Landlords' tales of nightmare tenants (© Freitag/zefa)


Dead animals, smelly garbage and broken windows overrun the comments of hundreds of people who replied to an MSN Real Estate message board request for landlords to share stories of nightmare renters. In more than 500 postings on the site in the past couple of months, several themes keep coming back -- just like bounced rent checks, some landlords might say.

Let's start with a beef about what may have been beef.

"When I was a Realtor I was acting as a rental agent for an out-of-state owner.  Imagine my delight to find the large piece of meat left in the freezer in an apartment left vacant with no electricity for six months. I actually tried to clean it up -- there is no cure known to man that I didn't try to get rid of that smell. Fortunately, the owner was understanding about buying a new fridge." -- Thetabobeta

Rotten food is just one course on a full menu of tribulations described by rental-property owners and managers. The postings have been edited but not checked for accuracy. (FYI: Tenants have a separate message board to gripe about landlords.)

Skipping out on rent

  • "The absolute worst experience we ever had was two college students referred to us by my husband's uncle. They trashed the place, stopped paying rent after the first two months and were really, really difficult to evict because it was winter, and at that time the state had laws protecting tenants from being pitched out into the cold. The final insult, of course, was that when they did sneak away in the dark of night, they turned off the heat but not the water -- so we had frozen pipes to deal with on top of the garbage and filth." -- Cynical2
  • "In the last year, I have had two tenants just pack and leave in the middle of the night." -- Sarab landlord

Stealing from the landlord

  • "I had three rental properties. Worst case was a very rich guy, family lots of $, lots of $! He had utilities cut off, so he tapped into my property's electrical lines with an extension cord and ran four heaters off it for a month, until it burned through on the new hardwood floor. Then he stripped wallpaper and moldings and sold them at a wood-supply business. He tried to take fixtures but was surprised by another tenant, who called me. He skipped. Family is still very big $ and supports him, I have been told, but they won't pay any back rent or damage costs.  I was out $3,700 for him -- the cost of his mountain bike, he told me once." -- noroom
  • "I have a coin-operated laundry in one complex. The tenants try everything to get free laundry. Foreign change, metal objects, latex gloves with the quarter in the finger hole (thought that was creative). After they got tired of trying to get free laundry, they decided to just take the actual dryer! Just loaded it up, carried it off and threw it down a hill. I hope they enjoyed the 10 bucks they got out of it!" -- Norcal Landlord
  • "We recently bought a new house that was a little out of our league, but being that it was four bedrooms, we figured we could rent out a room for some help with the mortgage, and so we did. We found a tenant who was single, didn't drink, didn't smoke and didn't do drugs. He had a cat but said it would stay in the room (I'm allergic). So we accepted him. Long story short, his cat ran around the house, scratched my dog and the furniture, and he did drink, and he did do drugs. The one thing he never did: pay his rent on time. Oh, yeah, and he was married. One day, his estranged wife came to town with a one-way ticket and moved in with no money and a drug problem. Lo and behold, while we were out working all day, she was snooping around the house . . . "collecting" things. First, the boat hitch was missing, and then my shoes. We logged on to our banking account one day and saw there was a check made out to cash, not in our handwriting (and "dollars" was spelled wrong), with the wife's account number and signature on the back. Needless to say, we evicted them immediately and discovered she had half my wardrobe, and I am still finding things missing!" -- Tahoe Tessy

Friends and family

  • "I had let my cousin (at the request of my aunt) move in, and she sold my water heater, air-conditioning unit, all the fixtures in the house and all my children's furniture and living-room furniture I had let her use, my riding lawn mower and anything else she could remove. Then she left in the middle of the night. Now, two years later, she has no problem walking into any family gathering and acting like she does not understand why I do not speak with her."  -- Amalga
  • "I had close relatives (too close) living in my house. One moved out, and a girlfriend moved in. I haven't had any rent money in six months because she is in school, and if I make too much of a fuss they will all be mad at me. This is a no-win situation. I found out not to have dealings with family!!" -- Lizzy221

