GLOVERSVILLE - Several landlords in the city say they have been the victims of "tenant nightmares," and some say the law doesn't give them enough protection.
Marae Tesi owns and operates several residential buildings throughout the city. She spoke this week to The Leader-Herald about her latest tenant debacle.
Tesi, a Gloversville native, is president of Ocean State Realty, based in Rhode Island. She said one of her apartments was ravaged recently, presumably by a tenant who was evicted.
Tammy Heroth, a hired cleaner, starts to tackle the mess left in an apartment owned by Marae Tesi on East Eighth Avenue on Tuesday. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan )
The apartment looked and smelled as if a wild animal had been in it, she said, and this is becoming a common occurrence in the city.
The apartment, in a building Tesi owns on East Eighth Avenue, was filled with shredded magazines and papers and flipped-over ash trays. A used cat litter box was dumped throughout the apartment, and cooking oil had been spilled throughout. Pipes to the kitchen sink were loosened just enough so that when the mess was to be cleaned up, leaks presented another problem.
"This was a brand new apartment seven months ago," Tesi said as she walked through the property. "The thing is, when I visited this place while they were here, it was immaculate, which makes me believe this was done intentionally."
Tesi said the apartment will cost her about $1,500 between the legal and cleaning fees and repairs that are necessary. She doesn't expect to be able to recoup any money, she said, because taking the ex-tenant to court probably wouldn't help if the person didn't have enough money to pay rent in the first place.
She said in the approximately 80 times she has taken tenants to court, only in about five cases did she receive the money owed to her.
Sometimes, tenants know they will be evicted, so they stop paying the rent for the months it takes the landlords to remove them legally.
"National Grid wants their money whether I'm getting my rent or not," Tesi said.
She said sometimes tenants will start renting with public assistance, but at some point the Department of Social Services stops footing the bill, and the landlord is not alerted.
"They won't ever contact the landlord to let them know that they won't be paying for them anymore - just one day, the money stops coming in," Tesi said.
She said some people on welfare have become experts at "playing the system." If a person on public assistance is legally evicted, DSS will help them find another place to rent, despite previous encounters in which they didn't fulfill their responsibilities, she said.
"I have tenants that will literally ask me to evict them so they can get the emergency help for the next apartment," she said. "It's a vicious cycle, and something needs to be done because it isn't getting any better."
She said tenant headaches not only cost her a lot in legal and cleaning fees but they add to the city's blight problem.
"Do you think anyone is going to be interested in or want to live next to an apartment with a bunch of garbage and junk by the curb?" Tesi asked. "I know I wouldn't, but this is what I am left doing, cleaning up their mess and unwanted furniture."
She said the abandonment of furniture that goes hand in hand with evictions can create an additional problem - the risk of infestation of bedbugs or cockroaches when someone picks up an old couch off the curb.
Tesi said recently she was left paying a large extermination bill to rid one of her apartments of a bedbug problem that didn't exist until the tenants brought in their belongings.
Another city landlord, Marc Fraiser, said he rented to the same tenants of Tesi's Eighth Avenue apartment a few years ago and had the same problems.
"We have been getting a lot of people like that around here," Fraiser said.
He said when the same tenants first came to him, they were in their "Sunday's best," but that pleasant presentation quickly disappeared.
Tesi said she would like to create a list to share among local landlords to warn each other about problem tenants, but that would expose her to a character-defamation lawsuit.
Par for the course?
Not all landlords in the city are crying foul about damaged property. Some view it as simply a cost of conducting business.
Susan Casey, owner of several rental properties in the city, said often some of her units are damaged by tenants, but that is just part of being a landlord.
"Compared to New York City, where I used to be, I have no problems with the process," Casey said.
She said in New York City, it can take up to year to evict a tenant, whereas here it can be done in a few months.
"I would rather sit with an empty apartment because it is more cost-effective than just renting to anybody," Casey said.
She said she has started being more selective about whom she rents to and how much she looks into people's background before allowing them to be tenants.
"If you are renting to the kind of tenant that damages property, you're never going to get your money back - you just have to chalk it up and write it off," Casey said.
However, she agreed that landlords should be able to develop a list of difficult tenants.
Tesi said background checks can be difficult, because often tenants will not give the names of their disgruntled past landlords, and they often have family members or friends provide positive references.
City Police Chief Donald VanDeusen said often landlord-tenant issues are handled in civil court, not by police, although the department approaches every complaint on an individual basis.
He said it is difficult for police to determine when to get involved in these cases, because in order to charge a renter with a crime, it must be proven that the damage was done maliciously.
"We have to assess every situation individually to determine whether or not it was damage that was caused from normal wear and tear or whether it is something we consider and can prove was intentional damage," VanDeusen said. "If we can prove the intent of the individual to damage the property, above and beyond the wear and tear, we can move towards arresting them and bringing them into court to face charges. Unfortunately, it doesn't always make the landlord happy, because we have to err on the side of caution."
Levi Pascher can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.