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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

MAY 2017

41

Here are some hard-won lessons learned

in dealing with a common feature of

Foreign Service life: property managers.

My Legal Battle with

the World’s Worst

PropertyManager

Aaron P. Karnell is a Foreign Service consular officer

who joined the Department of State in May 2010. Prior

to joining State, he was an FSO for USAID. He has

served overseas in Dar es Salaam, Gaborone, Guadala-

jara and Matamoros. He passed the California bar examination in

May 2014.

T

wo words from a Virginia judge, and

it was over: “Motion granted.”

Someone else might have turned

to his lawyer at that point and asked,

“What does this mean?” But I was

acting as my own lawyer. I already

knew what the verdict meant: after

an eight-month legal battle with my

property manager, I’d lost my case.

As I left the courtroom, my opponent was grinning.

Who, What, Where, When

Sometime in 2014, while I was in Mexico, three people moved

into my Alexandria condo without my permission. My Virginia-

based property management company didn’t vet them or run a

credit check on them, but the company did cash rent checks from

the three, none of whom had ever applied to live in the property.

Evidently, they had swapped places with the original tenants. The

property manager later claimed not to know they were there.

The three paid rent to the property manager for awhile,

then decided paying real money for housing was passé, and

FS KNOW-HOW

stopped. I had to request the property manager to threaten

them with eviction. They finally left the condo, and during the

resulting turnover period, I lost two months’ rent. (The month

they didn’t pay before leaving was covered by the security

deposit, which the property manager did not return to me until

after I had filed the lawsuit!)

I wrote a demand letter to the property manager clearly stating

my claim. Don’t I pay your management fee, I asked, for you to

know what is going on with my property, including who actually

lives there? No response.

I am a lawyer by training, and the lawsuit started to form in

my head. I checked off the elements of negligence. Was there

personal injury or property loss caused by the defendant’s breach

of a legal duty? Check. What about the duty of an agent, such as a

property manager, to the owner, to look after his affairs as if they

were his own, and to act in his best interest? He definitely didn’t

do that. Check.

Then I looked at the contract I had signed with the property

manager. Hmm. There wasn’t much in there about his duties, but

there was an awful lot about mine.

Still, I was confident in victory. I was going to be the consumer

who fought back. I may be an inexperienced lawyer, but I had two

grand legal pillars holding up my case: the law of agency and the

law of negligence.

BY AARON P. KARNE L L