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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Bruns, CPA

Cat Karma

I've been both a landlord and a tenant, and accordingly, I can help advocate for BOTH landlords and tenants when a problem arises that may not be exactly spelled out in the lease. I myself went through a very unpredictable and costly problem that involved CATS. Coincidentally, 2 different sets of cats caused the same exact problem for me as a landlord, and then as a tenant ! I have dubbed this "Cat Karma". Let me explain.

In 2009, I was living in a condo I owned, but decided I wanted to live in a house now that I had a baby daughter. I moved out of the condo and became a landlord for the first time. My first tenant was a lovely woman (we'll call her "S"). She had 2 cats, which I thought was OK, because I had 2 cats as well. I always felt that cats were pretty harmless in the potential destruction of property. For the next couple of years, when I was visited S to do some maintenance check ups, everything seemed fine. Scented candles would be lit so the condo even SMELLED beautiful (I am bringing up this little detail for a reason).

When it came time for S to move on, she moved out and it was time for me to make sure the condo was ready for a new tenant. When I went to the condo, I noticed that there was a strong smell of cat urine. I also noticed a bunch of plug-in air fresheners in multiple sockets around the condo. I realized that I had a problem here. No tenant was going to tolerate this smell, so I had to figure out what was going on. Suspecting there was an area where one of her the cats had an accident, I hired carpet cleaners to do a thorough cleaning. A couple of days later, the place still smelled awful ! I researched and found out that I could use a blacklight to find old cat urine stains, so I got one of those and went to the condo at night to investigate. I couldn't believe my eyes ! Cat urine stains ALL OVER THE CONDO ! Now I understood S's scented candle trick when I visited, it masked the smell during my visits. Tricky girl, that S.

The next week was filled with me having the carpet ripped up, me bleaching and sealing the subfloor where needed, and having new carpet installed. This headache while trying to deal with my PAID job and having a toddler in tow. The aggravations of landlord-ship were becoming evident. In the end, the whole project cost more than the security deposit I had from S. However, I had to admit that the condo was about 5 years old at this point, therefore the carpet and pad were at a depreciated value. I spent the time to track down the condo builder's cost of the carpet install 5 years ago and calculated the depreciated value using a reasonable carpet life. At the end of the day, the result was a bit more than the security deposit, so I called it even. I informed S why she wasn't getting her security deposit back and gave her the calculations. Although I was annoyed at the whole thing, I didn't blame S for her cats' unusual behavior. I theorized that her cats could have smelled my cats from when I lived there, and had acted out in some territorial fashion by urinating everywhere. We would never know for sure. However.....

I had moved into a house I rented from a nice family, and lo and behold, one or both of my cats began to urinate in places they shouldn't! I was driven crazy trying to keep up with cleaning up after them, and I think I did a good job keeping any smell at bay. However, when I moved out, I was now on the receiving end of my landlord's dismay about the situation they were dealing with. I was informed that I would not be getting MY security deposit back. I understood, and again I had to simply conclude that a previous resident had animals that my cats smelled, didn't like it, and acted out. What else could it be? When we moved out of there and moved into our new home that we purchased, my cats urinating problem magically disappeared !

After going through this cat craziness, I advise landlords to think long and hard about allowing a tenant to have ANY pets. If you do, and you end up with some kind of a problem, give me a call. Also, if you are a tenant with a pet and your pet mysteriously begins to destroy the property, be understanding when your landlord "steals" your security deposit to make repairs. Of course, if you feel your landlord is overdoing it and taking too much, give us a call !

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