My apartment at 1100 N Dearborn in Chicago was ideal… except for all the aspects of it that weren’t. Two blocks from Oak Street Beach, great restaurants nearby, a closet the size of a bedroom and a breathtaking rooftop deck – I truly believed I would be there for quite sometime.
But the toilet decided to audition for a role as Old Faithful, literally projecting water up into the air as I flushed bowl cleaner one afternoon, flooding my bathroom and closet. The oven door broke off its hinges, the closet shelves pulled from the wall and collapsed, the power would shut down for my entire floor when those on my floor would use the air conditioning, and an elevator from my 15th floor apartment would stop working each weekend. I quickly found that the slight “vintage apartment” discount the property offered did nothing to alleviate the hassle of “vintage living”.
By the time the lease renewal arrived, however, I thought nothing more could be repaired or go wrong. Almost everything in the place had been fixed at one point or another and, for a few months, there had been peace. Plus, I’d really taken to the Thai place around the corner, the beautiful lakefront at my doorstep and the ease of access to… well, everything… in the neighborhood.
So I signed on for another year.
The end of the first lease term found me not feeling so well most days, everyday. At the same time, my cat, Fiona, became lethargic and ill, to which the vet asked, “Where do you live?” and if there was a chance for a lead hazard.
A quick at-home test kit lit up like a stoplight, indicating a strong presence of lead in the bathtub, as well as a presence of lead in paint from the radiators, which had been consistently chipping off since Day 1. I had asked for the radiators to be repaired upon moving in, discovering the under-radiator-cover disgust when I had to repaint the place myself. The in-house maintenance crew slapped some latex wall paint over the very- chipped original paint, which resulted in near fire on one thick, smelly smoke-filled night. I’d let the chipping paint issue lie after that, not knowing that the paint chips were a likely cause of Fiona being sick.
Begrudgingly, the building manager made a plan to sandblast the radiator units and to “refinish” the bathtub: a process, I imagined, that would be like the Bath Fitter commercials that riddle daytime television. I was told I’d have to leave for three days due to the smell of the chemicals used, which coincided perfectly with a business trip – no problem.
I returned on a Wednesday evening, tired from the day and slightly dazed from being away. I let Fiona out of her cat carrier, and turned to go back downstairs to fetch luggage. As I did, as if by magic, my black cat turned almost instantly gray.
I flipped on more lights and took in the scene. Everything I owned looked like this:
I got Fiona out of there and made a bee-line to the front desk. The attendant on duty called the building manager who, instead of being the concerned professional he should have been, laid in to me about how I seem to be trying to get out of my lease. Confused, I explained, again, what I had walked into. He told me “it can’t possibly be that bad,” and to “go to bed”.
The next day he was much more apologetic, as he entered the unit and saw the mess. He asked the repair guy to contact me, yet another “WTF!?” conversation, as this man (through screams) accused me of throwing the dust all over my own apartment and adamantly refused to have anything to do with the clean-up. He wouldn’t even tell me what chemical he had used for the job which, through research with other professionals and Google, I discovered was likely a toxic carcinogen.
At the end of a very tough week, the building manager agreed to have a cleaning crew come through the unit and to send my things out to a service called “Drive Cleaning”. I bagged up everything that could be dry cleaned or washed: my shoes, bedding, bathroom linens and shower curtain, couch covers, rugs, etc. And off it went.
Three days later, while sitting in a Chili’s with my dad, I received a phone call from the owner of the cleaning company. “I just spoke with your building manager and heard about everything you’ve gone through this month. I am so sorry to have to add to it…”
“As the truck was in route to deliver your things to you, today, it was stolen while stopped at a loading dock. We’re so sorry…”
Everything was gone. I don’t know if I’ve ever understood “hysteria” until that day. I started to laugh AND cry at exactly the same time. I was devastated, was questioning “what does it all mean!!?!?”, writing a comedy skit, planning a shopping trip, getting ready to rage, etc. etc. all at once. WHO does this happen to!?
It took fifteen hours to put together a list of everything I’d lost, look up the values and get it all set. The company’s insurance agent informed me that they would be giving me the “used and devalued” rate for each of the items. I didn’t want to know what “used and devalued” undergarments felt like. Or sleep in someone else’s discarded bedding. So I firmly told him that he’d have to plan otherwise.
Through multiple emails and a bit of attorney involvement, I was able to get a settlement for my lost items. The building refused, for months, to pay for all of the expenses I’d incurred lest I release them from any claims, in case the toxic dust made me sick in the future… something I wasn’t convinced I wanted to do, given the level to which I’d been exposed.
And just as a wham-bam ending, after being out of the unit while all this was taken care of, I returned to find that my key didn’t work. I was told that this was due to workmen having to break into my apartment when a pipe burst above my bedroom / kitchen.
Soon after, the owner of Berger Realty, called to inform me that I was a “terrible, problem tenant” (since I wanted them to cover my expenses and losses from the damage they’d done), and that he was going to attempt to evict me for having a cat… while having a “we’ll watch your cat” service through one of the front desk employees for those who travel… and with a “limit of two cats per unit” in my lease. I wanted out as soon as yesterday, but had to travel to Italy for work and had no time to move.
It took only a couple months to get out… and move into the place without power from Lesson #9. Geeze, the apartment luck of 2011.
But… I got out with new things. Money to pay for them. And all of the money Berger Realty owed me. The lesson learned here, a lesson of persistence and standing up for oneself, is an incredibly important one for anyone in a like situation: Never settle for used and devalued underwear.