The first story to go with Lesson #1’s apartment check-list is the tale of the greed-stricken Jim Faulkner of Commercial Equity Corporation. Fresh from a nightmare apartment situation in Chicago’s downtown, my drama with this landlord begins as I end my tenancy in a nightmare Gold Coast vintage high-rise (Lesson #19: Don’t Settle for Used and Devalued Underwear) and look to move to the suburbs for an ease on the commute to work.
News headlines are riddled everyday with the woes of the economy, often focusing on the housing market and those losing their homes. The effect on the rental market is heavy, and with once-upon-a-time home owners are now pushed to rent, the demand for rental properties is very high. After three months of looking, I realized that I’d be spending no less than $1300 a month for a place even moderately decent, if I wanted to continue to rent.
Enter Jim. I answered his ad about an apartment in River Forest, only to discover that it was a slightly weathered garden unit in which I had no interest. Jim, however, stated that he was showing two additional apartments that day in Oak Park, and that I could come along to see if I liked them. The first was pretty bad, but the second was just what I had been looking for. Refurbished with new floors and a new bathroom, nice neighborhood, walkable to public transportation to get downtown and nestled right next to an adorable small shopping area. And with a price was just under $1,000, this was considerably better than the others I’d seen.
I had my dad come out to do a walk though, and it was papa-approved. I paid the application fee, put down a deposit, and we were good to go. Jim did not have a lease with him, so we arranged for a later meeting. This would also allow me to inspect the unit with the power on, as Jim informed me that the previous tenants had been out for quite some time, and he would have to start the power up for the city inspection occurring early Tuesday; we’d meet that evening.
When I arrived at the unit it still looked great, but something gnawed at me. Every fiber of my being kept telling me not to sign the lease… to keep looking… but it just didn’t make sense to doubt it. I chalked up the stress to my experiences with other rentals-gone-wrong.
Jim and I began the walk-through, and I expressed my disappointment that the power was, again, not on. Jim stated that the city had come that day for the inspection, and that he’d had the unit powered at that time; they must have turned it off due to his only registering for that day. Since I was responsible for paying the electric bill, the account needed to be opened in my name from the time I signed the lease, he explained, and stated that I could get it started the next day.
Jim gave me pictures he had supposedly taken that day with the rooms well-lit, and signed off on an inspection sheet, stating that the air conditioner, fridge and all power outlets were tested and in working order that day. He applied heavy pressure to me to sign these claims, but I refused. I wasn’t about to sign a legal document stating these things were working if I couldn’t be sure. We agreed that my portion of this could be completed the next day.
With the affirmations from Jim both verbally and in writing that all was in working order with the apartment, and that electricity had been up and running that day with no issues, I signed the lease. Afterall, I needed to sign the lease and take possession of the apartment to be allowed to start the power back up in my name. Reading every dotted “I” and crossing every “t”, noticing that he’d made the lease for 18 months, rather than 12, and amending a few other things. I’d learned my lessons from previous disaster apartments, and wasn’t about to be taken.
I handed over a LARGE security deposit, and obtained the keys. I had a new apartment!
For about 12 hours…
When I called ComEd in the morning, I was informed that power had not been on in the unit, and could not be started for at least three weeks. Jim had lied, and had been informed, according to ComEd, that the previous tenants had not paid their bill, causing a hold on the unit.
I called Jim immediately, telling him what I had found out. The roll-with-the-punches, semi-charming guy I’d met before was replaced, quickly, with a real jerk, as he asked, “it’d be ridiculous for me to get on your cable bill or cell phone, why would I help with electric?!” and stating that it’s not his issue.
However, when I said I wanted the lease voided, he changed his tune. Acting as if he was going way out of his way for me, he made a call to ComEd, only to call back to tell me that the only resolution was for me to ask a friend or family member who had power through ComEd to pay my power bill. Ridiculous.
I maintained that I wanted to void the lease. He made another call to ComEd, (he claimed). This time he called back and informed me “power was on in the unit as we speak!,” and that he’d taken care of this immediately by sharing the location of the previous tenants and working with ComEd. When I questioned how in the world he could have power on, as I was told a person had to physically go to the unit, he said he had a “Smart Meter” that could be activated from afar. And when I expressed concern about the power being turned on immediately, as we’d left the fridge and freezer open to ventilate, he stated he’d go immediately to the unit to shut these and confirm power was on. He was expected to call if any issues.
He didn’t call. And I didn’t trust him. After work, I headed straight to the unit to check out his promises. Then I headed straight to the bank to cancel my deposit check, adrenaline pumping and in tears of concern.
There was no power on in the unit. And the fridge and freezer were still standing open. And thank God after a long and anxious 24 hours of waiting, the bank was able to stop the check.
Over a month has passed, and the mail and phone calls have kept coming. Jim claims that CEC is actually going to attempt to sue me for over $3700 for the invalid lease and security deposit, a pet deposit for a pet that never lived there, a parking spot that was never used, etc., and the claim keeps rising. I have tried to reason with him. After all, a lease signed based on false claims is invalid. But he continues to pester. Anxiety I could have avoided had I trusted my gut.
Here’s to believing that no court will actually make me pay his claim. And, hopefully, this LittleLessonLearned can help others who may face the same situation. See Lesson #1 – Complete This Apartment Checklist, for the gambit of apartment knowledge I’ve learned the hard way… Make sure utilities are on when you rent!!