The morning of November 1st started just like any other. That is if you work at a real estate office where a lot of egos compete for top realtor of the month and PR stuff is rampant. Like having a huge plastic black Halloween cat still in the parking lot that shouts out whenever a car pulls into the lot, “Welcome to Peller Realty where you will find your perfect new home, with or without ghosts”
I’m Casey Clark and I work at Peller Realty in Saint Augustine, Florida. It’s a small branch of a huge firm with offices all over Florida. When my marriage went south after ten years, I took my real estate license class in Florida and, no surprise, I passed. What is surprising is how different laws are in my former state, Louisiana where present day law is based on Napoleonic code rather than English Common Law as in other states.
I grew up in a real estate orientated family in New Orleans. We were the original flippers. My parents would buy a house in need of repair, and we would move in and begin repairs. As soon as we made it comfortable to live in, out we would go into the next renovation. I never spent more than three years in one school.
I was lucky enough to land the property manager spot at Peller because Bucky Brown was leaving after two years at the helm and none of the other realtors were clamoring for his spot. I had had rentals of my own so I qualified. Bucky’s parting advice was, “Get a large bottle of antacid and some Tylenol.”
You might think a property manager at a large real estate firm might have a dull job. Let me tell you, it’s not. Tenants can be some weird characters and owners not much better. I had a feeling today would not be like any other. I had just gotten off the phone with a slightly hysterical lady who wanted Peller to manage her property. ”Right now,” she insisted. “You need to get over here quick before Mike kills him.”
The “kills him” part warned me I should not touch this one. The business side screamed, “Go get it before she calls Sunny Side Realty or one of your other rivals.”
Naturally, I wanted that twenty percent commission. Actually, I only get half of it, my broker, Lisa Lee Loren, claims the other half between her and the company owner, J. M. Peller.
Among us agents, we thought the J. M. stood for “Jesus” and “Mary” as he played the religious card to the hilt. He was a deacon in his church in Jacksonville, and wanted to give the impression he would never do anything evil.
He didn’t. He had a hatchet man, Dwight Kickum, who did the dirty work. Agents who didn’t produce what Mr. Peller thought they should, soon had a meeting with Dwight Kickum and were cleaning out their desk right after. I wanted to stay employed so I headed over to the island to meet Mrs. Mulligan and see who Mike was and who he was going to kill. I was hoping Mike was the family cat, and he had trapped a rat in the rental.
I pulled up in front of the address Mrs. Mulligan gave me on Anastasia Island just outside Anastasia State Park. It was a moderately-priced, pale-green Craftsman, stucco house with a pillared front porch and a separate two-story garage set off about 30 feet from the house. Nice sized lot for a house this close to the beach. It didn’t have the look of a rental so I assumed it was home base for the Mulligans and that they wanted to rent the apartment over the garage.
Still, that would bring in a nice rental commission. Just based on location I’d guess it was in the eight or nine-hundred bracket depending on what was inside.
Unlike parking in the historic district, parking here was easy. The state park protected by a thick wall of pine and palmetto bushes was across the street, the property was on a corner lot, with an empty wooded lot on the other side.
Mrs. Mulligan opened at my knock. She looked me over as if surprised I was a 5’5” slim blond not a lady wrestler. She invited me in and introduced me to Mike. She told me this was a weekend home for them as they both lived and worked in Jacksonville. Bridget was a medical technician and Mile was a hospital chef.
I was half right about the cat/rat part. Mike was her husband, Mike Mulligan, but it was a rat of sorts he wanted to kill. Mrs. Mulligan, who insisted I call her Bridget, explained the situation. “We rented our garage apartment to Rosalee and her boyfriend, Hiram. Now, they won’t pay the rent until we do a lot of unrealistic remodeling.”
“That’s easy to remedy. Unless you promised to do those repairs, we can evict them for non-payment of rent. Peller can take over management, and we do the eviction procedures,” I said.
I explained our fees and produced a contract which both parties agreed to and signed. The commission guaranteed, I got to the hard part. “I’ll need the tenant information and I assume you didn’t promise them any remodeling?”
Bridget looked at Mike. Mike looked at his feet. “Well, It was last weekend and Hiram and I were enjoying a few Guinnesses. He started saying how the apartment would look great if it had a balcony all around. ‘Sure and it would’ I agreed. Then he said that a widows walk on the roof would be classy. Again I agreed. Now, he has sent a certified letter refusing to pay any more rent until I make the ‘promised repairs’ to the apartment.” He handed me the letter.
