Our first landlord gig happened by default when we rented a small bungalow in East Vancouver which contained a substandard six foot high basement suite. Our landlord, Manuel, a five foot tall Portuguese cement finisher told us magnanimously that we could do with the suite as we liked. We thought we had won the lottery. Not only did we find an affordable house in the coveted Commercial neighbourhood but we also miraculously inherited a sublet, an income producer, a rent reducer. Or so we figured.
Manuel told us with a wink that we would be better off to change the current tenants since he hadn’t been successful in collecting any rent from them in some time.
“No problem”, I said feeling quite smug. We’ll just tell them to pack up and leave.
“Bravo,” Manuel said, giving us the thumbs up.
On the second or third night in our new home we were suddenly awakened by some loud cursing voices, practically in our bedroom. Of course the 3/4 in plywood that separated our two living spaces did not afford a lot of separation.
The conversation went something like this.
“Fuck you, you bastard, either you pay up or I fucking do this to you”, scream, scream, shout, pounce; loud banging noise, more fuck you’s, slamming doors, male cursing equally forcible: bitch, fuck you, blah, bleep, stomp, slam door, receding cursing. We lay there immobile, eyes unblinking, staring into the semi darkness.
Kicking the two woman - mother and daughter ? - out proved to be a bit more of a challenge then we initially figured. They were never in at night when we were home and always fast asleep in the day when we were at work. Sometimes they came home in the wee hours, loud and belligerent with some Joe’s or friends in tow. Then the party would continue until the sun came up. We heard every word, every cry, every curse and fart.
At the end of the month, nobody moved out. Nobody paid rent. Nobody came to talk to us. We had by now figured out that our tenants were a mother and daughter who pled their trade at night and slept most of the day. The only exchange we ever had was them knocking again the ceiling with a broom or a stick, in the late morning or early afternoon, implying that we turn the music or the tv down. No such knocking from us in the middle of the night had any effect.
I once went downstairs in person to tell the two woman that time was up and they had to move out pronto. Klare figured since I represent the dominant male species and was better suited to the job. We did have some lively discussion on the subject.
The older of two woman came to the door, hair stuck up with pins, dressed only in a once white t-shirt with a pink pig on it with the caption, Pig Out. Why I remember that I don’t know but it’s forever burned into my memory. “Yeah, what you want,” she scowled, checking me out like a piece of merchandise.
“Eh, we’re in charge of the apartment and eh... we need the space and you have to move out.”
‘Who the fuck is that ?” came a voice from deep within the basement.
“Nobody,” answered Miss Piggy.
“Fuck you !” she said to me and slammed the door in my face.
“Well, what happened ?” Klare said.
“E..., nothing,” I stammered. “They didn’t commit.”
We waited for about a week and tried to figure this out.
“We could change the lock,” I lamely suggested.
“How to you do that ?” Klare asked, starving me with a withering look.
“How about turning the power off,” she said. “the electric panel is on our floor isn’t it.”
It was a brilliant plan and that night we put it into action.
When the two girl with two guys in tow came home sometime after midnight, they returned to darkness. They cursed, slammed some doors and then nothing. We lay in bed, anxiously awaiting the outcome of our daring manoeuvre.
Suddenly there was knock on our door. This time Klare was elected to answer the call.
“You either put on the fucking power or we’ll trash the place bitch.”
That was it, I thought but then heard Klare say loud and clear.
“No fucking way. Get the hell out of my house.”
I couldn’t believe what I just heard and feared the worst but to my surprise the two woman stared each other down and then Miss Piggy turned on her high heels and split downstairs. We could later smell candle wax but we held our ground. I was in awe of Klare.
Then one day the two woman just didn’t come back anymore. We waited a couple of days, then a week but no sign of the two. They literally disappeared from he face of the earth and left everything behind.
After about ten days we descended into the grime pit and armed with latex gloves, garbage bags and disinfectant we submerged ourselves into the putrid mess. Used condoms, needles, rotten food on the counter, dishes that had never been washed, clothes flung every which way, the fridge full of half eaten and rotting food, two soiled mattresses on the floor, an old messy couch and a TV console on the floor. It was basically a chamber of horrors. We scrubbed and washed, scrapped and discarded, cleaned the carpets as best we could and sanitised every corner and surface until it started to look and smell like somebody could actually live here. Then we painted the entire place. We could have used hazmat suits.
We put an ad in the paper and then the phones started ringing. We were completely inundated with prospective renters and settled on a couple of young men who were starting up a business selling household cleaners and cosmetics. They paid up front which was all the convincing we needed.
