Below, our second finalist: an anonymous renter plagued by rodents.
"I have read that a true moment of clarity can be at the same time both beautifully optimistic & utterly terrifying. Optimistic in that by revealing the true nature & state you are in & the depth you have fallen to; that change is at foot. Terrifying in the realization that you may very well never make it out.
For me that moment came one night as I stood at the stove in my downstairs mother in law apartment stirring spaghetti with one hand while I wrestled a rat by its' tail with my other. You see my dysfunctional state was not one of substance abuse or the decline into true mental illness. Though I felt I was going insane, it was due to a war being fought on two fronts; against the rodents overtaking my home & against the landlords that did nothing about it.
The ceiling above my stove, like all the ceilings in my apartment, was unfinished. Tacked up drywall with gaps around the light fixtures, electrical conduit & plumbing that made for portholes to the rats & possums living in my walls. Usually the only evidence of their existence other then hearing them scurry about was the rodent feces that would fall through these holes. But on that particular night, as I try to cook dinner, rather than the typical rodent feces falling through to hit me on the head it was an actual rats tail hanging through & swinging nonchalantly; tapping me on my head as if to say, "wake up, kid". And there, in my moment of clarity, I did. Reaching up I grabbed the rats tail & pulled hard. As it screeched & try to pull away I calmly spoke through the ceiling, "Your time is up, go tell your friends..". I let go of its' tail and as I listened to it run overhead and down through the wall I thought how my friends were right, this was driving me crazy. It was unhealthy in every sense of the word and I should just move out, but how? I couldn't afford to move out and on top of that the naive youthful idealism of my age was to make the slumlords responsible for this accountable..."
"Certain factors such as "decent" rent, being on the bus line & good location can make you lose site of the obvious & over ride your better judgement when you are trying to find a home to rent. Plus most real problems don't present themselves on the initial renter walk through but slowly over the course of months after you have signed a lease, moved in & become complacent with your roommates. Like the cute puppy you buy, bring home & don't really notice getting bigger until he is a full grown ugly mutt taking over your house.
Such as the severe crack in my foundation that didn't show itself until the first decent rain we had flooded out my bedroom. The landlords wouldn't fix it & told me to sleep upstairs in my friends living room when it rained; never mind that besides the fact that we live in rainy Seattle, me & all my stuff lived & payed rent downstairs. So to get around this I covered the floor with plastic, laid red bricks on top & elevated all my things. The fact that the whole house was wired on 4 breakers (12 short of normal for a house that size) didn't show itself until I was down stairs trying to record some music while my friend upstairs tried to make some toast & the house went black. The landlords response? "Real musicians record in a professional studio."
Such blatant disregard makes you look closer at the big picture. I had a licensed contractor friend of mine come look at my house & he pointed out that beside the electrical & structural issues, the air ducts delivering heat to our rooms were wrapped in asbestos tape that was cracked at the joints & supposed to be painted to avoid having the fibers fly around. I documented everything & went through the procedures of putting in work orders with my landlords but to no avail.
Soon after that I started getting red marks on my body & went to a clinic to find out what it was. The doctor glanced over my chart saw my age, saw musician as my occupation and said:
"You have scabies..."
"What!?!" I said. "No I don't, how do you get that?"
"Well, living in close quarters with people who have them, being in jail? Sleeping around?"
"No, no, noooo. I'm a clean whistle, no fooling around here."
"Well that is what I'm diagnosing and it's against the law for me to let you leave here without treating you for it.'
The treatment for scabies is awful. You take all your clothes & linen, wrap them up in plastic bags to suffocate the little bugs & then you rub a lotion into your skin that is basically a mild pesticide. You have all your roommates do the same thing as well as those you are intimate with, weather they have signs of scabies or not. The embarrassment of that alone is bad enough but then you get to lay in bed at night stressed out, feeling like bugs are eating you alive. The first round of treatment didn't clear things up so I went back to the doctor who had me do a second round, including my roommates upstairs and my girlfriend. My roommates were more than creeped out by this. My girlfriend, convinced I was cheating on her, dumped me. At the end of the second round of treatment things were still not cleared up so I went back to the clinic & demanded another doctor. This doctor came in & within 30 seconds of looking at me said "You have fleas." "How can I have fleas? I don't have any pets," I responded ... but I did have a rat & possum problem I was pretending didn't exist.
That all happened before the spaghetti incident. Sure I had heard clawing around in the walls before that. On occasion while having a beer on the front porch I had seen a rat or two run out of the trash can with a snack, up the rain gutter & disappear into the hole that time and lack of house maintenance had eroded into the roof over hang. But I never saw them roam freely inside the house. The thin barrier of wall that separated me from the noises was more then enough to keep me in denial. Until now.
As the year grew colder the rodents grew bolder. They seeked full-time refuge from winters chill inside the walls of our house. By the time the fleas came I had enough. My moment of clarity during the tug of war I had with the rat and its tail put an end to my denial, my complacency & the dog & pony show of submitting work orders to my landlords. I emailed them my time line of events; everything I had documented and a few sample photos [editor's note: yes, that photo at the top is real.]. I stated that there would be a decrease in rent and the problems would be resolved or I would be taking this issue to the DCLU (Department of Construction & Land Use). This is where things get bad.
This fully armed threat got the attention of my landlords and they finally sent some lackeys over to our house to put band aids on a severed head. Never mind the fact that they didn't give me the required 48 hour notice to enter my home while I was at work. The biggest problem of this was that I had no idea at all that they sent someone over until two nights later when a woke in the middle of the night and went into my bathroom. In my sleep induced stupor I tinkled, washed my hands then filled my water glass for a drink. As I brought it to my lips I saw a few green pellets, much more uniform in shape then the rodent feces I've come to know so well. Upon further investigation I saw a little white bag sticking out of the hole in the ceiling by the light fixture above my sink. I pulled it down to find it was a bag of rat poison. I had no idea and almost drank it. In the morning when I called the landlord to complain they responded with "do you want us to fix the problem or not?". I guess poisoning me would be cheaper than fixing the house but it wasn't what I had in mind.
It wasn't the only bag of poison or trap they put inside our house without us knowing. Best of all they fixed the holes in the exterior walls that the rodents came in and out of so with passage blocked to the outside of the house, they had to die inside the walls. Shortly after that their "maintenance man" retrieved a spring trap he had put in the attic entrance over my roommates bedroom. Holding it like a trophy he explained that their was only half a rat in the trap because a possum ate the rest of him. That was it for my roommates. Living upstairs within fully finished walls & ceilings they didn't have the same experience as I did living in the bowels of the house, on top of a cracked foundation and under a makeshift ceiling. They packed their things, cut their losses & split. I was left alone and broke. I called the DCLU and filed a complaint, when they showed up the engineer had more violations to write down then he did paper. He said my apartment was totally illegal, not up to code and not zoned to be a separate living space. The separate gas main feeding my apartment had not been approved by the city so it was ordered to be shut off and my landlords were ordered to to have the violations fixed by February; problem being it was December. I was screwed. No money and nowhere to go. I had done my research and found out that my landlords who are brothers, have all sorts of property; from Renton to downtown. On top of that one of them is a pediatrics doctor. I got a hold of his home number & called to speak to his wife on Dec 22nd. I explained to her my situation and how I would be spending Christmas with no heat and as we spoke, flies were all over my apartment; the products of maggot spawned from the rat carcasses trapped in my walls.
I got a meeting with the brothers the next day. They offered me an apartment in the middle of the most keg party-friendly part of the University District. Here's the kicker, they gloated that they weren't going to charge me a security deposit or last months rent. I laughed out loud at this. I told them they would give me $10,000 or I would picket the office of Mr. Pediatric doctors office with photos of my house, the rats I pulled from it and a copy of the DCLU's report and that I would tell every mother that showed up at his office that the man they entrust their child's health to is a slumlord. They put me in contact with their lawyer who settled with me for $5,000; $1,500 upon signing a gag order and the rest in 3 months to assure I wouldn't slander them. After 2 years of living in that hell I was beat. I took their offer & was proud of the stance I took, but they were no dummies. They never paid me the remainder of our settlement and I found out the hard way that they gave me less than what small claims court would have granted and on top of that, even if you win in small claims court they don't have to pay you. They can sit back and have you go through the courts to try to garnish their accounts, knowing it will financially and emotionally wear you down.
I never had a gray hair on my head or a wrinkle on face until before I moved into that house and in 2 years time I had more than my share for a man in his 20's. The brothers still rent out that house.... So much for youthful idealism."