Thursday, February 6, 2014

Have I Ever Mentioned I Don't Love Change? (Part 3)

If you haven't yet, read parts one and two of this story first.

We arrived in our new city on a Sunday evening.  We were mentally, physically and emotionally drained after the flurry of chaos over the previous five weeks.  We couldn't wait to get our hands on the keys of our new rental townhouse, procure some dinner and crash for the night so we could start fresh in the morning.

We had the entire week planned and scheduled.  Visits to the new daycare.  Unloading and unpacking all our possessions.  Shopping for (required) new wardrobes for our new jobs.  Getting keys to our new PO box and changing our address everywhere.  Signing up for phone and cable service.  You know the drill.  It was to be a very busy and exciting week!

When we pulled up to the house we had rented, the property manager was waiting there for us.  We were so excited.

Then we went inside.  Everything changed.

Looooooong story short, between the time we had friends do a walk-through on this place and the day we arrived, it had... changed condition.  Before we even walked in we were concerned by this:

Those are 2+ inch gaps at the bottom of the garage door.  Aidan could stick his hand all the way into the garage through these gaps, and the door was bowed out in the center.  It looked as if someone had backed into the door from inside the garage and never finished fixing the damage.  Obviously this is a security concern, but also, we were to be paying for heat!  There's a lot of room there for heat to escape and that raised some concerns right off the bat.

The first room we went into was the garage, where we found that someone had dumped or spilled a gallon of deck stain or something.  It went across the floor and into the floor drain, presumably clogging it.

This could be a problem, because in Alaska, we get a ton of snow on our cars and if a floor drain is clogged, you could potentially end up with a lake in your garage that might not go away.  Also, the garage had a ton of furniture and building materials in it.  You can see a bookshelf, some sheetrock and a shop vac just in this one picture.  We started to wonder if the place was actually intended to be rented or not.

Okay, whatever, we'll figure something out.  Then hubby noticed that the garage door opener was attached to the mounting brackets by one bolt.  ONE BOLT.  Those things vibrate in normal use.  I asked what's to keep the thing from falling on my car or on my head?  The property manager's answer was that we just shouldn't use it.  Oh, and did I mention the absolutely disgusting extra refrigerator in the garage?  Not only was it filthy inside and smelled like a dumpster, it was situated directly in front of the breaker panel for the house, so you couldn't shut off a breaker in case of an emergency.  Code violation!

Then we saw the rest of the downstairs, including these gems:

It's sort of hard to see there, but when our friends did the walk through, this wall had a nice big shelf on it which would've been totally acceptable.  But by the time we attempted to take occupancy, they had ripped the shelves off the walls - MANY of them - and hadn't bothered to patch, paint or even clean where the shelves had been.  Every room in this place had at least one wall that looked something like this.

Yeah, that would be an electrical outlet with no plate on it.  And that wasn't the only one.  Serious code violations!  Just above that was a window.  We soon learned that it was not operational and could not be opened in case of a fire.  So we went to the only other downstairs window and it was the same way.  It could not be opened.  Another code violation.  Three or more code violations on the first floor, good start??

Other issues downstairs included a filthy washing machine and a shower head that was hanging loose, though by this time I was in too much shock to have the presence of mind to take pictures of those.

We hadn't even been upstairs yet and we were both horrified.  I think the biggest thing getting to me was, "if there's all this neglected stuff that we can see, what on earth can we not see?!"  We brought each and every one of these issues up with the property manager as he filled out the move-in inspection.  For each one he had a handy dandy fix - for US to do.  "Oh, you can just put some weather stripping around that garage door."  "If you guys want to paint I can ask the owner for permission but you'll have to buy the paint."

By this time, we had both become incredibly anxious and filled with dread.  I kept second guessing myself.  I'm just tired.  I'm just scared because of the move.  I'm used to being a homeowner and forgot how to be a renter.  I'm being too picky.  I'm being unreasonable.  But I could not stop the feeling of dread.  Hubby was even more upset than I was.