At about that time we were changing our own futon to a normal mattress. We offered the futon to the boys for a good price but they claimed to be fine. About a week later, on a Saturday quite late, we heard a knock on the door. It was Mat, one of our tenants. He stood there, hands in pocket, looking at the floor, asking us if we were still selling the futon. We were a bit surprised at the unusual time of the request. He paid cash, no questions asked. I helped Mat carry the futon downstairs, passing the young woman who coyly avoided my look of surprise.
For the next few month we were actually successful landlords who got paid in time with no further problems.
Manuel, our wily landlord liked his rent payment in cash, delivered to his house on the first of every month. This always involved a ritual which invariably included drinking some of Manuel's home made vino while laying out the cash on the dining room table for the Maria to count. Mrs. Manuel or Maria who was the exact physical equivalent of Manuel, short, stocky and barrel chested, couldn’t speak a word of English but she could count money. After she rubbed and checked all the twenties, fifties and sometimes hundreds with a big grin she stuffed the whole wad into her apron which she always wore, day in, day out. We never saw her without one. It seemed she was always cooking up something. After the counting Manuel would produce the gallon jug and refill everybody's glasses.
What the wine lacked in taste it made up for in alcohol content. Sometimes we were joined by their son, a city cop, a perfect clone of his parents. He always wore his uniform and gladly partook in the drinking and he didn’t mind at all when we finally stumbled out the door and drove home to sober up. Only once were we caught to participate in the evening meal. I thought it was a chicken stew but the many small bones betrayed it as a rabbit. Klare was not amused.
When the two boys moved out just before Xmas - back home to their parents we presumed - we were again faced with choosing the proper tenant.
We rented the apartment to a young woman with a sniffling, coughing 5 year old boy in tow. Desperately she pleaded with us, cited the precarious health of her son and her own misfortune of being forced to leave an abusive relationship with few resources and limited time. We melted on the spot and handed over the keys. What our new tenant - let’s call her Alisha - omitted from her personal history, became obvious over the next few weeks.
Within days of her moving in we noticed that there were now two different young girls living downstairs. We were never introduced and neither one of them ever looked at us. They kept staring mutely at the ground in front of their small feet and in response to simple questions like: “Where is your mom ?” or “did you have anything to eat today ?” responded with a shrug of their shoulders or a shake of their heads.
Around Christmas the social activities downstairs increased dramatically. Apparently Alisha had plenty of friends. One day a large mid-seventies station wagon parked in our parking spot and several males, all carrying cases of beer as their only luggage headed downstairs and then never reappeared until a few days into the new year. We decided on a passive wait and see approach.
The New Year started with a lack of rent and a whole new kind of traffic downstairs. One day we overheard a loud male voice downstairs ordering people around. T “Get me this, get me that, don’t do this don’t do that.” Along those lines. Then around 10 PM or just when Klare and I were ready for bed, the vigourous lovemaking commenced with squeals and manly shouting. Then we noticed another peculiar turn of events. Every morning, the man of the night left and the man of the day arrived. Sometimes the night-man barely made it out the window before the day-man arrived. Now the lovemaking carried on in the morning as well. And then the fights started with both men who each suspected something wasn’t quite kosher. The fights escalated from verbal abuse to threats with a gun which brought the cops over after Klare dialled 911. The man was escorted a way in the cruiser with our tenant standing by bowling her eyes out. Through all this the two young girls sat in the dark on the steps leading up to our floor. That’s were I found them one night when everybody was out. Just sitting there, staring into the dark. Klare made them some toast and peanut butter and then we put them to bed, after we cleared a path through the empty beer cases and liquor bottles. We’ve had enough.
The welfare dept. told us that the only way to get rid of the tenants is if we needed the space for our own family so that’s what we claimed. Another two month went by before the brood moved out and again we scoured, washed, scraped and painted. We were getting good at this.
We served notice and were promptly referred to the welfare department which provided no help or sympathy. The only way we could evict Alisha and her brood was by claiming the need for the space for our own use. Eventually they left, leaving behind a truck load of garbage including the 300 lb TV. Again we cleaned, scrubbed and sanitised. Again we posted an ad but this time we changed tactics. We did find a young woman, Karen, who painted the apartment and actually moved in some real furniture. She did have a boyfriend but she didn’t want him to move in until much later. When we finally moved out a couple of years later, Karen and her boyfriend took over the upstairs, hoping to rent the basement apartment to subsidise their own rent. Manuel didn’t mind and we wholly supported the idea. I know she had better luck and judgement then we did.
The next time we found ourselves in the landlord position was when we had to rent out our house and move into a one bedroom apartment in the city in order to accommodate Klare’s studies at the University and my sporadic paycheque from the movie industry. We just couldn’t afford to live in the house we built and decided to rent it and make a bit of extra cash. That was the theory.
