Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Trauma and Drama on the Home Front

Anybody who has the idea landlords are mean people with curlicue mustaches, black hats and a penchant for throwing poor widows and their children out onto the streets, please understand that we’re not all bad. I am a landlord and can be positively soft-hearted at times. My wife and I own several pieces of property that we collect rent on. One of the places we rent, in fact, happens to be the third floor apartment in the house we live in. And therein lies my tale.

We bought our house, a completely renovated 115-year-old Victorian, in October of 2004. It cost a bundle of money, but the former owner, a building contractor, did an outstanding job of fixing up the building, so although we got no bargain, we did at least pay what it was worth. And while everything is modern, the charm and character is still there. All the old woodwork has been refurbished and the many eccentricities you find in older houses have been retained. Hardwood floors, high ceilings, a large kitchen with all the latest gadgets, a beautiful staircase leading up to the second floor, oodles of space and so on. It really is a beautiful house, my wife’s “dream house.”

A key selling point for me was the existence of a two bedroom apartment on the third floor. It was completely brand new and as up to date as the rest of the house; it even had central air conditioning, something our part of the house didn’t have. This, I knew, could help us pay for the mortgage.

We moved in and, after a month or so, managed to find two guys in their late twenties to take the apartment. They seemed like nice people and during the term of their first lease, everything went pretty well. It turned out they weren’t noisy, they always spoke respectfully to us and they paid their rent on time. If I may be permitted to assign them names — let’s say Rosencranz and Guildenstern — then I will characterize Rosencranz as generally silent and kept his nose in his business, while Guildenstern was more the spokesman, a chatty and hail-fellow-well-met type of person. They both met in college and had been roommates ever since. Guildenstern one time had occasion to sit down to talk with my wife and I and we learned a bit of his history. At one time he was an undercover cop; then he went back to college and was now embarking on a financial management career. You couldn’t have met a more congenial guy. He had a natural cheery disposition and was extremely well spoken. It was difficult not to like him.

We set their lease to expire on August 31st, not quite a full year, with the expectation of renting the apartment for its full value in September, which is the hottest month. They understood this when they took the place. Their rent was reduced that prior November just so we could get bodies in there as quickly as possible. When we informed them of the amount we were seeking in July, Rosencranz thought it was a bit high, but accepted. Guildenstern wished to negotiate; however, while I was not averse to giving the boys a “home town discount,” my wife was firm on the figure we first told them. In the end, Guildenstern agreed and a new lease, this time for a full year, was signed.

Now, I have mentioned that things went pretty well during the term of the first lease; there were, however, a few bugs that needed to be worked out. Foremost among them was this: we have a four car driveway and my wife objected to Guildenstern loaning his parking space to friends. He had a girlfriend who stayed at the apartment for extended periods of time and it was her car that was mainly parked there during those intervals. My wife, through me (I am always the middleman), made it plain that only the people whose names were written on the lease could be permitted to use the driveway. I didn’t care really, but the missus was inflexible on the point, so, after some squabbling, Guildenstern finally got the message. However, this lead my wife to significantly alter her opinion of Guildenstern. She began to class him as a troublemaker.

After the new lease was signed, a new development arose. Guildenstern’s brother, whom we shall call Horatio, apparently moved in. I was willing to turn a blind eye to it, as I secretly hoped this would help the guys pay the rent, and Horatio seemed kind of quiet and shy, the antithesis of his brother. My wife was quick to see that Horatio had his own key, came and went as he pleased, had his mail sent to the house, and became a far more familiar presence than the two people whose names actually appeared on the lease. I heard her grumble about it, citing it as yet another trespass upon our good natures, but generally kept her peace.

Then one fateful night, after I had turned in and fallen asleep, my wife, in great agitation and loudly saying something which I took to mean that this time Guildenstern went too far, woke me up and thrust the phone in my ear. Guildenstern was on the other end and he was every bit as mad as my wife. I won’t try to reconstruct what he said, but will, as best I can, describe what happened after I fell asleep.

