‘I’ll do it my way’: Las Vegas landlord lowers rents to keep tenants

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Christopher DeVargas

Bill Donnelly, a renter in Henderson, is the beneficiary of a good relationship with his landlord, Tom Trout. “I’ve never met a man like this in my life, and I’m getting ready to turn 78,” Donnelly said.

Fri, Sep 10, 2021 (2 a.m.)

Through housing booms, busts and breakneck development, landlord Tom Trout has been conducting business the only way he knows how.

“I’ll do it my way, like Frank Sinatra says,” Trout, 71, said, referencing the late Las Vegas Rat Pack singer.

For tenant Bill Donnelly, a disabled Vietnam War veteran, Trout’s way has resulted in an unexpected decline in rent over the years.

“I’ve never met a man like this in my life, and I’m getting ready to turn 78,” said Donnelly, who has been renting a four bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home from Trout in Henderson for nearly a decade.

When he moved in, Donnelly was paying $1,200 a month for the 1,600-square-foot property. The next year, the rent went down to $1,100, and a year after that it dropped to $1,000.

The year after that? You guessed it. Donnelly’s rent fell to $900 a month and has stayed there since. The real estate website Zillow estimates the rent on the property at $2,195 a month. Properties of a similar size in the same ZIP code are being rented for $2,000-$2,400, according to Zillow.

It’s a similar narrative for apartment rentals, which increased by 18% from the end of the second quarter in 2020 to June 30 in Southern Nevada, according to the Nevada State Apartment Association. Susy Vasquez, executive director of the association, expects rents in the Las Vegas area to continue to grow at least through the end of the year.

But Trout has no plans to increase the rent on Donnelly. Trout said his plan is to keep longtime, reliable tenants rather than going through a revolving door of renters.

“I’ve been through bubbles, and I’ve been through balloons, and the balloon breaks and the bubble bursts,” said Trout, who’s been renting properties for more than 40 years. “So I’m fully aware of what I’m doing.”

Last summer, with home prices climbing, Donnelly feared Trout might be tempted to sell the place, so he offered to start paying more rent.

Trout’s response? No, the house wasn’t going up for sale, and he threatened to lower the rent to $800 if Donnelly tried to give him any more money.

“He’s a veteran,” Trout said. “I admire him. He served our country. And why should a landlord destroy the house that he lives in?”

The trade-off, Donnelly said, is that he pays for minor handyman repairs. But when Donnelly’s air conditioning went out in the middle of the summer, “it was taken care of in a heartbeat,” he said.

“When they live in one of my homes, it is their home,” he said of his tenants. “And, therefore, they feel like a homeowner.”

Trout said he has owned his properties long enough that he can afford to be generous. He moved to the area in 1978 and started buying homes with money earned in the stock market, he said.

“I just kept buying houses,” said Trout, who has a college degree in geology and now lives in Pahrump. He declined to say how many properties he owns.

Despite the financial hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Trout said, none of his tenants has missed a payment. He wouldn’t disclose whether he’s reduced — or increased — rent for other tenants.

The relationship Trout has with his tenants allows him to focus on the things he cares about back home in Pahrump: playing drums for a band at a local club when he pleases, trading stocks and exploring the geology that Pahrump and Southern Nevada have to offer.

He said he hasn’t been to Las Vegas to check on his properties in more than a year. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Sun's Bryan Horwath contributed to this report.

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