Years ago when I was looking for my first apartment I learned why a thorough inspection of your new home was more than just a formality.
I wanted to branch out in my worldly experiences. As a student I didn’t have quite enough income to survive on my own AND pay rent, but somehow I would make it work. I needed my own space. I figured I could sacrifice pub night once or twice a week to make ends meet.
I had called about 15 places and looked at 3 or 4 of them. Some were tiny, grungy and dank; others were overpriced. One even took my resume, called back to say my references checked out, and asked what time I wanted to come by and pick up my new keys. I said I had classes during the day so could be there in the later afternoon. The lady sounded surprised to hear I was a student. She suddenly hummed and hawed and stalled on the phone with excuses and basically hung up on me. I didn’t get those keys because I was a student. That lady was a jerk.
I finally found a place that seemed reasonable: rent was decent, it was on the 2nd floor (I really didn’t want to be basement or ground-floor dwelling living alone), it was well-situated, and when I drove by and looked at the foyer I could picture myself going in and out of those doors for the next few years. I called and was told to come by no earlier than 6pm. At 5:50 pm I sat in my car across from the building and saw a man talking to a couple and showing them papers and keys. I got out of my car.
The landlord had given “my” apartment to a couple with a pre-teen son who already lived in the building. They lived on the bottom floor and the woman did not feel safe being there alone. This son would later learn to roller blade across their floors/my ceiling. He would do this for long periods of time and at odd hours. During a particularly stressful exam period at school, I mentioned to them how much the sound travelled. They seemed unaware of anything and seemed to shrug it off as “kids will be kids.”
When this 2nd floor suite came available and was advertised in the paper, the couple said they would let the landlord know if they wanted it. With 10 minutes left before my appointed meeting, they let him know they did. They seemed surprised to see me pacing anxiously beside them.
Perhaps sensing my seething displeasure and frustration, the landlord suggested that the apartment they were vacating would now be available as an alternative. Same rent, same location — I needed somewhere to live. I was so exhausted and unenthusiastic about house hunting by this point that I poked my head into two of the rooms and said it would be fine.
The landlord and the now-previous tenants agreed that they would clean and move and I could come over in 2 days to do an inspection.
I arrived anticipating a blank slate, clean walls, and somewhere to put my boxes. I had been sleeping on my brother’s couch for the last 3 weeks. Most of my stuff had been crammed into the back of my car for that same time. I walked around the apartment, my nose weeping at the overpowering scent of PineSol. The walls were a bit scuffed; you could see that pictures had been hung in specific places but I didn’t much care. The landlord asked if I wanted new paint. I didn’t want to waste more time watching paint dry and said I’d do it myself if he provided paint. (That never happened but it seemed like a good idea at the time to us both).
The rooms were empty but clean. The tiny kitchen with its small counters was wiped and the cupboards were bare and free of dust. Although the space felt “lived in” there were also possibilities. I could make the space my own.
I agreed that the place was good and that I’d move in. New keys in hand, I went out to my car to start making numerous trips with boxes.
Only later, after my elation and exhaustion had both had a chance to sit down, did I realize what most seasoned tenants know: when doing an inspection you check everything. You don’t just check what you can see walking by, almost everything will look good as a drive-by. Slow down enough to check out the details and you’ll find some flaws.
A few days later when I went to go open the stove I was rudely awakened to this. The previous tenants had used the stove to cook some kind of roast beast, probably more than once. There was grit, food – maybe?, and grime caked everywhere. I wasn’t about to go ask the landlord to have some strange lady come into “my” house and clean the stove, so I had to do it myself. (Or permanently seal off the stove with duct tape).
It took numerous hours of scrubbing, even wearing away a layer on my latex gloves. It took many moments of sheer frustration and lapsed patience. It took multiple trips to the grocery store buying stronger and stronger industrial cleaners. When I came back a third time to buy the strongest, most industrial oven cleaner the guy at the check-out asked me if I was cleaning a ‘crack house.’ No, I had to answer, it’s my house.
And so it was, for almost 2 years. I never understood how someone could clean a house, but leave the stove so disgustingly dirty without even a thought. How could you just forget? But then again, some people are just clueless.