Lemme ask you: If you stopped making care payments, would you expect to keep the car? Even if the baby was sick?

Take it from the other end: What if you sold the car and financed it? Would you let the buyer continue to ride, or would he be taking the leather taxi and using pete and re-pete?

Sick babies are serious business, of course, but there’s not a rental property owner or manager in town who hasn’t been told the rent wasn’t paid because ‘the baby was sick’, whether there was a baby or not. Or that Gramma died or the dog ate the paycheck. My favorite is the guy who said “Santa Claus got your rent money”.

Most tenants are good, responsible people. Unfortunately, there are others quick to blame the results of their bad decisions on somebody else and aren’t above enlisting bleeding hearts who should know better to help. Landlords make a handy target.

In the growing entitlement society we’ve created, it’s no longer their fault if Santa Clause takes money tenants have agreed to pay to someone else. It’s the mean and faceless corporations, banks and mortgage companies demanding it, but it’s OK to screw the corporations, it’s become the American Way.

Right now, the American Way is poised to bail out all those folks who bought more house than they could hold onto because the bleeding hearts have decided that even the mortgage companies and faceless corporations should take some blame for the borrower’s bad decisions.

To be fair, some lenders allowed borrowers to go too far, but despite raging headlines raising the national alarm about doubling foreclosures rate, foreclosures are running only a little over one percent of all loans.

The nasty mortgage company is big, impersonal and lives out of town. The property owner/manager, thought, is often one person, with a local office and phone number who tenants often assume has the ability to make a decision without a stockholder vote.

Surely he’ll understand that Santa needed the money and the kids needed toys. If the tenant believes his problems aren’t of his own causing, but the landlord believes both sides of the lease should be enforced, why then it becomes a personal matter between the mistreated tenant and the evil, rich landlord.

Often, the landlord just couldn’t sell the house after a job transfer and is struggling with the mortgage company himself. Hey, even if the landlord is rich, just because he has two dollars and the tenant only has one doesn’t mean he’s got one of the tenant’s bucks.

Rich landlords are clichés, just like sick baby and Santa Claus excuses. “What do we do”, my buddy, Don Brotherton said, “put up a sign? Form a line over here, if you lost your job. Over here, if you got a divorce, over here if you have to make a truck payment. Then we send a team to see if it’s true?”

People and employers have called me asking me to give particular tenants a break and a few have gotten annoyed when it’s not forthcoming. Listen, I tell them, the tenant and the owner are strangers, the owner no longer lives here and he’s depending on the rent to pay the mortgage.

And even if he doesn’t need the money and the house is an investment, investments have to work and produce income to be good investments. If you’re so concerned about this guy, I tell them, why don’t you pay his rent? You obviously know him and you’re obviously sympathetic to whatever his situation is.

If his friends won’t help him, his family won’t help him and his employer won’t help him, why would anyone ask a perfect stranger to do it?

Sure, there are some owners/managers who may make it tougher on tenants than others, but a lease is a legal contract just like a car or house loan. You don’t turn valuable property over to someone without a binding legal agreement about who’s going to do what.

You want an outcry? Let the owner fail to make repairs.

The rent is the owner’s paycheck and there a LOT more deductions from it than regular workers have. What would happen if your paycheck didn’t come in the mail this week and didn’t again the second week, said Brotherton. “I can guarantee you’d be rolling on the floor like a mashed cat,” said Brotherton. Ain’t he just a poet?

Something else owners/landlords have to consider that’s not a joke: Fair Housing. If they establish a pattern of treating different tenants differently, the gummint can and does come down on them in a massive way.

Toss one guy out because he’s messy, plays loud music and isn’t paying rent, then letting the little blond in the corner unit slide a little on the rent and the loud, messy guy has got a complaint and if he makes it, the Fair Housing Police may soon be going through the owner/managers entire office, file by file, looking for patterns they don’t like.

I’m not interested in attacked either managers or tenants on a personal basis, there are unpleasant ones on both sides of the lease. What I object to is a continuation of the cliché that landlords are rich and evil and that tenants are poor victims, when the landlord asks them to live up to the legal contract that both sides signed.

And to pay the consequences if it’s broken, and there should be consequences. A tenant breaking the lease can produce a two-month vacancy, plus painting and cleaning expenses. That can easily cost the owner a couple of thousand bucks, with only a third or less covered by the security deposit.

The owner is paying dearly for the tenant not living up to his part of the agreement. And we’re all going to pay dearly in our tax dollars for the government pulling homeowners out of the foreclosure hole. I resent that.

Mike Hill has been in the real estate business in Valdosta since 1976 and seems to complain a lot.