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COLUMBIA'S WORST LANDLORDS: Topix site tells tenant horror stories

The good, the bad -- and the downright ugly  

COLUMBIA, Mo 12/4/13 (Analysis) -- It was probably inevitable that Garry Lewis Properties -- embroiled in a controversy involving brown recluse spiders, student renters, and an angry dad -- would end up on a long-running list called Who are the worst landlords around Columbia? 

"Rude management, poor upkeep," huge electric bills, and a Scrooge-like property owner who "only cares about the profit line," says angry father Tom Baker's October entry, right below a "very bad landlord Pat Carl" complaint and (I speak from experience), a valid rejoinder from Warnken Properties.

"Easy to complain when you never pay rent and trash the place." 

With hundreds of new student apartments -- and thousands of new renters -- property management (i.e. landlording) has never been bigger business in CoMo -- or more important to a larger percentage of the population.   But as new customers (i.e. tenants) flock to Columbia from more sophisticated climes, old ways of doing business -- and the old landlords behind them -- are having a tougher time keeping up. 

Started in 2009 with a single request -- "I just want to know who to avoid" -- the Columbia-based Topix board is one example.  While tech-savvy Phil Warnken, Ph.D. -- an agricultural engineer who runs an international investing firm called AgBrazil  -- knows how to handle online (and very public) complaints, other long-time names in the landlording game get pummeled.    

"For the love of GOD don't rent from Mel and Bonnie Zelenak!" someone pleads. 

"Paul Hinshaw is absolutely brutal."
"Dudley Roth cannot be trusted!" 
"The Links and the Greens. They are the worst!"

Some complaints are bad, others downright ugly.   Based on how frequently the same landlords get slammed -- about half-dozen, again and again -- a renter might get a good idea which ones to avoid.  And in a few cases, which landlords to patronize. 

"I'd like to take a minute to give my landlord some props," one renter explains.  "My wife & I have rented from Terry Smith for almost 4 years.  He has been to our place exactly 3 times (which is awesome).  He sends his fix-it guy right over when there's a problem....and as far as landlords go he is a kind and decent guy & after reading all of these horror stories, I think I will appreciate him a little more!"
Most landlords -- like most business people -- are in business to keep their customers happy, the only sure way to make money.   The few landlords who respond to the complaints tell a side of the story that plays against populist fears of greed, subterfuge, and apathy on the homefront that are only true some of the time.  

After one tenant labeled East Campus landlord Deepak Raghu "absolutely terrible," he added some context to the complaint. 

"When the writer of this comment moved out of his rental house, he left it full of junk, broken furniture, smashed beer bottles, and spray painted graffitti," Raghu explained.  "And the landlord gets criticized? -- d.r."  

Who are the worst landlords around Columbia?

-- Author Mike Martin has been a property manager for 23 years

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