Renting out a spare room to a tenant can be a great way of helping to meet your mortgage repayments. But what if your new tenant turns out to be somebody like Marion Berntsen who loves dragging Wisconsin and Illinois landlords and their families through court if they try to evict her? Her case makes sobering reading for landlords, and highlights the need to try to protect against tenant lawsuits.
So, how can you protect against tenant lawsuits? The truth is that there is no way to prevent any tenant taking legal action against you. However, there are some things you can do to make it less likely.
You should always carry out background checks into any person who wants to rent your property. To do that properly, you need to be sure of the identity of the proposed tenant. When Marion Berntsen moved into the home of Anja Hertel, she used a false name. That would have made looking into her past a fruitless exercise, even if Hertel bothered to do any background checks.
Berntsen had come across as a peaceful, older widow with a Christian outlook. The trouble began not too long after she moved in. She brought no less than 150 boxes into the single room she rented. She also brought in lots of food that she refused to dispose off even when it was not longer usable.
When the landlady complained about the decaying food, Bernsten began calling the police, complaining about the landlady. It was only at that stage that Hertel discovered her tenant’s true identity, and her history of taking tenant lawsuits.
Even though all the tenant lawsuits taken by Berntsen that have gone through the legal process have been dismissed, the unfortunate landlords and the others she sued had to face the stress and uncertainty of dealing with them. People involved lost out financially through having to give up valuable time and unpaid rent.
Berntsen’s standard reaction to threats of eviction has been to lodge complaints with the police. Many of the claims have been frivolous in the extreme. She has complained at the lack of a cable service, and at not having enough counter space. She has also complained of food theft. One exasperated former landlord, John Hosta, says Berntsen takes over the household. His unwanted tenant sued his three children, his ex-wife and another tenant.
When in doubt it helps to have professional help that has been around the block with tenants. A good property manager knows how to conduct a thorough background check into the tenants rental, credit, and criminal histories which will include an alias they might use. They can help you avoid the bad apple tenants out there.