18 August, 2009

What Do You Care? It Comes Out of Their Deposit.

I'm taking back our recommendation for the clean-up crew for the condo. The work was fine, the place was clean, but after trying to get an invoice from them for several weeks now, they went ahead and charged the credit card what we feel is an arbitrary amount.

We agreed to $20/hour, per worker (standard for the City). After describing the mess left by the tenants as "urine-soaked from wall to wall" and "overall filthy," as well as letting them know there were three bedrooms and two bathrooms plus living room/kitchen, were told it would be an additional flat charge of $23 for cleaning supplies. Four men for 4.5 hours, plus cleaning supplies, comes to $383. We were charged $450.

When the cleaning team left, they didn't give us anything to sign off on, telling us that we'd get a call back from their boss the next day. That call never came. After a few days, we finally decided we better call them, because we really need an invoice from them to document the deduction from the tenants' deposit.

Almost three weeks later, we're still waiting on an invoice, although they did finally charge us for the service last week. Because of the price disparity, Ted asked for an itemization. "Five hours for the cleaners, and the rest was for cleaning supplies," he was told. The owner couldn't itemize further what kind of cleaning supplies or how much was used, and I know that when the crew arrived it was with half-used containers of cleaning products. Nothing fancy, either. Buckets, bleach, Windex, a pile of old rags, etc.

Ted pressed her further, because it was obvious they are padding the bill, both the hours and the amount for cleaning supplies. The owner then got very belligerent, saying that they did us a favor by coming in that same night, that the place was dirtier than they expected and we were lucky they accepted the assignment at all. (What part of "urine-soaked" didn't she understand?)

But here's the kicker. The owner tells Ted: "What do you care, anyway, what it costs? It comes out of their deposit."

I know the difference really isn't much, when you get down to it. But it's the principle. We have a lot of legitimate expenses to cover on the condo cleanup and urine remediation. As angry as we are with the former tenants, being punitive or excessive with charges does not help our case, should it go to court. There is already more damage than the deposit covers, and if we do end up in court, we're going to have to prove the cost of everything with receipts. So we're trying to do as much as we can ourselves to keep the costs down. For this cleaning service to blatantly pad the bill after we agreed to terms and then turn it around on us as if we're being unreasonable is outrageous.

Too bad, too. I thought they did a fine job cleaning. But we won't be using them again for our properties, nor can we recommend them.

15 August, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - August 2009

Each month on the 15th, May Dreams Gardens hosts a Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, where you can take part by showing what's blooming in your garden that day. This is our first "entry."

We've barely had any rain for the last month or so. Storm clouds have rolled on through, but they always seem to miss us. I've had to go out with the hose every morning to water the newly planted shrubs to keep them alive. I know, August isn't the best time for planting because of the drought-like conditions, but there are a lot of deals at the nurseries...

We finished filling in the corner with a few Home Depot shrubs, including a lavender Rose of Sharon, a couple of low-growing Magic Carpet Spirea, a Ghost Weigela, and a charming Little Henry Sweetspire.

Remember, this is what it looked like last summer:

Our lilies have all faded away, and our gayfeathers are looking a bit worse for wear, but the gladiolas I planted in the spring have blossomed these last few days.

Of course, the gladiolas that were supposed to be deep purple and white came out a rosey-pink:
And the supposedly maroon ones came out orange:

And our orange hibiscus came out a lovely shade of bubblegum.

Still, they are very pretty, and it's my first time growing hibiscus and gladiolas, so I'm still happy with the results.

My favorite blooms right now are the daturas. I grew them all from seed, and have them planted outside my office, and in various clumps throughout the yard. You can smell them a good twenty feet away. The blooms open at dusk, and wilt away in the morning sun.

What's blooming in your garden?

13 August, 2009

Pillowcases 101

Joanne has on several occasions mentioned that I quilt. Having been bored a short time ago, I tried my hand at making pillowcases, a real easy project. I used fabric printed with Mexican Fortune Telling Cards, adding black for the bands.

If anyone is interested in trying this yourself I've included instructions.

For one standard case, cut fabric 27" by width of the fabric. It's usually 42" or 44" wide. Cut off the selvages, this is the factory edge. The fabric is woven tighter on the edge and will most likely shrink more when washed. Fold the accent band (11" X 44" piece) in half lengthwise - right side out. Stitch to one long edge of the case. Press open

Fold in half, right sides together, matching ends of band. Stitch long side and bottom. Turn right side out. This final step can be done with a zig zag stitch or on a Serger sewing machine.

If doing a queen size pillowcase start with the larger piece 33" X 44" instead of the 27"

If anyone wants to duplicate the cases I did, you can still find the fabric on eBay; it's from a 2007 collection no longer in production. Search for Alexander Henry Loteria Fabric or Mexican Tarot Cards

Box Mom (Donna)

12 August, 2009

Condo Damage Update

Soooo...I haven't had much time to update the blog, because we've been working on restoring the condo back to a habitable state, and getting the new set of tenants comfortably settled.

