February 18, 2015 by Dymphna 14 Comments

Firm hand kung-fu


“Someone had even written the C-word on one of the bedroom walls.”

That was Anna, talking about the last property inspection she’d done. She owned an investment property near one of the Universities in Brisbane, and had rented it out to three students.

And now it was a mess.

She showed me some of the photos. I covered my mouth and tried not to laugh.

“Did they know you were coming?” I said.

“Yeah, they said they had spent several days cleaning up.”

If that’s what it looks like after several days cleaning, it must have been messier than a dropped-pie when they were living there.

There were beer bottles in the garden. The floors and walls were filthy. It was partly furnished, but couch cushions were missing, and a sofa had been left out in the rain.

There was even a pile of 12 empty booze bottles in one of the corners.

And as Anna said, there was a cryptic message involving the C-word scrawled on one of the bedroom walls. The poor chap left to face the inspection apparently had no idea it was there.

For Anna it was heart-breaking. She’d spent time living in that place herself. There’s a lot of student accommodation in that area that’s brick monsters from the 70s just waiting to be knocked down.

But this place was different. It was architecturally designed. It was light and airy, and a lot of love had gone into the gardens over the years. It came partly furnished – some of it with her mother’s antiques!

It was a beautiful place.

“I feel so let down,” said Anna. “When they moved in, they seemed like such nice young men. I just can’t believe they’d do this.”

“Now I just don’t know if I’d rent to students again.”

Of course I nodded and mumbled some comforting ‘there-there’ type things. But then I said, “You know, ultimately, you’ve got to take responsibility for this.”

“This is what happens when houses are neglected.”


“Bad managers create bad tenants.”

It was a hard truth, but Anna hadn’t been putting in the work she needed to manage her tenants. She was managing the property herself, which was going well for a while, but then she left Brisbane, had a baby, and her life got over-run with other things.

In time, her management style had drifted from ‘active’ to ‘close your eyes and hope for the best.’

And these are the results that come from that kind of management strategy.

Anna should have been on to it, and should have seen the risks coming.

Her tenants were probably not bad people. But if you’re signing a lease with three 19 year old boys, you need to be aware that they probably don’t have the house-keeping skills you might want them to have.

And they probably don’t have the same standards. Teenage boys have an amazing capacity to wallow happily in filth. Trust me, it’s like they don’t even notice it.

So she should have been very clear in what she expected from her tenants. You can’t just leave it to something vague like ‘keep the place neat and tidy.’

And look, there’s a lot of pressures on students. Workloads can be demanding and most have to work part-time to support their studies. And then there’s the exciting first years of figuring out what girls are all about.

Weeding the garden and washing the walls are not going to be a priority for them.

So you need to make it one.

You need to be on to them. You need to clearly explain what you expect, and be on to it as soon as standards slip.

And this was the big mistake Anna made. She let it go years without a thorough inspection. She also let basic repairs drag out. The solar hot water failed, so all the hot water was coming through the booster. It worked, but not well. Like the oven.

Some features – like the garden and the Balinese deck – were slowly going to waste.

This set the standard. She was sending the message that she didn’t really care about the place. In their mind, she was just letting it go to ruin. They were just paying for the right to squat in the ruin until it collapsed.

They were genuinely surprised that she was so upset.

And Anna says she “hates playing hard-ball.” But if that’s the case, get out the way and let someone with a firm hand take the reins.

Because either they spend their time and money cleaning the place, or you do.

And I can think of better charities to spend money on than drunk university students.

At the end of the day, you need to hold the line. You set the standards and you enforce them.

Good management creates good tenants.

If you’re unable (or unwilling) to do it, you need to find someone who can.