Thursday, March 21, 2013


Inspired by Sheila's account of her alcoholic friend, I thought I'd write about my first eviction. Not about me being evicted. About me evicting someone.

The tenant lived in the first house we ever bought, back when I made less money than I make now, and a short commute time (8 minutes, but that might have been my PR) was a priority. It's been a rental for the last decade. For those of you keeping score at home, here are the ZIP stats:


So, working-class White. The schools aren't great, but they're mediocre across the county-wide district.

My relationship with my last two tenants ended badly (not sure if this indicates neighborhood decline -- if so, it hasn't shown up in the stats yet). The one before was a public school teacher, which you'd think is pretty stable, but she had some domestic turmoil, was continually late with her rent, and lost her entire security deposit to unpaid rent and cleanup. This last came in with a weak credit score, so we required two-months' deposit. She will lose most of it, but at least the house was empty by the time the sheriff showed up.

Times are tough. Believe me, I get it. And I want to show compassion to people struggling to make their bills. So . . . what's the story? What's the plan? Talk to me, and I'll work with you.

The problem is that the vignette we all carry in our heads of the hard-pressed man going, cap-in-hand, to his creditors pleading for mercy is, as I have discovered, about as true as the story that guy downtown told us about how he lost his wallet / had a flat and needs exactly $8.60 to get home to his family. Which is to say, a fabrication.

In reality, here's what happens. The tenant comes in late. With a partial payment. Promises to bring the rest in by the end of the week. The week comes and goes. We phone -- no answer. We leave polite messages at work, on the cell. Eventually the money comes in, but it's late in the month by this point, and the cycle repeats: late payments, partial payments, unfulfilled promises. Never do we get an explanation, a remediation plan, a request to reduce the rent. And never, ever can we get someone on the phone.

Finally, with the rent over a month in arrears, we reach the ultimatum stage. Another partial payment, another unkept promise, another not-answering-her-phone. So we file the eviction and post the notice, the costs of which are billed to the security deposit. Doesn't she know this is more expensive than just serving notice? Doesn't she know that an eviction hurts her credit rating, making it more difficult to find another place, more expensive?

Maybe she does know, at some level. But see, credit scores are more than just about money, even though that's what they measure. The irresponsibility they indicate about financial matters runs all the way down. The same lack of future-time orientation that causes someone to "miss" a rent or mortgage payment also inhibits their ability address the shortfall in a way that respects the expectations of their landlords and bankers. And ultimately, they do nothing but let sh!t happen all the way to that "Writ of Possession" tacked to their front doors.

It's too bad. But I've got my own mortgage payment to make.


Anonymous said...

I have also seen this behavior in others and it is a mystery to me. it speaks loudly about priorities. The person has an income. They could afford their rent on time if they chose to. But instead they are chooseing to buy other things during the month so when the rent is due, there isn't enough money. But they will have a new $500 purse or a trip to Vegas with some friends. It seems to me, that in the larger scheme of things, the rent or mortgage would be the first bill paid. And if there isn't enough money for that, then there isn't enouogh to support living in that location and changes need to be made.


Dr. Φ said...

That's the way I see it. It would never have occurred to me to not make my rent payment. I just don't understand the psychology.

Anonymous said...

I suspect addiction. Something about doig drugs makes you want to do more drugs. $100 isn't enough to pay the rent, but it is plenty to get high.