Horatio, as it turned out, wasn’t quite the diffident little guy I thought he was. It seems he had a “history,” one marked by mental and physical issues. He had had several brushes with the law, apparently hung out with the wrong kind of people, and was capable of alarming mood swings. Sometime earlier in his life he was literally run over by a truck; this required many operations that left him in constant pain and the need for painkillers. That night when he showed up at Rosencranz’s and Guildenstern’s apartment, he was distraught because his painkiller kit had been stolen and he needed something for the pain. He called the hospital pharmacy from the apartment and the pharmacist told him she couldn’t dispense medication without getting official word from his physician — which, at that time of night, wasn’t likely. Horatio flew into a rage. According to my wife and Daughter Number 2 (Daughter Number 1 was fast asleep like her old man), Horatio called the woman on the phone every terrible name you could think of; he was screaming so loudly every word came through to our portion of the house perfectly clear. Then, after he hung up, he got into an argument with Guildenstern. There was a lot of FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! THAT FUCKING BITCH! and slamming of doors and stomping of feet. It was, to put it mildly, a very scary scene.

My outraged wife went straight to the their apartment door and pounded on it. Rather than answer the door, Guildenstern called down to our house, where he and the missus must have had a colorful conversation before I found myself jostled awake and telephone planted on my ear.

I have to say this about my wife: she is no politician. She is very quick to anger, and, once angry, is not the most reasonable human being you might ever wish to meet. That night she was absolutely spitting venom. I told Guildenstern to meet me downstairs where perhaps we could discuss this better face to face. He agreed, and as I headed down to the kitchen, I told my wife that if she didn’t calm down, this wasn’t going to work; it would only make matters worse. But the missus was worked up into a fine froth and all I could do was stand between them like a helpless referee and utter platitudes neither of them heard. Guildenstern took extreme offense at my wife insisting his brother go to a shelter. Then, when he told her how many times he had refrained from complaining about the noise we occasionally make, a quick look at her face made me regret our meeting in the kitchen with all those sharp knives within reach. In the end, it did us very little good. What seemed to help was a few days later when I met with Rosencranz and Guildenstern in their apartment, listened to their grievances, and told them our stance on things in a much more diplomatic way than how Guildenstern heard it a few nights earlier.

But things never really had a chance to settle down. Although we saw much less of Horatio after that, he still received his mail at our house, and my wife took great exception to him using the upstairs apartment as his address. So she started writing “return to sender: does not reside at this address” on Horatio’s mail, and this, of course, led to another point of contention. Guildenstern complained to me that when Horatio — who is indigent — had his mail sent to his parent’s address, several important letters went missing, so they decided his mail should be sent to Guildenstern instead. My wife countered that this was the very type of mail we shouldn’t be getting. He isn’t our tenant, and she didn’t feel comfortable with court documents (for that’s what those important letters were) being sent to where we live. She didn’t relish the possibility of the police showing up one day looking for someone we technically were not responsible for. He should, instead, get a P.O. box.

This was the final straw for Guildenstern and he called me saying he wanted to break the lease and move out. I agreed and promised to get back to him about what the terms of breaking the lease should be. In the interim, he had a change of heart and said he’d stay and take care of the mail. My wife had by this time desisted from writing “return to sender” on his brother’s mail and was content to let him sort that problem out. Then, a little over a week ago, Guildenstern thought he had evidence that my wife was now throwing away Horatio’s mail and wanted to move out again. I asked her if she was doing this and she said she hadn’t. So I called him back, told him he was wrong, and offered to pay for a P.O. box for his brother and thus end the controversy. This was his response: “Look, I really don’t want to move out — it’s such a hassle. I’ll tell you what: I’ll forget everything if you come down on the rent.” I quickly told him never, not in a hundred years.

And that’s where we stand right now, folks. All my good will toward him has been exhausted. Lately he hasn’t even paid his rent on time and half of his checks have bounced. It will be a pain trying to find new tenants at this time of year, but that was it. Out, out, OUT!

24 Comments:

Blogger Scott said...

Mr. Schprock - My wife and I have considered getting into a similar situation, buying a multiplex dwelling, living in one and renting the others. I will print out this post and let her read it. Your situation is a total nightmare. You are in a tight situation, because if you let them out of the lease, you may be stuck paying the mortgage by yourself for several months. I don't know your finances, but that would be a real blow to my bottom line. That's why I resisted the urge to tell you to just get them out and don't even charge them for breaking the lease. I don't envy the situation you are in.

