04 January, 2012

Liars, tramps and thieves

I had hoped that after my semester-long absence from this blog that I would have something a bit more cheerful to relay, but instead I'm writing again out of emotion. It's not the death of a loved one or a competitor like in the last post. Tonight it's the culmination of a long and draining battle we have been having with our renters living in what used to be my paternal grandmother's house. I'll warn you now that I won't be proofreading this, nor will I include every detail. I plan on leaving out a lot, even though the end volume may seem otherwise. But I digress.

For some background, my dad grew up in that house. The Garage is in the same area, and I spent countless summers up there with my grandma. We both spent years up there, but after her death in 2001 we completely restored the house (built in the early 1900s) to pristine condition as it would have been in its youth. We refinished the original hardwood floors that were hidden under carpet, we cleaned and redid the ceilings and put up crown moulding. We replaced light fixtures with vintage ones and repainted all of the walls. We redid the kitchen and repainted the house. We put a new roof on it, new storm windows, new storm doors, new fixtures, cleaned the clawfoot tub, on and on and on. I would devote whole summers to cleaning that house from previous renters to get it ready to rent again, and those summers were exhausting.

We would get my friends out here to help paint and clean, and my mom and I would listen to NPR and satellite radio while painting moulding and redoing the parquet floors. Every inch of that house I have memories scattered from all ages, spent both with myself, my father, my relatives and my grandma, whether it be the corner where I would sit and listen to her read Roy Rogers stories or the kitchen where I would help her make TV Mix and hand-cut french fries.

Over the past decade we've had every type of renter, but sadly the best were also the most short-lived. Some took great care of the house, but some put literally hundreds of holes in the walls and deeply scratched the 100 year-old hardwood floors. Some moved their boyfriends in with them and some refused to mow or clean or care for the house at all. None of them, however, were like the renters we had. Or have. Hell, I don't know what to call them. Technically they're gone, but as you'll hear, the story is far from simple.

The renters have been there for a year, originally taken in by us as being a married couple with a young daughter. As the story unfolded, some of their quirks began to show; none were big, but outside of a general lack of knowledge about living in the country and being accident prone, they were more of an inconvenience for us as landlords. We were fine with it, though, because they kept the house clean and were quiet, and their young daughter (who was around ten) was enjoying herself at this new residence.

For a year they were fairly quiet, but a few weeks ago (shortly before my Christmas break began), everything turned in the opposite direction. The girl claimed the guy left her with no money and for no reason (oh, I failed to mention that they actually weren't married, but more on that later). Upon later seeing the guy he expressed his shock at getting thrown out and how 'he didn't ask for this.' Seeing as how this was the opposite of the girl's story, we knew things were up.

Within a week there were three and four cars up at the house at a time. Rusty, ratty cars would come at literally all hours of the day (we kept track: Over time we've seen a car/a person/people come/go at least once during every one of the 24 hours in a day) driven by equally as ratty people. Tattooed low-lives with hoodies and baggy pants, mostly all guys, or greasy, scuzzy looking girls with piercings would crawl out of their automobiles and slink into the house without knocking or announcing their presence. The girl's car would sometimes be one of the group of cars in attendance, but most of the time it wasn't, so my dad began taking down license plate numbers. Twenty three we have since amassed from at least four different counties, too.

Around this same time a large pile of garbage began to collect on the back step in plain view of the road and the neighbors. When asked about this, the girl said she would take care of it "right away." Over a day and a half later she finally tossed some of it in the garbage barrel, but none of it was bagged; thankfully the trash collectors took it anyway. Around this same time she began to be later and later on her rent. In the lease was a phrase about a $25 late fee for every week late, but given her situation with her daughter (before any of this happened) we allowed them to be late. As long as we got the money, that's what mattered.

Come December, though, we weren't paid at all. As time went on we grew concerned. Cars were coming and going throughout the night and early morning hours, and our neighbors grew more and more concerned. We stopped seeing the daughter outside playing, and her toys never moved positions in the yard. Lights were always on and the blinds were always closed. Most of the time the girl was never there but people were coming and going as they pleased. Some would enter the house unannounced before leaving a minute or two later. Others would stay for days at a time. We asked her about this and she adamantly said that no one is living there.

