Last month I moved into a new apartment. I live in a third of a house, and a family lives in the other two-thirds. As is always the case with apartment living, it’s been……interesting.
The people in the house ain’t the friendliest bunch. But I’m not complaining. They’re a thousand times better than the neighbors from hell whom I dealt with last year and wrote about here and here and who eventually drove me away. Plus my new landlords are actually really nice. She’s Chinese and beautiful. He’s Serbian and beautiful. They have a child who is, not coincidentally, beautiful. Not all people are beautiful (that’s called foreshadowing).
My first night in the new town, I drove to the supermarket. As I circled the parking lot looking for a parking space, there was this guy walking about 20 feet next to me. There was also a Jeep driving in front of me. Suddenly a blue plastic bag came flying out from the Jeep’s front passenger window, and it peeled off. The man nearby ran up to the bag and picked it up.
At first I thought the man, like I am, was disgusted by someone tossing litter out of their car. People who throw garbage out of cars deserve to be publicly flogged. They angry up my blood in record time. I thought the man who picked up the bag was gonna run after them and give them a good haranguing for what they’d done. Instead, he tucked the bag inside his jacket, looked around, then scurried off to his car. This wasn’t littering. It was a drug deal. And I’ll be honest. When I saw it…I laughed.
I’ve lived in cities, suburbs, and farm towns. Upper-class. Middle-class. Working-class. Once lived in a welfare hotel. I’ve seen more than one side of life. And one thing I’ve come to learn is that the group I’m least comfortable around are the wealthy.
A lot of my girlfriends have come from well-to-do families. To be sure, some of those people were super cool. But as a whole, the rich – to paraphrase Fitzgerald – are douchier than you and me. Wealth is often passed down, another way of saying “unearned” (if that sounds cynical, it’s because most of the people I know who oppose affirmative action and social justice are also the most resenting of suggestions that their privilege isn’t deserved). Maybe that’s what makes so many rich people douches. Maybe deep down they know they don’t deserve the station they enjoy, and so they’re afraid others think the same, and will want to take it from them. I’m not sure. Like I said, a number of wealthy people I know have been awesome. But when they’re not…they’re really not. There are worse places to live than towns with parking lot drug deals. Take my last apartment. I lived in the basement of a million dollar home. I kiss the floor of my new place every day for not being that basement, and I’m grateful to whatever ineffable deity/concept/energy/void you have faith in that I no longer have to deal with the Marie Antoinette of a landlord who lives there.
The first clue should have been the mailbox. Last winter I was desperate to get away from the neighbors from hell. The first place I found on Craigslist seemed perfect. It was available, it cost less than the place I was leaving, and it was only a couple miles from work. I saw the place and jumped on it.
When I put down the deposit, the landlord told me, among other things, that I had to get a PO box for my mail. She said her mailbox had been destroyed during the prior winter, and that despite her attempts to install a new one, she hadn’t been able to. Something about the ground being too cold. I told her I’d take care of that for her. She insisted no, not to worry about it. But she insisted yes: get your ass a PO box.
After I moved in, I started having health problems. Dizziness and headaches, especially. The bathroom walls had markings and stains on the walls that showed this basement had flooded in the past. The landlord admitted it had flooded during Hurricane Sandy. The stains on the wall, the smell that persisted in the apartment, and the health issues I was having made me wonder if there was an issue with mold. There were some weird gross black spots around the bottom of the shower. I did some research and concluded I should find out if this apartment had been tested for mold, and if so, how recently.
I sent the landlord a text, her preferred method of communication. Asked if the apartment had been tested for mold. No answer. I waited a day, then texted again. No answer. I sent her an email. This time she responded. She was in Paris, but she’d get back to me when she returned. She called the night after she got back and offered a four-sided clusterfuck of an answer. Within the same single rambling response, she claimed “all houses have mold,” and that a plumber had already told her the mold in the bathroom wasn’t “bad mold,” and that she wasn’t going to have it tested because it was “too expensive” (says the woman just back from vacationing in Paris), and that she had someone coming to test it later in the month.
So, if you’re keeping score at home:
– All houses have mold, so don’t worry.
– This is good mold, so don’t worry.