Letting pets run wild

  • "I rented to a veterinarian who had her boyfriend move in. The two of them started collecting animals. I had agreed to an outside dog only, but now they had four horses, six dogs, and I couldn't count how many cats! They had fenced in the backyard and put the horses in the yard, right up to the back door, and had the basement full of animals and couldn't possibly clean up after them. Then she left this guy. He stayed, and the contract was only in her name. We couldn't get this guy out of our home." -- Wahoo1413
  • "My boss has a rental that I got put in charge of, and I will never do that again! It was an older couple with their 20-something-year-old daughter, and they lived in filth. They had two dogs, one cat and a chicken that all lived in the house. I guess the animals didn't like to go outside, so by the time they finally moved out there were mountains of dog, cat and chicken poop in the house. We ended up having to go to court to get them out and then go to court again to get two months of rent and more of a deposit." -- Mandalou

Beyond normal wear and tear

  • "We had druggies (highly recommended by family/friends in our church!) who glued pennies to the walls, stuffed Cheetos into the shutters, stapled small pieces of cardboard to the inside window facings, disassembled the outdoor flower bed and brought all the bricks inside the house, poured water into the floor furnace, causing it to rust out (we have a 1928 home in Tulsa, Okla., which was beautiful), used the drapery for cleaning rags, used wood staples to anchor a large, outdoor inflatable toy inside the living room and left their drug paraphernalia in the closet when they moved. We've spent thousands in cleaning and replacement costs." -- Taken in Tulsa
  • "The worst case was a house where the renter had driven his four-wheeler into the carpeted living room and repaired it there. When they moved out, they left garbage, dirty diapers on the carpet, children's drawing in permanent marker on the wall, feces in a plugged toilet, spoiled food in the fridge and, oddly, all sorts of furniture and baby items." -- bulldog7
  • "I am out of the rental-property business, thank goodness. The worst were the people who paid the first and last months' rent, then moved in and never paid another dime. After repeated calls and personal visits I had to pay $100 to the constable to get them out. After the constable told them to get out, they shattered the solid-core front door, poured paraffin down all the drains, rewired the electric wiring to short out the whole system (so the fireman told me), threw beer bottles and broke all the windows and screens out, and sold all furniture and appliances and some carpet ripped off the floor. What carpet they did not steal, they poured bleach on, and dumped battery acid on the tile flooring. They put knife holes in all the Sheetrock and left me with original spray paintings. The water had been cut off for months, and they were using 3-pound butter tubs for their toilet, which they left me with. Their dogs left presents inside the house, also." -- bothgone
  • "Rented to a well-to-do couple with a 2-year-old, solid references (so we thought), and we paid a rental agency to monitor the property and collect the rent. These people paid on time. However, they had a kitchen fire due to the stove being so filthy, thousands of dollars in smoke and fire damage, completely melted the door off the microwave, wouldn't set up the sprinkler-system timers to water automatically, so the entire yard died, completely tore out shrubs and cracked the upstairs master-bath sink washing a bowling ball. They didn't have a diaper pail, so they just tossed the wet diapers (from second child born while in the home) in a corner on the carpet of the baby's room (gag), took every window covering and tore out the alarm system contacts on all the windows. My favorite one: They drove their car through the wall in the garage into the downstairs guest bathroom. All toilets in all three bathrooms had to be replaced because they were stained black. Never could figure that one out." -- Nutso

In a class of their own

  • "(The tenant) left us with garbage and tons of clothes throughout the house, holes in the walls, carpets destroyed and a large potbellied pig left in the backyard that was very hungry and chased after me." -- Rhonda Landlord
  • "We fell for a sob story from a prospective tenant, and we got burned. Her husband worked late hours, and she asked if she could take an application with her, (and) along with that could she take the key so they could come by when he got off work at midnight so she could show him the house. She loved the place; they were going to fill out the application and drop it off to us the next day along with a deposit to hold the property until the credit checks came in. We got a strange call from her a few days later, and on a hunch, my husband and I went by the house. Oh, yes, they were moved in all right; everything was unpacked hanging on the wall, and a cat running around. We had squatters. After the cops were called and the eviction process was started, they had the nerve to ask us if they could start over if they gave us the deposit then." -- it ain't always easy
  • "I had rented to a mother and two boys (ages 3 and 7) who were supplied to me by the Department of Social Services. They were on a plan (two-year max) to help down-and-out single moms/dads get on their feet. I thought this was a good plan. Then the constant traffic started coming to the house apartment: 10 p.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. The smell from the apartment was horrible, and I eventually found out she was making and selling crack cocaine from my apartment."  -- Pacific Heights