They also began to adopt a policy of parking up by our garage where we couldn't see the cars from our windows. They would park directly in front of the door (thus blocking in all of our things) and would sneak into the house as best they could. In the lease it was explicitly stated that no one was to park directly in front of that door (for a few reasons), but they did anyway. We told the girl this and she heartily agreed and apologized and said it would stop. To this day a fortnight later it hasn't.

On the 21 of December she called us to let us know she had most of the rent money and would deliver it to us in a week. We said that was fine, but amongst ourselves we decided that since everything was going on up there, she needed to leave. My dad had wanted to throw her out three weeks before but my mom persuaded him to wait until after the holidays 'for their daughter.'

Go figure that at this point the girl was starting to show her true colors. Covered in tattoos, she'd admitted doing some bad things in the past but didn't want to end up like her mother. Go figure that she's been fired from jobs before for mouthing off (including her most recent) and apparently has two other kids out there somewhere from a different father (or fathers). This, coupled with the traffic patterns and quality of people we saw, meant that we were quite concerned.

When the 28 of December arrived we were called by her to say that she didn't have the money but was going to try to get some more. She had said days before that the traffic would stop, but it hadn't, so we were skeptical of her word on the payment, too. As more time passed we decided that we probably weren't going to get money from her, so we offered her a deal: Rather than giving her a strict three-day-notice to leave, we would give her five and only have her pay her late fees and a tiny bit of December's rent. That was dependent on her being gone, though.

She wholeheartedly agreed and thanked us profusely. She was excited and said she would be 'right over' to our house to sign the paperwork and give us the money. A couple of hours later she hadn't arrived yet. We got a call from her saying "Well I just need a little more time to get the money, but I'll have it soon and I'll be back and sign things in a few minutes. I'm sorry, I'll come get it now. Yes, you guys have been good to [her daughter] and me, I know. I'm on my way." She never showed up, yet the traffic up there continued.

As the license plate list grew and her deadline neared, my dad decided to take action. We sent two eviction notices on consecutive days via certified mail. He hand-delivered two copies on consecutive days to her door and even had the official guy for our county serve her papers (she refused to answer the door, though, so he couldn't). He later talked to her and she acknowledged she had received the papers and "would definitely" be out by January 2.

We watched the house over the next few days off and on as we would pass by the window and saw very little activity related to moving. Overweight guys in hoodies smoking cigarettes would walk in and out of the house, and one day as I entered our drive a grungy girl thing with splotchy skin, a pierced lip and black clothes stared at me with a sullen face as I drove through. That was bizarre.

Finally, on January 2, just hours before the papers said she was going to be out of the house, she called. My father expertly grilled her on just about everything, and she had answers for just about none of it. She claimed the daughter was with the daughter's grandparents and that people weren't living there and that we were wrong about seeing them come in at all hours of the day. Dad explained why the parking was an issue (fire hazards, snow storms blocking in the tractor, etc.), and she relented and said that would stop (it hasn't). She also begged and pleaded that she needed a couple more days to get things moved out. My dad was semi-happy to oblige (although emotionally he wasn't happy), but she would have to sign more papers saying she was going to be out by the 4 of January. She claimed that the papers delivered to her, according to her union-supporting dad, weren't legal because of the way they were given to her, but we checked and this was completely false. We've done everything by the books (in accordance with an attorney we know).

So my dad sought her out and managed to get her to sign a TON of paperwork that he had written regarding when she would be out (noon on the 4 of Janaury), no recourse, how being there later would be trespassing, all deals were off the table, etc. And thankfully she signed every one without hesitation. She even said she'd been packing and should have everything ready soon.

Her boyfriend later came to us that same day and dropped off his key and paid his damages and such (not the late rent or anything, though). He said he was still in shock about it (whatever "it" is) and said that if there's anything more he can do for us or needs to pay, let him know. We appreciated that and sent him on his way. In the meantime it was obvious that the house wasn't being touched. There was no movement up there outside of the sleazy people coming in and out, and on the afternoon of the third I was sent uptown to talk to the attorney.

