Saturday, September 30, 2006

My stinking landlord, the "saint"

My landlord was a victim of 9/11. He was in WTC 2 (thats the south tower I believe) on the 97th floor. In reading tributes to him across the internet, I'm getting all nauseous reading the phony accolades to that man as if he were now somehow some sort of saint ("handsome", "loved by all who knew him.”, "generous and forgiving almost to a fault", "loved by all as he loved all", "to know (him) was to love him"). Even my sister, who also knew what a horrible person he really was, takes part in this hypocritical farce.

He was a brand new property owner (a two family apartment house), and as a result, my family was his very first renters. He and his wife lived on the first floor apartment, we lived on the second floor.

He rented out the (spacious) apartment to my family at a very cheap price, and when he found out he could get more than what he agreed to on the lease, after living there for only 9 months, he served us with an eviction notice. He took us to court, and to our shock, he produced photos of the inside of our apartment.

How did he get those photos? Every so often, him or his father (who bought him the property) would come up with an excuse to come inside. They needed to fix something or other inside our apartment. At the time, we thought nothing of these requests. And once letting them in, we would leave them alone to do whatever needed to be done. On one of these occasions, the father, while we were in another room tending to something else, secretly took a camera out of his pocket, and took photos of our apartment without us knowing.

He used these photos in court as proof that we were bad housekeepers, and that was their grounds for eviction. Indeed, our house was somewhat cluttered (we had moved in with more stuff than we had room for) BUT it was not messy in the least.

Fortunately, my mother knew the housing laws of the city and state like the back of her hand and the landlord was completely clueless on the housing laws. Bad housekeeping is not grounds for eviction. Heck, the housing laws are so skewed towards the tennant, that even if someones landlord had evidence that his tennants were selling drugs out of the apartment, they still cant evict. So, they lost the attempted eviction.

They still tried to spy on us though. They'd still show up at our door, asking to come in for some unspecified reason. One of their old excuses was to shovel the snow off our front and back porches everytime after there was a snowstorm (Yes, this apartment had both a front and an even larger rear porch) The front porch was directly over their living room, and the back porch was directly over a couple of their bedrooms. We got tired of this, so one time when it snowed, we immediately went to shovel the snow off our porches ourselves. Predictably, our landlord came to our front door, shovel in hand, telling us he wanted to shovel the snow off. We told him we had already done that. He went back into his apartment. After that, no matter how much it snowed, he NEVER came to our door, asking to shovel the snow off the porches.

Then, to get rid of us, they stopped giving us heat during the cold winter months, year after year. Actually, to be more accurate, they didnt exactly completely stop. They just gave us as little heat as was possible. They gave us such little heat, that when he did turn the heat on, that literally became a cause for celebration. I'd throw up my hands and exclaim "Hallelujah! He's giving us heat!" That joy would be short lived, for he would only turn it on for about only 15 minutes to about an hour and a half, before he would turn it off again. He turned the heat on for us like that only about two or three times a day. So it would be hours before he would have it turned on again. Problem was that our apartment was not well insulated. The windows, the window jambs were all wood. And over time, they were rotting away at the edges. As a result, you could put your hand underneath the closed window, and feel a strong breeze coming in. You didnt have to feel it. You could see the heavy metal venetian blinds moving to and fro as the wind outside blew. Of course, in his apartment downstairs, he replaced the old wooden windows with brand new metal ones. But he would not do the same for our apartment. We got no improvements in our apartment, no matter what. In fact, as a result of that, I became so accustomed to living in such freezing conditions, that it never failed to take me by surprise that no matter what day in the wintertime, no matter what hour of the day I went to visit my friends in their homes and rented apartments, it was ALWAYS warm where they lived. And I always wondered if they ever had to live with the cold indoors as often as I did. (They didnt).

Oh, our delightful landlord used to keep his own apartment nice and warm. How did I know? Our front doors were side by side. And once you stepped inside my front door, there was a flight of stairs that you had to walk up in order to get inside the rest of the apartment. At the bottom of those stairs was a radiator. That one radiator, was connected to the heating system of HIS apartment. So, whenever he turned on the heat in his apartment, that particular radiator at the bottom of the stairs of our apartment would also be giving off heat. That little radiator was on 98 percent of the time while the radiators upstairs inside our apartment were still off. And that part of our apartment, the bottom of the stairs, right inside our front door, was the the most consistantly warmest part of our place. Many is the time I'd be sitting down there with a book, trying to keep warm. Other times, when I didnt want to sit at the bottom of the stairs, I took the more dangerous route of turning on the oven to full blast, opening the oven door, and letting that heat part of the apartment up. (I didnt know at the time that was dangerous. I should have filled some pots with water and boiled them for the steam heat)

One time, I was coming home from a friends house, and just as I got to my place, (remember: he lived on the first floor apartment), I turned my head, and saw my landlord in his living room (his curtains were completely up) adjusting the thermostat on the wall. He had his shirtsleeves rolled up as if he were in the tropics. I thought to myself "Yeah, but I'll bet my apartment is still like a damn freezer." Sure enough, I came inside my front door, (that little radiator at the bottom of the stairs was on), I climbed the stairs, and the whole apartment was freezing. No heat. In fact, the heat in my place wouldnt be turned on untill early the next morning around 5-6am. That night, just like many other nights before and after it, I would sleep in my clothes (including wearing long johns) just to keep warm while I slept.

