Things I Have and Have Not Called My Landlord About

Entropy, man. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, etc. For the universe, this might mean we’re heading toward heat death, but for regular people who live in places, it mostly means things get dirty and/or break.

If you’re a renter—as I have always been, as I could not otherwise be, given my youth and incredibly recent status as an “employed adult”—that’s what your landlord is for. But sometimes you don’t call your landlord. Maybe it’s because you’re lazy, or because you want to prove you can fix it yourself, or maybe because you suspect your heat is not broken, but has been shut off by the gas company and you don’t want to call attention to that. Hypothetically.

In my not-quite three years as a renter, a good number of things have gone wrong. Here are samplings of some of the ways my apartments have betrayed me, along with my strategies for fixing the problem. 

 

Broken pilot light on gas stove. We can definitely just relight it ourselves. Never mind that we don’t know its exact location. Roommate and I tape a match to the end of a long pole we’ve constructed of chopsticks and paper towels. She sprawls on the ground, lights it and waves it around under the stove. I stand by with a saucepan full of water, in case the worst happens.

  

Ceiling outside my bedroom caves in while I sleep. I open my door to discover a 3-foot wide pile of dirt and a gaping hole in the ceiling. I call the landlord. But not before I tweet about it.

  

Heat stops working. In January. In Chicago. The landlord needs to be called, but I’m not going to be the one to do it. I’m angry at my roommates because I just found out that while I was away all fall on an internship, they didn’t pay any of the utility bills, which are in my name, thus ruining my credit forever. (Actually I have no idea if that’s how that works. Mike?) [Ed. note from Mike: If you don't pay a utility bill, the company sends the bill to a collection agency, and the collection agency will report the unpaid bill to the credit agencies. The unpaid bills will then show up on your credit report, which, yes, will negatively affect your credit. Julie should pull her credit report, and check if this is what happened in her situation.]

We assume the gas company shut off our heat in retaliation for the unpaid bills. I retreat into my room with a space heater and rarely emerge, refusing to share my warmth with those so undeserving.

After a week or so, I call (of course). Turns out it wasn’t shut off, just broken. The property manager scolds me for not calling sooner.

  

I have convinced myself that a scrabbling in the wall is a trapped raccoon. We ignore it. It either frees itself or dies.

  

Broken dryer. We call almost immediately after moving in to a new apartment. Never test an unknown dryer with all of your bedding unless you like mildewy comforters and sleeping on an uncovered mattress.

George, the dryer repairman hired by my landlord, is affable and smells like my grandpa. We get along like gangbusters. Our dryer is super broken and baffles him, so he starts making regular visits. He calls a lot. “Hey Julie, it’s George, just letting you know I’ll be running a little late today.”

One morning, I am not at home and my phone is dead. When I plug it in, I have three messages from George. “Julie, it’s George. Where are you? I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all day.” Not so affable now. I call back and remind him that he also has my roommate’s number. He’s having none of it.

The dryer is eventually fixed, but the friendship is not.

  

Historic blizzard blocks all doors to the outside. No need to call, we’re shoveled out by morning. My landlord ruins, with his efficiency, my fantasy of being snowed in and having to survive on hot chocolate, peanut butter crackers and young adult novels.

  

Ant infestation. Roommate doesn’t want poison in the house. She buys these stupid little plastic traps, against my recommendation, despite the fact that I am the daughter of an exterminator and one would think I know what I’m talking about. They don’t work. I buy lemon-scented poison and coat the house in it.

  

Mysterious tapping noise in the wall by my bed: It’s bad enough that the water pipes run through this wall, so whenever someone upstairs uses the bathroom (maybe just to get a respite from the constant barking of their miserable dog), I am rewarded with a loud WHOOSH. The WHOOSH is not so bad. The WHOOSH is almost soothing, like a tropical rainforest.

But the tapping. It keeps me up at night. It wakes me up at night, sometimes. I have found that punching the wall occasionally makes it stop, so I often wake up at 4 a.m., beat on the wall with furious fists and snuggle back into my blankets only to have my eyes pop open 30 seconds later at the next tentative “…tap?”

I have many times considered calling my landlord about this, but in the harsh light of morning it seems ridiculous. This is not an easily-explained problem. My current theory is that a man with long fingernails and a bowler hat sits inside my wall, waiting for me to fall asleep so he can slowly, methodically drive me insane with his just-loud-enough-to-wake-me tapping. Maybe my landlord could have him put in a home or something.