“No problem. Verbal contracts are not enforceable in Florida. However, it’s not a good idea to get too sociable with a tenant. Better to keep it on a Mr. Mulligan and Mr. Hiram Whatever basis,” I advised.
“We don’t know Hiram’s last name,” Bridget stated.
“What about an application when you rented to them?” I asked.
Bridget looked pointedly at Mike. Again Mike looked at his feet. Finally he answered. “Well, Rosalee Menendez worked with me at the hospital. She was a good worker and always on time and everything so when she said she and her new boyfriend were moving to Saint Augustine and needed to find a place to live, I offered the apartment.”
I shook my head. These people really needed help. “Mr. Mulligan, you should always get a signed application giving you permission to investigate any possible criminal records and check previous rental references. These people are living right next door and you know nothing about them other than that she was a reliable worker. ”
He sighed, “Rosalee’s job application is on file at the hospital. Hiram told me once he was from Hell. Not sure if he meant a town named that or what. He said he had moved here from Georgia.”
“Only town I ever heard of named Hell is in Michigan. Maybe because of the winters. None I know of in Georgia,” I replied. “Anyway, I’ll draw up a three-day eviction notice using Rosalee Menendez and just Hiram.
This one is simple. I write it up and post it on their door. Next step if they don’t move out and return the key to surrender the apartment, is going to cost you to evict them.”
Mike growled, “Why can’t I just go kick his ass out?”
Bridget and I exchanged glances. I suspected this was why she wanted me to manage the property. I patiently explained to Mike, “That’s probably what he wants you to do. At best, you will have to pay three months of rent for him. At worst, he claims injury and sues you for damages which could end with him getting ownership of your property. Do not speak to him until we get him out. Will you agree to that?”
Mike nodded grudgingly. “Good,” I replied. “By law, you can’t enter the apartment unless you have reasonable cause to suspect damages. Like if it’s on fire. You can’t take off his door or anything else. I’ll handle it from here out. That’s what you pay me for.”
Mike nodded again. Bridget gave me a grateful look. I continued, “Worst case, if he doesn’t move within three days excluding weekends and holidays, we then have to serve a five-day notice called a “complaint,” posted either by the sheriff or a private process server. That will cost you $230. Again weekends and holidays don’t count.”
“The law sure does favor the tenant. He sits there rent-free while we scrape to pay the mortgage,” Mike said.
“I agree,” I said. “But the law is the law.”
Bridget asked, “What happens if he ignores all our notices?”
I answered, “Ignoring is your best bet. If he ignores the five day notice, you then file a three-day notice and after that time is up the sheriff’s department sends a deputy to observe and you put his possessions out by the curb and change the lock.” I added the worst case scenario. “However if he files an answer to your five-day notice with the court, you will need a lawyer or appear and represent yourself. I can’t speak for you to the court but I can go and give you advice. That can take months.”
“Meantime, that rat simply stays there thumbing his nose at us and I can’t lay a hand on him?”
If this was a cartoon, I would have seen the steam coming out of Mike’s ears. “Theoretically, he needs to post the amount of rent he feels he owes with the clerk of court. However, he can claim he doesn’t think he owes anything as he can say the “repairs’ you promised make the apartment unsafe. Ridiculous I know, but again, this waits until the judge rules.”
I drew up the three-day notice and went to serve it. The stairs leading to the apartment had a small stoop in front of the door. The entrance door was glass jalousie panes and there were several windows. Hiram answered the door before I could knock. He was a stocky bearded man wearing overalls with no shirt. He looked about 40 years old and in fit condition.
For a moment I envisioned the sixtyish beer-bellied Mike trying to “kick his ass out” and then proceeded to begin the same process in a more civilized fashion. I gave him my best Peller smile and tried for a last name, “Are you Hiram? I’m sorry I don’t have your last name.”
He didn’t respond with his name, Instead he growled, “I’m Hiram. What’s it to you?”
“I’m Casey Clark, with Peller Realty and am now managing this property. I need to either collect this month’s rent or serve you with this.” I held out the notice and automatically he took it and read.
“I ain’t goin’ nowhere. Mulligan promised me a lot of repairs he ain’t goin’ ta do. You, Missie, get off my steps and don’t ya set foot on them again. I see ya again and I’ll sue ya and your damned firm. I know my rights.”
Well, so much for being nice. I headed back to the office to set up the record on my new rental property. At least, when I got there the Halloween cat was down. I doubted I would have the tenant from Hell out before the giant talking turkey went up.