Red Flags: A Story About Tumultuous Housing!

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This story starts in 2013. I was living in turbulent times. I was on the outs with my parents. My dad and I never really got along, but my mom and I hadn’t spoken in a few months. I avoided them…a lot. So I spent a bunch of time looking for an apartment to get out of the suburbs and into a place of my own. I was doing Stand Up full-time, but to supplement some income I was working at a museum with a flexible schedule.

After a few months of searching I finally found a place I could afford. That didn’t mean it was great. It was late in September and I met a very old man in sweater and a fedora outside the apartment. He had an accent of some sort and asked me which place I wanted to see. I told him the studio apartment.

So we shuffled in. He unlocked the main door. He told me each floor had its own key to get into. Then we got into the apartment itself. The place was a mess. It was furnished with a little couch, a bed, a TV table and make-shift shelves with a desk. The shower wasn’t great. And the kitchen needed a lot of cleaning. Especially the stove, which was filled with old dried food…not the best environment.

He was only asking for security deposit and first month’s rent. Most of the other places I’d have to give them an application fee, security deposit plus first AND last month’s rent. I’ve always thought that was a bit much to move into a place. Just move in an apartment some of these people are asking over $1000. Most Americans can’t afford a $1000 emergency, so where are they supposed to come up with that much money just for a place to live. I mean I get it, it’s like putting a down payment on a house that you don’t own, but it is a lot to ask upfront.

So because I was in a bind and really really needed to get the hell out of my parent’s place I went for it. I headed back to this place and sat outside the apartment with this very old man as he hand wrote the lease and asked me for cash payments…I now know this should’ve been a red flag! But again, I really really needed to get the hell away from my parents. And to be honest, his handwriting was pretty decent for a shaky old man.

I signed the lease that he had used carbon paper to make a copy for himself. Then he turned asked me, “Where are you from?” I told him I currently live in the suburbs. “No No, what country did you come from?

Oh,” I said, “India. I’m from India!

Ah, I thought maybe somewhere from Iraq.

No, India. I was born there.

Samosas!

Yes, we do have samosas.

I didn’t find this peculiar at the time, but it’ll play into the story later. People do this all the time. They ask me where I’m from and then tell me a food they know from my country. Hell I do it when I find out. It’s an awkward thing most humans do to connect with each other. So when this old man, who I found out was Egyptian, I didn’t second guess it. In fact, I just looked at him and said “Pyramids!” It’s nice that be both recognized triangle shaped things from our native countries.

He handed me all 3 of my keys and I headed back to my parents to pack. A few days later I had put all my stuff into my car and left. I did not tell my parents. Later my mom called me and asked where my stuff and I told her and she was really confused. Understandably so.

I was dating a college girl at the time who came over and helped me scrub everything down. EVERYTHING. We used a few bottles of bleach on the kitchen and bathroom to clear up the construction gunk and regular gunk. We had to thaw out the freezer, vacuum the couch and disinfect everything. In about 2 days we were in working order to unpack.

She helped me get a few essentials, like a bedsheet, curtains and cover for the couch. The couch cover didn’t fit right so we used some black clips to help it stay in place. It wasn’t great it but it was a place I could call home for bit. At least till August 2014. The idea was to hopefully be making some more money in comedy to afford a better place. Plus she’d be graduating so at that point we were thinking about getting a place together…

Spoiler Alert, it did not work out, but that’s a story for another time.

I would often see this old man as I would walk to work. Shuffling along the streets. He was an odd man. My girlfriend stayed over on New Year’s after I performed at a less than great show. She had to get up early the following morning to see her parents. She texted me about her red flag interaction with the old man.

He saw her coming out and asked, “You live here? I don’t recognize your face.

She responded, “No my boyfriend lives here. I was just with him.”

Where is this boyfriend? You’re staying with him?

He’s up on the 3rd floor. I was just there one night with him. I don’t live here. He lives here.

You are staying with him?