9:46 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Being a landlord is fine when things go well, but these episodes put a stress on you that gets old in a hurry. But we'll work it out. My great hope is to someday have family living upstairs, but that could be a whole other can of worms.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

I think maybe I overused the word situation...

12:38 PM  
Blogger :phil: said...

No good deed goes unpunished, does it. Sorry you had to put up with that. We were tennents for many years and I think we were good. We didn't complain about the lack or repairs and I did many myself. I cut the grass and did the snow for no reduction in rent. I would never have tennents now, I like my privacy.

12:51 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

I have been a tenant a few times in my life and have usually left the apartment in better shape than how I found it (I was a housepainter in another life). And I always paid my rent on time and never hassled the landlord.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Spirit Of Owl said...

I've been a tenant in the past too, and bent over backwards doing every job I could to help my landlords/landladies out - housework, gardening, home maintenance, whatever. But there are people who just don't get it, especially young men, who for some reason don't understand that a good home is actually not a right, but a fortunate privilege to be grateful for.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Farrago said...

In college four friends and I rented a 5-bedroom house from a the woman who owned it for that purpose. She had a "boyfriend" - mind you, he was in his early fifties, and she was about 40-45 - who acted as her advisor, and he was a jerk. Not only to me, but to his girlfriend as well. She had made the mistake of renting previously to a handful of young college boys without properly screening them, and they verily trashed the place. So when my buddies and I werre hoping to move in, she had a few restrictions: no smoking in the house, per her insurance policy; no parties, as that's how the house got trashed the first time. Somehow I had landed the role in her eyes as group spokesman, so I had to get a verbal okay from each of the guys on those points, otherwise the deal was off. It all worked out for a month or two, and then one weekend I went home only to come back on Sunday afternoon to find a keg in the "dining" room (the table was of the billiard type), and the sparse evidence of a mess that had been cleaned up. I had to screw up the courage to confront the guys (only one was at fault) over it and then be prepared to be confronted by the landlord. She never found out, and the guilty party never had another party there.

On the one hand, I feel for you. Believe me I'm 85% in your court. But the other 15% goes out to Guildenstern. It's one thing to SAY everything will stay quiet, but you can't control a grown person. Guildenstern's downfall is he can't be a true gentleman about it, and he'll never see the blame that lies at his feet.

(Then there were the two girls who were in a housing pinch who, with the landlord's permission, I allowed to live in the house for the summer at a reduced rent (paid to the four guys who were not there over the summer while they still paid rent (must be why I was bestowed with the "spokesman" title)). They were good little girls for about two weeks, and then I started coming home to find them shrouded in strange little clouds of fog that smelled suspiciously of tobacco smoke, and then one week to a third girl living there, rent free, who was as big a slob as the other two, who never EVER cleaned up the huge, disgusting messes they made.)

Sorry your leisure time is being sucked up by this stress.

6:36 PM  
Blogger boo said...

something is rotten in the state of denmark. hope everything works out for u soon.

10:50 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

Whenever I hear of somebody who did the whole landlord thing, it's usually followed up by a hellacious story. I don't understand people. I'll always be a tenant and just don't understand why some people don't understand it's easier to get along with everybody.

8:04 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Well, I have to say I'm a pretty good tenant. And my landlord is pretty good in a lot of ways. But he's old and set in his ways, so I know I'll never change him. Now if he should happen to "buy the farm", who knows what color the walls might get painted? Hmm...

8:41 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"But there are people who just don't get it, especially young men, who for some reason don't understand that a good home is actually not a right, but a fortunate privilege to be grateful for."

They actually do have a nice place here. I just wish things could have been worked out amicably.


"On the one hand, I feel for you. Believe me I'm 85% in your court. But the other 15% goes out to Guildenstern."

I have to say that if I was awake during the "incident," I think things would have worked out differently. Since then, the rule has been for Rosencranz and Guildenstern to call me direct on my cell phone, and any communication my wife wishes to make to them must go through me. I'm sure she came on way too strong.


"something is rotten in the state of denmark"

You get an "A," Boo, for catching the "Hamlet" reference!