I asked her what our options were if she didn't move out, but she said they were limited. We would have to pay $500 to file forced eviction papers, which would then have to be served to her. Only when they are served will an eight-day period begin whence the trial cannot commence. After these eight days, although not necessarily on the eighth day, we will go to trial. Until then, though, she'll continue to live in my grandma's house rent-free and with tons of guys up there at all hours. Nevertheless, I told her to ready the paperwork and we would let her know the next day.

Now comes today. Even though the deadline was still a couple of hours away, nothing was happening at the house. A couple of cars would come and go, but that's it. When I saw them carrying in a new gallon of milk yesterday I had my suspicions, but now I knew they weren't leaving. So early this morning my dad headed up to the attorney and handed over a check for the paperwork. Around three o'clock, though, we received a call from the girl. Sobbing and crying she talked to my dad about how she hated her life and was going to live in a motel (my mom had earlier suggested she stay with her many friends 'since she's obviously very popular'). She also said she wasn't going to have everything out and needed to leave just the big stuff to be picked up another day. We agreed, but Dad said he would need to get her keys from her. She adamantly opposed. She said he would 'go through her stuff' and was worried about her boyfriend coming back to claim things.

He assured her we wouldn't go through everything and wanted to know when he could come up to get her to sign some papers. She said she was up at the house and he could come now, which he did in a heartbeat. She staggered her way out to the car looking quite unstable and handed over the keys. She also signed paperwork saying she would be gone and that if she returned without my dad being there, it would be trespassing. She signed quite a few lines and agreed to be gone by 5:30, she just needed to move a few more things and to get her cat. We said that's fine and that she should call us when she's done. And so we waited.

When 6:30 came around and nothing much was happening up there, my dad just decided to go up there and lock things up anyway. All the lights were out, so he called the police and had a deputy meet him and me at the house to walk through it. I was concerned someone would be up there waiting for everyone to leave only to unlock the house for everyone again. Before long we met and headed inside.

Nearly everything was still in the house, and it was a mess. We didn't go through her things, but we checked in every room and under the beds and everywhere we could think to make sure no one was there, but when we got downstairs my fears from another subject were confirmed. In the basement is a room we keep padlocked containing some of my grandma's old things that we didn't have room to bring back to our house. There are also all of my dad's childhood toys and some of mine, as well as some of my grandma's things. The screws around the door and lock were all loose, and in fact two had been changed to a completely different type of screw altogether. It took us a few minutes to get the key, but when we opened the door my stomach turned over.

Everything had been overturned and thrown on the floor. Every single box inside had been opened, and every cardboard box was torn so its contents were revealed. The entire floor was covered in things that had been pulled out of boxes and inspected by grubby, sleazy fingers of low-lives who had nothing better to do. My dad's toys and childhood possessions were haphazardly thrown about the room. Pictures of my deceased relatives littered the floor in one corner, some of which were torn. Some of my toys I used to play with when I would stay with Grandma were taken out and placed on the shelves as if they were looking at them, too.

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. Some things looked untouched, but most of it looked like it had been rummaged through and torn apart. I still don't think I'll sleep too much tonight as a result, nor would I consider myself the most calm. My dad has been trying to keep it out of his mind, but we called the girl and confronted her about it. She claimed to know nothing and further said she couldn't know everything people are doing inside of her house at all times. She didn't have any answers, nor did she seem to care that much. Needless to say we're looking into more legal action, and considering she owes well over $1,000 to us anyway, this ordeal is far from over.

It's taught us all valuable lessons, though, in terms of knowing people. My grandma, who lived in that house for 50 years before her death, once said "A leopard can't change its spots," and she was completely correct. That's why I still don't like Michael Vick or Tiger Woods, and that's why we were right to be concerned about this girl. Her splotchy skin, constant sunglasses use and instability definitely points to disconcerting things, but it's not like we didn't have warning signs. What hurts more is that the heirlooms and history, about which I care so much, was so unabashedly violated for no good reason. My parents and I were played by a liar and a cheat, and we trusted her far too much. I suppose it's good that we've never been lied to so shockingly before, nor have we seen such a dense accumulation of the lowest tier of people this town has. Of that I am glad, but unfortunately it came back to bite us.

