THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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
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
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
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