Anyway, our court date was set for June 12th, and from our perspective it couldn't come fast enough. Our very own moment with Madison's 'Judge Judy', aww, how precious. Check one more thing off the bucket list. Ahem...
Well, remember how tenant-friendly our county is. Turns out the first "court date" is actually a mandatory mediation hearing where a non-judicial mediator meets with both parties to see if they can come to a legally-binding settlement without appearing in court. This was fairly discouraging to us, since you can't get an eviction without attending the hearing, but we would be out of town for the first court date available following the mediation.
We also discovered the weekend prior to the hearing that the state maintains an online database of all the small claims court cases filed and you can search by case number OR name. While this information would have been incredibly helpful several months before, our morbid curiosity was at least satisfied a bit to learn what kind of character we were dealing with. Turns out that between Bill and Sandy, not one or two, but six small claims cases had been opened since 2006 listing them as defendants, either separately or jointly. Furthermore, three of the cases were eviction cases, all since the very end of 2006. Ours would be their fourth, they'd lost all previous cases. At this point we began to assume that our friendly neighborhood squatters wouldn't even show for the mediation, I mean, why bother? For us that would have been a potentially best case scenario, we thought, as a no-show meant an instant writ of eviction.
But June 12th dawned gray and drizzly, much like my mood and who should be waiting for us upon walking into the courthouse waiting room than Bill? Jolly as you please he pleasantly inquired how we were as if we were perhaps bumping into a long-lost acquaintance at a restaurant or grocery store, certainly not as if he were the devious crook who'd given us the runaround on our rent for two months, been squatting for over a month, and was now over $3000.00 in the hole for rental payments, utilities, and court costs incurred. Some people will never cease to surprise me.
We did learn a lot about ourselves and the situation in the hour that followed. Like, for instance, that the non-payment had never been about the money, but rather that he'd never received the utility statements that he'd requested. Or that he was sure we could all agree that we'd done things we regretted in the situation. (Well yes, but none of them in the sense of my unfair treatment of you, Bill, trust me I would be much less of a Mr. Nice-Guy to any scumbag who tried the same tricks in the future and much quicker to bring down the hammer) We also learned that Sandy really thought an ideal and fair solution would be for them to stay until the end of the summer at least. And that we were really devious people who couldn't be trusted to keep our word, so he definitely couldn't pay us until he was completely ready to move out, as there was no telling what we might do to him or the property in the meantime. I started to wonder what alternate universe this guy lives on more and more as the meeting progressed, but the session ended eventually ended with him agreeing to pay in two cash lump sums, one the following week and one the week after, and to be moved out by June 30th. He assured us he would comply lest we use the "ultimate weapon" (eviction) on him, which he would NEVER let happen to Diva and Jr. (Umm, apparently he doesn't know about the small claims record database, either, huh? You mean you wouldn't let it happen a 4th time?) At this point I didn't trust the guy as far as I could throw him, and he probably tops the scales close to 400lbs. so you all can figure how far that would be, so I figured it was yet another game and we'd never see a cent of the money.
Well, some people never cease to amaze me, and on the day appointed for the first lump sum, guess who showed up at the appointed meeting time and place and paid it all, down to the cent, a sum slightly over $1700.00 in cash. The largest bill was a $20. That did bring James and myself a good chuckle (should have taken a suitcase like the movies) and a bit of relief that maybe he'd had enough of his games.
Alas, if that were the case the surprises really would have been over, so true to his more typical nature, he blew off the next payment date and June 30th came and went with him "really working on getting out." The reason for the delay? Well, it's the first of the month, so I couldn't get a truck. Oh yeah, because you haven't known for three weeks (or three months, depending on how you look at it) that this day was coming?
Why you might ask didn't we rush down and get our writ of eviction. Well, turns out in Wisconsin you have to handle all your evictee's possessions with kid gloves. For example, if you move their stuff out you have to hire bonded movers to move it and you can't place it on the curb, but rather must pay to have it stored in a insured storage unit. No selling the property to pay off owed debts either. Also, the process comes with more court fees and a up to 10 day waiting period, so since he was actually making progress toward moving out (there were now boxes and a truck) we decided to go with it for a few more days. Finally on July 1st, James was able to get another $500 cash from him and one key (apparently Sandy had taken the other to work with her--who does that on a day you're vacating a property?) along with his signature and assurances that he'd be completely moved out by 6pm that night. Also, he informed James, they were visiting family in Iowa that weekend and he hadn't had time to get to the ATM since he was so busy moving, so the rest of the money would have to be paid on Tuesday. So, imagine our surprise when upon arriving home from our own long weekend visiting family over the 4th, we found one of their vehicles in our driveway. The explanation? Well, Sandy had become ill over the weekend, so they didn't actually go to Iowa, or finish moving out, but it would be done shortly. And the money? Well, he was waiting on a check to clear, and you know since the banks weren't open Monday in observance of the holiday it would just have to wait until Tuesday afternoon.
To his credit all of their stuff (well, all that they felt like moving...apparently the couch and grill were too large and hassle-some) was out on Monday morning and the other key was left as well, however we got the run-around all day on Tuesday again regarding when he'd actually have the rest of the money. Talk about a case of Deja Vu.
And the house, well considering all that could have gone wrong it's in decent shape. They apparently broke the dryer at some point (I'm assuming during the squatter days, since it would have been our responsibility to fix otherwise) but neglected to tell us. Two closet doors are maimed beyond repair, and they broke the door to the master bedroom. Perhaps my favorite casualty however is Diva's room. I'm fairly certain at some point in our lives this whole situation with the paint will be funny, though I can't say we're there yet. Remember how it all started with sweet nursery colors, transformed to purple/pink/leopard and how we were assured it would return to neutral boring-ness quickly. Remember when that happened, yep that's right, March 16th. Bill's one comment upon moving out was that he hadn't quite been able to complete the painting job (yes, you assume correctly, the one that was supposed to be done by 3/18) in the rush to move out and that he'd run out of paint. He could finish it for us of course, it would just take another day or two. We told him no thanks, we'd complete it, he could just reimburse us. Well, he wasn't joking when he said he wasn't done. In fact, the room looked as if someone had been raptured mid-job. Cardboard, rollers, and a paint tray were scattered around. The coats that were on the wall were providing the poorest coverage and the paint job was the sloppiest I've ever seen. Some pieces were nearly covered, though not smoothly, others had barely any paint on them at all. And oh my, I didn't know you could spill that much paint on the floor and trim if you tried. Basically, the oak trim throughout the room is a lost cause, it'll need to either be completely sanded and re-varnished, or painted white to salvage it. Oh my! And all because a 14-year-old couldn't live with baby blue and yellow for two months. However, my pity for Diva is less than great, as apparently no one has taught the near-woman that when you decide to deface something with a Sharpie, unless you're a mid-east terrorist type, you probably shouldn't write your real name, even if you do put lots of little hearts around it. My two-year-old knows not to write on walls with markers and that she's not even supposed to use a Sharpie anywhere without permission...wow!
Anyway, to wrap up this long saga as best as possible, we're now back to pursuing the rest of the cash from Bill through legal means. We're quite doubtful we'll ever see it again, but as my mom pointed out, I paid a LOT more in college to learn significantly fewer life lessons than this experience has taught us, so all is not lost. We're six months older, but significantly wiser, (albeit more cynical and jaded) and what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?
We've definitely concluded that at this stage in our life we don't have what it takes to make it as landlords!