Saturday, January 9, 2010

Crazy Landlord Story No. 2: Mysterious Forces

At one point Cash Cowan got some partners together and bought a condemned apartment complex. It was sixteen units, four buildings, each with two apartments below and two above. Each two-bedroom, one bath unit was exactly the same in layout (left or right). In the center was a courtyard. Two of the units were parallel to Thicket Street and two were parallel to Wicket Street. The property had grass and off-street parking. They actually looked like they had potential--no-frills, decent housing, next to a good neighborhood.

There was just one teeny problem: the sewer lines for the apartments were downhill from the city sewer lines.

Now I know what you're thinking, but no, they were not a lake of sewage. It's more that you couldn't trust your bathroom or sink not to erupt if the tiniest thing went wrong.  And this is rental property. The tiniest thing will always go wrong.

His sister, my immediate boss, was pretty sure he had lost his mind. The places were wrecked. Cash proceeded to hire one engineering company to build a lift pump to take care of sewage backups. He also hired his two favorite ne'er do wells to clean the apartments.

Taking Back the Neighborhood
The pump, installed by pros, was pronounced a success by the City. But the partners were unhappy. So far the stumble-bums who were in charge of cleaning had been drinking Four Roses and making half-hearted swipes at debris. I volunteered to clean them for some mildly extortionate hourly wage. That's sixteen bathrooms, sixteen refrigerators, sixteen ovens and vent hoods, all ick--you get the idea. And oh, the bugs.

To be truthful, I've blocked most of that out. I do remember I hadn't counted on washing all the walls, which were full of pencilled notes such as Call Amy 334-6789.

Cash cut up stiff when he found out I was cleaning them. First, I charged too much. Second, he was still paying the ne'er-do-wells. There was a showdown in the office between the partners, his sister, him, and me. But he was outnumbered that time.

We put down new carpet, exterminated, and mowed the grass. They looked good.  We started showing them and they filled pretty rapidly. We did have some problems with the lift stations, but (ahem) after a few emergency calls, the fine tuning was accomplished. Cash cut up stiff one more time, because I called some pricey weekend plumbing service--but, it was either fix that or lose sixteen new carpets.

The Mystery
With a fairly good start, a mystery developed. The two buildings that ran parallel to Thicket Street always ended up with good, law-abiding tenants. The two buildings parallel to Wicket Street always ended up with rollicking drunks, fighters, pimps and drug dealers. All of these tenants were renting and applying through our office. We were all looking for the same kind of people--those who don't make trouble. Each of us were pulling in good people and bad people, so the fault couldn't be laid to any one rental agent. The units were the same. But we were always evicting out of two buildings. The other two buildings also had quick turnover, because we kept relocating the decent people into other complexes.

I kept thinking about bad juju, bad feng shui, getting some Florida water and cornmeal and trying to clean out the vibe in the two bad buildings. Of course I never did. But when faced with a situational mystery, what is the solution?  One day I told Cash's sister we would make more money on the complex if we demolished two of the buildings. But that's not how commerce works . . . . It remained a bad bargain.

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