The note left in my mailbox was cryptic.
It asked that I call a reader who respects my opinion and who also wanted to share with me a problem she was having. I called the number and spoke with the woman. As I spoke with her, I knew and felt her pain. She owns a two-flat here in Austin. Several months ago, she leased her apartment to a tenant who came to her in distress. The landlord wanted me to write about what she is experiencing because she doesn’t want anyone else in the community to have to go through the same predicament as she is going through.
Her tenant is a middle-age woman with children. The tenant was going through hard times and desperately needed a place to stay. The tenant also presented a letter from social services at 10 S. Kedzie. In the letter, it said that 10 S. Kedzie would pay the security deposit for the woman’s rent. So the landlord took the first month’s rent and allowed the tenant to move in. Now, four months later, that first rent payment is the only money she has received. When the landlord spoke with the folks at 10 S. Kedzie about the security deposit money, she learned the woman had already used up that privilege previously.
The landlord’s only option was to implement eviction proceedings, a costly and time consuming process. And when the landlord went before the judge in housing court, the judge treated the landlord like she was the criminal as opposed to her conniving tenant. The landlord is the one who hasn’t received her rent. The landlord is the one experiencing financial hardships. Yet without fail, the judges in eviction court are listening to the sob stories of tenants. There is not a lot of concern about the money the landlord is losing by not getting her rent paid. The judges are also not interested in telling the difference between those who truly need help and protection and the others who are just gaming the system.
Now, to make matters worse for the landlord, the tenant has filed Chapter 13 to get her debt restructured. So the judge is giving the tenant more time. While the tenant isn’t paying the rent, she has moved additional people into the apartment and is most likely collecting money from them. She has also brought a dog into the apartment even though the lease states “no pets.” The landlord’s only option is the court system, and it is saying in effect that her issue is not large enough to address rapidly. So as the court gives the tenant extra time, the tenant is winning free rent while the landlord pays for everything under the sun.
When I started this column, I said I knew the landlord’s pain. I have been intimately involved when the owner of a huge commercial property here in Austin has had to take her tenant to eviction court for non-payment of rent. There is something very wrong with our system of justice when the owners of properties who work on a small percentage of profit can be financially ruined by self-serving tenants who want to make money for themselves while not paying the price for the piper.
And landlords, unlike our elected officials, can’t legislate to take the income checks of the people who owe them money.
Those landlords must suffer until the courts finally rule on their issues. The least the politicians can do is make the system that is supposed to resolve the issue do just that.