The sad tale of the sociopathic landlord
In my role as a real estate broker, I am occasionally reminded of the bad reputation levied on most landlords by a tiny, select group of unscrupulous property investors. Within this category of horrendous landlords who act so horribly towards their tenants (see my article here entitled “A Tenant’s Nightmare,” May 1, 2013) , there lies a sub-category of human being marked by venality and greed. This sub-category goes way beyond just being “thrifty,” or “cutting corners” in order to increase or create a positive cash flow in their rental property. No, this particular type of landlord is much more dangerous. And they hurt all landlords terribly. This subspecies I call the sociopathic landlord.
The tale begins…
As a real estate broker, I was recently representing a seller of property with a rental home on it. The tenant had been renting there for over a year. While the conditions were not what I would call squalid, there was still a great deal of needed repair work that should have been done to the house, but was neglected by the landlord/seller. In the process of negotiating a deal to sell the property, the buyer, after reaching an agreement in principle to purchase the house, had a house inspector perform their engineering inspection.
The water sample
As part of the routine engineering inspection, since the water system was well water-based, a simple water sample was collected for testing at a local lab by the engineering inspector (and the sample was done quite properly too, since I was standing next to him as he took it). After several days, the testing lab sent in their report to the buyer on the water sample: the water, as it turns out, was not “potable.” It simply had too high a coliform bacteria content in it to be safe to drink.
Now, well water in a vacant house can usually fail water tests, since there is no movement in the well over some period of time, and bacteria can easily form this way. However, I have never encountered a water test failing in a home where people are actually running the water every day. So this was a first for me. I knew the lab that did the testing, and how rigorous their testing procedure can be. And I had seen the inspector do a proper water collection for the sample. So, I really don’t know why it would have failed. The main thing to me, was that the situation be corrected immediately, since the tenant and her family were being placed in some form of physical jeopardy by drinking non-potable water!
Confronting the landlord
And then I called the absentee landlord to inform her that the buyer’s water test failed. Her reaction: “Well…I think the tenant drinks bottled water. She’ll be fine. So, I’m not going to do anything.” Besides being an absolute deal-killer, the landlord was also exhibiting major sociopathic tendencies…that is, a sense of grandiosity about herself, along with a total lack of concern for the health and welfare of her tenants. Unbelievable. I had never seen such callousness on the part of a landlord before.
Enlisting the aid of others…
Over the course of the next couple of days, I was successful in getting her trusted handyman to read her the riot act, and he convinced her to finally remedy the water situation by having him “shock the system,” or add chlorine bleach to the well. But it was her overall lack of concern for the safety of her tenants that scared me silly. (I was prepared to report her to the local building department if she had not remedied the problem.) As of this writing, it is doubtful the sale of her property will go through (what a shock). She is as recalcitrant about the failed water test as she is with all the other inherent problems the buyer’s inspection found with her house.
The moral of the story…
This story highlights the adage about “one bad apple” truly spoiling the whole batch. Is it any wonder how landlords as a group of property investors, intent on running a successful business while providing a much-needed service for renters, nonetheless get saddled with a less-than-stellar reputation due to the sociopathic tendencies of a very, very select few in our field. It is so important that we try to police ourselves to help rid our industry of these reputation-killers.
How to clean up the bad apples
What can be done about the problem? Well, when you see a bad landlord, call them out. Make sure they see the error of their ways. Tell their tenants. Have their tenants complain to the landlord. Or report them. And if that doesn’t work, call their local building department to report them yourself. Clearly, our collective reputations as good, decent property investors are at stake. And sociopathic landlords will never “get it.” They’ll never be able to empathize, feel compassion or protect the safety of their tenants. Only when they’re ordered to do so will they ever budge.
photos courtesy of magnoliaforever.wordpress.com, sodahead.com, flatremovalslondon.co.uk, upad.co.uk, holidayapartments101.com, ohmyapt.apartmentratings.com