After the initial shock of the destruction wore off, we began to notice a few more problems.

It looks like they did lock the pit bulls in the blue bedroom--the one where the floors need to be replaced because of all the dog urine--because both sides of the door had deep scratches through the Venetian plaster and all the way into the drywall. The doors themselves were also scratched up pretty badly. Poor dogs. I don't blame them. I blame their sucky owner. Some people don't deserve dogs.

We had three companies come in and give estimates for replacing the damaged floor, and a fourth gave us a verbal estimate over the phone. The estimates ranged from $1500-$2000 for this room alone; the living room will need major repair work as well, but we're holding off on that for the moment for a number of reasons.

Although we called in the company who sanded and refinished our floors at The Box House, we did not use them this time, as their estimate came in too high. Instead, we went with Cornell's Floor Sanding of Chicago. I haven't seen the final result, but will be over there this weekend to take pictures. I'll post the before and afters then, and the details of just what they did.

So far, our costs are totaling $3500 or so for the damage that was done to the condo. Their deposit was $2000. We now have the fun task of trying to collect for damages.

03 August, 2009

Think Happy Thoughts

Well, at least one nice thing came out of the tenants trashing the condo: they left behind a couple of nifty planters. I plucked them from the pile of outgoing garbage, cleaned and sterilized them, and transplanted two brugmansia plants that were a gift from a client.

We're heading back over to the condo this afternoon to get an estimate on floor repairs. Let's hope it's not too outrageous. There is a propensity among Chicago contractors to charge more for work done at condos than for the equivalent work done on a single family home or two flat. One couple we know paid the same amount for sanding and refinishing just the living room of their condo as we did for one entire unit of our two flat. We'll see how it goes.

01 August, 2009

Our Wood Floors Are Ruined. Is it Chocolate or is it Poo?

Oh, it's poo.

If you haven't been reading the blog for long, I'll try to catch you up. We bought the Box House at the end of 2007 just as the real estate market began to crash. The plan was to sell our condo in Chicago and my mom's house in the suburbs and move into our new two-flat, where we would begin work happily restoring it. Unfortunately, it didn't happen like that. Despite being on the market for over a year, we didn't get a single offer. And so, like many others, we found it best to rent out the properties rather than leave them empty, sucking up money and resources.

So now, in total, we're renting out three units: the condo, Mom's house, and the unit upstairs from us at The Box House. Overall, the landlord gig isn't a bad one. Sometimes you have to deal with goofy requests and strange personalities, but on the day-to-day, you hardly ever hear from tenants. And there is the benefit of having someone else pay the mortgage (at least in part). You can put up with all kinds of minor issues then.

Up to now, the worst we had experienced was broken fixtures, banged up walls, and tenants leaving without cleaning anything. Then, at the end of May this year, one of our old neighbors called to tell us that there were pit bulls living in the condo, as well as people who weren't on the lease. At least two more individuals than we knew about.

We went over right away, and discovered that there were in fact dogs on the premises. We were told they belonged to a guest staying with them, and would be out shortly--the dogs and the guest. Overall, the place looked to be in good shape. Everything seemed in order. Still, we insisted the dogs and people leave by the end of the week, and they said okay. They had been reasonable tenants up to that point, so we weren't terribly worried. So this should have ended it.

Then we received another call from the neighbors, who said, "I hate to tell you this, but the dogs are still there." Boy! That was irritating, to say the least. Again the tenants were told in no uncertain terms that the dogs had to go; we got a song and dance saying that the guest was looking for a new job and a new apartment of her own, and had trouble finding a place to board the dogs. Too bad, not our problem. The dogs had to go, we said, and pinned them down to agree. Our mistake this time was that we did not put it in writing for them. When the dogs were still there a week later, we looked into starting eviction proceedings and realized that in our state, we had to give the tenants a notice of violation to the terms of the lease; they were then allowed 10 days to correct the problems. In this case, the actual violations were illegal occupants and unauthorized animals.

That shook them up a bit. But did it get rid of the dogs or the occupant not on the lease? No. Everything just snowballed from here. In the days that followed, one of the tenants up and left the state, giving no notice to his roommates, leaving no forwarding address, etc. Another of the three legal occupants, we discovered, wasn't even living there and hadn't been for a while, although she was still paying rent. The third roommate was "never around because she had to work all the time." This left the primary occupant of the unit someone who was "a guest" and who would "be leaving any day now" for her own place.

Unacceptable. We wanted them all out. Now. However, in real life eviction is not as easy as it is in the movies. You don't call the sheriff and have them out on the street the next day, no matter how they're violating the terms. You have to go to court, it could take months, and in the meantime they could decide to stop paying rent and not leave the unit. Essentially squatting. This was the beginning of July, and we felt the best course of action might be to simply come to an agreement to end the lease early. Which we did. We negotiated an early release for the end of the month, had them sign off on it, were told the "guest" and her dogs would be out by the 15th because she found a new place, and even found a new set of tenants to take over the lease for August.

