Later that evening, I went back home to my custom built mega-McMansion in an undisclosed northern suburb. I had a moat built around the boundary just in case any disgruntled tenant ever tried to track me down. We brought the alligators inside for winter.
I settled in that Christmas Eve for a long restful slumber. Just as I drifted off to sleep I heard an eerie voice calling to me. It was the Ghost of Christmas Past coming to scold me for my transgressions. He told me he was a last minute fill-in and hadn’t had a chance to review my case file.
“There was some kind of a presidential campaign press conference today,” he explained. “I heard something about a proposed travel ban on people who are Muslim. My office sent a huge emergency contingent to Donald Trump’s house tonight, so they had to call in all the subs for the other accounts.”
He muttered to himself as he scrolled through the notes on his Tablet. “Uhh, landlord. Evil. Christmas Eve. Eviction. Uhmm, kicked the uncle. Oooo-kaayyy.” Suddenly, he stopped and glanced up at me in amazement. “You snatched a Christmas toy from a child?! That’s a little over the top, don’t you think?”
“He didn’t have time to be lollygagging,” I said defensively. “He should have been helping pack those boxes.”
He gave me a scornful look and shook his head. “I can tell this one is going to take a while,” he sighed.
“Now, wait just a minute,” I protested. “I know how this ‘life review’ thing goes. Before you start, do you mind if I show YOU a few things?”
He looked doubtful. “I’m new—just out of training. I think that might be against procedure.” He gave it some thought. “Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt,” he shrugged as he handed me the Tablet.
I scrolled through some situations from my life as a landlord. I showed scenes of 1am phones calls for minor issues because the tenants had my cell number and absolutely refused to call the round-the-clock, 24/7/365 property manager. He chuckled at some of the spectacular excuses for late rent. His jaw dropped when he saw the trashed apartments full of rotting garbage that people left behind without a second thought.
“Ohhhh yeah,” I said as my finger landed on a file that brought back memories. “Let me tell you about this one.”
I showed the ghost the clip about the tenant who fell on hard times and started to make partial payments. I had a cordial relationship with her so I tried to be understanding. After a year of allowing her to pay what she could and waiting for things to get better, her balance slowly grew to a tidy sum. I sat her down and gently told her I couldn’t continue to use my personal money to make up the difference for what she couldn’t pay. I let her know about a pressing medical procedure I was forced to put off because I couldn’t afford it at the time. I told her I had been unable to fix my 20-year old car which had just broken down. I asked if she had noticed me walking to the bus stop to get to work each morning. She said she had.
I explained that her inability to pay her rent on time and consistently was creating a snowballing financial hardship for me with mounting late fees being charged to my personal accounts. I explained that I had great concerns about whether or not she was still able to afford her apartment. I suggested that she might consider moving to a less expensive place or moving in with a friend or family member until things got a little easier for her. Then I would be able to rent the unit to someone else. That’s when the mood shifted.
"No way!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been living on my own since I was eighteen. I’m not moving in with anybody. I need to have my own space. I like where I’m living.”
I told her that since she wanted to stay she would have to get caught up. I gave her a deadline a few months away to pay off her balance.
“Well, some of what I owe you are all the late fees you keep charging me,” she said with irritation. She complained about the $30 late fee added to her balance every time she didn’t pay her rent by the 5th day of each month. I explained to her that my mortgage company charged me a $100 late fee every time I didn’t collect her rent on time to pay them.
She still insisted $30 was too much and that her previous landlord only charged her $10 for late payments. I agreed with her that late fees are a real pain and I would be so glad if I never had to collect another one. I explained that this would mean, however, that she would need to consistently pay her rent on time. I told her that all the money I lost on paying mortgage late fees was not helping me OR her, and that money could be used to make improvements to the property for the benefit of all residents.
”Well, wouldn’t you know it,” I told the ghost, “Near the end of the grace period I set up for her to pay off her balance, I got a letter from her attorney saying that the tenant had declared bankruptcy. She listed me as one of the creditor accounts to be charged off.”
“Well, come on. Be fair,” the ghost reasoned. “Maybe she was overwhelmed financially and she just couldn’t pay you what she owed.”
“Yeah, you’d like to think that,” I said grimly. “Truth is, when I first sat down to talk to her, I gave her a list of a dozen charities which fight homelessness and provide rental assistance to families in need. They would have gladly given her the money for her late rent--money she would not even have to pay back. She could have requested it in addition to filing bankruptcy to resolve her other financial hardships. I checked in with her twice between our meeting and the end of the grace period I was giving her. She said she was working on her rental assistance application and expected to receive the money in time.”
“No way,” the ghost said in astonishment. “If that’s all she needed to do then why didn’t she just file for the rental assistance and pay you your money?!”
“She told me afterwards that it was too much paperwork,” I shrugged. “And this was riiiiiiight after she got a fancy new satellite tv package installed without telling me.
The ghost said, “Hmmm. This is a little more complicated than I thought.” He group-texted the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come to tell them to stay on the Trump project. He told them he would handle my case from here.
“Get dressed. Grab your coat. I’ll buy you a drink,” the ghost told me.
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