Sunday, February 11, 2007

House of Horrors

A friend of mine was expressing her angst about moving to me the other day. It's hard, you know, when you think about changing communities. Will it be better? Worse? What about the kids? Having moved 4 times in 10 years, I think I have a few tips-especially from our last move about a year and a half ago.

"It's okay. It's a little old, but we could do it for a year, do you think?" Handy Dad and I surveyed the living room-bright red paint, gauzy white curtains, worn carpet. Boxes filled the room from floor to ceiling. What was that smell?

"Oh we loved this house," the woman gushed. "It's just perfect."

Back in the car, Handy Dad and I listed the pros and cons of the house. There was a big yard, it was old but a nice size, and it was close to school. We still wavered, but we didn't feel we had any choice because there was so little available to rent and housing prices were sky high. In three weeks the moving trucks were coming, and we had to find somewhere to live, even if it was just for a year before we found something better.

Rule #1 of renting a house: DO NOT go see it when a) you are in a hurry b) it is dusk outside and c) the renter is showing it to you.

We took the house. The property management company promised to tidy things up for when we moved in.

Rule #2 of house renting. Get promises in writing. And even at that, be wary of anyone who tells you they will 'clean it up'.

So I happily kissed my husband goodbye and went back home to our tiny townhouse. I scrubbed and cleaned that tiny 1200 square foot space until my knuckles literally bled and my knees were bruised. As we drove out of our townhouse complex, the car loaded down with possessions and Jake waving goodbye to his friends, the single thought in my mind was,

"I sure hope the next house is as clean as the one I left."

The Gods must've been laughing by then.

Rule # 3 of house renting: Demand that you do an inspection of the house with the landlord before you move in and get a copy of the results in writing.

The following days unfolded like some cruel joke. I went to take a shower and discovered that about a year's worth of black mold, soap scum and grime crusted every tile and the entire shower door. Windows, as well as the toilet, were cracked and broken. The metal tracks in every window in the house was thickly crusted with slimy, black mold. The hose for the dryer had come loose and the entire laundry room was coated with a thick blanket of lint. Knee high grass waved in the wind in the back yard, with weeds sprouting their heads here and there and the occasional discarded item left behind by previous tenants. Even the very front window of the house still sported the remains of eggs that had been tossed it's way on Halloween, 8 months earlier.

It was like waking up to a nightmare.

The kitchen was the worst. Not a thing had been cleaned in months, possibly years, there was food and other items left behind, we discovered mouse traps strategically located in various places, and ants ran freely across the counter tops as if they were having a party.

Calls to the property management company were met with disdain.

"Everyone has mice, get used to it."
"No, we're not going to clean it up."

Rule * 4 of house renting: Take pictures and be prepared to use them.

Finally they relented on the kitchen and sent a cleaning lady by to "just tidy the stove".

"OH. MY. GOD. This will take days, not an hour!" Hot soapy water and clean clothes were turned brown after washing a single cupboard. "This is the most disgusting thing I've ever seen," she recoiled in horror, but forced herself to continue because she "couldn't leave you in a house like this!"

That was my breaking point. After an entire day of seeing what was coming out of that kitchen, finding pockets of dead bugs by the baseboards, and discovering that the septic field was about to go, I couldn't take anymore. Handy Dad came home from work and found me on my hands and knees picking mouse droppings off the floor, tears dripping into the bucket of water in front of me.

"I can't do this, hon. I just can't. We HAVE to move." I could no longer share my house with the ants and the mice, the doors and counters held together with duct tape, the stove that hardly worked, and the utter filth. Even the fix it guy from the property management company had attempted to steal Jake's brand new saw right from his hands, and it had taken a very angry confrontation to get it back. I was done.

It's funny how things eventually turn out. As if by magic, an ad was in the paper advertising a brand new house for rent for the same price we were paying. The landlords, sensing our desperation, offered it to us on the spot. Like an angel from landlord-land, she gently led me next door and said, "you know, we actually have two houses we're renting. This one will have a bigger kitchen-you may like it better."

YES!!!!! The clouds parted, the angels sang, and we literally danced on the ant infested rug when we returned home.

"No, we're not going to let you out of your lease." The property management company spat at me when I walked into their office, explaining that we refused to live in the house of horrors any longer.

"Oh that's fine, I'll just show these to the proper authorities." I smiled sweetly as I threw a stack of pictures on her desk. "I think they may be interested, don't you?"

Rule # 5 of house renting- Get to know your rights and don't be intimidated.

Her breath caught and eyes widened. Suddenly it dawned on me that possibly nobody had taken this woman on before, and to have tenants who were ready to fight was more then she was willing to deal with. In the end she relented.

Less then a month later we moved again, this time into the beautiful brand new house. Jake and I sat in the gorgeous kitchen with it's beautiful view of the ocean and munched on Subway sandwiches while the movers brought in our furniture. In a grand gesture of "thank you so much God for this house", I leaned over and kissed the sweet smelling, ant and mouse free, cleaner then clean linoleum.

Rule #6 of house renting-If you have thoughtful, caring, fantastic landlords, let them know you appreciate them.

"We're home."

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