We made our way upstairs.  On first glance, the kitchen looked better than the downstairs.  Good sign, right?  Wrong.  Upon closer inspection we found dust and dirt all over and damage as well.

That's a broken door on the microwave which had been half-heartedly glued back together.  Because who doesn't want stray microwave... waves... bouncing around in their kitchen?

I peeked in the dishwasher and found it was dirty and the drain at the bottom was full of debris.  Here's what the property manager pulled out of there in just the first couple of minutes.

"I'm sure the drain is fine," he said.  "I don't know how that got in there but I'm sure it's just fine.  If you're that worried about it, we can start it and see what happens."  Continuously downplaying everything that was wrong.  I expressed concern once again about the condition of this house.  His response was, "well, the rental market is so tight here that owners don't make any money on their rentals, so there's no money to fix things or paint between tenants."

For a minute, I believed him, despite the totally backwards logic.  But a little voice in my head kept telling me I was right to be worried and that I should start running and not look back at this trash heap.  But where would we go?  Now it was 7pm on a Sunday night and we were - technically - homeless except for this trash heap.

We wandered into the living room where we found:

Exceptionally dirty walls - not even a basic wipe-down after the previous tenants vacated...

And burned, stained, broken doors on a fireplace.  The knob on the right fell off in my hand when I tried to pull on it.  Super safe especially with a toddler and two dogs in the house, right?  There was also a bizarre piece of furniture left in the living room.  It was wood and yellow and a big square (with rounded corners) and about two feet tall.  A ghetto coffee table, maybe?  Who knows.  But it was just left there as if no one felt like carrying it downstairs and out the door.  And a random bookshelf.  Because I definitely want someone else's furniture in my house.

In my mind I was frantically trying to think of alternatives to staying there for even one more minute.  We could go to a hotel... but what hotel will have room for us at this hour especially with dogs in tow?  We have family here but again, it would be one thing if it were just hubby and I. The toddler and two dogs kind of change things especially on short notice.

I walked into the master bedroom to check that out.  There were 20+ holes in the walls, but it was a nice size and, bonus, the window was functional!  Finally, I thought.  One room with some redeeming qualities.  Then I made the mistake of walking into the master bathroom.

Just when I thought I couldn't possibly see anything worse in this dump... I did.

Now, let me explain.  This picture was actually taken the next day, after it was flushed once by the property manager (I'll get to that in a minute).  I did not take a picture of the condition I found this toilet in when we first saw it because I was completely horrified by it.  The bowl was full - FULL - of some sort of black furry substance.  I have never seen anything like it in my life and I darn near lost my cookies when I saw and smelled it.

I don't know if it was mold or a gorilla shaved and dumped the hair in there or WHAT, but it was the most disgusting thing I've ever seen in person.  And I used to work in operating rooms, so that's saying something.  The property manager's response to seeing the toilet (not in that improved condition you see in the picture but in its original state when we saw it) was, literally, "W. T. F."  Not the expletive words, just the letters.  It was the first time he'd seemed to think anything was wrong with the place.

I began to pace angrily.  Furiously.  I try to always be nice to people.  Always.  I fully believe that being rude gets you nowhere (except sometimes pushes you backwards).  But I'd had enough.  I was honest - but civil - with the property manager.  I told him this was not what we had signed up for, I told him I had to wonder if a band of meth heads had been living there for the past three weeks (which was the period that we had paid rent for), and I told him that I didn't feel safe staying there for even one night.  I said the place was disgusting and that his suggestions for us to fix everything weren't going to work for me.  He said he'd talk to management in the morning (which would be a Monday) and see what they could do about fixing all the problems.

Then he finished his move-in inspection sheet and vacated the premises.

Hubby and I paced some more.  We fumed.  We stressed.  We debated.  We hugged.  We may have cried a little.  Or maybe that was just me.  Probably.  We tried to take cues from the kid, who thought a big empty house was a lot of fun to play in!

