A cautionary tale for landlords
Jo Elle Russell and her husband Danny knew their former tenant for almost a decade and considered him a friend. They thought they could trust him and had no idea of his newfound criminal history when they agreed to rent the middle-aged man a one-bedroom apartment attached to their home on Blaine Street in Newberg.
There weren't any issues with the tenant, who the Russells refer to as "Nick," for about 18 months. Then he quit his old job baling hay for his uncle and everything changed.
"He lived here for about a year and a half and we were always really good friends," Jo Elle Russell said. "He got mad at his uncle, who he was working for, and decided to go work at (a local pub). That's when it started and he started bringing home these people with him."
Nick fell in with the wrong crowd and started bringing "sketchy" people through the property, Russell said, adding that the drug-fueled parties he threw became louder and more frequent as she and her husband tried to rein him in.
The water bills – for which the Russells were responsible – began to skyrocket as strangers would be allowed to shower regularly in the apartment. The Russells also began to worry about the secrecy that Nick was exhibiting. They eventually discovered that other people were living with their tenant without their permission. They were holed up in the sun porch attached to Nick's apartment.
The Russells always wondered why Nick put curtains up around the windows and this secret ended up being why.
Jo Elle Russell also saw how dirty and dilapidated the apartment had become. Mold was all over the walls, the bathroom was destroyed and beer bottles full of urine sat on the floor throughout the bedroom.
The Russells decided to pursue eviction, a months-long process that ended up costing the couple dearly.
"We just spent a fortune going back and forth," Jo Elle Russell said. "You've got to pay the courts, then you've got to pay the sherriff, then you've got to put a notice up. It took us five months and a lot of money to get him out of here."
Nick owed the Russells five months' rent by the time they paid for a police officer to physically remove him in May. They feared confronting him (and using his full name for this story) because – they claim – he told them he was going to "burn the house down and kill them."
Last time they heard Nick was in jail, but the problems that remain go beyond the adversarial relationship they had with their former tenant.
While the eviction process was drawn out and expensive, the real costs associated with this saga will come in the form of repairs and refurbishments to the apartment. As one enters the living room of the apartment, the sight of trash on the floor, a stained mattress and chipped bathroom flooring is accompanied by an overwhelming scent of mold. The filth extends to the sunroom in which people were squatting, and the faint drip of a broken faucet serves as background noise.
Jo Elle Russell appeared to be at a loss as she stood, leaning against the grimy kitchen counter in an area of her property that was formerly pristine. She has considered setting up a GoFundMe account to help pay for the expenses because she doesn't know what the final cost will be. Insurance companies have been unhelpful and contractors have quoted unrealistic and borderline predatory repair prices to her and her husband, who are 72 and 74, respectively.
They acknowledge they made a mistake by not looking into the background of Nick, who allegedly had multiple warrants out for his arrest in California and Oregon. Danny said he regrets not "checking him out," and Jo Elle said the two feel "stupid" for trusting Nick as long as they did.
Still, they find themselves in this situation and they hope their story warns others against making the same mistakes they did. Being a landlord is a risky endeavor, especially when tenants engage in drug habits or bring unsavory characters onto the property.
The entire situation is especially burdensome for a pair of lower-income seniors who are apparently well known in the area for collecting cans to help make ends meet.
The Russells will now add these expenses to a growing stack of bills and they have forgone plans to sell their house.
Jo Elle's advice to aspiring landlords? Don't be too trusting and always remain vigilant with your tenants.
"Keep more contact with your people," she said. "Watch what they're doing more closely. Keep your nose in there and don't trust anybody too much. Look where that got us."
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