Just last night. I just came to see him. We spend time together. He’s my boyfriend.

Well if he’s having more people in that place I have charge more for rent. That apartment is only for one person.

No no, he lives here. I don’t. I don’t live here.” And then there was silence and she left. He never brought this up to me ever.

This is where things start getting crazy. About 6 days later the temperatures drop to record lows. It was like 1 or 0 degrees. I had gone out to grab a drink (or 3) with a friend at pub around the apartment. I got back in and I saw this old man standing in the doorway. I looked him and said hello and started climbing the stairs.

Take the space heaters from the hallway into your apartment,” he responded. “I had a fight with the heating man and the whole building is out of heat. I found someone else but he cannot come till the morning.

More red flags. So I took one of the space heaters into my apartment and text my girlfriend. She had a night class and said I shouldn’t stay in there and to come over her place. So I packed a bag and told her I’d go to an open mic while her class was finished and then she can get me from the apartment so we don’t have to deal with the menace of the parking authority.

I went to the open mic, got another drink, addressed why the host was stealing jokes, spent 22 minutes on stage talking about death, drank water and tried to sober up. This is also a story for another time. I did sober up and drove back to get my bag and picked up by my girlfriend. I wound up staying with her for like 3 days.

I got back to my apartment and the temperature had warmed quite nicely so I decided to walk to work again. As I walked out I ran into a guy that worked for the electric company. He look at me very confused.

What are you doing here?” he asked.

I live here,” I responded.

You shouldn’t be here, bud. This whole building is condemned.

What? What are you talking about man?

Have you paid attention to the news?

I pay attention to a lot of news, but I didn’t hear about this!

Yeah man, just look it up because you really shouldn’t be here. It’s been in the city’s news cycle for all weekend!

So I immediately started walking and checking my phone. I know, that’s not the best combination, but I had a pretty legitimate reason to check my phone and walk to work at the same time. I found out that my 88 year old, Egyptian landlord stayed in the apartment building with no heat. As the temperatures decreased so did his heart rate and he went into hypothermic shock overnight.

The next morning the heating contractor came in, trying to get a hold of him and couldn’t. He called the ambulance, worrying something had happened. And because the heat wasn’t on, he had to call the city’s building inspector too. The paramedics had to break into the doors, finding him nearly dead in the freezing apartment. He was rushed to the hospital and revived and kept there for observation.

Meanwhile the heating contractor got the heat back on and the building inspector condemned the building because of numerous health code and safety violations. Each floor was filled with clutter from old newspapers to boxes of tissues & paper towels. The windows of each floor had been bolted shut and the fire escaped was rusted. These were only a few of the issues.

I sat at the museum, not really in shock, but confusion about what to do. My manager suggested I take the day to figure that out. So I called the building inspector and talked to him for tips. His first tip was to pack my shit my leave. He then said once a building is condemned the lease is voided and he should give you money back plus the whole month’s rent.

Then I dug deeper. So this was not this old man’s first violation dealing with tenants. He’s had a long list. The worst of which involves a human rights violation and a bunch of bigotry. The gist is that he was mainly trying to grab college kids that would be there for short time. So when he’d kids from China, he go in and tell him he’s gotta spray them down with raid because the Chinese carry cockroaches on their person!

WHO THE FUCK TOLD HIM THAT?! I’ve heard some really crazy racist things about a lot different types of people, but this was a first! He would also try to stick moth balls on other Asian people. Reading all this was a face palm moment. Where was this information coming from! But the kids sued him for discrimination, he lost and the PA courts slapped him with a Human Rights Violation.

Which got me thinking about “Samosa”. What did he really want to say? It doesn’t sound like he subscribes to mainstream racism so I wonder if it’s something about Indians conjuring the spirits from the basement and bringing about the apocalypse with the perfect blend of spices. But instead he went with “Samosa”.