But we just couldn't get there.  By this time it was after 8pm and we had to figure out where we were to lay our heads for the night.  We'd been on the go for 14 hours and we were all getting loopy.  In a last ditch effort to salvage the rental situation, I called the friend who had walked through and asked her to come look at it with us and tell us if this was the condition she saw it in.  If she said yes, then we'd know we made a huge mistake and we would have to deal with it somehow.  But if she said no, maybe we'd have some recourse.

When she arrived, she was every bit as horrified as we were.  She verified that it did NOT look like that when she saw it.  (I knew it didn't, because we FaceTime'd during her walk through.  The connection was pretty bad, but I saw enough to know it wasn't like this.)  Hubby and I debated what to do.  Both of us felt physically ill over the thought of staying there even one night, mostly because of the kid.  Just the toxic I-don't-even-know-what coming from that master bedroom toilet made me feel like I'd be harming his (traditionally sensitive) lungs by making him breathe that for a night.  Furthermore, with the way the place had been trashed treated in the previous few weeks, I had to wonder who might have keys to it and wouldn't think twice about barging in at 3am and doing... who knows what.

Our friend insisted we come stay at her house.  So by 9pm, less than 2 hours after the property manager left, we departed that dump and headed to her house.  The next morning I had a chat with the property manager's boss, told him what was going on, and why we would not be able to move in to that home.  

He was a complete and total jerk.  He said this was all my fault for signing a lease on a place I hadn't seen in person (lesson learned), that my standards were unreasonable, that they were entitled to a 'few days' to fix the things that were wrong, and that I should 'start acting like an adult.'  My head nearly exploded on that last one.  I had been nothing but completely professional with him, and with his minion as well.  I was mad, but I was still civil, not rude, and certainly not mean or childish.  He eventually agreed to meet us at the 'crack house,' as we had begun affectionately calling it, a couple hours later.  

We met him there.  It was awkward and uncomfortable and he was acting like a cranky teenager. He somewhat begrudgingly made a list of our 'complaints' and at the end of the tour he told us he could have everything cleaned up and ready for us in a 'few days.'  We had already had our entire schedule turned upside down as a result of them thinking this was acceptable in the first place, so we found ourselves unconvinced and unimpressed by his offer.  Truth was, we didn't have a 'few days' to sit around at our friend's house while he put bandaid fixes on things.  And besides, what would happen the first time we needed something fixed down the road?  Would he even address it then?  He also informed me that he could have the place re-rented immediately at the price we were paying for it.  Because of my extensive research into housing prior to our move, I knew this to be untrue.  But I didn't tell him that.

Our friends were so kind and gracious to put us up for two days and two nights while we frantically searched for new housing!  Just over 24 hours after our meeting with the guy from the property management company, we were in the office of a different company across town signing a lease on a new place.  It was built twenty years more recently, is in a better neighborhood, has a better layout, and it's clean and safe!  But I think my favorite part about it is this view:

Yup.  Never gets old!  We took possession of the new place immediately and notified the movers of the new address.  Then, more bad news.  Whereas they had been scheduled to deliver our stuff on Tuesday (remember that we got into town on Sunday evening)... because we had to re-schedule, we were now looking at Saturday.  And our jobs were to start on Monday.  Bummer!

Thankfully things worked out just slightly better than that, logistically, and our stuff was delivered on Thursday afternoon.  In the meantime, an email exchange was taking place between myself and the 'slum lord,' as we began to call the property manager in charge of the crack house.  I was citing parts of the state Landlord-Tenant Act that I (still) believe clearly spelled out that we were entitled to our money back.  I should probably mention here, so that the rest of this makes sense, that between first and last month's rent and the security and pet deposits, we had given this scumball several thousand dollars.  And we desperately needed that back.  We had moved because we were out of money, and that was the last bit of our savings.

Anyway, I was making my case with this jerk that we were owed the majority of that money, if not all of it, back.  There were a few exchanges followed by one lone message from the owner of the property management company himself:
Please stop sending these e mails. Your an adult. You signed a contract and obligated yourself. I think your attorney and court sounds best. My staff has no more time to spend with you on these e mails. Once you fully breach the contract we will file court action against you and the attorneys can present the facts to a judge and we will follow the judges orders.
"You're an adult," really??  Oh, I'm sorry, it was "your an adult."  Oh my goodness!  I remember the moment I first read that email.  My response was not pretty, but it was just hubby and I, so that was okay.  Ha!  I still can't believe the snotty and condescending attitude I got from these people throughout this process.

