Saturday, July 12, 2014


I had to laugh when I saw the email in my inbox.

"Cathie, now is a great time to restart your membership."

The email was from Netflix. While I'd love to go into the details of why I cancelled my membership in the first place (type of movies weren't my thing, don't watch TV shows, etc.), my story is one far better than what can be found in a Netflix movie selection. You see, mine is a real life drama, full of crime, heartbreak, courts, shady characters, romance, and vampires (of a sort.)

The story has no beginning, for everything that has ever happened in history has had some effect on how I ended up at the ugly house on Kenyon Street. At the time I moved in, I could have afforded to pay twice the rent of the place. But I thought I'd be frequently traveling (mostly for a long-distance relationship) and wanted to use the saved money on airfare. Funny how things never really end up the way you think they will.

I ended up taking an $800 room in an apartment with four total rooms and a shared kitchen and bath. I rented from - and let me use the dickhead's real name here - Evadin Galeano, an illegal immigrant from Paraguay, who had two rooms for rent at the time. Evadin collected the rent from the other tenants and paid the landlord, whom we'll call "Gary," in one sum. I gave Evadin a rent check on October 1, 2011, as well as a check for a security deposit. I signed no written lease and didn't think that was a big deal. I didn't know who the landlord was and wouldn't for quite some time.

I lived a quiet life. Evadin ordered DirecTV, which I received as part of the rent, as well as internet, so I was content with the living situation, even though there were some issues with the place. My work situation, however, deteriorated rapidly. I had gotten a great job at an international media development think tank, where I was supposed to focus on "digital media" issues. I did not anticipate working with Sycorax. I did not anticipate the necessity of having three people load a cart of soda, with Sycorax screaming down the hallway if three people weren't doing the job of one person. I did not know that you can't separate "digital" issues from traditional media, that one is the evolution of the other, and that I would struggle to define my job duties. Sycorax treated her to put it? Let's just say that three people in four years had left the team of five because of her, and around Christmas time of that year, I led a mutiny that resulted in our human resources director telling her one Monday morning that she was going to lose her entire staff. She was subsequently sent to management and sensitivity training.

Nothing got better. I could barely get out of bed in the mornings, the dread weighed on me so. What do we Americans do in times of great stress? Some exercise. Some do yoga. I made myself a regular at Lou's City Bar. At about the time I couldn't take the abuse from Sycorax any longer and resigned my position, I met an obnoxious guy named Chris. He listened to me complain about Sycorax on a nearly nightly basis, and though we were just friends at the time, he was the first person I texted with the news that I quit.

We started dating around my last day of the job that April. By July, he had moved into my room, and he's been there for two years now. In those two years we've had many problems with the place (pestilence, dripping faucet, an electrical fire, and more.) Evadin, who was supposed to manage the property, was very slow in telling the landlord to fix things, and the landlord was even slower to fix them. But we finally met him that autumn, after I'd lived there for a year. We had periodic contact with him after that, and Chris even helped him work on the apartment above us. He knew we lived there. He knew Evadin rented the rooms and that two of the rooms were a revolving door. He knew it was essentially a boarding house, and he knew that it wasn't exactly legal. Apparently, though, he didn't know that Chris lived there.

I found a new job in August 2012 that was beneath my qualification level, a huge pay cut ($9000 a year less), and wasn't in my field. I didn't even have an office. I had a cubicle. I'd had my own office since I was promoted out of an assistant position in 2004. But it was a job, and during the presidential campaign, I actually enjoyed it. I received a big Christmas bonus, big enough to give Chris a trip to Italy for Christmas. That trip made me remember who I was, that I wasn't some admin person paid to put things on a website. I am a thinker, a strategist, a writer. I stopped caring. I went to the office for the paycheck. The environment in the office didn't help; no one cared about what I did, no one contributed, not even when I asked them to. I gave up on them. I gave up on the firm.

That's why a typo in an email changed everything. And why did I make that typo? Vampires.

Yes, vampires. Blood-sucking creatures who haunt the night. I'm talking about bedbugs. I wrote about it in my post Nightmare on Kenyon Street. Last September, about two years after I moved in, we had a major infestation. We think they started in the room next door, because I saw them crawling up the wall from the floor. I texted Evadin and told him we needed to get an exterminator immediately. I pulled everything out of the room, washed the walls with Pinesol, vacuumed every inch of everything, even mopped the carpet. Chris caulked the entirety of the baseboards. We discovered a cartoon-like mouse hole behind the radiator and stuffed it before sealing it. The wall was crumbling behind the radiator; we found a metal bar in the house and used that to help seal the wall up. There were holes in the closet, too, holes made by wear and mice, so we stuffed and sealed those. They had laid colonies of eggs in the boxspring we had recently gotten from Chris's friend in the Maryland suburbs (she was in no way responsible for the bugs), so our new bed was ruined and we couldn't get the old bed back. I bought bedbug mattress covers at $40 each to seal them in. We just couldn't afford to get a new bed, although the more than $200 I spent on combating our vampire problem could have been a deposit on a new one.

