The Tale of the Ancient Landlord and His Sonby
As a trusted advisor, what do you do when clients don’t take your advice? This next tale of accounting horror depicts the fate of an ancient landlord and his son who did just that.
John and Mary Green had been working with my boss for decades when I joined his firm. They owned several apartment buildings and other rental properties.
The apartment buildings were in a low-rent part of town, and the rents charged reflected that. The Greens were both in their 80s, and probably should have been enjoying their sunset years. Mary was well into dementia, and my boss warned me that if she answered the phone, I should greet her politely, and call back later and hope to reach John. It was pointless to leave messages with Mary.
When I started working with the Greens, John was still sort of keeping records, though they were of the hand-written list, shoebox full of receipts and checkbook register variety. John had separate bank accounts for each property, but in practice there was a lot of overlap when he paid the bills.
For example, the electric bill in particular was a mess. Johm tended to write one check for all the properties and their home, though he carefully noted the amounts for each property in the memo line of the register.
John had worksheets for each property that he diligently filled in every month with the names of tenants and the date and amount of rent collected. The space for unit 202 in one of the buildings just had the name “Charles” but no rent payments. The checkbook register also showed regular payments to “Charles Green.”
My boss told me that Charles was their son, who, according to John, was just going through a rough spot. My boss told me that the “rough spot” had lasted for at least twenty years. He had also been telling the Greens for at least that long that they should sell those seedy apartment buildings and retire. But the answer was always, “But where would Charles live?”
By the third year, my co-worker Kristi, who had taken over the painstaking chore of compiling income and expenses, noticed that John was having an increasingly difficult time answering her questions. He seemed to be having memory problems as well. She had to call over and over with the same questions, and each time, it seemed like he had never heard those questions before.
His record keeping abilities had taken a nosedive. Mixed in with the utility bills and receipts for repairs, Kristi was finding lots of extraneous things: greasy napkins from take-out pizza, parmesan packets, potato chip bags, candy wrappers, grocery lists and unopened mail.
Then John started calling Kristi at random times. John didn’t have any other family, and didn’t seem to have anyone else to confide in. He was the sole caretaker for Mary.
John also told Kristi stories about the struggles he was having with his tenants. It seems the tenants in one of the apartment buildings had been asking him to evict the tenant in apartment 202 – the unit where Charles lived. The tenants complained about frequent loud parties and a constant stream of shady-looking visitors.
In tears, John called Kristi one day and told her that Charles had threatened him with a baseball bat when he told him about the tenants’ complaints. Kristi suggested calling the police.
John was in way over his head. Mary was completely lost in the fog of dementia and by now, seemed to be largely bedridden. John seemed to be headed into dementia himself. If it weren’t for Charles, the Greens probably would have sold those apartments years ago.
Both Kristi and I have since left that firm, so I’m not sure what has become of the Greens. Maybe my old boss has since managed to convince them to sell their rental properties and use the proceeds to get the care they need. And perhaps, Charles Green has emerged from his “rough spot,” and has found a way to support himself, but I’m not terribly optimistic.
Liz Farr, CPA, spent 15 years in tax and accounting at small firms in Albuquerque, NM. Besides tax returns of all flavors, she worked on audits of governmental entities and not-for-profits, business valuations, and litigation support. Now she's a full-time freelance writer specializing in content marketing for accountants and bookkeepers around...