Oh, we reported them to the housing authorities, minutes after the housing authorities left after meeting with them, the landlords wife angrilly rang our front doorbell over and over again. Even the housing authorities werent of much help. The landlord still refused us heat, as often as he most possibly could. For example, the local housing law required that the landlord turns the heat on sometime in october. No matter how cold it got, he waited untill the very last week of october to turn it on for the very first time. And the law also required that he cannot turn off the heat for good untill April. The very first week of april, no matter how cold it still was and would remain, he turned it off for good. Oh, that went for only our apartment. You can be damn sure, he left on the heat in his apartment.

And this wasnt all. Very soon he resorted to slight sabotage. One time, I was all alone in the apartment (everyone in my family were gone for the day), when the landlords father turned up, asking to be let in to fix the toilet. I didnt know there was anything wrong with the toilet. And I couldnt reach any member of my family to ask them if they asked to have the toilet fixed (this was long before cell phones were as common as they are today). So, I let him in, but kept a close eye on him. He went to the bathroom, took out a monkey wrench, and went to work on our toilet. He thanked me, and left. Therafter, our toilet didnt have the powerful flush it once did. It would take two or three times to flush it properly. Finally, because we couldnt afford a plumber, my mother called up her brother in law (who worked as a super in apartment buildings) to come and fix the toilet. He did, and it went back to flushing the powerful way it always did.

And then there was the spying. Many is the time I'd notice him looking at me out of the corner of his eye. Or if I was standing in front of the apartment house, there he'd be, inside his living room. Watching me. One time, I was standing on the street corner, down the block from the apartment. He came driving home from work, and as he was turning the corner, he'd give me that suspicious look of his, look ahead to see where he was driving, shoot another suspicious glance at me, turn his head again for only a second to see where he was driving, turn his head again to stare at me suspiciously, etc. This happened so many times turning his head to stare at me, the street, back at me again, etc., I found it quite comical.

One time was not so comical, my two uncles (one of whom was the super I mentioned above) and my cousin came for a visit. They parked their car down the block from my apartment. I was talking to one of my uncles and my cousin in front of their car.(My other uncle was inside the apartment with the rest of my family). Later on they told me that as I was talking to them (my back was to my apartment, and they were facing it), my landlord came out of his front door, looked around suspiciously up and down the block. He probably didnt recognize me since my back was to him. Then went to my front door, and tried to peep inside the little window that was in the door. Of course, the only thing he could have seen was the bottom of the stairs that led up to the apartment. So, seeing nothing, he then put his ear to the door and tried to listen in on whatever was being discussed by my family inside. I have no idea if he managed to hear anything (probably not). After only a minute of this (according to my uncle and cousin), he finally went back into his own apartment.

One time, our front door had fallen out. The door jamb had rotted away, and the door was kind of one of those slightly extra wide doors, and HEAVY, as a result, it just fell out, hinges and all. The landlords, not giving a damn, did nothing when we asked them to fix it. In the meantime, we had to put back the door in its place whenever we went out. Hoping that no one would know or notice that the door could be simply pushed in. So, my mother turned to my two uncles, who came over, and did whatever they could to do so. However, their fix only lasted temporarilly, and the door fell out of place again. They came back to repair it again. Only to have it fall out again a week or so later. We went back to complaining to the landlord who did nothing. Finally my mother turned to the housing authorities, who really put the screws to the landlord, warning him to take care of it or else. I remember the landlords father, and a few workmen, coming to finally fix it. And I recall the landlords wife, smiling, acting as if they couldnt be happier to fix our front door for us. I often wonder what exactly the housing authorities said to them that put the fear of god into them.

Speaking of our front door (and/or the side door of the apartment), whenever he wanted to speak to us about something or other, he always tried to open the door first and enter the apartment If he found it unlocked, he would open the door and walk right on in. If he found it locked, THEN he would knock. When we first moved in, the neighborhood was practically crime free. As a result, we got into the habit of leaving our front door closed, but unlocked. But ONLY when we were home, and when it was still daytime. If we were away and/or if it was nighttime, then we would lock the door. As a result of us leaving the front door unlocked, he would just barge right in without knocking. We'd be inside our apartment doing whatever, and the next thing we'd know we'd hear our front door being pushed open, and hear him bounding up the stairs and entering our apartment before we could stop him. We got tired of that REAL fast and as a result, we got into the habit of keeping our front door locked at ALL times. Even then, for years afterwards, he would still try to barge in without knocking. He'd jiggle the doorknob and put his weight up against the door in the hopes of opening it for almost a minute or two before he would give that up and actually knock.

