Here's the issue.
A long time ago, around 1985, I bought a one bedroom condo as an investment. I was thinking at the time that I could use it to pay for my young daughter's college tuition. I ended up not using it for her tuition, because she got some scholarship money and I had some other funds, and besides, the value of the condo didn't go up nearly as fast as the cost of college, and after I'd paid the capital gains taxes on it, there would be no way it was going to cover the bill, so I just hung onto it.
I just kept renting it out, making a little profit that gradually increased over the years. These days it costs me around $750/month to carry the condo, including everything. A couple of years ago, during the boom, I had it rented at $1250/mo., giving me a tidy $500/mo. profit. When that tenant left during the downturn, I dropped the rent to $1150 to make sure it got rented. Now, in April 2011, I rented it to a new young couple, pushing the rent back up a bit to $1200.
The couple were moving back north from Florida, where they'd been living for only about 9 months. When they first arrived to look at the condo, they rolled up in an old beat-up Toyota stuffed with a lot of junk in the back seat. Looked kind of sketchy. But the two of them seemed very nice, and they liked the condo, and didn't hesitate over the amount of the monthly rent. They gave me the deposit in cash -- literally, a fistfull of hundred dollar bills.
I did ask for references. The young man said he worked for himself -- some kind of computer consulting -- so they gave me her references, implying that she had a job. I called their current landlord, a big apartment building in Tampa, FL. They said they didn't give out information about any tenants. Period. I called the previous landlord, and he had only nice things to say about the couple. They paid their rent on time, didn't cause trouble, didn't wreck the place. I think he might have been related to the woman in some way -- I don't know, just an impression.
I called her work reference, to find out that, no, she didn't actually work there. She used to work there a couple of years ago. She'd been an employee for two or three years, and the person vouched for her saying she'd been an honest hard-working member of their team.
So I rented the condo to the young couple; we signed a lease and they moved in. They paid the next month's rent in full, on time. And the month after that, on time.
Meanwhile, however, my tenants complained that some new neighbors upstairs were making a lot of noise, clomping around in the middle of the night, waking them up. I had had a problem with upstairs renters once before, a few years ago. The problem is that our building is kind of old, and cheaply built, and then the owners of the upstairs unit installed a wood floor -- to make their place look nicer, but it resulted in conducting more noise down to my unit below. But it hadn't been a problem recently because the next upstairs renters, who'd lived there three or four years, were nice and quiet.
I hadn't mentioned the upstairs noise problem to my new tenants -- because it hadn't been an issue for several years. I did tell them in general that they had to expect some noise, with people living all together in one building, and it wouldn't be the same as living out in the country, but I did not talk specifically about any previous problem with upstairs neighbors.
|The living room, when it did have furniture|
Now July 1 rolls around. My tenant calls me and says the wife's unemployment check is delayed because of the holiday. Would it be okay to either delay the rent check until July 7, when her unemployment check clears, or else to pay part on July 1, and the rest on July 7? They had $1000 that they could pay now.
I had to cover my $750 monthly cost, so I said I'd take partial payment now. The guy said they were going to be away, but he said I could stop by and he'd actually leave two checks, one for $1000 which I could cash right away. The second check, for the balance of $200, he'd post-date to July 7.
So I went over to the condo on July 1 and used my key to get in to pick up the two checks which would be on the dining room table. I go in -- and there's no furniture in the place! They had a tiny table in the dining area with two chairs, a small desk in the living room with a computer on it and another little table with a TV. No couch, no chairs, no bookcases, nothing on the walls. The place looked empty. And kind of sad. In the bedroom there was a only double mattress on the floor, plus a few clothes strewn around on the carpet. The closet was open and full of clothes.
I found the two checks. I deposited the $1000 check and it cleared, no problem. Now I've paid my condo fees. And I have this $200 check sitting on the corner of my desk. Yesterday, my tenant called and left a message on my cellphone, saying the money was in the bank, I could now deposit the $200 check.
But I'm wondering if I should.
I'm wondering because I don't really need the money -- after all, I covered my condo fees and then some -- and this young couple seem like they're struggling, and I also feel a little guilty that they've had to put up with the noise from upstairs that they hadn't bargained for.
Or ... are they "playing" me? And if I don't deposit this $200 check, will they take it to mean that I'm lowering the rent for the rest of their year-long lease? Yikes! That would raise my "nice gesture" from $200 to more like $2000. And then, what if they want to renew the lease?
So, if I cash the $200 check, am I being a nasty old skinflinty landlord? If I toss the check away, am I caving unnecessarily, and being played for a sucker? It's hard to figure.