FIRES IN the kitchen, ponies in the recreation room and monkeys in the best beds are among the plagues visited on landlords who have rented their houses.
The experiences to which some tenants subject the homes of others during their temporary occupancy could fill a book of sorrow - and humor, too.
Many a military man and Foreign Service officer pays for his home while he is serving his country overseas. The rental carries the mortgage and when the owner returns from some glamorous or grisly post abroad, his house is free and clear.
Most rentals are successful, giving few gripes to the owners. But the stories come from that small group who do not take care of the house they rent, leave the place dirty, the grass uncut and 6 feet of trash in the basement. But the exceptions make up the interesting stories retold by the neighbors.
Retired Adm. George L. Cassell, who owns a split-level house in McLean, has rented his home to a series of tenants over the past 13 years while he has served overseas with the Navy.
There were those tenants who sent the admiral's wife a dozen roses in California after they moved out of the Cassells' house. The Cassells were so impressed that they told their friend, the real estate agent.
"Well, you should have seen the house after they left," the agent commented cryptically. It seems the house had to be scrubbed and scoured before anyone else moved in.
But the worst catastrophe happened when our mother left a pan of grease on the stove while she went to school to pick up her children.
"When she returned the kitchen was on fire," says the admiral. "One neighbor had called the fire department and came himself with a hand fire extinguisher. All told the damage was $5,000."
Cassells has a friend who rented his home in Virginia to a high elected governmental official. When the owner returned to his home he found that the air-conditioned downstairs recreation room with its sliding glass doors had been turned into a pony motel. The renter loved horses and housed his own in the lower part of the house - a very glamorous stable.
After all their assorted experiences with renting their home to eight or nine different families, the Cassells have come to one conclusion:
"Never try to rent your house yourself. Place it in the hands of a professional real estate agent who knows the workmen of the area, the plumbers, painters and carpenters."
Mr. and Mrs. John Milton Colton Hand, who have a 10-acre estate called "Fullbrook," have leased their summers when they have been away.
Hand, who is with the State Department, uses a real estate agent. The Hands have been fortunate in the leasing of their small, comfortable house, but the problems have arisen about the upkeep of the gardens. A pair of Doberman pinschers always goes with the house.
A couple from California swore they had a "green thumb and were a whiz with plants." But all they had was a "broken thumb," the Hands concluded at the end of the summer.
One government official who rented the Hand property was such a disaster that Margaret Hand will not even discuss that occupancy.
Their most satisfactory tenants were Soviet Ambassador and Mrs. Anatoliy F. Dobrynin. "We rented our place to the Soviet ambassador and his wife two different summers," says Margaret Hand. "The Soviets were the best tenants we ever had."
Carl and Rika Schmidt have rented their home in Cleveland Park while he has served with the Foreign Service in Prague, Warsaw and Vienna. They rent the house for two years at a time, unfurnished. At first the house was in the hands of a professionalll agent.
"But the real estate people never did anything for us but collect their commission and try to raise the rent," says Rika Schmidt.
Then came a tenant who kept the house "tooth brush clean." She was so capable that after she moved out, they fired the real estate agent and arranged with the tenant to handle the house for them while they were overseas.
"She ran the ads and interviewed prospective tenants," says Rika Schmidt. "This worked out much better than when we had a professional agent."
Grace Kempton, who sells and rents property in Virginia, Maryland and the District, says that handling rentals is not at all profitable to the professional agent. The small commission does not compensate for the time of the agent.
But Kempton says few tenants give any real trouble. But she recalls one laughable incident when the neighbors summoned her after they spotted some kind of odd creature climbing the walls and windows of a house she was handling.
The "odd creature" or "deformed child," as some of the neighbors called the phantom, turned out to be a pet monkey. Dressed as a child and wearing diapers, the animal not only ran up and down the walls outdoors but scaled all the furnishings indoors. Kempton complained. The tenants soon moved rather than give up their pet.
Kempton gets estimates for work to be done from painters, plumbers and carpenters. Her office supervises all the work after it is done and before any bills are paid.
But when she went to inspect the front screen door the carpenter said he had repaired, she found the door still broken and dragging on its hinges. The workman had gone to a neighboring house and repaired the wrong front screen door.