Home's state shocks even veteran landlord

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Landlord Dorris Huey's nightmare began in March when he decided to evict some new tenants. It ended when the tenants finally were forced to move out in June, leaving behind a scene that shocked even this veteran of the business.

Glass was broken out of the front door and elsewhere in the house, a downspout was torn from the exterior, the front doorknob is missing. There are holes in the living room walls and interior sliding doors are busted up. The kitchen stove was burned, Huey says.

The interior looks as if it was ransacked. Trash and clothing left behind are scattered everywhere. The front porch and back yard are in similar shape.

"It's worse than burglars would have done," Huey said.

Two women and a man, all in their 20s, rented the three-bedroom, two-bath house last February. The fourth tenant was a 4-year-old girl Huey describes as "cute as a button."

The tenants signed a two-year lease at $500 per month. The lease called for Huey to collect $250 from the renters every two weeks. "I didn't want them to get behind," he explained.

When Huey collected rent on March 5, he says, he saw the back door had been broken off its hinges. He asked the renters to leave the house by March 15.

The lease gave Huey the right to evict his tenants if they were more than 15 days late paying rent. When they had not moved out in April, he says, he sent each of the adults a registered letter informing them they were being evicted. They remained on the premises, he said.

Ultimately Huey sued to get them to leave. Cape Girardeau lawyer David Summers says tenants may be sued for both rent and damage inflicted on the property. Another type of suit, called an unlawful detainer lawsuit, is filed when the tenant has remained in the premises after the lease has been terminated or has expired.

The tenants did not respond to summonses for the court date. On June 6, Associate Circuit Judge Peter Statler issued a judgment ordering the three tenants to pay Huey $1,250 in rent and turning the premises over to the landlord within five days.

Three months is a particularly long eviction process, Summers says. "A ballpark number is 35 to 60 days."

Huey doesn't know where the tenants are and doesn't expect ever to collect the money.

Couldn't file complaint

But Monday, he went to the Cape Girardeau Police Department to file a complaint against the tenants for damaging the property. He says he was told he could not do so.

Without commenting on the specifics of Huey's situation, Capt. Carl Kinnison said enforcing property damage laws can be difficult in situations involving landlords and tenants because the cases often become civil suits and are not prosecuted criminally.

At one time, the 72-year-old Huey and his wife had 20 rental properties but gradually have been selling them off; the William Street house is the last one they still own. He has had two heart attacks and back surgery. They spend a lot of time in North Carolina working for a Southern Baptist mission.

They have owned the house at 922 William St. for 16 years. There was a problem with a previous tenant but nothing of this magnitude, says Huey, who is getting out of the business now.

All the trash and belongings the tenants left behind will be scooped into a city collection receptacle Wednesday. The house is for sale, asking price $38,000.

sblackwell@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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