Friday, June 06, 2008

The Tenant from Hell

So, we had this tenant from hell, whom I shall call Lynda.

After blatantly violating several provisions of her lease…and even arguing with us about abiding by her lease!...she decided to move out rather than renew her lease when it expired. We were relieved, as we had planned to refuse to renew it, she being such a pain in the butt. Her decision to move, we felt, was saving us the wrangle of prying her out of the place at the end of her tenancy.

Well, we traded one agony for another because she stopped paying her rent two months before the end of her lease. In January she called us and tried to get us to accept her security deposit in lieu of the month’s rent but we declined: not only were we pretty sure we were going to need that money to remedy some problems she had caused in the flat…most especially to replace plants in the once-beautiful garden that had died due to her neglect…such a thing was prohibited by her lease. Contentiously, she then informed us that she was not going to paint her flat, making vague references to a previous tenant who had painted before she left (that tenant had damaged the paint in several rooms and voluntarily repainted so she could get her deposit back). If we weren’t willing to cancel her debt for January’s rent by accepting her deposit in its place, Lynda obviously expected to get her deposit back and had no intention of doing anything save moving out in order to do so.

We had a new tenant ready to rent Lynda’s flat before the end of the lease. Lynda’s lease specified she should be out on 29 February and the new tenant was prepared to move in on March 1. At 08h00 on the morning of March 1, the new tenant’s van arrived and disgorged her furniture onto the main patio because Lynda was still in the flat. She adamantly refused to remove so much as a stick of furniture to the other patio or the enclosed, gated driveway to allow Mary to move in, despite her lease having expired and the flat legally belonging to Mary as of that morning. She had earlier communicated to us her intention of remaining in the flat an extra day and when we told her she could not do so…that the flat had already been rented out…her reply was a terse “tough!” By way of response, we immediately hand-delivered a letter to her informing her that her lease terminated on 29 Feb and if she stayed past that date, she would be charged the daily/holiday rate for the flat (which is less than a 5 minute drive to the beach) of R1200 per day for each day she overstayed.

Eventually Lynda got out and we, accompanied by Mary, her boyfriend Tom, and my trusty digital camera, inspected the flat. We had sent an SMS to Lynda asking her to name a time for a joint inspection, but she declined to reply, so we set about inspecting it ourselves along with the new tenants as witnesses. It was worse than we thought. The place was filthy, the paint in every room damaged well beyond what could be considered “normal wear and tear.” A large stain on one wall indicated a spilled (or thrown) cup of coffee or glass of cola, nicotine stains on the walls and ceilings (our leases prohibit smoking inside the flats), and paint actually ripped off the wall where something had been glued to it. The garden, which has an irrigation system, was nearly dead from lack of watering. Holes and cracks in walls. Huge (50 cm!) stain in a previously perfect carpet, patio furniture warped and peeling from being left out in the rain and not oiled, electrical outlets broken…and a black scorch mark on one of them…ceiling downlighters missing, cigarette burns on the Oregon pine bathroom cabinet, and she left with a complete set of keys, which meant we had to get a locksmith out to replace all of the security locks. All in all, the damages added up to nearly R8000…much of which we had to get repaired out of our own pockets as her deposit was less than R4500. Those costs coupled with the past due rents and penalties, brought Lynda’s debt to nearly R15000.

We sent Lynda an itemized statement. We duly noted that we were aware of her new address (she had lied to us about her new address, giving us a location in a downmarket suburb when, in fact, she moved into a posh district in our own upmarket suburb), and specifically inquired as to our missing rent for January and February…did she, we asked, use the rent she owed us to pay for the deposit and first month’s rent on her new digs? Had she spent our money to finance her move to house in a neighbourhood even we cannot afford to live in? In January and February, when we had to delve into our personal funds to make the bond payment on the rental property because she had failed to pay her rent, she had cried poverty to us, claiming that her clients had failed to pay her due to the holidays, and when we pressed her for the rent each week, she became increasingly hostile and resentful of our demands. It was obvious to us, on 1 March when we followed the removal van to her new place, that she had had the money all along, but declined to pay her rent with it. We ended up having to cash in some of our retirement investments in order to pay the bond on the rental property, something we would not have been obliged to do if she has just paid her rent.

