Clueless and dirty

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.


18 thoughts on “Clueless and dirty

  1. Ugghh, I don’t understand that either. Some people leave the whole house disgusting though, but I agree, you have to go over every inch and finalize those details before you move in if at all possible.
    I’m pretty bad about skimming over those kinds of things when I look at a new place, but thankfully I’m perfectly matched with an engineer husband who doesn’t miss a thing.

  2. I am always amazed when I think about trying to find a place to live. The hassles, the expense and the endless searching. And to live within a large metropolitan area after living in the ‘boonies’ so long…. I well remember your brothers couch and his immense satisfaction at finding such a gem so close to downtown and then finding out the true cost of his accommodation with the break in.

    • Finding somewhere to live is up there on the list of my highest stressors.
      Gentrification came to the neighbourhood, but only a few years after my brother finally moved out.

  3. I once made an appointment to see an apartment that sounded perfect. I made an appointment for the next available time slot. When we arrived, the landlord was shaking hands with a couple. He had let someone else come in earlier and they rented the apartment from under us. Rubbing salt in the wound, the landlord went ahead and showed us the apartment anyway “just in case there was an issue with their credit.” The apartment was perfect and we would have rented it. I still see myself living in that apartment . . .

    • I think landlords have the hardest/worst jobs. They need to fill spaces and they don’t really care who does it – and seem to have little care for what they promise someone.
      I once had to call my landlord because my heater broke and was on full heat in the middle of summer. Being on the ground floor, I also couldn’t open any windows. I lived at a friends for the three days it took my landlord to come and when he got there he said, “This could have burned the building down.” I had to reply that I called him 3 days ago!

  4. Ha! I figured that if I was renting, that the landlord could just keep my cleaning deposit and clean the apartment – in my opinion, it’s the landlord that should do the last final cleaning – including a nasty oven used by countless people! New paint, thorough cleaning, carpet cleaning – all that stuff I’d want done by the landlord before moving in – unless the circumstances were very unique.

  5. I love my roommate because he goes over things with a fine tooth comb. He is so detail oriented that he’ll notice things I never would have seen.

    A dirty stove is not only disgusting, but it’s AWFUL to clean.

    • Good roommates: worth more than just half the rent!

      Your reminder of how awful it was to clean reminds me that my own oven probably needs cleaning now as well. At least I know what’s been *in* there.

  6. I don’t think they forgot to clean it. I think they didn’t want to clean it. Your story reminds me of why I’ve lived in my thumbnail-sized sanctum sanctorum for almost 30 years. I hate apartment hunting and I hate moving.

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