Slumlording on the Lost Coast

As I write, I’m entangled in a surreal legal dispute with a former landlord. I’ve been threatening to file a small claim for the fraudulently retained portion of my security deposit, and to file it as soon as the next business day, since the statute of limitations will be expiring imminently. I’ve threatened to request state and federal criminal investigations of the property management company for systemic criminality against tenants. I’ve told the employee assigned as my main contact in this matter that his employer has a truly atrocious reputation among tenants in Humboldt County, and he agreed with me entirely.

This is what’s so surreal about it. This dude is bizarrely serene, mellow, and outwardly friendly with me, even as I threaten to bring the full force of the law down on his company. He verbally expresses a competent understanding of what I’m saying and of how serious it is, but everything else about his behavior indicates that he perceives absolutely no threat to the normal operations of his employer from an imminent small claim and the explicit threat of additional action, including criminal investigations.

He’s no idiot, and he doesn’t even look like a fool, so what the fuck is he doing? I can tell that he’s using slick sales tactics on me, of exactly the sort one would expect from a car salesman, but it’s still all baffling. It’s dumbfounding. I expected a clusterfuck when I went to Eureka to inform Professional Property Management of my intent to file a small claim against it, but I didn’t expect anything like this. All I can think is that this fellow must have a truly bizarre psychological profile. He isn’t a sociopath or a sadist, but there’s something seriously wrong with him that I find nearly impossible to describe, or even to grok. It’s yet another example of why the United States should have more tradesmen and fewer salesmen. I’m obviously a square buzzkill for saying this, but it’s worth mentioning from time to time.

One thing dude told me yesterday afternoon was that he wants to be “partners” with me. Shit, you serious? By definition he and I are not on the same team. It should be obvious. He works for a company that I’ve told him I’m preparing to sue. He can’t simultaneously be my advocate as well; it would be a stunningly ridiculous conflict of interest. Sad to say, I was only briefly surprised by this appalling legal ignorance. We’re a nation that watches too much Law & Order for its own good (I include myself, thorough my most grievous, etc.), not that any particular one of us comes away with a rudimentary understanding of the adversarial nature of legal proceedings or why legal proceedings must properly remain adversarial. He and I can no more be on the same team than the 49ers and the Raiders can be on the same team.

This strange cat seems to assume that PPM’s internal policies and procedures can somehow supersede the legal process. It’s probably because he’s been mindnumbingly steeped in the relevant sales indoctrination. His attitude would be more coherent if he had the confidence of knowing that PPM had thoroughly corrupted the legal and regulatory apparatus in Humboldt County, but I find that hard to believe. The City of Eureka has been at loggerheads with Floyd and Betty Squires for years. They’re evidently much worse than PPM, especially in their ownership of a number of the worst eyesores in Eureka and the extreme burden that their properties put on emergency services. City staff responsible for abating the Squires properties don’t need anything else to keep themselves busy. PPM keeps its properties outwardly well-enough maintained and takes on tenants docile enough that neighbors don’t end up calling the police or code enforcement too often, and I’ve seen the sorry-ass post-civic apathy of its tenants. They certainly look like they expect mistreatment at the hands of landlords and haven’t thought of holding their landlords to the minimal standards of accountability that the affluent would demand of their own landlords, backed up by letters from their attorneys if need be.

So I’m dealing with this almost scarily laidback case manager, if he can properly be called a manager, who seems to be choosing to live in a legal world of his own creation. It’s more disconcerting than dealing with the psychotic because there’s no question as to whether the psychotic are crazy. There are more nefarious ways to look at this guy’s behavior, too. This buddy-buddy nonsense is an excellent way to guilt one’s adversaries into treating one with kid gloves. Who, after all, would want to be unkind to someone so pleasant?

Meanwhile, dude appears to be the front-of-the-house party to a shell game that PPM is playing with my complaint. He isn’t the portfolio manager for my former building, you see; that’s another guy, who wasn’t in the office when I came by to file my complaint. No one has put me directly in touch with anyone who has the authority to approve the full refund of my security deposit. I was present once for exactly the same bullshit at a car dealership. The salesman handling my inquiry went back into a windowless office to speak to a “manager” I couldn’t see from where he had seated me, then returned a few minutes later to say that unfortunately he couldn’t do any better on his offer. Oh. Apparently I’m doing business with the Oracle of Delphi.

There’s apparently an additional layer of pure disorganization at play here. My “partner” e-mailed me a series of 85 photos that PPM had taken of my apartment after I had vacated it, over a dozen of which were too blurry to be of any probative use in court. After looking over these photos, I e-mailed him back to ask him to forward me a copy of the itemized list of damages prepared after I had vacated the apartment. I had received a copy of this list, but I can’t find it among my papers and fear that it may have been stolen from my car. He replied that he would ask “the team” to look for this form. I don’t think he’s blowing smoke up my ass over this request, but it’s appalling that this company isn’t able to keep the contents of its rental files together in one place. I can at least argue the mitigating factor that I’ve been homeless for much of the past three and a half years.

The photos I was e-mailed are a mess in their own right. They appear to have been taken with a digital camera, so PPM can’t plead oops they turned out to be worthless after we got them developed. Two of these blurries show, respectively, a paperclip and what appears to be a piece of Kleenex on the carpet. PPM’s reasoning here seems to be that it was expensive and time-consuming reach down, pick these items up, and drop them into a trash bag.  Wow Much labors Many costly Very exhaust None accounts payable. Other blurries show brown detritus looking like something other than shit in the toilet and a toilet brush on the floor somewhere. Two of the clear photos show serious damage to the bathroom walls, with large chunks of plaster sheeting having been ripped out willy-nilly during emergency repairs following flooding from a burst pipe. For all I know, PPM may have been planning to blame me for this damage. It may still be planning to blame me.

The plain truth of it is that these fuckers trashed my bathroom during these emergency repairs and illegally plugged an industrial dehumidifier into an outlet on my PG&E account. If I’m reading the California Penal Code correctly, the entry of PPM staff into my apartment to pirate my utility account constituted burglary, a felony. I never gave them permission to use my outlets, before or after the fact.

Anyway, I told this salesmanly doofus that I believe this unauthorized entry to have constituted burglary, and he didn’t even get a sincere oh-shit look on his face. As it happens, he was brought onto “the team,” shall we say, from another company, Real Property Management, during a recent merger, and RPM can’t be entirely sure how ugly a can of worms it took on as its new responsibility during this merger. For this reason alone I have to give it and its former staff extra time and latitude to set things right and presume their good faith absent evidence of bad faith. Still, an allegation that the fucked-up subsidiary suborned and conspired to benefit financially from a felony against a former tenant in his own domicile shouldn’t be greeted with an effectively flat affect. This is abnormal. I truly couldn’t understand this guy at the time, and I still don’t think I have a good understanding of his thinking.

He sure as hell isn’t leveling with me. The bottom line right now is that PPM will not voluntarily refund me the remainder of my security deposit. When sales dude called me this afternoon, however, he didn’t mention this until I asked him about it point-blank a few minutes into the call. I have no idea whether he was planning to break the bad news to me or was just planning to blow smoke up my ass and kick the can down the road all day. This is the twit who wants to be buddies with me. “Partners.”

I’d be better off making partner with Rob Ford. Looks like I’ll be putting some shit on the docket. Yuck.

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