So I immediately went back to the apartment and started packing up all of my things. I wound up meeting a few people that lived in the building and we all shared information about the weird interactions we had with this old man. But we all did decide that if we doesn’t give us our security deposit and rent back we should all sue him. There were at least 5-6 of us and it could become a class action suit. So the next day we saw him and 4 of us talked to him about our deposits. The old man denied us our money and said “Take me court!

I told him he doesn’t have a leg to stand on because the building is condemned and he told me he’s suing the city for damaging his doors to save his life. Seems a little counter-productive. If this guy lost a puppy and you returned to him, I bet he’d have you shot for trespassing.

So basically all of us started moving out our stuff. I made up with my mum over Thanksgiving and I ended up staying with her for a little while. As I was moving out my things the old man comes over and says “Hey I noticed that you had clips on your couches that were holding up the sheet. It would be nice if you left those!” What? NO! In retrospect, how did he even know about that, unless he’d been going into people’s apartments during the day.

In a matter 72 hours I got everything out of there and moved back into my parents place. As I began to unpack a few things the next day, I noticed my green card was missing! So raced down to the apartment but it was too late. The old man changed the locks. I couldn’t get into the building and no matter how many times I called he didn’t answer and blocked my phone number. I had to pay close to $500 to get a new one.

After this I filed my lawsuit against the old man. The building inspector suggested I included any cost of moving and other expenses surrounding this case Plus if it was over 30 days the rent and deposit doubled. So at this point it was over $2000. I got my court date and prepared to take down this old racist man.

The day of this trial I was in with a few other cases. Small court. The old man was not in sight. I watched the cases of domestic violence on trains and urinating on transit police were handled by this no nonsense judge. And it was finally my turn.

Looks like you’re here by yourself,” he began. I giggled. “Look I know this guy and he hasn’t missed one court case. He lost all of them, but he’s always sure he’s going to win. He’s not great, but he is punctual. The fact that he’s not here is not a good sign. You’re the first one and there’s 5 more. Do me a favor and see if you can see if the building has lights on and if it does I can figure out if I need to get the cops involved to get him down here.

I agreed. I went to see and there were a few lights on. The apartment listing was still up. A new condemned sign was up. I told the judge and he said he’d figure something out and for me to hold tight. That was late April 2014. In July 2014 I got a phone call on my lunch break.

Mr. Mohan, do you want the good news or the bad news,” he started. I figured good news would be nice. “Well the good news is that you might your case if we go through the right procedures. But the bad news is that your landlord is dead and it’s going to be a longer process.

I’m sorry what?” I replied, shocked.

Well after you told me about the listing, we called the post office. They told me that the mail was piling up and no one was there to receive it in the building. So got the cops to go in to check it out and we found him in his apartment, dead. We’re not sure for how long, but I personally went down there to see for myself! And he didn’t look well!

Wow. So what about the money?” Ok this was not my best moment, but this guy had a human rights violation against him for thinking Chinese folks have roaches on them, so I don’t feel super bad…until this next part

Well he had no next of kin or anyone we could contact so the property has been seized by the city and will be auctioned off. The buyer would then take on any cases that was remaining from this. So if and when that was to happen you can refile your case and it’ll probably get settled. This could take 10 days, it could take 10 years.

I decide not to pursue it. It didn’t feel right. This old man died alone. His legacy was a condemned building, a human rights violation and bizarre, niche & fringe bigotry. All of those things probably drove anyone he cared about away, if there was ever anyone to care about. No one knew or even cared he had died, from what I can figure. And if it weren’t for a snoopy judge and a dumb kid trying to get out of his parent’s place he wouldn’t even been found. I don’t know what happened to this old man after his death, but the money didn’t matter anymore.

The saddest thing is that this old man was his own red flag.

The college girl and I did break up and for a short time kept in touch on and off. In on period she did tell me that the building was getting gutted. Turns out a real estate company had bought it and was going to construct a new building in place. Despite it being a better building, I don’t think I’d want to live there. I probably can’t afford it.