Landlord Stories: Making Up Arrears

Background: my parents-in-law are landlords.



They’ve been in the process of evicting a tenant lately, which isn’t unusual; this tenant in particular has come very close to the line multiple times already. This time, the parents-in-law had actually started the lengthy process of filing, and were pretty sure that this was it for this guy.


Somehow, though, the completely unexpected happens—in this case, that this fellow with a long history of being incapable of paying his rent came up with enough money, all at once, to get current. So what do you do with that?


If you’re my parents in law, you call off the eviction and take your kids (and grandkid) to dinner.


It was a decent time; we went to a Chinese buffet we hadn’t tried before. The baby sat more-or-less contentedly in the high chair eating whatever was thrown at her.


But the whole episode got me thinking to Old Landlord Stories. And I think I’ll share one.



This situation–where someone gets months and months behind, then suddenly comes up with half a year’s rent all at once–isn’t actually unheard of.


Most commonly, it happens around tax return time. February is a really popular time for people to clear out their arrears, to the point where we almost expect it; being behind in January is taken differently than being behind in May.


But there are others. For instance, some of our clients have been waiting on a settlement of some type or another—occasionally, the settlement actually comes through. (Almost invariably, they’ve spent it all within half a year or so… but it’s nice to get the money while they’ve got it.) There are several legitimate ways that someone can suddenly have their hands on six months of rent.


And then there are the folks who… well. We don’t know where they suddenly got the money from, and I’ll admit that I’m not overly-inclined to ask.



It’s one of these, from a few years before I came up here, that this story is about.


See, here’s the deal. When someone doesn’t pay their rent, there’s this whole process. You get the sheriff to put up an eviction notice on their door. You wait thirty days or so. You serve them the actual eviction papers. You wait for a court date. You get the judge to agree to the eviction. You set a date to actually remove the tenants.


Then, only after all of this is done, you show up with the sheriff in order to clear out the tenant’s possessions.


(This last part doesn’t actually happen often; usually folks leave somewhere between the court date and the sheriffs showing up. Strangely, one of the exceptions had an active arrest warrant, lots of drugs, and two young children in the house with no one else to watch them. That was… hard.)



This guy had a new racket, though, one we don’t usually see. He’d let everything get all the way up to the court date. Then he would show up to court. And pay the entire arrears off.


The folks-in-law would withdraw the eviction.


And the tenant would immediately stop paying again.


And so ran the merry-go-round. Expensive eviction every six months or so, only to have the tenant come up with the money at the very last possible minute. Three times in a row. And it’s a little mind-boggling. What kind of person only pays his rent at the point of a gavel?


As it turns out, homeless.


Everything was going just the way it had been before. The folks-in-law bring the man to court for his completely unpaid rent. The man, once more, presents the entire amount owed, in cash. It looked like we were ready to start everything over again…


But it turns out there were three parties in this transaction. And the judge decided that he had no interest in being a rent collector. And said as much, in as many words, as he declined to waive the eviction.



On the bright side, I’ll bet that wad of cash made it easier to manage a down payment somewhere.



Today’s ballpoint!



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