However, we did do another walk through to confirm that there was no dog damage. While it was a bit untidy, there were no obvious issues.

Well, comes time to check out this week and this is what we find (and remember, this all happened within four weeks' time):

Puddles of dog urine so thick and heavy in the blue bedroom that the floor boards are soaked through and lifting. The damaged area covers most of the floor space, and no doubt goes down to the subfloor. The smell is overwhelming. We found a urine soaked mattress beside the dumpster. Our guess is that the illegal tenant had locked the dogs in this room for extended periods with nothing but a mattress on the floor. (This had previously been the bedroom of the tenant that took off.) The mattress trapped the puddles on the floor, causing all the damage. Another section of damaged floor:

I'm not sure what the dark blue stain on the wall is. Everything in here smells like urine, so I can't tell for sure if this is urine or not. But that is definitely poo in the middle of it.

Both bathrooms were complete biohazards; the bathtub itself was clogged and we still need to snake it:

When I last saw this couch--just a few weeks ago, remember--it was old, but decent enough that I'd sit on it:

It smelled horrible. When we lifted it up, there was another huge puddle of dog urine and all this crap:

Including a bottle of nail polish, chewed open and hardened into a glob:

Despite the fact that our lease says no wax on the hardwood floors, they had all been waxed. Although why someone who leaves dog urine soaking into the floor would choose to wax, I'll never know. It was so slick in spots we were sliding along on the floor.

It was a "partially furnished" apartment, and my $250 vintage rug that I had left to protect the floor from scratches from the bar stools was crunched up in a ball on the deck. It was urine and rain soaked, smelled like rotten fish, and severely faded from the elements. It is unsalvageable.

The garage door frame was busted, and there was a huge puddle of oil on the floor where their spot was, bad enough that the neighbor who shares this garage slipped in it last week:

More urine on the wall:

Nothing in the kitchen had been cleaned, there was mildewing laundry in the washer, holes in the window screens from dog claws, and drawers full of rotten vegetables in the fridge. It was one hell of a freak show.

And all I could do when I first saw it was cry.

This place had been our home. I loved living here, and I hated to see it like this.

And then I got really, really angry, and I kicked some boxes around while cursing.

And then, when we both calmed down, we photographed every square inch, brought in three neighbors to witness the damage, and contacted the one tenant who wasn't living there anymore, but who was paying rent. She's pretty much as shocked, horrified, and disgusted as we are, and plans to pay for the damages. Still, there was no way this place was going to be ready for the new tenants.

We ended up hiring a cleaning service. A crew of four men was here for nearly five hours--that's how long it took to clean and sanitize it. (Mighty Maids / Mighty Men of Chicago, if you're interested. 773-472-7711) They rocked. We then spent a full day making repairs, sanding patching walls, fixing doors, etc. We discovered other little things. The stack of service manuals for all the appliances that we kept in the utility closet (and had pointed out to the tenants) is gone, presumably thrown away. There are four wheels missing on the dishwasher rack. We found one down the hall, another in the sink, and are still missing two. One of the nightstands I left is missing. Ninety percent of the light bulbs were missing or blown out, and the remaining few had a wattage way too high for the fixtures. Lucky they didn't set the place on fire. (Again, they were told this when they moved in, and it's in their lease.)

The blue room is still uninhabitable, and we're calling floor companies to come in and give us estimates on ripping it out and replacing it. The new tenants have started moving in, and we're lucky in that we know them already, and they're more than happy to work with us on getting the place in 100% ship shape order. It's going to be a hassle.

What's most disappointing is that we write a pretty tough lease with contingencies for all sorts of situations. We screen our tenants really well, checking in with past landlords, calling to verify their jobs and length of employment, running credit checks. What we can't predict are things going sour in the relationships those people have with others, when roommates get into fights, move out, leave the state, abandon their property, invite friends to stay with them. A person can have a decent credit rating, but still be a liar. It's easier when you're living in the same building where you're renting out a unit, but when you're a couple miles away? You rely on what you can glean from periodic visits to "perform maintenance" and you are grateful for your friends and former neighbors in the area who act as watchdogs.

It's just frustrating that when you do discover a bad situation, you can't immediately correct it. Just Google "tenants from hell" sometime and see what you come up with.

I wish this flippin' economy would turn around and we can sell some property.

Condo Tenant Transition

It's been a really rough 48 hours, and I am oh-so-glad to be home. Ted and I were at the condo to check out the old tenants, possibly do a bit of extra cleaning, and then check in the new set of tenants. What we discovered when we got to the unit was a landlord's worst nightmare. I'll blog all about it tomorrow when I'm feeling a little more focused, but thought I'd leave y'all with this image this evening.

Yes, that's dog urine* dripping down the wall. Gag. Now envision that across the entire condo.

Why oh why am I being plagued by dog urine lately?

*Clicking the image to enlarge it is not recommended. It's really, really gross. Just be thankful you can't smell it.