An Open Letter to My Deadbeat Tenant
I want back rent but I’d rather have answers
Dear Nurse Julie,
It’s been nearly 3 months since you’ve paid rent, and now you’ve achieved the impossible: you, “nurse” Julie, have turned me into a scaly, vengeful dragon landlady.
As God is my witness, I shall never accept late rent again.
I naively figured that by getting your deposit for your dog(s) and first/last month’s rent, I was safe. In December, I read with empathy your texting tales of woe about having Covid, and your kid having Covid, and how you missed work and got caught in an ice storm in Little Rock.
I empathized because I was raised to be highly compassionate, although I was always slightly suspicious of my parents’ claims about the virtues of putting others first.
Me: [tearful] “Dad, the neighbor yelled at me and lectured me for half an hour because I didn’t bring his newspaper to his doorstep and instead left it at the end of the driveway.”
My Dad: “He was probably having a bad day.”
Me: “But it was early morning.”
My Dad: “You have to remember that seeing his newspaper at his doorstep might be the highlight of his whole day.”
Me: [mouth agape] “Okay, I think I’ll go have a sugary snack.”
Meanwhile, my husband was growing up in a large Irish Catholic family. He heard a very different message, in-between ducking whatever objects were being hurled at him by his four siblings.
My husband: [tearful] “Mom, Billy Baker punched me!”
His mom: “You’re bigger than Billy Baker. Go punch him back.”
My husband: [finding Billy, and punching him] “And never punch me again, loser!”
His mom: “Good job. Now, don’t come back home until dark. And go find your brother, he needs looking after.”
So I admit I’ve made some mistakes because my father was literally a professional diplomat and my mother’s primary life strategy was “you can never be too thin, or too rich.”
I grew into an adult unprepared for the rigors of landladydom. The Billy Bakers of the world remained a big, fat mystery to me.
Yesterday, we arrived to discover the townhome ice-cold and its fridge warm, and full of food which was melting and was starting to smell because they turned off the electricity two days ago.
We cleaned out the food, into two enormous black trash bags weighing 38 pounds each. In your freezer you’d left popsicles, which puddled into a rainbow of colors.
I called and texted and asked nicely for you to communicate with us. Then we called your sister, Jessica, and she tried to solve the mystery.
Jessica: “She said she was busy at work and couldn’t talk.”
Us: “What about the food? Has she moved out.”
Jessica: “She said, ‘someone was supposed to come by and take care of that.’ I can’t figure out what’s going on.”
Us: “OK, well it’s not your problem. Thanks for trying.”
I phoned the power company, Julie, and we turned the heat and lights back back on. I put your mail, including your unopened tax documents, into a neat pile. We discovered a year’s worth of OUR mail in a plastic grocery bag. I guess you were collecting it? Girl, what the F*?
After this, I realized it could have been much, much worse. You didn’t damage the property, and you left behind a halfway decent loveseat which I plan to bring home, plus a newish dog bed.
We saved two chilled Dr. Peppers from the fridge, although the time has long passed when I drowned my sorrows in sugar.
I don’t hold a grudge, but I wish you’d write back and tell me why because the cognitive dissonance is hanging around like a drunken uncle at a bar mitzvah. You have a full-time job and can’t afford to pay rent ($820 a month) and utilities (less than $150)? So when you said you were a nurse, I guess what you meant was nurse’s aide, because RNs make good money — even in Arkansas.
My theory is you are a single mom of five (grown) children who has a low-paying job that requires an hour-long commute several days a week. You can’t afford rent or utilities because two weeks off work (due to Covid) means your total take-home pay for that month is somewhere around $800.
Maybe you also need to give your kids money.
Here I go again, empathizing again — but if you would just call us and let us know what is happening, I could forgive being stiffed for $1,000 and having to clean out your fridge. It doesn’t cost any money to communicate.
On the other hand, I’m grateful because, girl, you’ve taught me some valuable lessons.
Now, when a tenant is even a few hours late with the rent, I’ll slap a late fee on and relentlessly text every hour till it’s paid.
When it isn’t paid, I’ll start eviction proceedings.
And if that doesn’t work, I’ll collect a pile of dog doo-doo, put it in a paper bag, set it on their front porch, light it on fire, ring the doorbell, and run.
Jean Campbell writes humor, fitness, poetry, and crime. She is working on a book about the 1980s Omaha sex-trafficking ring and perfecting the art of collecting rent. If you liked this article, consider getting her posts delivered to your inbox.
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