February 03, 2004

Movin' On Out

For me, moving is almost always a deeply depressing activity. I'm not exactly sure why this is, but there are certainly a lot of contributing factors. Over everything, there's the sheer physical drudgery of it all, the endless packing and carrying. I feel guilty about taking advantage of obliging friends (and if I decided not to take advantage of my friends and paid for movers to do the job, that feeling would be replaced by angst at spending a pile of money to bring in a bunch of apes to pack and manhandle our stuff). Each object purchased with good intentions for self-improvement reprimands me for my wastefulness as it is packed away unused. I try to avoid that feeling by swearing a new set of oaths: when we move into the new place, I'll live more simply and buy less stuff! I'll take the money I save and invest it! And as God is my witness, I will use this papermaking kit someday!

And if all that wasn't enough, there's our landlord.

Since he still has a pile -- two months' rent, almost $4,000 worth -- of our deposit money, I'll protect myself (for now) against casual Google searching by Anglicizing his name: let's call him Joseph-Mary White.

Two weeks before we were moving out, Joe was as easy-going and casual as can be about the subject of our leaving. You want your deposit back before you go to Germany, so that you can use it on the new place? Sure, that shouldn't be a problem. How about cleanup? Would it be sufficient if we pay Alma (his cleaning-lady-of-choice and favorite person in the world; she could pour dirt on the carpets, and he'd still think they were clean, because she did it) double her usual weekly amount to one final cleaning? Sure, that would be great. We agree to meet the day before final move-out for a last walkthrough of the place, so that we can agree on damages (or lack thereof).

Joe shows up on Tuesday night, pulling up to the house with his daughter Charlotte in the car. Charlotte is a toddler who is never happy, and tonight is no exception. She shrieks to be picked up; pretty soon, she shrieks to be put down. Scout comes out to see what the commotion is; she shrieks to pet the dog, and then starts shrieking because the dog is close to her! Eek! Opening and closing every cabinet door in the kitchen to see if they still work? We've got to lift Charlotte up onto the kitchen counter, so she can open every door, too. Opening and closing the windows in the kitchen? Charlotte shrieks to be stood on top of a bench, so that she can open and close the window, too (and then lean herself halfway out of the open window, five feet above the ground . . . "Joe, isn't that, uh, unsafe?" "Oh no, no, Kevin, that is no problem at all -- let's go in the bathroom and look at the medicine cabinets.") We continue going through every room in the house in this excruciating fashion for about an hour and a half, when Joe ends with "well, this all looks fine, but I need to come back tomorrow to inspect the floors, the walls, and the windows; it's too dark for me to see them properly." Now it's time for me to shriek! We'd been planning to leave early Wednesday, putting the house in Alma's hands for the final clean-out, but given that we just spent two hours going over the house from head to toe and he still didn't feel secure about signing off on the majority of it (what's left in an empty house but the floors, walls, and windows??), it was clear that I was opening us up to incurring a signficant hit on our deposit if I didn't stick around for a second walkthrough.

Later that night I call Joe to set up a time for the second walkthrough. I tell him I'm a little concerned about his level of aggressiveness during the inspection, that I feel we've taken excellent care of the house, and remind him that we've been paying $200 extra to have his gardener and cleaning lady of choice come to take care of the house and garden twice every month. He agrees that we've taken good care of the house, but . . . and things slide from there, ending in a heated argument about whether or not the carpet was clean on move-in (they steam-cleaned it immediately before we moved in, meaning it was wet to the touch on our arrival. How can you have a troupe of dirty, dusty people carry in boxes and stack them on top of damp carpet without the carpet getting dirty?)

We rendezvous the next day; I expect the worst, and quickly get it. (Although thankfully today Charlotte is left at home.) Joe opens by explaining that he's not trying to take our deposit; nothing would make him happier than to give it all back to me, but that it's our obligation as tenants to hand the house back to him as clean as it was on the day we took possession of it. However, it's quickly evident that he's carrying around some dream version of the house as it was in his head, and is ready to totally ignore the wear-and-tear aspects (legally, his obligation to fix) of two people living in a house for a year and a half.

Back when we moved in, I thought I was being thorough and protecting myself by being more careful than I'd ever been in documenting prior damage to the house during our move-in inspection. Now it's clear that I was nowhere near as thorough as I should have been; videotape and photographs of every wall would have been more appropriate. Joe's wife fancied herself an artist, so every room in the house had a wide variety of hooks, hangers, and nails, as well as being honeycombed with holes where previous hangers had been. In the dream version of Joe's house, these walls were freshly painted and pristine, until we moved in.

"Kevin . . . what about these nails and the holes here, over the toilet?"

"Joe, you and Anne had a giant framed poster hanging there; we've never hung anything at all in the bathroom."

"Ah. I remember the poster, but don't you think we would have used something more, ah . . . elegant to hang it up? I mean, these nails -- and wouldn't we have removed the nails and filled in these holes before we left? Also, you didn't mention these nails on your move-in sheet. You know that it is your obligation as a renter to write down all the damage on this sheet when you move in."

(Elegant? This is coming from the couple that beat a regular 'ol three-inch nail into the lath-and-plaster wall of the living room in order to hang something up!)

We go through a similar scene over some smudges on the wall -- they could not possibly be ours, because we cleaned all of the walls and did touch-up paint before we moved out! If they are not yours, why didn't you mention them on the move-in sheet? I point out that if the walls were so exhaustively cleaned, why does the back bedroom have a several-foot-long greasy/dirty smudge on the wall, at bed level -- where they had their bed, and where we had a six-foot-tall bookshelf?

Eventually, we work ourselves down to a list of 'his' things and 'my' things. For all of that sturm und drang, the list of 'my' things turns out to be pretty short, and more or less reasonable (except for dry-cleaning the drapes, something which I'm certain has never before happened in their lifetime, but was in our original contract). This week Joe is off 'getting estimates'. If he holds true to form by never paying for labor more expensive than any random guy he can find in the parking lot of a Home Depot, we might actually get off okay. One thing's for sure, though -- when we come back to America, we'll definitely be looking to buy, not rent. Stay tuned, friends.

(And if you made it all the way to the end, you deserve some kind of special award. Stick around; I promise that very few of my future blog entries will be as rantariffic as this one.)

Posted by at February 3, 2004 06:30 AM

But I *like* rantariffic posts!

Posted by: Shelby at February 3, 2004 11:53 AM

I agree with Shelby - you may be ranting in your post, but underneath it all are good tips for people who are renting - things that you wouldn't have thought needed to be documented but that you really should pay attention too - just in case!

my apartment has actually been sold to a different landlord while I was living there, so that may work for (or against!) me - I guess we'll see when I move out (which is hopefully this spring!)


Posted by: Mary at February 4, 2004 04:55 AM
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