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Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005 09:44 pm

Landlord journal

Life is hard, but don’t take it out on the windows

My tenant came by first thing this morning and turned in his key, just as he had said he would. He said that he had swept up as much of the broken glass as was possible and, again, that he was sorry about what happened. If he could be so polite and responsible about moving out, why couldn’t he have just been a responsible tenant? But all I said, as he left to rejoin the ranks of Springfield’s homeless, was, “Good luck. Keep in touch.”
I first met the kid, 24, in May. I’ll call him Ron. He answered an ad for my efficiency apartment, $225 a month. This unit hadn’t been vacant for years, but my longtime renter, a single guy, had moved out, saying that there had been too much noise and commotion in the building and in the neighborhood. It’s been a rough year, with too many move-outs, but hope springs eternal in the landlord business. I’ve had many fine tenants, many of whom have been with me for years. I always think that the next one is going to be another who pays his rent on time, keeps his music down, and appreciates a nice apartment and good service. I usually speak to a prior landlord as a reference, but Ron was living at the Helping Hands homeless shelter and, before that, with his girlfriend, so he didn’t really have a landlord reference. He did have a job, as a prep cook and dishwasher at a downtown restaurant. So I talked to the restaurant owner, who recommended him highly and praised his work ethic. The credit report came back clean. A pastor friend of mine said that Ron had been attending church. I interviewed Ron and found him earnest and charming. For several months he paid his rent regularly, not on the first day of the month but by the 8th or 10th, because that’s when he got paid at work. He voluntarily added a $20 late fee to his payment. In November he was way late, and I got a note: “I was trying to see if you could give me a few extra days on my rent. Reason: I was arrested for driving this past weekend so that’s where my money went.” He paid right before Thanksgiving. I didn’t find out until the next day that there had been a fight out in front of Ron’s place on the night of Nov. 30. From what I could piece together, a young man living next door had come home late and pounded on Ron’s window because his music was too loud. The confrontation spilled outside, tempers flared, racial slurs were used, a machete was swung, and one of my windows got broken. Police came, but I never was able to get a report from them on what had happened. I got the window repaired and left a note for Ron to come see me. Early the next morning, Dec. 2, he came by my house. He said that the fight was the other guy’s fault, and I told Ron that he couldn’t be playing loud music late at night. Ron admitted to me that he’d lost his job. He had me sign a form for him to get emergency rental assistance, and he said that he was heading out that day to find another job. He said that life is hard but that he was trying. I offered encouragement. Wednesday night, Dec. 7, I got a call about 11 p.m. It was the young neighbor, asking whether I could come ask Ron to turn down his music. I walked down the block and knocked, and he came to the door. “You want me to turn off my music?” he said, not moving to do it. I stood there until he did. “I’m trying hard, man. Don’t disrespect me,” he said. I told him that he was disrespecting me. About midnight I got another call from the neighbor, saying that I’d better come back down there. Ron was breaking windows. Two cars of Springfield police had already arrived when I did. One officer asked whether I could use my key to let them in, but I didn’t have to — Ron opened the door when I asked. The police arrested and handcuffed Ron and asked the three other men and one woman in the apartment to leave. One guy talked on his cell phone the whole time the police were there. The place was trashed. Three windows had been broken out, the medicine cabinet mirror was smashed, and the oven door was destroyed. There was a large hole in the drywall and another in the apartment door. The thermostat had been knocked off the wall. The next day, with Ron in jail, we got the emergency repairs made, replacing the windows and the thermostat so that the pipes wouldn’t freeze. After Ron got home from jail that evening, I went to see him. I told him that I wanted him out of the apartment as soon as possible. I asked whether he’d been on drugs, and he said no, just alcohol. Why did he do it? The pressures of life had gotten to him, he said. He pointed out that he hadn’t hit any person, just property. I told him that I was disappointed in him, and he said that he was sorry. The estimate for insurance came back at $980, just under my deductible. A new stove, not covered anyway, will be added to that. The expense will soon be forgotten, but I won’t forget this troubled soul. I took his key, said goodbye, and hoped that he’d find other people willing to give him a chance as I did.
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