Monday, June 29, 2009

My own personal public service announcement (Part I)

It occurs to me that I have never warned many of you about The Worst Landlord of All Time.

It also occurs to me that I have warned some of you about him a few times too many. Sorry about that. But this is a time of change, not only for the leaves on the trees, but for basically everybody who bought a house in the last five years. And while I'm told that the rental market in Boston has improved--the price for a cardboard box in an alley now includes utilities--someone will inevitably be suckered in by this putz. I'd like to make sure it's none of you.

I should preface this by stating that finding a landlord in Boston (and, I presume, everywhere) is about a 50-50 proposition. That is, for every 50 landlords you find, you wish you could legally shoot about 50 of them. And even if that WERE legal, I would save all 50 bullets for this one. Since some of what I'm about to say could be construed as libelous, I'm afraid I can't use his real name. Therefore, we shall refer to the slum lord in question as "Fred Moland," because that's what you would get if you substituted an "M" for the "B" in his last name.

I first met Fred on my third attempt to do so. I was looking for a 3-bedroom apartment in Belmont, and found one within our price range, or as close as Boston comes to a price range. I called the number listed, and the voice on the other end seemed more suspicious about where I'd found this information than he was interested in showing me the apartment. This seemed odd, since I'd found it in the ad he posted, but he eventually agreed to show it to me the following day.

(Let me break for a moment here to say that, in spite of popular opinion, I consider myself something of a writer, and as such, I frequently view real life from the perspective of how it would be written in a book or movie. I have been delighted to discover that real life uses foreshadowing just as much as those media do; unfortunately, without the benefit of a chapter end or dramatic musical crescendo, it's much more difficult to detect until later. Suffice it to say that this was Clue #1 that perhaps I should have run while I still could.)

I showed up at the apartment at the appointed time. It was a big brown house, a color that precisely matched what its owner had for brains...but I digress. Even from the outside, I could tell that it was spacious, with just enough parking for three cars, and with a large back porch perfect for grilling or sitting, or possibly even grilling while sitting. I couldn't wait to see the inside!

...but I was going to have to, because Fred never showed. I waited a half-hour beyond the appointed meeting time before heading back to the office, slightly disgruntled and a little worried that it had already been rented. Back at the office, I called Fred again, and we had the following conversation:

Me: Hi, Fred, I was just at the house and didn't see you. Did I have the address right? It's--

Fred: Oh, you didn't get my message. I called you back yesterday to say I wouldn't be able to meet you there today.

Me:, I didn't get that message. Where did you leave it?

Fred: No, I left it with someone at your office.

Now, at this point in my life, I was working for a microscopically small (but deceptively wiry!) company with exactly four co-workers, three of whom spent all of their time out of the office. This left one person other than me who could've taken that message, and I was pretty sure he wasn't secretly plotting against me. I knew this because I asked him if he was, and he assured me that he most definitely was not.

So, with Clue #2 out of the way, we rescheduled our meeting for the following day. The following day, I arrived at the apartment fifteen minutes early. That meant that I spent 45 minutes standing around this time rather than just 30. Thinking that perhaps he was waiting inside, I tried knocking on the front door, and the plastic window popped out at my first rap and clattered noisily to the floor inside. I tried shouting "Hello!" through this new opening, but unless he was cowering in the bathroom (more on that later), nobody was home.

I gave up at this point. As Lionel Richie once said, "Fool me once...twice...three tiiiiiiiiiiiimes a lady," and though I really don't know what that means, it makes more sense than "Dancing on the Ceiling." Unfortunately, one of my roommates was not so easily dissuaded, and he called Fred himself to arrange a meeting. It is worth noting that this roommate is a former Marine, so there may have been threats of bodily harm involved. Looking back, I kind of wish Fred'd skipped that meeting, too.

But he didn't, and when we finally did see the inside of the place, we fell in like. It had the grime of a hundred years (or possibly two college semesters) on the walls, but it had big rooms and plenty of 'em, and it was available. We decided to sign a lease.

The lease, as it turned out, was a little something Fred had put together himself. Now, most of Massachusetts uses a fairly standard form, to which landlords append clauses to tailor the lease to their own needs. Our previous landlord, for instance, allowed parties only if he was invited. This lease, however, appeared to be entirely of Fred's own creation, and included such exciting clauses as:

"In order to save time and legal expenses for the parties, in case of any dispute regarding the above lease...All fees, expenses, attorney fees will be paid for by the tenants unless they prevail in the entirety and in such an event the landlord shall pay an amount of one half of all expenses, attorney fees, costs, damages, etc. not to exceed $500.00 in total."

"...The tenants hereby acknowledge and accept the security risk to their person and property including the possibility of accident, forced entry, assault, rape and even death due to the wood and specifically the glass or plastic entry doors and windows...The tenants recognized the security trade off they make for esthetic [sic] reasons."

If a piece of cheap plastic held in by two bent nails was his idea of "esthetic", I'd love to see what he's done with his own place. And my personal favorite:

"If any damages are paid by the landlord to a court, government institution, any party or to the tenants or their representatives, tenants...will repay the landlord such amount including all expenses, legal fees, attorneys fees and costs plus 25% liquidated damages."

Also known as the "I'm rubber, you're glue" clause. It was the first time I actually called up my Attorney General and asked "Can they really do that?" The law student on the other end assured me that I couldn't waive my rights under Massachusetts law no matter what I signed; and with the housing market tight and the September 1 deadline rapidly approaching, the prospect of sleeping in a cardboard box for the next few months did not appeal to me. I crossed my fingers and hoped that this student hadn't been daydreaming during that part of class.

For those of you keeping score at home, this was Clue #D (dum dum dummm!). And just like the braless girl in the horror movies, darned if I didn't ignore the obvious clues and walk down the dark, bloodstained corridor anyway. Hey, at least I didn't twist my ankle while running away in high heels!

Umm...not that I own any.

Next up: Ways in which a cardboard box would've actually been better...


Dani and Jay said...

Aren't you happy those days are over? I am. When I was in England I rented a house and the owners used to come every weekend and sit in the backyard. Then they'd ring the bell and ask to come in, running their fingers across the walls to look for dirt. No, I'm sorry - that was just the wife. The husband would just stare at my tits (can I say that here?).

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