(Note: This is the end of a long, long story. For the beginning, click here.)
So what did we learn from the Fred "M"oland experience?
Well, for one, the obvious--take pictures, write down *everything* on the Statement of Condition, document everything you can and hold onto it. The fact is, if Fred had gotten off his butt and simply sent us a letter within the 30-day time limit listing his deductions and damages--fictitious or not--we would've had a much harder time proving our case against him, because it would've been simply our word against his. Fortunately, he didn't, and so we had both goodness and the law on our side. A nice one-two punch.
We learned that if the tenants before you are able to convince their dad to drive up from a neighboring state just to pump heating oil out of the tank rather than leave it for the landlord, you might want to reconsider your choice of landlords. If it's too late, well, a few extra pictures might not be a bad idea.
We learned that if your upstairs neighbor knocks on your door and offers to trade you some pills he found in his apartment for a bag of weed, you shouldn't answer your door in the future.
We learned not to rent from anyone who bears a strong resemblance to an aquatic mammal.
We learned that "Don't worry about that" can, on the lips of a lawyer, have a variety of meanings. To us, it meant, "I'd rather see this settled than make any additional money on it, so take the two grand and let's get out of here." When I received the check from David the following week, it turned out that what it had meant to him was, "I'm willing to settle for another $350 off the top so you guys can get your original deposit back, minus the $500 that you've already paid me."
Corollary: we learned why lawyers get everything in writing before agreeing to it.
And when all was said and done, we learned the value of compromise. I still wonder if we could've stuck it to Fred in court. I also wonder if we would've ended up with a jury of landlords and gotten nothing at all out of him. We did get our original deposit back, mostly, and we got the satisfaction of knowing that Fred didn't gain anything out of the deal. It ain't exactly triple damages, but it's something.
One more thing we learned, much later:
I pondered, for a long time, what my moral duty was to future tenants of Fred "M"oland, the Peachtree Trust, or whichever other sham name he whipped up for himself in the future. Should I try to warn every future resident of that house? Could I drop flyers? Take out an ad? At what point would it cross the line to harassment? I wasn't sure, so I did nothing and hoped that the scars would fade over time.
Then, in December of that year I received a very odd phone call. It was from Joanne, a new tenant at Fred's apartment. A package for me had been sent to my old address; fortunately, the sender had put my cell phone number on it, which was still accurate after all this time. Would I like to come pick it up?
I couldn't let this opportunity pass me by. Not just for the package--although I do really like presents--but to check in on the old digs and see if this poor person knew what she'd gotten herself into. I gathered up some of my notes from the case and headed over.
Joanne gave me the package, we made small talk for a while, and then I asked:
"So...what do you think of the landlord so far?"
Her look spoke volumes. Fortunately, so did she.
It started, for them, when they had some troubles with their dishwasher. After several calls, and familiarly enough, a missed rent check, Fred came by to look at it. Joanne remembered that part clearly, because he scared her half to death when she came out from the bedroom to find that he had let himself in, unannounced, and was hunkered down over the sink. He grunted menacingly and brandished his tusks, and she retreated to the bedroom again with her laundry.
A bit later, she returned to the kitchen to find that he was sitting at the table, helping himself to some leftovers from her refrigerator. This was when Joanne began to suspect that he was not, perhaps, the most upstanding of citizens.
"Wow," I said. "That may be a new low even for Fred. What do your neighbors in the other apartment think?"
"Oh, they're long gone," she said.
Apparently, the downstairs neighbors had tired of Fred's antics even more quickly than Joanne and her husband had. Two of them moved out early; the third was still looking for a place, and had to stay a bit longer. That meant that he was there for several unannounced visits as Fred roamed through the apartment looking for damages to trump up (or, more likely, a bucket of raw fish).
One night, when he heard the sound of Fred's key in the lock yet again, the remaining tenant decided to do something about it. So he slipped into the bathroom with a cell phone, locked the door, and quietly called the police to report that someone had just broken into his apartment and he was hiding in the bathroom. Could they please send help right away?
Two of Belmont's finest were at the door just minutes later, blue lights flashing. Naturally, Fred was quite confused and unsure of which prepared alibi he should use. Sadly, we'll never know what he may have confessed to. The drama was cut short when the tenant came out of the bathroom--"Oh, Fred, it's just you! My bad!"--and everything was sorted out. The tenant moved out very shortly after, leaving behind a wonderful story for Joanne and, I assume, his security deposit.
When she had finished telling the story, I handed Joanne the packet of papers that I'd brought. "Here's everything you'll need when you move out," I said. "What we did...relevant passages of Massachusetts Housing Law...and here's the name of a lawyer familiar with Fred and what he did in our case." (Yeah, I gave her David's name, even after our little $350 misunderstanding. Again, the value of compromise--keeping Fred from stealing anything was the greater good.)
"Just do me one favor," I asked, "and share it with whoever moves in downstairs from you." Joanne assured me that she would.
That was the last I saw or heard from her. Up until I started writing this saga, I hadn't thought about it much since then. But here we are in a busy market, with college kids moving out and new tenants starting to look...perhaps its time to swing by that old brown house in Belmont and drop off some papers for those prospective tenants.