler fingers.

Another issue we faced was our tenants’ amazing capacity to break things that never once were broken during all the years we lived in the house. For example, a door was not only ripped off the hinges, but the screw holes were utterly stripped in the process. Closet doors were yanked off their tracks, as well as both fireplaces’ dampers. The fireplace issue was actually rather somewhat impressive as, after we had chimney guys come clean the chimneys and fix the dampers, they tried their hardest to yank the dampers out (to figure out how it was done) and were not successful. Another problem we had was just how incredibly hard on the walls our tenants were. They had a lot of old heavy antique furniture that scratched and generally banged up the walls in such a way that we had to patch gouges and dents and then repaint — not just touch up, but actually repaint entire walls.

One hears stories about nightmare renters who utterly trash the place and then leave, so our unpleasant discoveries at the end of the lease were truly shocking to us. Luckily, we had a good lease and had gotten a month’s rent as the security deposit, so we had some recourse. Still, it tainted the entire experience for us. We have new tenants now and, so far, we’ve been very pleased with how things have gone. With any luck, we won’t face the same problems next summer when they move out, but we’ll certainly be ready for anything.

* Spend time time in the Google playing with their timeline. It’s fascinating.

Lessons learned:

– If you’re leasing out your property, seriously consider hiring someone to do the management.

– A great question to ask prospective property managers: “How many evictions have you done in the past one year? Five years?”



If you have a Charlottesville real estate story to tell, all communication to me is confidential. I asked this author to tell us her story, because I thought it was one that could be shared by many, and I hadn’t seen it told or discussed elsewhere, other than in private, off-line conversations.

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