August 2, 2021
The Professional Tenant vs The Landlord
Landlords get a bad rap…slumlords…money mongers….I get it. And some landlords have earned the bad rap. However, during COVID 19 and the eviction moratorium, we saw the Professional Tenant refine their skills in an ever-going battle to fight for their rights to occupy an apartments unit without paying rent.

The Professional Tenant
What do I mean by the title above? A professional is defined as one who is: engaged in a specified activity as one's main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.” Landlords will sometimes bump into each other and trade “war stories” of tenants they have had and how many times there is a battle of rent and occupancy. To rent a residential unit, the tenant agrees that there is value to the unit that houses this person and their family. In exchange for residence, they agree to pay money (rent) in exchange for that use. Long before the federal government declared an eviction moratorium, some tenants have made it a profession of occupying apartments for their use without paying rent. The Eviction Moratorium was put in place for over a year, to recognize that many good tenants lost their jobs and shouldn’t be thrown out of their apartment or house for failure to pay rent during the crisis.  The moratorium kept landlords from evicting tenants; however, many tenants selectively interpreted the purpose as “rent relief.” not “rent postponement.” With the Eviction Moratorium, our country has millions of renters who will now have to pay rent for the first time in over a year. How many do you think will pony up over a year’s worth of rent? Perhaps many – but the Professional Tenant has had their best year ever.
Story # 1 – The Phantom Tenant 
A good tenant with a steady job and an excellent credit rating rents an apartment. A security deposit is put down and a move in date is scheduled. However, the tenant never moves into the unit; rather, the unit is now a front for a gang operating an illegal trade. The original tenant is usually paid $200 to $2,000 for fronting the apartment. We observed a “Phantom Tenant” in her element who leased an apartment, but was rarely present in her unit, and always “out of town” according to the guest occupants.  The law? You can’t evict a guest of a tenant and you have to serve the tenant on the lease. This tenant fronted for the gang, moved to Washington DC, collected her monthly fee and when found, there was nothing the landlord could do. One could only shut down the illicit activity when busted, and we couldn’t get rid of the guest except by issuing a criminal trespass with a police officer at least twice. The tenant had a 911 police band radio and when police were called, they scrambled. This tenant kept doing business for 19 months without paying rent, while making revenue until the owner pestered them enough and their clients to leave.

Story #2 – “I’m moving out”
To evict a tenant takes about 6-9 months in Atlanta. You have to file a written notice, which is never received. A court date takes several months…the tenant says they’ve paid and never got notice…the courts sides with tenant and says let’s try again….second time and an eviction is granted…the sheriff is six months behind….it eventually happens. There was a tenant who went through the process, agreed to move out before the sheriff showed up and turned off their utility. In this case, the utility then transfers to the name of the owner. The owner went the next day, the tenant was still there, now not paying rent and switching all their utility bills to the owner….the owner turned off the utilities and they finally left.

Story #3 – Joe’s Dinner and Spa
In most older apartments, the water meters are not individually metered so there is one bill for the building and the landlords just pay the bill as a part of the rent. One family signed a lease as a couple in a 2-bedroom apartment. In reviewing the water bill one month, the owner noticed a really high water bill and determined the tenant was running a restaurant and hourly shower/nap service for construction workers in town. For a set price, you could come in and have lunch, take a shower and a nap and be on your way…nothing illegal, but a lease violation. Here were 20 people a day living and eating out of a small apartment, in shifts…the owner eats the cost of the water bill and nuisance. Would you want this as your neighbor?

Final Story – The Wrong Paystub
Credit scores of tenants applying for a lease in Class C apartments are often low. Landlords will sometimes overlook a bad credit score, acknowledging that things sometime go wrong. However, they will want proof of employment…a pay stub with your name on it. One landlord had a prospect show a paystub that said “Robert Smith” on it. The pay stub said he worked at McDonalds. The problem was, he was wearing a Burger King uniform with the name “John” on the name tag. Paystub fraud is a common infraction.

There is an affordable housing crisis everywhere. The media will have you believe that the burden rests on the landlords to be more tolerant (at the expense of their investors); however, it is very much an active game between opposing sides with no lack of creativity in the game. Is there a solution? It’s time to sift through the good and bad actors and give help to those in real need. The Professional Tenants’ days should be numbered.  
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