Again we advertised and interviewed prospective renters of which there was only one. Two guys, one a logger the other a construction worker, both with crew cuts and winning smiles, paid cash up front. I happened to be there when they drove up in a black raised pickup truck, the grill painted to resemble a shark. The first item they moved in was a set of gigantic speakers, a TV the size of a VW bug and a high current amplifier.
The phone calls from the neighbours started about two weeks later with bitter complaints about the parties next door, the fact that the revellers were pissing off the deck, the roar of the trucks and the sonic boom of the sound system. Suddenly there were no more birds or deer spotted within a few hundred yards of our idyllic neighbourhoods. One positive note was that the checks always cleared. We called the guys, pleaded with them to tone it down and were always reassured that we had nothing to worry about. Lucky for us one of the two got married a few months later and the other couldn’t afford the house by himself. Another chapter closed.
“We have to be more discriminate,” Klare said with conviction. “No more single women with kids, no more single guys, no more welfare recipients.” That included just about everybody we ever rented anything to. Of course we couldn’t advertise like that. Our next tenant was the winner of them all, let’s call her Jane, like Calamity Jane. She arrived in her hand painted station wagon and her eldest daughter in tow. She told us about the house she was in the process of selling and the fact that she needed to rent a home just like ours for at least a year or until she decided if and where to buy another property. I was completely smitten since Jane was not only attractive but also smart. Klare was less impressed wanting to see some paper work, like references. Jane was quick to supply her pastor at the United Church as a contact and was willing to pay the first month right away.
“How many kids do you have ?” Klare asked.
“Two, Audrey here and her brother Michael.”
Klare tried to talk to Audrey who kept looking at her toes without uttering a word.
“She is just shy,” her mother explained, checking her watch like she was missing an important appointment. “Gotta fly, so please let me know.”
Klare checked with the pastor and yes, Jane happened to be a member of the that church. That clinched it for me. Klare reluctantly gave in. She would have preferred a couple or a whole family.
“This is different Klare, she belongs to a church and has money. She is selling her house.”
We squeezed, stacked and folded all our furniture and belongings into the small apartment while Jane moved into our house. She forgot to mention that an extra teenager - her ex's daughter - would also move in with them, just temporarily, until he gets out of jail she explained. What about the gigantic bear like dog ? “Oh, that’s Whally. Did I not introduce him ?”
Our next surprise came in the form of an official government check for the rent. “Is this from the welfare department ?” Klare asked holding up the check against the light as if to see if it was real.
“Sure looks that way,” I said, my heart sinking.
“I can’t believe this, she never said anything about being on welfare,” Klare said.
“I guess we forgot to ask.”
The checks came in for the first few month and then a letter arrived from the welfare office telling us that their ‘client’ had overdrawn her account and their policy had changed and from now on we had to collect the rent directly from her. We called her immediately but the phone was disconnected, which prompted a personal visit from us, the landlords. When we drove up to house we were refused entry and threatened with legal consequences for trespassing. We were stunned. It was our house, our property but according to the law now indisputably in the hands of the renter. We would have to announce our visit ahead of time and wait for permission to enter the property. Except there was no phone and she never answered any written requests.
At the beginning of December no rent check arrived which left her two months behind. Desperate we asked our former neighbours to investigate and let us know what was going on in our house. The news were not good.
“The three kids never leave the house, nor does the large old dog. She never talks to anybody and has never lifted a finger around the house,” Sheila, our neighbour told us. Everything around the house, lawn, flowers and in particular all the weeds grew uninhibited all summer long. Klare was devastated. She had spent a lot of time on the garden and created a small paradise which now lay in ruins after the two boys and their pals pissed on the flowers and Jane completely neglected the yard.
We called welfare again and explained that we needed to move back into our house and therefore the tenancy with Sheila and her brood was over. They abdicated from any responsibility and told us that it was between Sheila and us. In other words: screw you, you’re on your own.
We finally had no choice but to stand in front of the house - our house - and demand to speak to Jane. She wouldn’t open the door and yelled at us from behind the closed door that she would go to the local paper if we evicted her now, two weeks before Xmas. She had a point. We posted the eviction notice for the 1st of February and when we received no response thumb tacked it to the door again on 1st of March. In all that time we never collected one penny in rent and we were quite desperate. Jane finally agreed to vacate the house by Easter, when the weather was warm enough for her to move into the campground. She did give an interview to the local paper citing cruel landlords forcing her and three children and the dog into camping. We found out later - from the pastor who sponsored her -that she belonged to two churches who now both distanced themselves from her. Apparently she had abused the charity and generosity of each flock.
That was the end of our rentals for many years. Until now. We’re about the rent out the small house next door that we bought at the top of the market and renovated. Klare wants references and she certainly does not want my infallible gut feeling to interfere.
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Bruno Huber.
Published on e-Stories.org on 21.04.2009.