One time his father came to the door wanting to clear the drain pipes on our back and front porches. This was a legitimate request because may times the leaves would clog up the drain pipes, and when it rained, it created big puddles on the porches and that would seep down into their apartment. So, those drains had to be unclogged from time to time. But despite the fact that this was a legitimate request to get inside the apartment, we still kept an eye on the guy. So, I let the landlords father inside, and took him to the back porch, and kept an eye on him. While I was doing that, I heard my front door opening and someone coming up the stairs. I practically slapped my head, for I forgot to lock the door after letting the landlords father in. I KNEW it was the landlord invading our house without knocking again. I immediately raced to the front of the apartment, and sure enough, the landlord was halfway up the stairs. Upon seeing me, he plays dumb and the first words out of his mouth were "Is my father here?" And I'm thinking "Yeah right. As if you didnt know that already". As if it was a perfectly normal thing for him to barge into peoples homes, looking for his Father. I really didnt know what else to do except to direct him to the back porch. Since he didnt know the exact layout of the apartment (not having stepped inside it for so long), there were two ways onto the back porch. One way was through my sisters bedroom where the door to the porch was, and through my bedroom, through the window. I directed him to my darkened bedroom because I didnt want him to see the mess that was my sisters bedroom. Upon entering my bedroom, he felt his hand along the wall, looking for a light switch so that he could see what my bedroom was like. I lied to him about the lightbulb being out, and fortunately in the dark, he couldnt find the light switch, and I directed him through the window. After a couple minutes, the landlord came back through my window first to leave, I went to walk with him to watch him leave, but I was suddenly distracted by his father who came out of my bedroom to leave too. I took my eyes off his son for as minute, and then watched the father walk down the hallway towards the stairs. I didnt see the landlord up ahead, and I assumed that he had already walked down the stairs. Then, just as his father neared the stairs, the landlord pops out from inside my living room (which was on the right of the kitchen doorway. The stairs leading down and out was on the left of that kitchen doorway ) And he says to his father: "They have a cat." Indeed, we did have a cat, but we had locked up that cat in another room (a bedroom) off the living room. In order for him to have seen our cat, he would have had to go through the living room and open the door to the bedroom. Which is exactly what he did to spy on us. That jerk.

Another problem we had with them ,was the privacy of our mail. Their front door, and our front door both had mail slots at the bottom of them. And there also was this one little mailbox nailed on the wall right next to our front doors. The postman, too lazy to actually put the right mail in the correct door slots, chose to put both our mail, and their mail together inside that one little mailbox nailed to the wall. As a result, if they managed to get the mail first (which was more often than not), theyd grab all of it, and wouldnt give us our mail untill they damn well felt like it, sometimes not untill late in the day, or even a day or two later (whenever I, or any member of my family, managed to get to the mail first, we were always considerate in taking only our mail, leaving their mail still in the box. Occasionally one of them would see me getting the mail first and shoot me a dirty look as if I was going to steal their mail). I once had a subscription to TV guide, and at that time, the new TV guide came in the mail every Wed. or Thursday. One Wed. passed, no TV guide. Thursday came. No TV guide in the mail. Friday came, no TV guide. Saturday morning mail came still no TV guide. Thinking that perhaps it was lost in the mail for good, that Saturday morning I went to the local newstand to buy a new TV guide. The next day, Sunday night, our gracious landlord sticks my TV guide through the mail slot at the bottom of the door. He had it all that time. The Jerk.

Another time, after getting our mail from him, a day or two late as usual, our phone bill was open. He had read it. And he started calling us up practically every other day. I cant recall what he wanted to call up so many times about, but in any case, mother got tired of him calling up all the time. So, she had the phone number changed. Only to have him get his hands on another one of our bills, get our new number, and go back to calling again. We changed it again, and never heard from him on the phone after that. He could have opened yet another phone bill, but I guess he got the message that if he did that again we would simply have our number changed.

You want to know how long we lived there? Almost 15 years. We'd still be there is it werent for the fact that we came into some money, and put it down on a downpayment for our very own home in the suburbs. When we finally moved to our new home (we moved in the middle of the winter), we finally could turn our own heat on and off to our hearts content. And as a result, we never had another freezing day on the inside of our home.

The bastard of a landlord, actually couldnt believe we were moving. To prevent him causing us any trouble in our last days living there, we kept it a complete secret from him. He didnt know about it untill the day he came home from work and saw the moving van in front of the apartment house, with a couple of moving guys putting our stuff into the van. He told us that we didnt have to move. That we could stay a few more months if we wanted. What brought that about? With us moving, he would now have to go through the whole expense of renovating and repairing the apartment (many of the fixtures like the bathroom tub, bathroom sink, and the kitchen sink were about 4-5 decades old. And that wasnt even the tip of the iceberg) to make it more of an attractive place to rent out.

We just got out of there. No more freezing while indoors. Hallelujah!

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