While I’ve often found that I need to be tough and enforce the “rules of the game”—so to speak—in managing my investment properties, I’ve also found that it demands a great deal of creativity and flexibility. That said, on occasion, when my creative flexibility was nearly exhausted I found generosity and kindness were the only available resources remaining in my toolkit.
One such occasion, several years ago, I received a phone call at my apartment complex rental office from the local prison advising me that my tenant who had been arrested a little more than a week previously had died while incarcerated. In my saddened state, I pondered my available courses of action regarding this twenty four-year-old man’s property—his clothes, furniture and other belongs left behind in his apartment. In that he lived alone in his one-bedroom efficiency I had no one other than him listed on his lease; hence I would have to try to find out if I could locate anyone to accept responsibility for his belongings. I also considered the status of his rent payment account and observed that he had been behind on his rent payment when he was arrested. Therefore I understood I’d have to use his security deposit to offset some of the lost rent revenue. Even still, after taking into account the offset of his security deposit I would still suffer a net loss in revenue.
My musings were interrupted by the arrival of a sheriff squad car which pulled right up to the parking space in front of my rental office. I walked to the front door and met the sheriff as he stepped out of his vehicle. The smartly uniformed officer hailed me, requesting to know if I was the owner of the apartment complex. Upon hearing my confirmation that indeed I was the owner, he advised me in a curt, professional voice that I needed to notify my deceased tenant’s next of kin regarding his death while incarcerated. As I gaffed at the officer and attempted to make sense of this strange and entirely unexpected message he promptly stepped back into his vehicle, backed out of my parking space and sped off.
I found myself left pondering, “By what authority has this law enforcement officer determined it is my responsibility to notify the next of kin of a deceased tenant, who has unexpectedly, tragically died while in prison?”
No sooner had I begun to consider this strange situation than another vehicle pulled up to my office door. The driver hurriedly stepped out and nervously called out to me, “Say, are you the owner of this apartment complex?”
“Yes, sir,” I began, “What may I do for you?”
The gentleman proceeded to explain to me that he had heard that there was some trouble at the prison regarding his son who he understood lived in one of my apartments. Once I confirmed that the son to whom this gentleman referred was indeed the recently deceased incarcerated tenant, I invited him into my office where I proceeded to perform my purported notification duty—notification of the death of his son.
The howling lamentation this bereaved father projected was heard around my complex. Having likewise suffered the death of a son several years before I suddenly felt a harmonizing sting few parents would fully comprehend unless they’d lost a child. The unexpected pain this suffering father felt was intense and acute. After a brief time of attempting to offer comforting solace I prayed with the grieving father and offered to meet and speak with him again at a later time. He not only readily accepted my invitation, but also insisted I come see him at his home a short distance from my apartment complex. After assuring him I would be pleased to come visit him he heartily thanked me for the encouragement and extending the offer to meet with him again.
Days later he called me at my office and asked if I could come see him right away. I immediately cleared my schedule and proceeded to his address. After talking for nearly an hour about his son and his unexpected death and how we could attempt to deal with our mutual pain he inquired of the disposition of the security deposit on his son’s apartment. From a business perspective, not only did his son’s security deposit fail to cover all his past due rent payments, but also I needed someone to accept responsibility for paying the balance due. As I looked intently into the expectant eyes of this pained father I observed how red and puffy they’d become from incessant frequent weeping which undoubtedly continued since the day he learned of his son’s tragic death. I realized that although it may have been contrary to logical business sense, I would exercise kindness and agree to return the security deposit to this grieving father.
After writing and handing a check for his son’s security deposit to the grieving father he thanked and hugged me hard. He squeezed my neck as hard in his embrace as an Olympic wrestler strongly gripping his opponent. I sensed my breathing constricted and feared I’d soon faint unless he let me go. A moment later he released his iron grip and assured me that my visit and sharing my story meant the world to him and his wife during this, the most painful time ever experienced in their lives.
As I drove away I dabbed my own eyes and recalled the words of Proverbs 3:3 which admonish us to not let kindness leave us, but to “bind [it] around our neck.” I couldn’t help wonder if binding kindness around my neck would constrict my breathing as much as the hard hug of the man I had just visited. Likewise, as I pondered these strange happenings it occurred to me that as out-of-the-ordinary it may have seemed for a sheriff to assign a landlord the duty of notification of next of kin when a tenant dies in prison; in this case, it seemed just the right thing to do.
I was reminded that as much as creativity and flexibility are necessary for success not only in real estate investing, but also in many other areas of life, in cases such as this, kindness and generosity wins the day.
Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 So you will find favor and good repute
In the sight of God and man.
It’s easy to understand that to succeed you must be creative and flexible. But, when the situation calls for kindness, will you be ready?