So, we sent her an itemized accounting of the damages and outstanding amounts and she fired back an outraged and bombastic reply, denying responsibility for virtually everything. She claimed our expectation that she pay for repainting the flat to be motivated by “greed,” failing to acknowledge the brown nicotine spots on the ceilings, the paint stripped off the wall in one bedroom, the grimy streaks on the walls of the other bedroom, the brown splash stain on the walls. She offered to pay R80 to replace the missing downlighter…less than the cost of the kit to replace it and not even remotely close to the charge of an electrician to install it. She claimed the electrical outlets were broken when she moved in, but the flat was newly renovated when she took possession and her lease gave her seven days to report such flaws…she lived there for two years and never made mention. She even had the cheek to suggest that we pay her for things she left behind: a shower curtain, some broken bamboo blinds and light globes! And, to top it all off, she actually threatened to sue us for defamation for impugning her character! We have yet to figure out how expecting a person to abide by the terms of her lease and pay her rent on time constitutes defamation… Hubby asked, in his reply to her threat, if she was attempting to intimidate us into dropping our claim by threatening to bring a frivolous lawsuit against us, a question to which she gave no reply.

All in all, at the end of her three page diatribe she agreed she owed us one month’s rent plus a few bucks…the total being below R4500…and that she would pay it by 31 March. That gave me a hearty laugh because this was only the umpteenth promise to pay, and if she hadn’t honoured any of the previous ones, why would she be bothered to honour this one? Since our claim was three times what she claimed to owe (and we had no confidence in her paying even that reduced amount), we instructed our lawyers, specialists in debt collection…and rent collections in particular…to begin the process of squeezing Lynda to pay her debt.

True to form, Lynda took umbrage at our audacity…how dare we hold her feet to the fire and demand payment through the legal system? Our attorneys sent her our claim (a copy of the final inspection report we had sent Lynda a month before) and she said she needed some time to respond. Weeks later our attorneys received her response…the same three page diatribe she had previously faxed to us. And when our attorneys telephoned her to request payment, Lynda screamed at her and slammed down the phone! It was at that juncture it became clear that she was simply playing for time, probably hoping that if she dragged it out long enough we would just give up and go away. Obviously, Lynda is unaware of the American reputation for litigiousness…

We pressed the issue and last week our legal fees…which Lynda will have to pay due to the terms of the lease…surpassed R2500. Lynda was served by the Sheriff that we were taking her to court and, once we received confirmation that she had been served, we had to make a decision: apply for Summary Judgement or wait…yet again…for Lynda to respond. We opted for the Summary Judgment.

Now, here is one of the places where American law and South African law differ: in America you just wait for the court date and go to trial. In South Africa you have an option not available in America: the Application for Summary Judgment. In this situation, your case is presented to a magistrate and the defendant submits a synopsis of their defence, and the Magistrate decides if the situation is worthy of spending the resources for a full hearing. If the claim is clear-cut…either for the complainant or the defendant…the magistrate can enter a judgment on the spot and safe time and money on taking the case to a full hearing. Believing our case to be particularly strong…especially since Lynda admitted to owing the past due rent and offered to pay for certain claims (although at laughably reduced amounts)…we told our attorneys to apply for the Summary Judgment. And yesterday we received the following email from

The Application for Summary Judgment has been set down for Wednesday, 11 June 2008.

I received a call from Lynda’s attorney earlier today requesting the full outstanding balance and our banking details to attend to payment by no later than close of business on Monday, 9 June 2008.

This whole thing, including her attorney's and our legal fees, is going to cost Lynda around R20,000. That's a pretty expensive tantrum...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Winter mornings

A few years back, when Nash was our only dog, we fretted what to do for him on rainy days when we were out. We were living in the cottage when had only a narrow strip of pavement for a back garden, and no shelter whatsoever. We settled on a little doghouse made of a resin-like plastic, reasoning that while it wasn’t the Ritz (as Nash seemed to view the inside of the cottage), it was a roof over his shaggy little head and shelter from the brisk wind.

Nash, of course, disagreed, He determinedly refused to consider the structure, preferring to stand pathetically at the back door, dripping wet, those big brown eyes silently pleading for us to let his shivering little dog body into the warmth of the house. It worked every time and the doghouse because one of this bits of flotsam that we all accumulate until we eventually gave it away and it became the white elephant of another person who had a similar back garden…and a similarly inclined dog.

