Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Housing woes

My students are being relatively cooperative.  One is giving me grief about not getting commented material back in time to rework the next assignment.  He's right, and I have complained similarly to my instructors in the past.  One is asking many, numerous, insightful questions, not during class time.  I'm working hard at not being annoyed by it, because it is exactly the engagement I want, and he's not struggling, he's learning and using and curious.  It's a wonderful problem to have.

On the other hand, my housing situation is making me do much research into local law.  Feel free to ignore my long, and not-directly-related rant, but I required a place to vent

My landlord, let us use the name Pat, lived here for multiple decades.  (Apparently married to an Asst Prof at the school for the first 5-10, so the records indicate).  A recent e-mail (I love e-mail communication, so nice and documented) from Pat attempted to mollify my complaints by suggesting that the house is quite old, and sometimes old houses have minor problems.

Yes, I know old houses.  My SO and I have, between us, occupied houses built in the 18th century, 1899, 1970, and a few indeterminate in betweens.  All of them had functional windows that opened, with screens, had plumbing that operated as originally intended (water goes only where it is supposed to, only when commanded), and were mold and pest free.  Your house, Pat, fails on all of these counts.  And, I will admit, these are relatively minor problems.  The plumbing problems don't put water into places water shouldn't be, and the tea-partying fleas died at my hand, thanks to some wonderful chemist somewhere.  Operable windows aren't required by law 'round here, and the AC works.

But, wait.  The AC doesn't work.  I mean not really.  It blows cold air, true, but that cold air smells like the a swamp.  Suggesting that we wait a while since it's been really wet outside indicates a significant lack of understanding of the HVAC system.  There's mold in there.  And my SO is allergic to mold.  This is not something that will be fixed by a shopvac, as so kindly offered by your contractor.

Oh, yeah, and the outlets...   Pat, you know that one outlet, that was causing the light in the room to flicker when something was plugged into it?  The wires were loose.  All of them.  I pulled the faceplate off to see what was going on, and SPARKS!  Yes, tea-partying sparks in the wall.  I fixed that one for you, I wasn't going to wait.  But opening that one made me curious.  None of the outlets in the original floorplan of your old house are properly wired.  You've upgraded the sockets without upgrading the wiring.  This, I know, is a code problem.  I haven't called an inspector yet, in part to give you a chance, and in part to prevent hostilities while I work on other plans.  But I intend to.

Pat, do you remember Sam?  I believe Sam was a former live-in-lover of yours.  Sam showed up the other night.  Drunk.  Sam misses you, and wants you back, and would like to help us out by doing any work the house might need.  Oh, and Sam apparently did the remodeling of the house and built the addition.  There is no tea-partying way Sam will touch a single tea-partying inch of this house while I am a tenant.  Besides the fact that my creep-o-meter pegged when I met Sam on the porch, I was thinking horrible thoughts about whoever did the renovating long before the other night.

And a second meeting with Sam was completely unwarranted.  Pat, I'm not sure how often Sam was drunk when you two lived together, but in my experience 2 out of 2 times qualifies as a problem.  On time 2, Sam was looking for a cat.  Fair enough, unfortunately that cat doesn't match the description of the two I have seen running around, because I would love for them to go away.  Oh, and Sam, the contractor you yelled at about parking was here doing work, and no it's not your driveway, or your house anymore.  And when I ask you to leave, Sam, if you respond by saying you'll call the cops and have them remove me from your house, do not be surprised when my response is to get my phone out and call the cops.  I'm glad you took that cue and chose to leave.  And, yes, I did tell them you were drunk, what you were driving, and where you headed.  I hope, upon all the tea-partying flea carcasses in this house, that they caught you before you hit anyone

Yours, in misery,


  1. I take it you live in a university town? Mine is full of slumlords or corporate management companies. It was a challenge to find a reasonably priced apartment away from the students that wasn't falling apart.

    In my state, you can break a lease if the apartment is unsuitable for habitation (i.e., the mold allergies could lead to a medical emergency). Is that an option?

  2. In grad school, I lived in an apartment where squirrels dropped through the ceiling into my kitchen, the radiators flooded putting water where it did not belong, and to control roaches the landlord sprayed malathion on the walls (which is not where it should have been sprayed). Been there.

    How badly do you want to stay in the apartment? If you can break the lease and move, do it. In the long run it will probably be less of a headache. If you can't, check with a lawyer or legal aid and see if you can make repairs and deduct them from the rent (or ask the landlord if she will let you do this before you resort to the legal route).

    Pests are in many rentals... sometimes is just easier to manage on your own, as it appears you did. Remember that fleas have life cycles. It took me 6 months of monthly treatments to entirely rid a house of a similar problem. Important not to stop/start the treatments as this only creates pests resistant to said treatment.

    If Sam comes around again, take a photo of his license plate and file a complaint.

    The AC sounds like the biggest concern. Probably mildew. Don't know what kind of AC it is... if you have an HVAC unit (one that heats and cools like in hotels), there is a plate that collects condensation. Go to a pool store (yes, really) and get some bleach tablets. Put one in the collecting plate every so often -- it will kill the mildew. If you have central air, then the unit needs to be serviced/cleaned. If it is a window air condition, I have no idea.

    But hopefully this might give you some ideas.

    Be civil, but don't tolerate a landlord making you live under these conditions.

  3. I'm visiting with a lawyer this week. After my last round of complaints (I've been poking around and finding more problems, not all directly affecting me, some probably code issues), the landlord brought up the possibility of an early exit from the lease. I was a bit surprised, I had been pondering ways to bring this into the conversation. Perhaps they are finding me as frustrating as I am finding them. I am hoping for a mutually agreeable dissolution of the lease (which I like so much better than breaking, which sounds forced and legal and expensive).

    Sam is, apparently, known to the police. They stopped by last week looking for him. From that encounter, and other information, I have Sam's full legal name, a description of his car, and I have reason to believe the police have encountered him in his car recently. Another unpleasant encounter with him will give me very firm grounds for a restraining order, and I have the forms ready.

    The sad part, in my mind, is that I don't think Pat wishes to be a slumlord. This was Pat's home, and all of these problems I am finding are probably "character", little things that Pat lived with for years and years and became comfortable with. The problem is a different level of expected upkeep. I owned for 6 years previous to this, and I sold recently with minimal loss, even having bought at the peak, in part because the house was in excellent condition, and the improvements I had done did, actually, improve things. Pat attempted to sell before deciding to rent, and was unable to do so. I can see why.

  4. A reader sends this in:
    My advice for Alex from Apex is to talk with the lawyer about paying his rent into escrow. The lawyer writes up a letter and sends it to the landlord with a list of actions that need to be accomplished. The escrow account is monitored by the courts and when the landlord has completed the work, the funds in the escrow account are released to the landlord. If the landlord fails to complete the repairs, the money is returned to Alex from Apex and he is provided a legal termination of his contract.

    I am not a lawyer, but I stayed at NUMEROUS Holiday Inn Expresses this past year.


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