 

Julie Beck is accepting alternate theories for the mysterious tapping noise, which still plagues her nightly. Photo: Shutterstock/Denis Rozan

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27 Comments / Post A Comment

lobsterhug (#43)

This reminds of moving into my first apartment in college. Not 3 days passed before a crack appeared in the bathroom wall and water gushed out of it. Thus began a long and fruitful relationship with the maintenance staff of our building’s management company.

Seriously, people, call your landlord! They can be very helpful.

charmcity (#1,091)

Normally, calling a reasonable landlord will take care of stuff, but many landlords are ridiculously unreasonable and occasionally Shady McShadesters. And depending on your jurisdiction, landlord/tenant court might not recognize verbal requests as evidence, so it’s smart to send requests for repairs in writing. E-mail is fine if a paper letter seems too formal or your LL doesn’t live in your city.

liznieve (#37)

@charmcity
UGHHHHH I had to take my landlord to court, essentially, to fix our ceilings which were leaking rainwater from the roof. Their initial fix? to scrape off the blistered paint and repaint it (a color that didn’t even maaatch which drove me batshit), and obviously, the problem continued unabated, for two years. That’s a whole shit ton of mold growing in that roof fascia.

wearitcounts (#772)

i have TOTALLY been afraid to call my landlord because i thought my heat was shut off due to a billing issue that i had already called about, and was ASSURED by national grid was going to be okay (someone moved out, bills changed names, i was charged twice). i saw shivering in my apartment, moving from room to room with my space heater, for a whole weekend til my new roommate got home from being away, at which point i finally called. pilot light was out. SIGH. lesson learned.

wearitcounts (#772)

@wearitcounts *SAT shivering. not saw shivering. except when looking in the mirror. then, yes.

Fate'sBitch (#1,093)

A lot of it has to do with the type of landlord, I would put off calling asshole landlords when there were problems because they were assholes and I didn’t want to deal with them. Now I have a great landlord and call her right away whenever something’s wrong so she can take care of any small problems before they become big problems (i.e. water damage).

MuffyStJohn (#280)

I haven’t called my landlord about the fact that my sink leaks around the p-trap where I had to remove it several months ago when I used my garbage disposal to get rid of apple skins (I was making pie, and apparently apple skins are like glue in pipes), which clogged the pipes but good, and even though I was able to repair the clog apparently I don’t have the hand strength to tighten the joint the rest of the way, nor do I own the right kind of wrench, so I just let it drip into the under sink cabinet and pray nothing rots.

But everything else? Yeah they hear from me. I am not above harassing my landlord about things. It’s what I pay them for.

RocketSurgeon (#747)

This reminds me of my last apartment, which was a basement. I didn’t know the landlord and wasn’t on the lease anyway. There was a tenacious mouse (rat? *shudder*) slowly enlarging the hole around a pipe that ran into the floor inside my closet. I’d settle in for bed, click off the light and the gnawing would begin. I stuffed the hole with paper, covered it with heavy books, etc. to no avail. Then one night, it was quiet. Just when I started to think he’d gone away, I heard him chewing a plastic bag on the floor by my bed. I threw on the light, and after unsuccessfully chasing him around with a tennis racket, I spent an uncomfortable night listening for any further signs of activity. The next morning, I was at the hardware store when it opened. I bought some fine-grade steel wool and some expanding foam used for insulation/soundproofing and filled his hole with both. I was glad when I moved out a couple months later.

ms. olsen (#1,102)

@RocketSurgeon oh man, I had an ACTUAL rat at my first apartment. we know it was certifiably a rat, because he was so comfortable in our home that he wandered around in the open all the time, dragging his disgusting rat tail. he would emerge from under the oven and stroll down the hallway to a closet. he got into bed with one of my roommates, at which point my other roommate started closing the door to block access to our bedrooms. the next am we found gnaw-marks all along the door.

we called and emailed the landlord ALL THE TIME to NO AVAIL. they were so unmoved. it took MONTHS for an exterminator to show, with no results. eventually the rat just moved on, or died of natural causes.

every shift of the light still looks like a scampering rodent to me. i will hate that landlord til I die.