We moved to this house three years ago and put a bed on the tiled, covered, lighted patio for Nash. Now, you must understand, Nash (and all additional doggies) sleep inside the house at night during cool weather, but when we go out, we feel obliged to provide a comfortable, sheltered place for him to rest until we get home. He took to that little basket and pad and made it his own until Candy joined the family and promptly chewed it to bits.

Subsequently, a couple of old carpets served as an insulation against the cold ceramic tile floor and the dogs seemed happy enough with their indoor and outdoor beds until Trinny came along. The other dogs, being Maltese, are fluffy little creatures that need monthly grooming and haircuts. Top their natural fuzz with a fleecy little jersey, and they stay warm and happy on all but the coldest days. Trinny, on the other hand, is a long-legged fox terrier with a coarse, close coat and no winter undergrowth. When the weather turns mild, Trinny quakes like an aspen and clatters those big teeth of hers resoundingly. A jersey helped, but didn’t solve the problem, so we looked into the matter of a new dog bed.

We scouted around and settled on a large hard-plastic bed that was vented at the bottom and had a rim around the base to keep the bed up off the ground. This would prevent cold from so easily leaking through the base of the bed and, if wind blew rain onto the patio floor, would keep the bed dry. With an assortment of old blankets, pillows and mats, along with each other for body heat, we expected them to make a little dogpile for warmth and live happily ever after.

Have you ever considered how amazing it is that these little creatures whom we presume to be so much less intelligent than we are, stymie us at every possible turn? The bed was plenty big for Trinny and the Maltese Mafia, but they didn’t see it that way. Night after night either Hubby or I would have to go out onto the patio and scold the growling little white thugs into letting Trinny into it. And heaven forfend she should have to get up in the night and make her way out to the doggie loo…Nash and Candy would rearrange themselves to take up all the space in the bed and warn off poor Trinny when she got back from answering nature’s call and she, not a stupid old girl, would begin a rather ritualized bark that would not only awaken us from a sound sleep and notify us of her predicament and her need for our intervention. The big doggie bed, as a means of canine social engineering and shared warmth, was a bust.

Winter is fast approaching and not only are the nights cold, the days are beginning to have a decided nip to them. Trinny comes to the kitchen door, clattering her teeth and trembling pathetically in an attempt to gain admittance to the doggie bed in the cubby in our bathroom, but we want the dogs outside during the day. So, yesterday, we made another trip to the pet store, looking for an “igloo” style dog house that might do a better job of retaining doggie body heat during the colder days and evenings. Nash, we knew, would probably turn up his little nose at such a structure, since he had adamantly refused to use the original dog house, but maybe Trinny would find a measure of comfort there.

But there were no igloos that would suit our purposes and disheartened, we started to leave. Out of the corner of my eye, however, high up on an overhead shelf, I spotted some objects that looked rather like denim cocoons. Shaped rather like WWII Quonset huts made of channel-stitched and fluff-filled denim, they had a circular doorway and a padded floor and looked to be just about the size of the travel kennel that our groomer uses to transport the furbabies. It took only a quick examination to determine that these might just be the answer.

Sure enough, Trinny took to it like a duck to water. After I tossed in a smelly little rug from the old doggie bed and a treat, she clambered in, dragging her long legs behind her, and curled up for a snooze. When she pokes her head out to see what’s going on she looks rather like a turtle with a blue denim shell, but she’s obviously quite pleased with her cocoon and, most importantly, isn’t shivering every time I see her.

The Maltese Mafia, however, are rather a different kettle of fish. Candy dislikes the thing intensely and, rather than crawl inside to escape the chill, climbs on top of the thing, collapsing it into a close facsimile of a regular soft-sided dog bed. Nash is not so reluctant to climb in and take a snooze, but he’s not exactly thrilled when Candy climbs on top while he is inside and collapses the whole thing on top of him.

The chill of early morning, however, has a way of overcoming even the strongest resistance. We let the babies outside at about 6 in the morning to do their doggie business, after which they usually hop into the big doggie bed together for another snooze. But now the mornings have a deep chill to them and the open bed has been stored until the warm mornings of summer return. And today, despite her reluctance, the morning cold drove Candy into one of the cocoons to snuggle up with Nash, and this was the scene on the patio as hubby left for work this morning: