Thursday, March 25, 2010

Landlords from Hades

I've lived in my apartment and perhaps New York City far longer than I thought  would when I relocated to the East Coast years ago. When I packed my dreams, fears, insecurities, and Texas mementos into several suitcases and two footlockers, I wanted to flee from Houston. The only plan I had was to land on my feet and figure things out as a I went along. An actor skilled in improvisation, and a bit of a showman, my primary concern was the cold weather. 

As a young child and teen, we moved many times in a few years, less than other classmates, but still disorienting all the same. I think the anxiety set in back then and has remained one of my preoccupations. I don't like moving because of minor issues as my mother seemed to do. I've a faint memory of returning from school one evening to an announcement and cardboard boxes that we were moving to a new apartment complex.

My mother was my first landlord from hell when she kicked my younger brother and I out, I was barefoot, dazed, and just knew that I was the victim of a sick joke or test of loyalty. I remember standing in the parking lot outside that apartment trying to process what had happened. 

I spoke up. That's what happened. My younger brother had did something that she didn't like. Into our bedroom she brayed, not quite foaming at the mouth, leather belt in flight as he cowered on my bed filled with wire hangers. Whatever he'd said or done to her, his being potentially paralyzed by hanger wasn't worth her rage. I might have raised my voice. I had to, or else she wouldn't have heard me. She had to whip him, and might have caused irreversible damage . . .

There we stood in the Houston night, looking at each other, and intermittently at mother's bedroom window at my underage pregnant cousin our mother felt obligated to mother because she'd always wanted a daughter. It might have been a few seconds or minutes, but they both stood staring out at us. 

Time passed, and she allowed me back inside long enough to put on shoes, dump our clothes inside a large black garbage bag, and phone someone to pick us up. Successive calls to relatives, "That's your momma, and I ain't getting into that. She's crazy." Click. Dial tone. It wasn't until I phoned her then best friend that was someone willing to drive the ten miles between granny's neighborhood and our home to transport us safely. I remember the expression on her face when the car eased to a stop in the parking lot. It was as if she thought, "Damn, they got away!" I didn't know how to process my mother's reaction. I later realized she needed to be needed, feel validated as a person and our mother, but didn't have the vocabulary for it. 

Codependent parents aren't the same as some landlords. Landlords need tenants to rent or purchase apartments, condominiums, or split-level townhouses. My first nasty piece of work was in New Jersey. I lived in a below-street-level studio as big as a broom closet. My inaugural winter was brutal. I had to sleep with the oven on and opened, underneath an electric blanket, with a portable electric heater nearby. Had the pilot light gone out overnight, I could've died from gas inhalation. 

Leapfrog through time. After several unsuccessful attempts of polite asking, and a housing inspector that visited on a warm and sunny winter day when the indoor temperature registered the minimum legal, I withheld rent and was later summoned to court wherein I was ordered to pay by a specified day or face eviction. No way. I wasn't going to pay a lump sum while I could see my frosted breath before me at night in the bathroom. I'd long-since stopped using the oven as a heat source.  

Pressed for time, I called in sick, ignored my mother's pleas to return to Houston, and set about looking for a new apartment. I was successful thanks to the aforementioned improvisational acting skills. White lies notwithstanding, I was happy I'd found a place before my lump sum payment due date. Two local Jersey friends and I moved the contents of my studio in Pathmark grocery carts.

There wasn't a moment to spare. We made one final trip to double-check, by which time the constable had padlocked and brandished the front door with a yellow eviction notice. 

My second apartment was all but uneventful save for the noisy next door neighbor who blasted his Spanish music well into the night, and on occasion would trip the circuit breaker located inside my kitchen. He'd bang on the door or our adjoining wall in the ground floor apartment. "My friend, my friend, I gottee no lights!"  

My nominee and winner of Landlord from Hell is the ghoul I've rented from since time immemorial. If it were a musical, they'd be the slimy couple from Les Miserables, and heaven knows they've made my life throughout the years, hell. Exhibit A: the building was without gas for several months and they were too lazy and cheap to do anything about it. I reported them to the NY housing police after wrestling with the decision, unsure of the consequences. I was within my rights to report the lack of a building necessity, but I should've filed the report anonymously. They three-way called me and proceeded to call me everything but a child of God. How dare I tattle on them! 

This man told me a few weeks ago that I was the worst tenant: unapproachable, unfriendly, loud, and a few other vile things. Apparently I'm the building pariah that no one wants around, and it's only because of my former female roommate who flashed her breasts and sat provocatively with her legs slightly apart that we were given the apartment. I knew he didn't like me, and she made no secret of it. I had the credit rating, money in the bank, and a fulltime job at a reputable company. I was an ideal tenant in theory for a landlord with a vacancy. I fell short with the failed lounge singer because I didn't have breasts. I've accumulated a list of cosmetic and necessary repairs over the years that he refuses, conveniently forgets, and recently learned two new words: capital improvement.

I hate being at the mercy of others, but know that it might happen again. I need to learn better coping skills to deal with the power hungry, unsavory characters, and the temporarily blinded and insane.

2 comments:

Void said...

I can relate to your crazed landlord experiences. My landlord in Brooklyn decided to release his inner slum lord when it was time for my roommate and I to move out, and it was a fantastic apartment. He thought he had every right to come into the apartment unannounced, go into our rooms (doors were closed and no repairs were needed), and charge us for minor repairs that he was responsible for as a landlord.

My cousin in Chicago 'evicted' me from her house after I left for the day to go job hunting. She wanted me to be her cook, maid, and errand girl. She's a millionaire and has a high turnover of house help. Other family members tend to be mesmerized into submission by her money. I was not.

Living in the city is wonderful, but it is also a bear. We may have a mutual acquaintance who may help. She was prepared to take on my Brooklyn landlord. Look out for some info soon.

Harlem Writer said...

Thanks for the feedback. Sometimes it feels we're alone with our problems, but we're not. The biggest adjustment back then was the monthly rental fee compared to what it would cost in Houston. The sticker shock was later replaced with disgust with the landlord's laziness, vulgar mouth, and bravado.