Arrie B.@twitter (#1,097)

My back door doorknob (and, thus, lock) has been broken since we moved in, but we didn’t realize it until a few weeks later. I convinced myself that they’d think we broke it because it wasn’t on the list of Already Broken Shit, so we just hope the chain holds until I can figure out how to replace a doorknob that looks just like the broken one.

null (#1,101)

@Arrie B.@twitter At my last place I broke the handle off the front load washer and was able to loosely affix it back on to the door with some super glue before moving out. Several months later I had a voice mail from the owner of the house asking if I knew anything about it because the tenants currently living there were moving out and insisted it was already broken before they moved in. I was really worried I was going to be forced to pay for a whole new door on this stupid eco-washer, but I called her back (after a lengthy moral debate) and admitted I’d broken it / super glued it. I had imagined a lot of reply scenarios from her in the hour or so between listening to her message and calling her back, but her insisting that it was still their fault was not among them. She suggested that the super glue should have been good enough, even though it totally wasn’t, but she apparently had a grudge and wanted them to pay. She was a crazy landlord — it was the one time her insanity worked in my favor so I figured it was a trade off. At least a new door knob isn’t too expensive!

allreb (#502)

I’ve gotten better about calling the landlord/super as I’ve gotten older and become a more experienced renter. Sometimes I feel ridiculous — I am short enough that even with a stepstool I can’t change my own lightbulbs and have to call the super to borrow his latter I’M SORRY I KNOW YOU’RE BUSY DUDE — but when we had a ceiling leak? My sister/roomie and I were on the phone once each daily until that was fixed. But that’s been the only major mishap at our current place.

Our last place… man. Apparently a pipe between my wall and the next apartment over’s wall had to be fixed, so the super decided to come at it from our side. He had to remove the kitchen sink and surrounding cabinets and cupboards, and the only place to stack them was in front of the fridge, so our kitchen was literally nonfunctional in any way during this. And it lasted three days. (Also, there was no door to the kitchen, and there was a giant hole in the wall, and my cat is dumber than a box of rocks, so we had to keep her pent up in the bedrooms for three days. Neither she nor we were happy about that.)

It was four months after he repaired the hole that he finally got around to repainting the wall.

And then three months later he had to do it again, albeit a much smaller, harder to reach hole, above the top cabinets. He left his power drill up there. It was still there when we moved. When we called the leasing company to tell them we wouldn’t be renewing, they asked us why.

(And that doesn’t get into the “in-building laundry” we were paying for, but that was broken for two and a half of the three years we lived there.)

So basically: I’m a more discerning renter now, and after that nightmare experience, I learned how to advocate for the apartment I’m paying for, because jfc, DO NOT CUT HOLES IN THE WALL AND JUST LEAVE THEM THERE OMG IT WAS THE WORST.

/ranting renter story

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@allreb It says something about my standards that the idea of the in-building laundry being out is more horrifying to me than the temporary ruining of the kitchen.

opos (#1,099)

I have been part-timing at a management company and it’s much better if you call the moment you notice something, rather than say, waiting for a sunny Saturday morning to let me know you think you’ve had a gas leak for the last week! It was actually sewage, but that’s a whole different story. And seriously,if you suspect a gas leak, CALL YOUR GAS PROVIDER. It is a possibly dangerous thing. Open your windows. Then call the landlord/management. I feel like that should be covered in Renting 101, but I guess it’s not.

I get that you might feel like you sound whiny or maybe the issue isn’t real, but if it is and the longer you let it sit the worse it becomes. The people doing maintenance can usually figure out big problem v. small problem. I’m sure most management places (maybe not most landlords) appreciate the call ahead when it’s small than oops the ceiling caved in type situations. Landlords can be pretty awful about getting things fixed.

This is not to shame the writer of this article or anyone else who waits. I’m the kind of person who waits too, but how I have learned! But usually they won’t charge you and you’ll be happier if they fix the thing that’s gone wrong (hopefully the first time around!). It’s also a courtesy to the people who have to fix the things, organize the fixers, pay the fixers etc… So thanks in advance!

null (#1,101)

I don’t like bothering my landlord. When I lived in places with property management companies I did not hesitate to call, but now that I’m renting from an older couple (one of which with terrible health / has been in the hospital for over a month now) I generally try to deal with things on my own if possible. As one would expect, this has produced questionable results.

riggssm (#297)

“Call my landlord.” Oh, chuckle.

None of you must live in Boston.

joshuar (#1,103)

I live in Boston and I rarely call the management company that my landlord hired for our building, but they’re very good about responding promptly. And they’re also very good about calling or emailing when they’re going to be stopping by the building to do maintenance or just check each apartment to make sure nothing is crumbling.

Megano! (#124)

If those were my roommates, I would have burned them with all of the fire.
Also I went like three weeks without a working light in my bathroom because you have to go all the way up the street, fill out a maitenance form, and then wait for people to come fix whatever’s wrong, and I am way too lazy for that. I do periodically have to call down though and ask them if the power in the whole building is out, or if I blew a fuse.

bibliostitute (#285)

I just learned ALL of the THINGS about our peer group. I KNOW! I know!!!!!!!!!!!!