– It’s too expensive to check for mold, so don’t worry.
– Someone’s coming to check the mold soon, so don’t worry.
I was spellbound by her dizzying bullshit. It was like the five point palm exploding heart technique of bullshit artists.
Eventually she gave me a dehumidifier that didn’t work, along with a bucket of bleach and kitchen gloves that wouldn’t have fit me when I was 8. ‘Cuz when you’re concerned about toxic mold, the best thing to do is get down on your knees, mix bleach with whatever it is that may be causing you headaches and dizziness, and breathe it in. Let them eat cake. Let them breathe mold.
A few months later, my ceiling started leaking. I had four buckets and a garbage can arranged like a pentagram, collecting the pretty blue (very blue) liquid dripping down. I kept asking what she was doing to fix it. She didn’t seem very concerned. I pointed out that the ceiling was peeling off and bubbles were forming.
“That happens,” she said.
She had a plumber come, who decided something somewhere was clogged and he’d use acid to fix it. The acid didn’t work. It did, however, make the dripping liquid turn sickly green.
Eventually she said she had workers coming to fix it. I worked late the day they came. When I got home around 8, I could see from outside that my lights were all on. I figured the workers were still there. When I got downstairs, my apartment door was wide open. Now I knew the workers must still be there.
No workers. My apartment was empty. The door was open, and had been for six hours, I learned from the guy who lived across the hall in the basement. The ceiling wasn’t fixed at all. The jackasses who’d “worked” on it had torn it down and left all the plaster and dust and soaked ceiling pieces in a big pile. Right on the floor. There was shit all over my couch. The couch that’s my only piece of furniture in the whole world. The couch that’s been my bed for more than a year. Plaster and dust and gross shit all up in it. And, best of all: my coffee table? The one that was covered with my students’ quizzes and essay drafts and various class materials? They’d dumped shit all over the coffee table. LITERALLY hundreds of tests and papers ruined.
I lost my shit. Called the landlord and told her to get her ass downstairs STAT. She did. I told her I wanted the name and number of whoever’d “fixed” the ceiling. She went on and on about how bad she felt. Said she’d “obviously” compensate me for the damage (remember that; it comes up again later. That’s called “foreshadowing an asshole”). She started cleaning the mess up. I told her not to touch it. I wanted the twats who made the mess to come clean it up…after explaining who they thought they were to ruin my apartment and then call it a day, leaving the mess for me to come home from a 10-hour work day to deal with. She kept seeming to apologize and cleaning the mess. She never gave me their name. Or number. Just like with the mailbox, and the mold…I should have seen what was going on. But it’d take me a bit longer to. The simplest things are often the most elusive.
The day before Thanksgiving, I locked myself out of the house. On cue, within minutes, it started raining. Then it started hailing. I called the landlord to see if she was around and could come let me in; her business was like 5 minutes away. Her cell went straight to voicemail. I left her a voicemail and texted her. A few minutes passed. No answer. Being out in the hail in a T-shirt is not one of life’s secret luxuries. So I texted one of the upstairs tenants (there were at the time 6 tenants in this house, in addition to Marie Antoinette). She couldn’t get a hold of the landlord either, but she pointed out the garage door the landlord uses was always left open a crack, so I could see if her car was there, and if it was I could knock on her side of the house to let me in.
When I went around to her garage, her car was gone. But I figured if I could crawl under the garage door, the door inside her side of the house might be open, and if it was I could get down to my apartment that way. Which I did.
I called her and left another message to let her know no worries, I’d made it inside. She called back minutes later. Pissed. “Aghast,” as she put it. She couldn’t believe I “would do that.” That’s “her house.” Her house was “sacred.” I had no right to do what I’d done.
“What did you want me to do?” I said. “You didn’t answer your phone. For all I knew you were out of town” (remember: this is the day before Thanksgiving).
“I’m always home,” the woman who’d vacationed in Paris sneered, the same woman who’d been out of town the day I’d moved in. “Always.”
“What did you want me to do?” I asked. “You’d prefer I wait out in the hail indefinitely?”
“Yes,” she said, and I began to understand why the guillotine once held such appeal to so many.
