Hoarding case highlights financial threats faced by landlords

Scott McIntyre/Staff 
 Carlos Roubicek tries to cover up the stench coming from the trash and debris left behind by a tenant he was renting the home to in Golden Gate Estates. After the tenant left, Roubicek was surprised to find out the tenant was a hoarder. 'There's no way this deposit is going to cover this damage,' said Roubicek.

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Scott McIntyre/Staff Carlos Roubicek tries to cover up the stench coming from the trash and debris left behind by a tenant he was renting the home to in Golden Gate Estates. After the tenant left, Roubicek was surprised to find out the tenant was a hoarder. "There's no way this deposit is going to cover this damage," said Roubicek.

Something seemed suspicious when Carlos Roubicek’s tenant kept delaying his visit to the house she was renting.

Roubicek was hoping to get a mortgage loan adjustment on the Golden Gate Estates home and needed an appraiser to look at it. He admitted he hadn’t been inside in a while. The owner of 70 properties, he tends to drive by to make sure everything looks good on the outside.

“If it doesn’t look good on the outside, the lawn isn’t mowed, you usually know something is wrong. But she was postponing,” he said. “Eventually my son went over there and realized she was a hoarder.”

Stories abound about landlords who don’t keep their end of the bargain, Roubicek said. But the hoarder in his home highlights the financial threats faced by landlords who make a living leasing their properties.

When a tenant destroys a house, it is not only money the landlord loses. It is time. But a rebounding rental market might help curb the problem as fewer properties on the market mean tenants may want to hang onto them as long as possible.

When Roubicek finally got into the home, he noticed bags of food and bones everywhere. The sink was plugged and warped. Dog feces were in every room.

And it isn’t like Roubicek hasn’t seen animals before. Checking on one of his houses in December, Roubicek said he found a tenant living with four Rottweilers, two cats and 22 snakes.

But this was worse. In addition to the animal feces, the air conditioner and water heater weren’t working, and his tenant never called him to fix them.

“I have had houses that were bad before, but this was the worst,” he said. “In 40 years, I have never had anything like this before.”

Florida has a landlord tenant law that requires a tenant to, among other things, keep the premises clean and sanitary; remove all garbage; and not destroy, damage or remove any part of the property.

Landlords can evict tenants for violating the statute, but it can be a lengthy process involving certified mail, the courts and occasionally law enforcement. It can seem longer, too, especially if someone is destroying the home systematically while the process is going on.

Landlords can evict if a tenant is destroying their home by giving the tenant a seven-day notice. If the tenant doesn’t pay rent, landlords can serve a notice via certified mail allowing them three days to pay or move out voluntarily.

If the tenant does not answer or refuses to accept the mail, the landlord can sue them for eviction. If the court finds in favor of the landlord, the sheriff is issued a “write of possession” and deputies will alert the tenant that they will be evicted in 24 hours.

Sometimes, the damage isn’t known until the tenant moves out. Roubicek spoke of one tenant who took the water heater and, rather than removing it properly, cut the lines between the house and the water heater before taking it.

Roubicek gave his hoarding tenant a warning that she had to clean the place. A month later, she bounced her first rent check in the five years she had lived in the home.

“We jumped on that opportunity to get her out,” he said.

Roubicek had to replace the ducts in the attic and scrub the walls before paint would stick to them again because of roach feces that had built up. The tile had to be pressure washed to get the smell of dog feces out.

The total bill — $12,000 and months of work. He expects a new tenant to finally move in this month.

Roubicek said he is not going to sue his former tenant for the repairs, saying the win would not mean he would get his money and would instead cost him additional attorney’s fees and court costs.

“She’s out. That’s all I care about,” he said. “We did go after her for the bounced rent check and she is paying us on that.”

Roubicek said things have gotten better since the housing market started to bounce back.

Nationally, about 94 percent of rental properties are occupied, but the rate is even higher for Naples and Marco Island, according to Axiometrics, an apartment data provider.

The Naples/ Marco Island market was operating at 97.7 percent occupancy, a growth of 0.3 percent from 2012, but the growth between 2011 and 2012 was 2.9 percent, according to Axiometrics. Rents grew 6.9 percent between February 2011 and 2012, and 3.6 percent between February 2012 and 2013.

Roubicek said he believes a stronger rental housing market will make for more cooperative tenants, who find a good place to stay and don’t want to mess that up.

In 2011, Roubicek’s company had 20 evictions, according to Collier County Clerk records. Last year, he had three that he took to court.

“In 2006, we had 40 properties empty. We needed tenants,” he said. “Now, we’re being more selective about who we’re renting to.”

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