Does this really need to be said?

This is going to sound like a shaggy dog story, but bear with me – there is a point.

A friend of mine, Heather,  told me the following story:

“I’m a small time landlord, and recently rented one of my apartments to a single mom, a nice lady with two young girls. The woman was getting out of what sounded like an abusive marriage, and in a real hurry to sign a lease before she left the country briefly to care for her ailing grandmother. She was REALLY not looking forward to this — she grew up here, didn’t know her grandmother all that well, and hates being in Fiji, her grandmother’s country.  She was the best family member to go, though, because she makes her living caring for the elderly.

“She signed a 1 year lease, gave me a deposit, and we made plans for her to move in just after the first of the month. This would give me a couple of days to clean up the place in case the last tenant didn’t do a great job.

“Four days before she was supposed to move in, she called from Fiji, and reached me on my cell phone. The number was blocked. I was in the car on the way to a MeetUp, but my friend, Jack, was driving, so I took the call. My tenant said, “My grandmother died, and I’m stuck here healing with cultural issues.” Wow! I was shocked, and said I was sorry. Then she said, “I don’t know if I’ll be back in 2 weeks or 2 months. Can I get out of the lease? What do I do?”

“I told her calmly, but firmly, that she had signed a lease, and I was not about to let her out of it. That she was responsible for the $10,000 amount of the lease. That the law is that I’m required to make reasonable efforts to find another tenant, but that she is responsible for any deficiency. That is, if it’s vacant for a month, she owes me a month’s rent. And that I’ll take her to small claims court to collect whatever she owes me, as soon as I know the amount of my damages.”

“She said she understood, and would call me back in a few days to let me know if she could borrow enough money from a family member to keep the lease. I said I understood, and would look forward to her next call. Of course, she never called back.

“That was bad enough. Then I heard through a mutual friend that Jack was telling people that I dealt with this all wrong. That I should have just expressed my condolences and put off a serious discussion for another time. Never mind that he didn’t know the situation, that he didn’t hear her side of the conversation, that he didn’t know the phone number was blocked, so I had no way to reach her, that he’s never been a landlord, that he didn’t know the law, and that I really need the money.

“So now, I’m not only out a tenant, but my reputation is being ruined by an ignorant jerk, who apparently knows better than I do what to do in my situation — and is happy to tell anyone who will listen. And who is so cowardly as to not tell me this to my face. By the way, I tried to approach him to talk about it, but he has excuse after excuse as to why he ‘can’t’ get together. What can I do?”

If he won’t meet with you, there’s not a lot you can do, except to realize that there are ignorant, cowardly jerks everywhere, and to let it roll off your back. You did the best you could. As my grandmother would have said, “Don’t dignify that with an answer.” Focus your attention on more positive things — and let this go.

I think the lesson here is more about not being in Jack’s position. How do you avoid that? In the words of Craig Ferguson (yes, the guy from the Late Late Show — he’s a very perceptive guy, not just a funny one), ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said by me now?

And if the answer to any of those questions is “no”,  keep your mouth shut.