Landlords get stuck when tenants flee
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Landlords get stuck when tenants flee

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Delaware has always been known, certainly by landlords, as a tenant-friendly state. Title 25 of the Delaware Code goes on for page after page, more times than not outlining the rights and privileges of the tenant. The property owner-landlord is an afterthought.

Having been a landlord in the Newark area in the 1970s, I was familiar with the fact even then that Delaware highly favored the tenant over the property owner. The general rule of thumb was to make the best choice possible of a tenant and cross your fingers.

We were lucky. After security and background checks — at least as much as was allowed back then — we had a couple of decent tenants for a three-bedroom town house. The one single mom who was on the edge financially never missed a payment, prompted no complaints from neighbors and took excellent care of the property.

The second renter, a Vietnam War widow with children, had everything going for her financially: life insurance payout, a military pension, Social Security for the kids and a good job. She was always late with the rent and took little care of the place. I was told by my property manager to not even think about trying to kick her out for being a slow payer.

But just how tenant-friendly Delaware is came to light again recently. (I never went back to the rental business.)

I’m not going to use any names here because litigation is pending and who knows what else can come of these types of scams.

The bottom line is if you don’t mind moving your furniture and family a few times a year in a U-Haul, you can live free in Delaware rental properties.

This case involved a family of five who gave the potential landlord a “reference” from their previous landlord, a security deposit of cash and personal check, and an employment reference. The landlord in this case is a licensed real estate agent with access to multiple tools and references not available to most landlords

The tenants moved in, set up house in the fairly upscale town house community and lived there like hermits.

Four months later, they were gone with the help of a U-Haul and family members and friends who packed up the family’s belongings in short order.

It turns out that the “reference” from the so-called previous landlord was a fraud — probably some friend who gave the potential tenants rave reviews as excellent renters whom “she really hated to lose.”

There was more that quickly alerted the landlord that trouble was ahead.

The personal check the couple gave for the security deposit bounced. While the husband’s employment reference worked, the “reference” for the mother was a phone number where a person answered “hello.” The landlord was told by the alleged employer that the mother was on an extended vacation, but she had worked there.

After the bounced check and nonpayment of rent, the landlord went to state Magistrate Court for a judgment and eviction.

While Title 25 of the law mentions deadlines of seven days, 10 days or three days for this and that in the eviction process, the reality is that tenants have 90 days to play around for various reasons. And then if you say you were out of town when your court date arrives, you can get another 30-day extension. By the time the court-ordered eviction notice is posted, the U-Haul was well on its way to a new scam destination.

The landlord in this case is out more than $7,000 including rent and unpaid utilities. Because the renters didn’t pay the utilities, there’s a lien against the property.

I think I’ll become a professional tenant.

Ron Williams, The News Journal

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