Kathleen, your sentiment expresses mine exactly. These are small matters really. There was no good reason for things to blow up.


Trina, I know what kind of tenant you are. Move to Boston! I've got a nice place waiting for you!

1:14 PM  
Blogger trinamick said...

Oh, if only you were a few states closer, I'd take you up on that. But then your wife might be cursing my cat from Hades.

2:25 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

So long as your kitty doesn't have a brother with a catnip dependency, I think it would work out.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Chloe said...

2 things come to mind: first, I wish I lived in Boston (not only am I a fine tenant, but I make yummy baked goods, too) and second, I can't believe you're married to someone who sends back a squatter's mail. Wow!

8:10 PM  
Blogger Henry said...

...He says while adjusting his curlicue moustache."

:)

4:17 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"2 things come to mind: first, I wish I lived in Boston (not only am I a fine tenant, but I make yummy baked goods, too) and second, I can't believe you're married to someone who sends back a squatter's mail. Wow!"

We'd love to have someone like you live here. And my wife, as perhaps you can tell, is a real firebrand — I should really share a few stories about her. I'll never forget when not long after we first met and she was complaining about something, I heard her say in her pronounced Puerto Rican accent: "I hate it! I hate it with all my forces and energies!" I found it at once kind of cute and a strong indicator of a formidable and temptestous character. And here's the really scary part: she's nothing compared to her sister!


Henry, you'll be interested to hear I just enrolled in a class that will teach me how to evict people and tie them to train tracks. Nyah ha ha!

7:18 AM  
Blogger Michele said...

"We'd love to have someone like you live here. And my wife, as perhaps you can tell, is a real firebrand — I should really share a few stories about her. I'll never forget when not long after we first met and she was complaining about something, I heard her say in her pronounced Puerto Rican accent: "I hate it! I hate it with all my forces and energies!" I found it at once kind of cute and a strong indicator of a formidable and temptestous character."

A lady after my own heart. ;D It's kind of funny. I'm rather like your wife and John is rather like you in being more diplomatic....

7:45 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Well, Michele, as I've said to John more than once, I like you without ever having met you. We should all get together sometime. You and my wife would probably hit it off.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Michele said...

That would require John to use some of his much underused social skills. And as you well know, John doesn't DO social skills. ;) Too scary. Sometimes it's adorably cute, and sometimes it's annoying. But by being with me, he's getting ever so slightly better. I know I'm getting a phone call from him over this post.....

At some point I'm bound to meet you and your family. I'd really like to as I think I like your wife. John talks about all of you at work so much, I feel like I know all of you already.

8:14 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"John talks about all of you at work so much, I feel like I know all of you already."

Uh oh. And you still want to meet us? Of course, I'm sure I'm characterized as the grizzled veteran who's rarely wrong and whose opinions on everything show unparalleled wisdom and insight.

Ha! Now maybe I’LL wind up getting a phone call!

8:26 AM  
Blogger Michele said...

"Uh oh. And you still want to meet us? Of course, I'm sure I'm characterized as the grizzled veteran who's rarely wrong and whose opinions on everything show unparalleled wisdom and insight."

More like the ever so patient, tireless, devoted employee that you are. Seriously. He doesn't say anything bad. You've got more patience and grit than I would, if I were dealing with Ms. Smith. I'd have given her spleen to her on a platter by now. You've got my respect.

8:38 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Oh, she tested my mettle all right. I've always been a bend but not break kind of guy. Thanks for the kind words.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Farrago said...

"You get an "A," Boo, for catching the "Hamlet" reference!"

I caught the reference, too, only I couldn't have named the play. I knew it was Shakespeare. My comment would have been, "I thought Rosencranz and Guildenstern were dead." And every time I've typed "Guildenstern" in relation to your post, I've forgotten a letter and had to go back to put it in.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Mike Maloney said...

Hey John-

it's Mike from NSA.Is there any way to go through a third party to screen these bozos?
Also, have you got any tenants from your blog? And I suppose you can improve your writing skills talking to these folks, but does it have any other purpose? I have a couple friends who do this,and share their poetry,songs,whatever.but they are mainly single with a lot of time.hope to see you tomorrow.

8:14 PM  

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