Rental Issues and Horror Stories: How to Avoid Property Problems

Avoid becoming the character of a rental horror story. We've compiled a list of landlord and tenant's worst rental issues, and how to avoid them in your own rental properties.


Unfortunately, life is not like in the movies. There is no obvious "Don't go in there!" moment when opening the door on your next venture. So, when it comes to rental properties, there is no way of knowing whether you're handing over the keys to your property's demise, or what you could be walking in to and away from as a renter. The solution? Being proactive.

We're here to share what could, and has, gone wrong for others so that you can learn from their tales.


Related Reading: 5 Tips for Investing in Short Term Rental Properties



"I had tenants that used the single car garage as a dump. [It] was completely filled with trash because they didn't want to pay the trash bill... maggots, garbage, mice... Think about [a whole] room, packed with garbage bags. And the house wasn't much better."

— Andy

The biggest lesson to be taken away from this experience: Garbage removal should be included along with whatever other monthly utilities and amenities your rental provides. You'll avoid time spent wading through infested garbage and save money by avoiding public dump fees. Now, there is no guarantee that your tenant will actually USE the provided trash removal service, but that would be a whole other issue.


"I got the call every landlord dreads at 10 P.M. … the toilet is plugged and it’s over flowing. Not being very handy, I head out the door with a plunger and extremely small toilet snake. Walking into the bathroom of the house, I immediately realized I was woefully underprepared. Cue emergency call to the plumber. After what seemed to be an entire roll of toilet paper was pulled out, we found a large, blue dog treat KONG was the culprit. Moral of the story, dog toys and toilets are a bad combination, and plumbers who make after hours calls are worth their weight in gold."

— Amy

Tenant negligence is the monster of this nightmare. How can you fix a problem that you may never find out about or until it is too late? While the tenant is the responsible party in reporting issues, there are still ways landlords can be proactive in avoiding this rental issue. Establish an open communication line and a trusted working relationship. Tenants are going to be less likely to reach out with problems if it takes days for an acknowledgment of their message and even more so if the problem they reach out with is swept under the rug. Amy added that "being a landlord is a lot of work and a 'needy' job." Round the clock hours means being ready to handle any emergency thrown your way. Something to consider then is whether it would be worth it to hire a facility manager...


Related Reading: Why You Should Be Using a Digital Rental App


"As a renter, I have two fears... Mice. And getting swindled out of my security deposit. Unfortunately, I had to face one of those fears this year."

— Addie

Was that my imagination or was there a shadow skittering along the floorboard? What can I say about the animal that makes you question your sanity and feel never fully relaxed in your own home? While there are attempts to prevent them; odds are likely that you will have additional roommates who are going to skirt by rent-free. As a landlord, there is no worse rental issue than putting off a mice infestation in one of your properties. Except for maybe ignoring it completely. Considering the health risks they pose, you could land yourself in a world of trouble. Whether it be DIY or hiring a professional, you need to use that "open communication line" to alleviate a tenant's worries and keep an eye on the rental. 


"I heard from one of the tenants that there was water in the basement. I suspected it was a clog in the main sewer drain line [and] once I saw a photo I knew for sure as the water contained fragments of toilet paper and ‘other stuff.’ Fortunately for me the basement was unfinished and the tenants didn’t have any items near the floor drain. I immediately contacted all of the tenants in the building and begged them to limit their water use if possible because anything that went down the drain would end up in the basement. I also contacted a drain cleaning company to come out but realized they would not work in a pool of waste… So, the fun began… I used a sewage ejection pump and a hose to pump the water, [and] after putting on old clothes, rubber boots, gloves and a respirator, I used a shovel and 5 gallon buckets to remove the SOLIDS."


— Brian

As a landlord, drain issues are not uncommon. They are the result of a combination of tree roots growing into the sewer lines via gaps in the pipe connections, and/or people putting things down the drain (personal hygiene products, dog toys, etc.). Brian's advice to staying out of knee-deep waste pools is:

  1. Have a camera inspection on the sewer line before or just after purchasing a new property (before is preferred as sewer line repairs can be in the tens of thousands of dollars).

  2. Have tenants read and sign something indicating they will only put toilet paper down the drain or at least discuss it with them when signing the lease.  Every drain company will tell you that even the wipes marketed for bathroom use and are supposedly "drain safe" cause issues and shouldn’t be used. 

  3. Have the main sewer line cleaned periodically.  This could be annually or every few years depending on the conditions.  It is good to get a good “drain person” on your vendor list as smaller clogs are common in sinks, toilets, and showers.

  4. Make sure your property insurance covers sewer back-ups.  This is particularly important if the basement area is a finished space.



"[I] rented a typical college house while attending university. Just after going to bed on a random week night, the front door opened and a group of people walked into the living room.  Being loud and obnoxious made it easy to hear the chaos.  [I] walked out the bedroom to see what was going on, and found a group of intoxicated guys that said, 'We lived here a couple years ago and just wanted to see what the old place looked like, and we still had the keys!' Ended up being harmless, but sure wish the landlord had thought to change the locks."

— Clay

Changing the locks on a rental is not always customary, but after reading this scenario it should be. While landlords require tenants to return the rental keys, there is no way of knowing whether those previous tenants made copies to hand out to friends, family, and partners, or are willing to pay the fee of a "lost key" just to keep the memento. Something to keep in mind as a prospective tenant then would be asking potential landlords whether lock changes are included in the lease agreement. 


"The one time I'm... in Home Depot... was to grab every white/gray paint swatch they had to attempt to match the [custom] paint job from the landlords the year prior. And it didn't even get close to matching."

— Ally

Hell hath no anxiety like a renter awaiting the return - or no return - of their security deposit.

As a tenant, you can do everything right. Only use command strips, scrub the walls, change every lightbulb and every battery, courageously face the corners of an unfinished basement, and spend hours in Home Depot trying to find the paint that matches the wall in your living room where a single scratch stands between you and sixty dollars. You can go above and beyond, but that still might not be enough. The reason so many tenants struggle for the return of their security deposit is because:

  1. They have no idea what cleaning and repair needs to be done in order for a full return
  2. They do not know what was taken from the security deposit and why
  3. They accept the landlords word as law with no future follow-up or questioning.

One way to avoid getting swindled out of your security deposit is taking pictures of EVERYTHING. Before and after move-in. That way you have proof of the rental state and possible rental issues that were there before you moved in. You also have proof of the way you are leaving the rental property so that any accumulated damages or non-damages can be accounted for. Another way is to reach out to your landlord for maintenance requests well before your lease ends so that you can utilize their repair services for free.

According to Minnesota Law, tenant privileges to keep in mind when awaiting the return of your security deposit includes:

  • The landlord must return the security deposit within 21 days after the tenancy ends.
  • Provide a written explanation as to why the deposit or any part of the deposit will not be returned.
  • If a tenant does not get the deposit back, or is dissatisfied with the landlord’s explanation for keeping part or all of the deposit, the tenant can take the matter to conciliation court.

As a landlord, the hassle and tenant anxiety can be avoided by providing an itemized list of required cleaning that says how much will be taken off the security deposit for each responsibility (i.e. $20: dusty ceiling fan, $10: replace dead lightbulb). Another helpful trick is providing tenants with spackle and the matching paint color for their rooms to repair any holes or scratches in the walls. You'll save them money and save yourself time. Win-win.

There are a lot of rights and responsibilities that both parties should know when it comes to taking on a rental property. Check out the Minnesota Attorney General's Landlord and Tenant Handbook — which according to Minnesota Statutes § 504B.181, subd. 2(b), landlords are required to notify residential tenants this handbook is available to them.


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