Two days later I texted Evadin again and repeated the demand, as there had been no action. The next day the landlord came over. It took him a week to bring us some bug killer, diatomaceous earth, and plastic-glued-to wood things for the legs of the bed. We were supposed to put the diatomaceous earth in them, which would kill them and prevent them from crawling up the legs from the floor. He said, "This worked when we had them before." When we had them before? BEFORE?

In the week it took him to bring us this supposed bedbug solution, I did not sleep a wink. How can you sleep when you have bugs crawling on you and biting you and you feel like your entire body is one big itch? That Tuesday, Bill de Blasio won his primary campaign in the New York City's mayor's race. Or, as a certain political research firm called him in an email subject line, "Bil" de Blasio, a congratulations message blasted to the entirety of the firm's mailing list by a sleep-deprived employee of said firm who had failed to notice a missing L in the name of the firm's most important client at the time. Oops.

Well, you know what happened to the vampires? Nothing. They'd go away for a week and come back. I continued to complain to Evadin. Nothing was done. I've sprayed, cleaned, vacuumed, rearranged the room enough times that Chris loses his mind, and they go away for a bit but always return.

Evadin had at some point last summer had lost his job or his visa (if he ever had one) and couldn't find employment. By October he found something in New York City. He said it was temporary, that he'd work there for a few months and return, so he sublet his room to the first guy who came along. I made bank transfers directly to his account instead of writing checks, as did the other tenants. He'd return every now and then to check on things, I guess.

The back room had been a revolving door of tenants since I moved in. People would rent the room, stay for a few months (or less), and leave. The failure to make repairs was sometimes cited, but mice in the room was probably a bigger issue. That, and the windows failed to open, which, in the summer months with no central air, made the room nearly uninhabitable. Because of the frequent turnover, there were gaps in rent payments from that room. Instead of pushing the landlord to make the improvements that would keep a tenant, Evadin fell behind on payments. DirecTV and internet kept being shut off and I'd have to text Evadin and tell him to pay the bills. He received a yellow envelope from the electric company at one point, indicating a final warning before power would be disconnected.

I paid for these things. I was pissed. Chris and I began to argue frequently because he didn't think I did enough. He thought I should withhold rent since I wasn't getting for what I paid for and because of the recurring bedbugs. Chris is an opera singer. Chris is LOUD. We bothered everyone, especially the people upstairs.

In May, the guy next to us, who's lived there for at least a year, was fed up with the bedbugs and told Evadin he was moving out. But Evadin refused to return the guy's security deposit (because he didn't have the money, no doubt), so the guy said fine, he'd stay another month and not pay rent. At the same time, a weird guy who'd only lived in the back room a couple of weeks moved out, so the back room was empty. Chris and I paid our share of June rent, and I - not Evadin - found a tenant for the backroom, a nice Lithuanian woman with impeccable English who was obviously well-educated. She was going to be a good tenant. We thought nothing more of it until June 23 when we found a yellow slip on the shelf in the hallway that we use for mail. It was a court paper. Gary the landlord was evicting Evadin for failure to pay June rent. The court date was a mere four days later. Neither the landlord nor Evadin had bothered to notify us. I had only received a text from Evadin a week or two earlier saying he was going back to Paraguay and the services would be cut off.

The paper said that unnamed people who live on the property should show up to the hearing. We called Chris's friend who is a lawyer and asked for some advice. He listened to the story, confused by the situation since we're technically subletters under Evadin's arrangement with Larry, and told us to go to the hearing.

We learned that the total rent for the apartment had only been $2000 a month. I had been paying $900, utilities included, and the three other rooms were paying $750. Take out $100 per room for utilities, and that's still $2850. What did he do with that other $850? When he had been living there, he was taking in $2100 after utilities, so he had been living there for free and collecting extra money from us. How on earth could he not pay electricity, gas, tv, and internet with $400 a month? (Water is paid for by the landlord.)

His thieving did not stop there. While he probably did not violate any laws by overcharging the subletters (before he stole our June rent money AND my security deposit, which I will never get back), he did violate the law by breaking into the room of the tenant who refused to pay rent and stealing his television, laptop, electronics, and, from what I understand, an impressive shoe collection.

