Your Choice

Things were great.  I remember driving through the neighborhood after a Saturday game.  It was about 11 am. The lawn was covered with grass clippings.  There were all kinds of balls in the backyard. It looked right. I turned around.  I waved at my neighbor, Don. As I was idling at the stop sign, Charles turned the corner in his red truck. “How are you liking things,” I said.

“The house is great,” he said. He was a bit circumspect, I thought. But I remember thinking, who really wants to talk with their landlord?

Well, now things aren’t so great. Now things are getting tough.  As I see it, there are three basic paths. One, he can stay in the house. I would add an alarm system and put in some lights. I’d probably do a bit more. I’ve been told that I should bring the driveway around to the back, so that the tenants can have their cars well off of the street.

Second, he can go anead and move his family out of the home. Then, its just a question of how much. I already have his deposit. He’s late with rent. What is the number? One landlord friend says three months. Another says 30 days, and return the deposit. I don’t know the number, but I’ll need to know it soon.

The the last path is court. I can get a judgement in small claims court against him. That is more of a penalty to him than it is a reward to me. The only incentive to make someone pay a judgement is when they want to get credit. Charles definitely needs a new minivan. Someday, maybe he’d like to buy a house. Either one of those options is going to require that he pay off a judgment. Until then, though, I’m out of luck. 

“It’s your choice,” I tell him.


My number, after some thought, is $1,225. That represents 30 days rent, plus a penalty, plus the existing rent due for this month. James says I should ask for three months. Peter thinks that that is unlikely. I could ask for that in court. I could ask for 17 months of rent, actually. In the end, this seems more than fair.

We’ve been trading phone calls all week.  He hasn’t given me written notice. He’s changed his move out date three times. Now, our expectation is for tonight at 5:30. I doubt that his mother is really sick in a hospital in Henderson. From the neighbors, I know that he has been moving his stuff out.

James has really calmed me down. He has three rental houses himself. His perception is that as long as I’ve followed the law, there is no doubt that I’m in a strong position. James calmed me down when my pipes got stolen. Now he’s helping me through this, too.


This is it. Either we resolve it today, or we fix it in court.  In my passenger seat, there is a rent receipt book and a written and notarized letter. I’m prepared either way. If he pays the rent, then he gets a receipt. If he doesn’t, then he gets a court date. I have an appointment to see him at 5:30. Roxboro Road could not be slower. Does every 1989 Civic need to break down all at once?

There is a white pickup truck at the end of the street. The minivan with the broken head gasket is gone. There’s no more basketball hoop, either. The trashbin has been pulled out to the curb. I open the lid. It is full. There’s a bottle of bleach, the remnants of lunch from McDonald’s, and a lot of cardboard.

I believe he has left the building. One problem, though. He has not left the keys.

James arrives. He’s not in his work clothes, and he has brought his “dress truck.” James has an $80,000 Cadillac Escalade.

“How are you doing,” I ask.

“Not so good,” he says. “Someone shot three bullets through my kitchen window last night. They’re mad at my neighbor-lady.  But other than that, I’m fine.”

“Well, good. They’re not here.”

“Nope, Adam,” he says, “they are not here. He left. He is gone” James is laughing already.

The mailbox has two letters in it. One offers a discount on cell phone service. The other is from Duke Power. “Fund Remittance,” it says. Inside, the room is swept but there’s a blue chair near the window. The kitchen is clean, for the most part, but there’s a lot of food in the refrigerator even though the power is off. Still, there’s nothing wrong with the house. I can clear the bed frames out of there, and take the rug out of the rear bathroom. The water works, there are no scratches on the floors, and it smells fine.

It looks like that deposit is going to be my mortgage payment.


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