Over the years, we have experienced a few landlords. Since our experience is in house rentals rather than apartment communities, I am not talking about your standard property management office personnel. No, we have dealt exclusively with individual homeowners. Lucky for us, we have known wonderful people, and our experiences have been (mostly) pleasant with a bit of strange occasionally thrown into the mix.
There was Paul, who always came over in nothing but short shorts and flip-flops and called our cat “pussy” so often it made us feel uncomfortable.
There was Matt, who sang in a popular local Irish band. He was actually our friend and neighbor. We rented from him when he wanted to move in with his girlfriend- and then he gave us thirty days to move out after they broke up.
There was sweet Rebeckah, the hoarder. We shared a duplex with her. We never would have known her secret if there hadn’t been that gas leak while she was out of town. Upon entering her kitchen, the men from the gas company were unable to locate her oven for several minutes. Think about that.
And then there was Ken; the young, responsible kid who bought a house to live in while going to college and now rents it out. He isn’t the best handyman, but he is so proud of the work he does himself you just can’t complain.
But the most memorable landlord for us was the Khatar family.
They seemed so nice. Joe and his wife were Lebanese. They had raised their four daughters in that home, and were extremely protective of it. They did not speak good English, so most of our conversations were with their daughter, Laurie. On my first visit, Mrs. Khatar held my hand while dragging me through the house to all the things she wanted me to know about. She showed me where each of her girls slept, where she had marked their heights on the wall, and how lovely her garden was.
We liked this house. It was old, and it had a lot of character. It was in a college neighborhood where we could make all the noise we wanted. I mean, our neighbors had a cat named Roy that was running for class president. There was a large campaign banner for him across the front of their house. No one was going to be complaining about drums in the early hours of the morning on this block.
We had some concerns, though. There was a smell in the finished attic that made it unusable as an extra room. We didn’t need the room, but we wanted it to be fixed. Laurie promised they would replace the carpets. The living room needed to be repainted, so Joe did that before we moved in. There was also a hideous rack on the bathroom wall that couldn’t be removed, but it appeared we would just have to live with it.
And so we lived in that house for two years. Roy the Cat came in second place in his election, and retired as a full time mascot. Saturday mornings were filled with the voices of hungover college students calling his name after he had escaped during the previous night’s festivities. Saturday mornings would also find the entire Khatar family in our backyard- gardening, and sometimes barbecuing. It was weird.
When we finally decided to move on from that home, something unexpected happened.
We gave appropriate notice. Everything seemed fine. We paid our last month of rent on July 1st. Laurie was out of the country, and Joe seemed a little…. unstable. He came to our door and asked Dave for more money. He claimed that July’s rent is really for June, and that we still owed for July. When Dave told him that he was wrong about how that worked, he became angry. Then he drove to my work with the same story. I tried to explain it to him, but he didn’t understand. We finally cleared it up by calling his son in law.
Everything seemed okay again. Then we got the letter.
We received a letter, which appeared to be from an attorney’s office. It stated all the reasons we would not be getting our deposit back. It included reasons such as: putting a rack up in the bathroom, unauthorized painting of the living room- and that smell in the attic. They even accused us of stealing a pencil sharpener. Not one word was true, and they knew it. There could be no mistake.
I kind of lost my mind. A friend of mine who enjoyed playing lawyer called the office that sent the letter. Turns out it was a property management office that one of their daughters worked at in Chicago. The daughter panicked when we asked for photos and a copy of the receipts.
The truth is, Joe may not have had that money. And some landlords understand that if you only have to return deposits to the people willing to battle you in court- you can really come out ahead. And it works. Because, really? I did not want to figure out the legalities on this. There is a process, and it’s a pain. But I was so angry about that letter, I did take the time to figure it out.
Now, this was a while ago. It’s hard to believe, but not that long ago the internet wasn’t as full of handy legal advice the way it is now. I was young and naive, and I needed any help I could get. I had to go to a bookstore- and buy a book on the topic. Some kind of law guide for everyday situations.
First, I wrote a response letter. That was the easy part. I explained why all the accusations were false, requested receipts, listed what things we were willing to accept responsibility for (such as the place where we burned a floor tile in the kitchen) and how much was reasonable; and I gave them a deadline for the return of our deposit. I said that we were prepared to take legal action if they did not comply.
Oh, how I hoped they would comply. I didn’t want to take legal action. I wasn’t really 100% sure how to even do it. But I sent the letter, and within a few days Laurie suddenly resurfaced. She invited me over and apologized, saying that her father didn’t know what he was doing. I think he did.
But we got our deposit back.
I was happier about solving the problem than actually getting the money. It was the principal of it. The fairness. And, I am quite certain I would still have regrets if I had just let them get away with it. After it happened, I remember telling the story to a friend. You know what he said? He told me that he had never gotten a deposit back from any of the places he had lived. Not a dime. So, the damages just equaled the deposit amount right to the penny, huh? Fascinating.
Why does this story matter? Because this happens all the time. And not just with landlords. The practice of taking advantage of others in hopes that they won’t fight back is common. But you know what else? The practice of letting things happen to us because the battle seems too complicated is even more common.
I think about this story every time I realize that I am missing opportunities for Teghan over red tape, lack of knowledge, or just plain lack of motivation. I know how great it feels to overcome obstacles to get what you deserve, but sometimes it seems as if there are just too many hurdles ahead. Or I’m afraid that I won’t do it right. Maybe it doesn’t always seem like a big enough payout for the required effort.
Sometimes I feel as if this whole system we deal with as autism parents were designed by shifty landlords. Sometimes I hate myself for not being better at navigating the roadblocks and knowing what to do next. And sometimes…. I think about how Roy the Cat probably could have had a great career in politics.