Two of the tenants moved out of the apartment almost immediately. Chris and I showed up for the hearing, and Gary saw us. We had no clue what was going on. The tenant/landlord court hears up to 250 cases a day. You have to show up at 9am, and they go through a roll call. From what I could tell, most of the tenants don't show up, and the case is dismissed. Evadin's case was first on the list, and when it was called, it was dismissed because Evadin was not there. It happened so quickly we didn't even have time to speak up. Gary left. We sat for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. That's when we decided to go to the legal resources center, where you can get pro bono legal advice.

We were there for two hours. Even they were confused by our situation. The subletting laws of DC are murky, so they couldn't even tell us what rights we had, if any. They suggested filing a "motion to intervene" so we could present our case to a judge and argue our right to stay, as we had paid the rent. Another hearing was schedule for July 10. Filing the motion was not without risk, however. If we lost, my name would be part of the eviction, making it hard to rent from anyone who did a background check.

In the meantime, tv and internet had been cut off, and we didn't have them turned on again due to the uncertainty of our situation. We didn't pay rent on July 1 because why should we if we were getting evicted? Evadin had stolen my security deposit anyway. If we ended up working things out, we'd pay up later.

On the Saturday before the hearing, I ran into Gary as I was leaving the house. He had purposely avoided us up to then, refusing to say anything to Chris when he saw him at one point. But I had filed the motion, and he couldn't ignore us anymore. He was scared. I had revealed to the court that he was running a boarding house when his license was for a single family unit. We talked for forty-five minutes until I told him I had to go to the farmers market before it closed. He didn't want Chris and I to stay because the people upstairs had on more than one occasion complained about our late night noise and fighting and Chris's drinking, which had gotten bad, probably due to the stress of our life situation. I saw his point. I had known we needed to be more considerate before this, despite the racket the people upstairs make and how we can't even sit on our back porch without their brats dropping food and drink all over us. Couples arguing makes everyone uncomfortable. Chris and I don't want to fight, either. We won't when we get out of this financial duress that is crushing us.

Gary and I never finished our conversation, and Chris and I went to the hearing on Friday, this time a bit more confident when Evadin's name was called. I said, "I'm a tenant in that case" and approached the judge, who read my motion to intervene, and despite Gary trying to say I had no case, the judge granted my motion. That didn't mean I had won the right to stay; it just meant that I had won the right to be heard. Gary was really scared at that point. We agreed to talk to a mediator before scheduling a hearing.

The mediator, Crystal Soloman, was excellent, and she should be commended. She dealt with Gary's eccentricities with ease. Gary had thought he was owed $4000 and that he'd actually get it. He's not the brightest bulb on the tree, and she had to make him understand that without a new agreement with us, he was going to be out the entire $4000, as neither I or the guy next door who wants to stay were legally obligated to pay him a dime, if he was sticking to his "it's one unit" story. We worked out a deal to pay July's rent, minus the two tenants who moved out because of the eviction proceedings, and Chris and I would become the new property managers, finding tenants for the two vacant rooms for August 1, when everyone on the property would sign a lease. We'll collect the rent, take care of the utilities, and make sure everything is up to par. What's more, as part of the agreement, the pests must be exterminated and repairs made. Maybe the best part of all is that our portion of the rent will be reduced by $200 a month even though the total will be increased to $2400. The only downside to the deal is that we're going to have to pay another security deposit, even though Evadin stole my first one. That's going to be a struggle for us to make, which could jeopardize the whole agreement. We'll have to manipulate paying the utility bills to buy us extra time, and there won't be any television or internet until we make that payment. But once we get through that, we're going to be ok.

Why such a fight to stay in a dump, you have probably asked yourself countless times as you've read this? It's the location, the neighborhood. We LOVE Columbia Heights. It's a community. We stop to talk to people we know as we pass on the streets. We drink beers with people like the local bank manager and the guy who runs the parking garage. Our friends are here. We have a big backyard with a (struggling) garden. We're a three minute walk from the Metro (same line as Nats Park!), the Saturday farmers market, the supermarket, and the Target, and five minutes from our local pub. You're not going to find a better deal for this neighborhood.

We're going to turn this place from a dump into somewhere people will enjoy living now that the thieving bastard is out of our lives. I already have plans to repaint the kitchen and hang some photos on the walls of the hallway to bring some life to it. I want to move into the front room, which gets a significant amount of light, so I can have plants and grow herbs even in the winter.

So why did I laugh at that Netflix message? Well, because I'm sitting in a coffee shop typing this story because I don't have internet right now. I don't have television either. I'm laughing because the entire situation is ridiculous and because it will all be resolved soon.

*wood knocked*

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