I'll try to shorten the rest of this obscenely long tale.  We saw an attorney.  The attorney told us we were in the right, but that our best strategy would be to wait until the house was re-rented, so that we would know exactly what our damages were.  Whereas the slum lord had told me he could have the house re-rented immediately, the reality ended up being (as I knew would be the case) that it would take a month and THREE different decreases in the rent amount before someone could convince themselves to move into that dump.  And that is in a city where rentals have a 3% vacancy rate currently.  

Once the house was re-rented, I emailed them back, the first contact since "your an adult."  (Picture me rolling my eyes at that once more, because I am.)  I asked them how this was to be handled financially.  They basically said that they would be sending me a refund for the money they felt they owed me after they took out all they felt entitled to.  By law they had 14 days to do this.  As it turns out, they mailed it on the 12th day.

Can you guess how much of my four thousand dollars they returned?  I'll give you a hint, it was less than $200.  I had expected them to send almost exactly that amount based on what they had said they planned to deduct for, so I wasn't surprised, but I was angry all over again.  I eventually got back in touch with the attorney, who told me that for that amount of money, he just couldn't be sure he could get it back for me without costing about that much in fees.


So, currently, we are tossing around the idea of pursuing this in small claims court.  Part of me wants to, mostly on principle.  Another part of me just wants to be done with all this.  But seriously, I could really use that almost-four-thousand bucks.  It makes me nauseous when I think about these scumbags sitting on piles of our money.  I feel like they pulled one over on us, and I HATE THAT.  I hope we'll have a final decision in the next week or so on whether we're going to pursue it.  If we don't go down the road of legal recourse, then I have other ideas about hitting him back where it hurts.  Don't worry, nothing illegal.  But I know how to get my point across.  (Now picture my best innocent grin.)

In retrospect, it was nothing short of a miracle that we got through the past three months without having to sell a vehicle or something.  Our house back home sat empty (while listed both for sale and rent) for over two months of that, so we were covering our mortgage plus our new rent AND we had lost several grand to the slum lord.  The new income level definitely helped, but some other unexpected things happened, too, that really saved our bacon.  It's funny how that works out, isn't it?

Now, our house back home is rented without issues (so far), we are a few months into our new jobs and learning so much, the weather here is so much better than the weather back home, we have the kid in a great preschool (though we had drama with this too... watch for an upcoming post), we love the shopping here and the views and so much other stuff.  I love that I live three minutes from a Target instead of 8 hours from one!

We have finally been able to relax a little bit here, just in the last month or so, and enjoy some of the things we moved here for.  We took the kid to a cool Christmas event at the zoo.  We don't even have a zoo back home!  We've seen family we rarely got to see before.  Last weekend we spent some time at the museum here which beats the pants off the museum back home.  There's just so much more stuff to see and do!

This winter we plan to make some weekend road trips!  We haven't been willing or able to travel outside the city since we moved here, with all that's gone on, and now needing to build our savings back up.  But hopefully we can make a few short trips to what I believe are some of the most beautiful places on this planet!

After all of that drama - and I still haven't told you all of it - I ask myself daily: was the move actually the right decision?

For the first time in five months, I'm finally sure it was.

Our future looks so bright here.  Literally, because there's more daylight.  But figuratively too!  There's some exciting stuff coming up for us and I can't wait to overshare share with you.


Heather said...

You should go to your local news with the rental story, especially if they are a rental company with many different rentals. That is just appalling, glad it worked out in the end, but WTF is right!

Katie said...

OMG. What a fucking nightmare! I'm so sorry you had to go through that. And I agree with Heather about going to the news. Someone would eat that story up in a heartbeat, and maybe it would be an easier way to get your money back.