How A Nightmare Tenant Left Me Broke

Tonya McGinley is not a happy woman. After years of hard work and saving, the Brisbane single mum has built up a portfolio of three investment properties, only to watch her once healthy finances destroyed by a bad tenant.

“He was a decent tenant in the beginning,” she says. “There was nothing to suggest he would end up doing what he did. He paid the rent and there were no problems. That soon changed. Now I’m in a situation where I can’t afford to pay my own bills.”

Tonya says she was first referred to her horror tenant from one of her existing tenants. He told her of how his nephew Andrew had just arrived in Australia from New Zealand and needed a place to stay. Tonya had a five bedroom house in Narangba, Qld, soon to be available and agreed to let the place out to the new arrival and his family.

He couldn’t pay the bond, but Tonya was happy to let him move in anyway. His uncle, who had been a decent tenant, gave a good referral and she sympathised with his moving to a new country with a wife and five children to support.

Tonya says the first six months were problem free, but this changed when Andrew lost his job. Payments starting coming in drips and drabs and it was clear that the family would struggle to come up with the $400 rent each week.

Their dire situation became increasingly apparent each time Tonya visited the house. “The children would be unbathed and hungry. I tried to help them out. Andrew had pleaded with me that he was struggling to find work and was relying on Centrelink and Family Benefit assistance just to scrape by. I tried to give them a break, even though it came out of my own pocket.”

Eventually Tonya and Andrew came together at a meeting where Andrew admitted that he could no longer afford to stay in the house. There was just the issue of his owing her $3,000 in rent and about $500 in overdue bills. He promised that he would come up with the money before his family left.

Things get ugly

“What he did next was basically pull a midnight runner,” says Tonya. “He left in the middle of the night, taking half his stuff and leaving the things he didn’t want behind.”

Tonya adds that this was made all the more worse by the damage he left behind. “I don’t know how they did some of it. After they left, the walls were covered in excrement. Nappies littered the floors. He also left these fist sized holes all over the place, like he had been punching walls. Some of the brickwork had been shattered with hammers and he removed the tap fittings in all the bathrooms, which caused a leaking problem that destroyed all the vanity cupboards.”

Tonya reports paying more than $7,000 just for the materials needed to repair the damage. It is money she doesn’t have. “I’m not working and I’ve got children and a sick mother to take care of. I can’t afford any of this.”

She says the experience has hardened her and she’s learnt a valuable lesson. “Don’t judge a book by its cover and always get landlord insurance. I wasn’t covered then because I thought it was too expensive, but all three of my properties are definitely covered now!”