The cost of being a landlord: Dickinson tenant leaves rented home with an estimated $10K worth of damage

When one of his tenants failed to pay rent in a timely manner, Melvin Berger decided to pay a friendly visit to the house he owns on Dickinson's east side.

Melvin and Ardena Berger look over the trash tenants left in the kitchen of a house they rent in Dickinson on Wednesday. Melvin said he was renting the property for $650 a month, but now estimates he will have to make more than $10,000 in repairs because of various issues created by the renter.

When one of his tenants failed to pay rent in a timely manner, Melvin Berger decided to pay a friendly visit to the house he owns on Dickinson's east side.

What he found at 635 Third Ave. E. last month nearly gave Berger his second heart attack -- a completely ransacked residence and what he estimates to be about a $10,000 repair bill.

"This is why people are raising rent," Berger said Wednesday inside the home's kitchen. "It's unbelievable. We'll basically have to take everything out of the bathroom. When we came here this morning, the toilet was completely full of (human excrement) that we had to scoop out."

Retired, Melvin said he and his wife, Ardena, rely mostly on the rental income generated from several properties in Dickinson, but they won't be making any money from this house for a while. The man the Bergers rented to beginning in January needed less than six months to turn the cozy two bedroom residence into something similar to the homes seen on the TV show "Hoarders."

Melvin said his former tenant walked out on his one-year lease when confronted about why the house had broken windows, multiple holes in walls, carpet damage, broken doors and piles of unwashed dishes. Melvin even pointed out an area in one of the bedrooms where a fire had obviously been started.


"I could go to civil court and get a judgment on him, but that's just a piece of paper," Melvin said. "He doesn't have anything. We've had judgments outstanding for 14 years and never collected a penny. The only way to actually recover what we lost is to raise rent."

With their insurance not covering the damages, they said, the Bergers only choice is to fix the house up and attempt to sell it.

"I had a heart attack several weeks back and I about had another one when I walked in here," Melvin said. "The entire situation just makes my blood pressure rise. This place isn't worth anything right now -- and it was appraised at $17,000 higher than it was last year when the city sent those letters out (last month)."

Though the Bergers said they knew they would have been able to collect more in today's rental market in Dickinson, they were charging just $650 per month for the house.

"As far as I'm concerned, the city can come and buy these homes out at what they evaluated them at," Ardena said. "It isn't a real fancy place and so we weren't charging a lot for rent."

With housing costs in many areas of the city skyrocketing in recent years because of the Bakken oil play, Dickinson landlords have mostly gotten a bad rap with tenants crying foul over perceived price gouging. But that isn't always the case, said Dickinson resident and rental property owner Jeff Anderson, who has been in the business since the early 1990s.

"Everybody thinks if you're a landlord, you're greedy and overcharging everyone," Anderson said. "I'm making twice as much as I used to make, but I still charge way under what I could charge. I've always thought it's more important to have happy people."

Over the years, Anderson said his rule has been to charge about 1 percent of what the property is appraised at for monthly rent, something he said is now nearly impossible.


"The way the city just sent out those new appraisal numbers, there's just no way in the world you could do that," Anderson said. "By raising all those values, what the city has done is make sure that everybody's rent is going to have to go up. If they don't drop taxes, I figure it could be about $50 per month more in taxes."

Anderson said he believes it's mostly controlling interests from out of state that typically practice in what some consider to be price gouging on rental properties.

"I don't think it's the locals who are overcharging," Anderson said. "The good thing is I think the rents are stabilizing now. I think things will go down a little bit in the coming months."

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