Monday, April 30, 2007

You son-of-a-@#%*&, where's my money?

Let me lead off by restating the following: owning an apartment building has been an absolute boon to our finances, and I would do it all over again, no questions asked. In fact, I'll probably state this at the top of every apartment building-related post I make, just so you don't think I'm wavering.

With that being said, one of my four tenants is giving me headaches. When we purchased the building back in December 2004, we inherited this tenant, and he is the only one left out of the inherited folks (we had a young CPA leave, and then of course there were the loud arguing newlyweds that I told you about here. They and their defecating dog are long gone).

This gentleman is in his mid to late 40's and works the night shift at UPS. He hasn't been much of a troublemaker, nor a complainer. The one thing he does consistently, though, is pay his rent late. Rent is due on the 1st of the month, and I usually get his around the 15th (i.e., I would get May's rent around May 15th.)

This has not been a problem for us financially, as I would typically use, say, May's rent to pay June's mortgage bill. So we always have the mortgage bill covered, with cash to spare. However, back in February, his check to me bounced. And I did not happen to notice this until the day my Bank of America ePay for my mortgage was scheduled to leave my account. So I rushed up to the ATM at 10pm that night and deposited a check out of our Home Equity Line of Credit, just to get a deposit on the books at least. I was not sure this was going to work, but I had to do something. BofA ended up honoring 2 ePays, including the all important mortgage payment, after charging me $40 in fees. I also got hit with a $5 fee for the bounced check.

I called the guy up, pretty pissed off. He assured me the money was there now. I noticed he also banked at Bank of America, so I went up to my local branch and asked if they could see if this check was going to now clear. They told me it would, and the helpful teller told me she could place a "hold" on the funds in his account, which would guarantee that the money in there would be designated for me. SURE! Needless to say, I visited the bank in March and had them do the same thing.

April rolls around, and I get his check around the 15th, but there's a note in the envelope. He asks if I can hold his check and not deposit it until the 26th. Something about he owed $1,600 in taxes, and that the money would be in the account on the 26th. He asked me to do this once before, but he asked me to wait till the 18th or the 19th, not the 26th! I didn't really feel like doing this for him, but I played along (I'll explain below).

So I went to the bank on the 26th and asked if the check would clear. The teller, a very helpful fellow, looked at me and sort of scrunched his face, raised the pitch of his voice a bit, and said, "It's clooose." Close doesn't count in check cashing! So I raced home (a 15 second drive) and called the tenant up. His car was out in front of the apt. building, but he did not answer his phone. I suppose since he works the night shift, he was sleeping. I told him I followed his instructions to take the check up on the 26th, but that the bank told me "the check was undepositable." Those were the exact words I used. I told him I was floating this money myself plus interest, so that it was causing me undue financial hardship. I told him to call me and tell me when I could deposit this check.

No messages, no calls from him for the next 24 hours. Now I'm getting ticked off.

I come home for lunch on the 27th, Friday, expecting a message on my home voicemail. Nothing. I also checked the mailbox - nothing in there. (I instinctively check the mailbox every time I walk by it now, looking for tenant checks.) I leave the front door open, and I start typing up a letter that's going to include the word "eviction" in it somewhere. I eat some lunch, and as I'm getting ready to leave, I see a blank envelope in my mailbox. Since we live one street over from the building, many tenants just throw their rent in my mailbox. The envelope is from this pesky tenant. In it is $525 in cash. The dude just threw $525 in cash in my mailbox! For anyone to steal! He saw my car outside, and my front door was wide open - didn't think to knock or explain himself. Moron.

So now I have his April rent, plus an uncashed check for $525. I am going to be calling him and trying to figure out why this is all happening. I don't think the guy wants to be a problem, but I think his finances sometimes get stretched. I am going to be asking him if I can just use this check for May's rent, and I will find out when I can cash this check.

There is a very important reason that I haven't rocked the boat with this guy. Why I haven't pressed him on the late rent, etc. As a new building owner, I really need the money. The building has been very easy to show and rent, but I just can't be bothered with an eviction fight right now, I can't afford not to get paid by him, and I would not be able to find the time to prep his apartment for the next tenant. The other three apartments have all been painted - his needs painting badly. And his bathroom is a mess - needs major scrubbing. My wife (7.5 months pregnant) and I do not have the time right now. So I made the decision to take a little abuse from this guy, but to also continue to receive his checks, albeit with a few headaches.


KMC said...

This is precisely why you will never see me investing in real estate. I know you like owning the place and the money it provides, but this all sounds to me like such a pain in the ass I don't know why anyone would do it. But I guess that's exactly how some people make money in real estate.

Q said...

It's like any business - there's always BS to contend with. So I think of it as a business, so that I'm not disillusioned into thinking it's always going to be easy.

Still, I deal with way less than many other landlords that locate in less desireable areas.

KMull said...

I agree with Q. Just like any business. Sometimes you have to write off a little bit. Note I am not arguing to write off the money.

Good luck dealing with him. Have you thought about having a sit down chat with the guy? Get to know him and his situation? Who knows, maybe he got a payday loan to pay you. And we all know how bad those are.

Q- said...

Luckily in 2006, I had 100% occupancy with no writeoffs whatsoever. The experts do tell you that, when considering the purchase of the building, you should run the numbers with 10-15% vacancy built in. I work my butt off to get 0% vacancy.

I do plan on calling the guy to find out what's going on. I don't think he means bad. He's a guy in his mid to late 40's, divorced, and has lived in this apartment for awhile. The other three tenants are young folks, probably won't have them for too long. They'll move on to houses. But this guy won't - I may have him for many years to come. And that's actually a good thing.

J "Big Money" Millón said...

There's no point of living in a glass bubble. There's always a potential for problems no matter what you do.

Mr. Cheap said...

I've just started investing in real estate (bought a condo in Dec 2006, rented it out after renovations in Mar 2007), so you probably have better "property owner" instincts than me, but my feeling about this would be that this guys taking advantage of the credit you're extending him, and he's going to keep using it as long as you keep extending it.

I wouldn't drop the eviction bomb right away, but I'd be tempted to get ahold of him face-to-face, talk to him, and work out some way to get paid on time. Maybe ask him if he wants to leave and offer to let him out of his lease (if he has one) if he wants to go (which politely lets him know you're not scared of losing him).

I'd then try to work out something like making the current rent "prompt-payment" discounted, and get him to agree to a $50 late fee for every week its late (or something like that). Make it more painful for him to stiff other people rather then you.

I'm a real stickler for paying on time and being paid on time. I think I've lost clients before because I get pretty heavy as soon as payment is overdue (for what its worth).