Also, Julie Beck, how did you actually live in that house without heat?! I froze to death WITH heat.

I’m just glad to see that they made a Wikipedia article about the damn blizzard. It took them four days just to plow the street in West Ridge, and then when they later plowed the alley, they managed to push all the snow directly into the garage door. That was a fun morning.

**Hi, Rick, It’s Anon. At 407 the Street I live on? You know how you were redoing the bathroom? Well, it’s been 2 days since I’ve seen your contractor, and they didn’t seem to put the toilet back.

This is the 3rd message in 3 days, please, call me.

cavale (#1,124)

In my first apartment when the oven broke they came and carted it away with all of our pots and pans inside. Just before we moved out a family of birds moved in to the bedroom ceiling and had a lot of very noisy babies.

In my second apartment, they redid the siding while we were there. This meant tearing a big hole in outside wall so that a family of squirrels could climb inside the wall and make a nest. Eventually they chewed a little window out of the drywall so they could peek in on us in our living room. When we called maintenance about it they came in and stapled pieces of cardboard over the holes with a staple gun.

We also had a sliding closet door that would fall off every time we looked at it wrong. When I finally got someone to come in and fix it, it was a tiny little middle-aged lady who just hung it back up. As soon as she left I opened the closet and the door just fell back off.

At our last apartment, our neighbor provoked some guys loitering in front of the nearest gas station and they chased him back to our complex where he ran up the stairs in front of our house. I guess they figured our apartment must be his, because we were just eating dinner when a gigantic chunk of asphalt came shattering through our window. The landlord did not fix it for the entire 3 months we lived there. I even called the city on him and nothing. They never returned our security deposit.

And in my current apartment the light in the kitchen has been non-functional for oh… 3 months now? At first we didn’t call because we needed to do the dishes… Then we called and never got a response. Then we called again and the landlord called back and asked us to call the repairman ourselves.

We just use the light over the stove.

Melson (#1,125)

That tapping noise is might be the hot water heater. It probably needs to be flushed out. It’s a legitimate problem, I would get the landlord to handle it.

babs (#1,127)

The best fix for ants is, believe it or not, ground cinnamon! Sprinkle it along their trail, and pile it on the breach they’ve found in your kitchen tile. It messes up their sense of smell or something? Works every time for me, and obviously non-toxic/safe for kids/pets.

SO much sympathy. I absolutely hate calling my LL. We’ve put up with no hot water, no power, roaches and many other things for too long because of that.

I busted out laughing a few times and I apologize. Nobody should have to live like some of you have. I’ve had my share of apartments with the a-hole neighbors, the fighting, the police, wasps nests, hornets, huge spiders, mice (thank God no rats); the obligatory ants, roaches as big as my big toe and who made a lot of noise at night rummaging through the closet. The time when the landlord came over to mess with the electricity, he hit something and we heard a huge snap, smelled smoke, the tv shut off and the remote broke! The guys upstairs with the guitars and drums; the night 2 huge kitchen wall cabinets collapsed off the wall at 2 a.m. and crashing onto the stove, canned goods everywhere, busted glass and a miracle it didn’t fall on us or the dog and glad there was no gas leak. Called landlord. He seemed disinterested. Said what happened, happened. The black ooze gushing up from the bathtub on the day we were moving out. God Almighty. Borax for the ants, too. I always thought renting an apartment was for the quiet enjoyment of the tenant in exchange for paying rent. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. My sister-in-law…she’s deathy afraid of her landlord so she refuses to tell him that everything is broken. I told her not to settle for that but she said he will raise her rent. But it’s his building, he has to know what’s wrong & he has to fix it. She has no toilet. No refrigerator (it “died”); no heat, no this no that. She won’t tell him about the fridge and she has no fridge! How can you not have a fridge? She puts the perishable food inbetween the back door and the storm door to keep things cold and the squirrels, raccoons, cats, rats, roaches are trying to get the food. So now it’s May and she has no fridge & is afraid to tell the landlord. She won’t use the oven–it might explode. She has one of those cool old-fashioned stoves that people would probably kill for. She is constantly buying large sized containers of Drano. I told her to stop living under siege. She put herself under siege. If she hears the landlord outside she shuts off the tv and lights and hides.

daniell17 (#6,821)

This is hilarious! The room clearly needs a new paint for the walls and new furniture. You should tell your landlord to buy cool bedroom furniture for kids to change the room aspect.

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