I can only pray now that nothing up there was taken and for the safety of my family and the house. And given the loopholes in the law and thus the fact that we may never see our money or any repercussions for breaking into that room, prayers might be all we have. The sad reality is that in this country there are far too many protections for 'the poor' like her and for the kind of scum that was always visiting/living up there. We've had quite a few people acknowledge that those types of people know how to work the system since that's all they do, but because of legislation passed through mainly-Democrat measures, we have to be nicer to 'the poor' like her. While there are people who legitimately need those provisions, a majority of landlords are having to deal with the same sorts of things we are. My dad was able to predict every excuse she gave us for why she couldn't leave, why she was late on her payments, how to make us feel guilty, on and on. If it was up to us we would have been up there with a deputy at noon today, escorted her out whether she was ready or not, locked the house and then put all of her stuff out in the yard to be picked up by her countless friends. But unfortunately the law says we can't do that.

Instead we have to wait to see what the next few days brings. We have to hope everything is out of there tomorrow (she says she's coming back at 2:30 to move out some of the big things) and that from here on out the house will be safe. We have to hope that we will get our money somehow (although that will probably require more cost to us for court proceedings, where she probably will fail to appear, so we'll be out of luck), and we have to hope nothing was stolen that was of importance to my family, my history, or myself (which, odds are it was). I don't know. I'm still pretty sick about it. I was hoping to have a relaxing night, maybe do some reading or writing, but now I'm not sure. It's a mess that has ruined all of our Christmas breaks and will thus leave my mom to try to clean up the rental house with her one good hand (since the other is still recovering from an horrendous fall she had a few months ago that shattered her fingers and knuckles) before we can get it rented again. Moreover we will have to re-write our lease agreement to add more provisions to try to avoid a complete disaster like this again. Even if we do, though, I think I'll always wonder for the rest of my life if anything was taken out of that room sometime in the past two weeks (my dad was up there a fortnight ago and everything was fine in the room). I'll always wonder whether a small knick-knack my grandpa brought back from WWII was put in some druggie's pocket and whisked away or if some little token that my great grandma liked to wear is gone forever before I even really knew about it. That's why I've been begging my dad to take me up there sometime so we can go through everything in that room. I'll mark down what it is and the history behind it so that knowledge will never be lost. Some of that stuff only my grandma knew what it was and why it was important, and since she never passed that on to my dad, that history is forever lost. I don't want that to be the case here, either, but we haven't done that yet. We haven't had a chance to go up there and catalog things, and that I will forever regret.

That's why I work so hard in The Garage, too. That's why I made this blog. To catalog. To remember. That way the things I learn and experience up there are not lost, and I can give items and cars their history back. They can continue to have their stories retold. That's why I love what I do and why I care about my history. The biggest regret I have in life is not getting to know my family members really well before I died. Sure I knew them and grew up with them (it's not like we were estranged or anything remotely close to that), but I was a little kid when so many of them died. I wasn't old enough to ask them questions about their childhood, their parents, their grandparents. I was too young to appreciate that they had their own lifelong stories and memories of times I have never and will never experience. Some would say that's not my fault since I was a kid, but it still bothers me. Now that I'm older I wish so much that I could ask my grandma about when she was young or what she remembered of that house when she first moved there. I wish I could hear my grandpa talk about working in The Garage after he built it and knowing what he'd done on the Maxwell. I wish I had questioned my great aunts and uncles about their parents from Czechoslovakia and what this town was like when they were young. So to have the potential history in that room so vandalized and violated just kills me. Most of that stuff are things I refused to let my parents part with at the auction after Grandma died. I wanted to save it and to keep it safe. I wanted to have it forever and cherish it, maybe even someday put some of it in my future house. Never did I once imagine all of it being so carelessly tossed around and broken like a pile of junk in a dumpster. I never would have envisioned worthless people tearing through boxes of our things and crumpling them up on the floor. It really opens your eyes to the kind of people that exist in this world regardless of where you live or how 'safe' your environment seems. We've learned a lot in the past few weeks, that's for sure.

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