Dave Simpson: Friends Don’t Let Friends Become Landlords

Columnist Dave Simpson writes: "I learned that to be a landlord, you need the disposition of a prison warden, with a demeanor that tells renters you eat puppy dogs for breakfast, and kittens for lunch."

Dave Simpson

May 04, 20214 min read

Dave Simpson headshot
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Dave Simpson, columnist

It is said that the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys the boat, and the day he SELLS the boat.

(The second day tends to be happier.)

Painful, hard-earned experience tells me the same can be said for rental property.

For the past 15 years, I have been driving past a rental house along a busy road that leads into town. Back when we were fixing up run-down houses and selling them for a profit (very little profit, trust me), this house popped up on our radar screen.

I must have done something good sometime in my life, because karma kept us from buying the place.

In those 15 years, I’ll bet I’ve seen two dozen renters move into the place, then move out. When they moved out, there would usually be a big pile of junk by the door. The landlord would haul off the junk, and a few days later new renters would appear.

For a while, a renter was doing car repairs in the driveway. Then someone appeared to be renting equipment out of the place. And every time I drove by, I would thank my stars that it wasn’t me looking for a buyer, or a renter, or hauling off junk left by the last renter.

In the latest iteration, the pile of junk left by the renters was so big that they brought in a dumpster to haul it off. On top of the pile of junk in the dumpster, I spotted a toilet and a bathtub.

Now that’s some serious repair work.

Every time I drive by, I pity the poor landowner, and think, “I feel your pain, brother.”

At one point years ago, we were renting out two houses that we couldn’t sell. We were living 900 miles away. So we couldn’t keep an eye on either place. And a property manager wasn’t much help.

We learned the hard way that there are two kinds of renters – very good renters (bless them) and very bad renters. Not much in between.

One of those houses had some nice drapes that I paid plenty for when I lived there. It didn’t take long for the cat owned by one of the first renters (I specified no pets, but how do you enforce that from 900 miles away?) to shred those drapes and saturate the tatters that were left with (there’s no nice way to say this) cat pee. Ever spent much time around cat pee?

The drapes and all of the carpeting went to the dump.

In the basement, someone had painted a very large purple unicorn on the wall. As unicorn portraits go, it was well done. But I’m just not a unicorn guy. The sprinkler system I had installed was never turned on because nobody wanted to pay for the water. So the lawn, which no one ever mowed, went to seed.

The crowning blow was when a renter moved out without paying the rent (pretty much par for the course), and stole my refrigerator. I reported it to the police, but they told me that would be a “landlord/tenant dispute,” and they weren’t about to pursue it.

Stealing a $300 refrigerator seemed like a felony to me.

As a landlord, I was an innocent lamb being led to slaughter. I wasn’t nearly tough enough.

I learned that to be a landlord, you need the disposition of a prison warden, with a demeanor that tells renters you eat puppy dogs for breakfast, and kittens for lunch.

When you’re young, landlords can seem mean and unreasonable. Get a few years under your belt, however, and it is the occasional bad renter – probably with a cute little kitten in tow, brim full of pee – who is the cruel one, destroying the house that was once your pride and joy.

Two of the happier days of my life were the days we finally sold those two houses.

My heart goes out to the guy fixing up that house I see on my way into town every day. I had some damage, but I never had to replace a toilet and a bathtub.

Hug a landlord today.

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Dave Simpson

Political, Wyoming Life Columnist

Dave has written a weekly column about a wide variety of topics for 39 years, winning top columnist awards in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois and Nebraska.