Things I Have and Have Not Called My Landlord About

by Julie Beck

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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