When it came time to move, I told her I’d found a new place and would be leaving. Normally, no sweat. We’d had a month-to-month lease whose only condition was I not move in the first three months. I’d been there eight. I’m not a math professor, but I was confident eight’s still bigger than three.
She flipped. Again. Called in a fury, saying I’d screwed her over because she counted on my rent every month, likening it to a “job.” I’ll always remember that. She sat there and pedantically laid out for me how jobs and money work, as if I’m some trust-fund kid who’s never hustled. When being my landlord called for spending money to test for toxic mold, she couldn’t be bothered, though. Apparently this woman thinks being a landlord just means you get to take money from people every month and not have to put out anything. Step your Spiderman game up, kid. With great power and six tenants comes great responsibility.
When I was looking at new places I met a landlord who told me they’d looked at buying my landlord’s house a few years earlier. Told me it cost over a million dollars. I could see that. It’s in a ritzy exclusive neighborhood, one full of mansions overlooking Long Island Sound. I also learned something else: this neighborhood specifically bans homeowners from renting to tenants. It’s against their uppity charter or something. Suddenly, everything clicked.
That’s why she makes tenants get PO boxes. That’s why she doesn’t want any interaction between tenants and contractors. That’s why she doesn’t want someone independent to come test for mold. She doesn’t want any legal connection tying her to having SIX TENANTS in a neighborhood that strictly prohibits them.
A couple days before I left, she sent a text saying she wouldn’t be around the day I left (remember, she’s always around), so I wouldn’t be able to get my deposit back for like 48 hours. I wrote back and told her just as I’d paid the deposit before moving in, I expected the same prompt payback when I left. She called minutes later, in a furious, incoherent huff. Claimed since I was “breaking” my month-to-month lease, she was legally entitled to keep my entire deposit. I called bullshit.
“I’m a paralegal,” she said. “It’s the law.”
“Really?” I asked. “OK. What’s the name of that law?”
“……..I can’t remember. But it’s the law.”
Perry Mason she ain’t. She said she wouldn’t be around with my deposit because she had tickets to the opera. I pulled a muscle trying not to laugh. First Paris, now the opera. This woman’s like Margaret Dumont from the Marx Brothers’ movies. Only at least Dumont was likable.
Bear in mind: the day I moved in, when she wasn’t around, she was fine with me handing over my deposit to a fellow tenant. When I was stuck in the hailstorm and she wasn’t around, she told me I should have called the other tenant – who was at work at the time – to come home and let me in. But when I said “Since you’ll be at the opera, just leave the rent with so-and-so and I’ll get it from them”…oh no. No, suddenly that wasn’t kosher.
Also, after the ceiling fiasco I’d spent the night at a hotel, ‘cuz I’m weird about sleeping somewhere covered in dust and ceiling pieces. I told her I hoped her promise to “compensate” me meant she’d add the cost of the hotel to my deposit. No chance. She even turned that shit on me, saying she had been planning to comp me one day’s rent (about $28), but now she wasn’t going to give me anything. Not the hotel cost. Not the $28. Nothing.
From there she got increasingly dickish. She texted me while I was moving things out telling me not to steal her clothing rack. ‘Cuz yeah, with an $850 security deposit at stake, I’m going to steal your cheap-ass clothing rack. I dropped a bookshelf and the woman who couldn’t be bothered to deal with mold or ceiling leaks came racing downstairs to state with great aggravation that it sounded “like a bomb going off.” Trust me, girl: when the revolution comes, you’ll hear the difference between a bookshelf and a bomb.
No apartment is perfect. There’s a gate that leads to my yard and house entrance here that malfunctions sometimes and can’t be opened; when that happens, I have to hope my neighbors are home and feel like answering their doorbell to help let me in, because the fence around my yard is straight out of Haggar the Horrible and cannot be scaled. And all the moving around and dealing with all the vagaries of landlords and neighbors is enough to drive me to finally seriously thinking about pursuing home ownership. But I’m grateful for where I am. I no longer live above two mutually-assured abusers. I no longer live in a moldy, drippy, stinky basement. And I no longer deal with Marie Antoinette. Be careful about letting the people eat too much cake, your Highness. Eventually they get a taste for the sweet. Ain’t nothing sweeter than justice.