Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Stale Regret

Today I called an old landlord of mine to let her know she might be called upon for a reference. I left a message on her machine, but will try again later. I'm actually thrilled to have an excuse to talk with her... but a little nervous at the same time. We had a great relationship, but the last note was a little off.

A couple weeks after packing up my shit and moving to Connecticut in April of 2003, I was back up in NH to get a job done as promised, and also to go through the old apartment and square things up with my landlord, Jay(ne). She had purchased the building shortly after I moved in, and had told me I would likely get my full security back since she had no way of knowing the previous condition of the apartment (not that I did any damage anyway). She had entered into a new tenancy-at-will lease with my former roommate Ingrid and her new roommate, and this was a good time to get a good look at the place in order to handle the security going forward.

One of the biggest issues dealt with by private landlords is the junk left behind when a tenant moves. I had left behind some items of furniture and what-not for my roommate's convenience and we needed to make sure Ingrid wanted it or dispose of it. I had been using the basement to store paint and make samples, so we also needed to go through there. The basement, of course, is where all the old junk from previous tenants had gone to die. There was a dirt floor, and much of this junk was mildewed and falling apart from sitting on it. Over the nineteen months I had lived there I had been throwing it out slowly - you see, we pay for garbage by the bag in Dover, NH (fabulous system by the way, really encourages recycling) and I did not see how I ought to pay to throw out someone else's nasty junk, but I often had extra space in those garbage bags come pick-up day, so I would fill them up with the basement trash, and over all those months I managed to get rid of most of it this way. Well it's a good thing I did that, 'cause since Jay had no way of knowing if I had done any damage to the apt, she also had no way of knowing if this junk was mine or someone else's... so it turned out I was responsible for getting rid of it anyway - but at least she helped me do it. It took Jay and I several hours to get rid of the remaining junk, (including cutting up a perfectly good rug which Ingrid had decided in the meantime that she didn't want, which I would have preferred to take with me in the first place when I had the truck- remind me not to try and do anyone favors anymore.)

In the end Jay said we were all set, and I would be getting back my full security deposit. However, she said, she had not yet received the deposit from Ingrid's new roommate, who said he would have it on Monday (this was Saturday). Jay wanted to get that before giving mine back. Now of course this dude's deposit had nothing to do with mine since she had entered into a new agreement with them, but I let it slide, knowing that legally Jay had thirty days to give me my money. I gave her my new address, but told her rather than mailing the money, it would be most convenient for both of us to just deposit the money in my account, since my bank was right down the street from her and she banked there, too. I gave her a deposit slip, and told her they could look up my account and make the deposit without it, if she happened to not have it on her.

Back in Connecticut, several weeks went by and I had not seen the money hit my account. While clearing out the basement that day, Jay had confided in me that she had already received two noise complaints regarding Ingrid and her new roommate, and was considering giving them notice already if she got another one. This started to make me very nervous. I went to call Jay, and could not find her number. I had it on the lease, but she had recently changed it, and the new one was on a piece of paper floating around and naturally I could not find it. I looked for it for several days, then started calling other people. I called Melissa, who lived on the third floor, but she couldn't find Jay's new number, either. I tried calling Ingrid. Now Ingrid had a paper to remove my name from the Comcast account, which she was supposed to sign and send to me. Also we were pretty late on the Comcast bill, and Ingrid had promised to pay that while I payed other things. Clearly this had not been done since the phone had been disconnected when I called.

Mind you, this was several weeks after this agreement had been made, when I had been up to go through the apartment. My imagination had started turning, soon to be churning with scenarios... the most compelling story I could come up with, at this point, was that Jay had given them notice without ever recieving the deposit, therefore not thinking to send mine to me- and also removing any motivation for Ingrid to pay the bills that were in my name. I was unable to reach either party, and I was four hours away. I was feaking out.

Comcast told me that in addition to owing the full balance on the cable, internet, and phone, I would also owe them over two hundred dollars unless they could successfully retrieve the cable box. They could do nothing with the account without Ingrid's signature, and therefore I would continue to be held liable for any charges until I cancelled the account. So, feeling quite frantic at that point, that's what I did. Ingrid and I had not been close, but we had been friendly, and I honestly didn't think she was intentionally trying to screw me over, nor did I want to screw her - but I was hours away, it was weeks later, she didn't have a cell-phone, so I had no way of getting in touch with her, and I just couldn't take the chance.

Then I sat down and wrote a letter to my former landlord, Jay. Interesting... I just found it. (dontcha just love computers?)
Dear Jayne,

It’s been nearly a month since we met concerning the apartment, and I was led to believe I’ve been cleared of all security responsibilities concerning 33 Park Street. We agreed that you would deposit my portion of the security deposit at Citizens Bank with the deposit slip I left with you. In consideration for your discomfort with giving mine back before receiving the security deposit from the new tenant, Justin (*), I agreed to wait until it had been received because that was promised to happen within the week. As of yet I have not seen this deposit in my bank account, and have therefore become concerned about what might be going on up there in Dover.
I’m afraid I’ve lost your phone number, although I was able to contact Melissa through her workplace. Unfortunately, she does not seem to have your current number. I thought I had left my contact information with you, but it’s quite possible that’s been lost as well.
By this time I think it’s important to make clear that although I agreed to wait for my deposit in good faith, I have no personal responsibility toward Justin’s deposit whatsoever. I gave ample notice to my departure and paid full rent for a month of which I actually needed only seven days. I was as considerate as possible with my notice, giving opportunity to decide whether or not to rent to my former roommate Ingrid and whatever roommate she might find. When I left, a new rental agreement was written up for Ingrid (*) and Justin (*). I have nothing to do with this rental agreement that was entered into, including the existence (or lack thereof) of a full security deposit.
I have always had a good relationship with you as my landlord. While it took time away from a job I was struggling to finish, I felt it was important to spend as much time as necessary to be sure I left the apartment to your satisfaction. I am puzzled as to why my security deposit has not been returned to my bank as promised. I am also suffering financially from it quite severely, as I will not be paid from my new job until May 23rd. While I do not savor the idea, if the deposit has not been returned by the legally allowed thirty days, on Monday, May 19th I will have to investigate my options. While I would love to see you again, I would prefer it not be in such circumstances. I will enclose another deposit slip in case you have lost the one I gave you on Saturday, April 19th.
and that's where I signed it and sent it off.

Later that day, I decided to check my bank balance (again). Guess what was in there? Oh, I just felt horrible. And I went through all sorts of stuff, for the third time- really desperate to find this scap of paper with Jay's number on it. And I found it. (Now I felt like a REAL dink.) So I called and left a message apologizing.

It's been two and a half years. I still feel bad about it, whenever I think of her. Now that I read the letter, I guess it's not that bad...

As I'm finishing this story up, it's the following day. I spoke with her last night, and this little event just seems so small. When I spoke to her she was just getting back from the hospital. Her husband, whom I had also been friendly with, is in the hospital with lung cancer. She's a wreck. He'd been in for two weeks and she was trying to get him back home today.

I gave the landlord I met today a list of references. I gave her Jay's e-mail address. "I'm sure if you e-mail her, she would call if you want to actually talk with her... but I don't want to give her number out, not with what she's going through right now."

* last names removed out of respect for privacy.


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