If you follow me on Twitter, (and if you don't why not? I almost never tweet, I won't take up much space in your stream) you saw the ranty rantyness of my day yesterday, specifically about the rats in the ceiling, and my landlord's lack (to my outraged eyes) of suitable action. I was very ranty. I didn't quite come right out and call him a slumlord, but I was hovering around slumlord territory. Now, with the passage of time, and the reduction of righteous adrenalized outrage, I am feeling apologetic. One hundred forty characters will not suffice for that, so I decided to clear the cobwebs from my blog, dust off the keyboard, and say some stuff.
So, just to catch everyone up, here is the story. About three weeks ago, I heard a scratching sort of sound. Just very briefly, and very quietly. Quiet enough that I only noticed it because my snoring husband hadn't come to bed yet. I didn't really think anything of it. Though we live in the city, we live between a greenbelt and a sedge bog/wildlife preserve park. There are A LOT of raccoon, possums, coyotes, feral cats and largish insects in the neighborhood. It's not uncommon (I've seen it happen, in fact) for the local racoons to run up the tree at the corner of my house, out along a branch, drop onto my roof, and sprint across the roof to the chimney. From there, the crazy bastards leap onto another tree branch and from there, I don't know where they go. The point is, it's not unusual at all to hear things running across the roof. I heard the scratching, but I thought it was something smaller than a raccoon.
A few days later, I made a rare visit to the backyard, intending to deal with a blackberry bush that was threatening to undermine the neighbor's fence, and which had entwined itself around a rosebush I rather liked. I was checking out the roofline as I went, because it's the time of year when wasps build nests, and if there were any ambitious wasps out there, I wanted to know about it now, since it would take at least a week of whining about it to get Husband to go out there and deal with it. (What? I don't DO wasps. If I wanted to deal with insects, I would have stayed single. I acquired a husband to avoid these things. I also don't take out the garbage or the recycling, but I will pull the bins up after pickup. Marriage is about compromise, people.) No building activity, but there, between the roof fascia and the soffitt, a small hole. Slightly bigger than a 50-cent piece, with edges that seemed rather...chewed. "Huh." I thought. "I wonder what that's about?" But I promptly forgot about it, as the blackberry turned out to be a rather formidable foe.
Fast forward to five days ago. It is one a.m. We are trying to sleep. But instead of sleeping, we are staring up at the ceiling above our heads as the sounds of many, many tiny feet scamper about, and as weird, scritchy, chewing sorts of sounds occur, again, directly above our heads. On the cheesy, I-doubt-it's-very-strong acoustic tile that makes up our ceiling. I don't say it out loud, but I am certain that at any moment, dust motes will come sifting down at us, and a tiny, rodent nose will appear, and then a cascade of squirrels will rain down on us, and I will simply die.
Wait--Squirrels? I thought it was rats.
Well, it is rats. At the time I'm telling, though, I was thinking squirrels. For some reason, squirrels seemed less offensive. And I've always heard that rats and squirrels don't occupy the same ecosystem, because they compete for the same resources. Apparently, I have always heard wrong, as my frantic internet research the next morning showed. Squirrels would have been good neighbors. Still not something you want in your ceiling, what with the urine, feces, and chewing of electrical wires, but at least diurnal. We would have been able to sleep if squirrels were living with us. No, the nocturnal activity meant either rats or raccoons, either of which made me want to strike a match, and toss it over my shoulder as I walked away. A bit more research confirmed that I did not want to do this myself. For one thing, access to that space would be difficult, if not impossible--the attic doesn't extend over our bedroom, which was added on several years after the house was built. For another, I was not going to live trap and release the rats, because I didn't want to be anywhere near live rats, and I wasn't going to snap trap them, because I didn't want to be anywhere near dead rats. Poison was out, because no way was I going to have dead rats in my ceiling over the summer. That would render our bedroom truly uninhabitable. So I called in a pro, who would dispose of the rats, seal off all the little openings they had chewed, and would guarantee a rat-free environment for two years, all for the bargain price of 684.38.
Now, some landlord background. We moved in to this house in December 2007, so we've been here awhile. My husband works in the building trades and once owned a contracting business, so he's pretty handy. We like our privacy, and we HATE the guy that does maintenance for the landlord. He's weird and tweaky, and we suspect him of being a meth head. We only call our landlord, let's call him Mike, for maintenance/repair of the roof, which leaks at least once a year. Husband has done his share of roof work, and hates it, and I'd rather not worry about our sole provider falling off the roof. Everything else that happens, we deal with. Mike never even knows about it. Door frame needed fixing, we fixed. Faucet needed replacing, we replaced. Mike decided on his own to paint the house last summer, but that and buying roofing materials for the tweaker is the only money he's spent on this house since we moved in. Because we've been such profitable tenants, I assumed this rare request for him to act like a landlord would be cheerfully assented to.
Boy, was I wrong. Mike wanted to purchase poison, and have the tweaker deal with the rats. I pushed back, pointing out that some of the access points the rats were using were caused by Tweaker's poor workmanship on the roof. (This was according to the Rat Guy.) I didn't want to have to worry about this next year when the rats were looking for nesting sites. It was a health hazard, it was ruining my peace of mind and enjoyment of my home, and I wanted it handled professionally. Mike objected to the expense. I put him on hold, and told Husband what was going on. He sighed. "Cheap bastard. Tell him we'll pay half." Mike didn't like it, but he assented, and supposedly, a check is in the mail. (Why he didn't just have it taken out of the rent, I don't know.) Since my internet sleuthing has revealed that he bought this house VERY cheaply (he bought juuuuuust before the Seattle housing market EXPLODED, and before this was a desirable neighborhood) and that he paid off his mortgage long before we moved in, and that his property taxes are only about $2000 a year (versus the more than $13,000 a year we pay in rent) I felt cheated. So I ranted.
Now, I'm wondering how fair that was. Yes, we've been inexpensive. But, in a neighborhood where most houses rent for 1400 to 1600 a month, our rent has been 1100 a month since we moved in. He's never raised the rent, and since we are month to month, he could do so. When we moved in, we had one cat, for whom we paid a deposit. My kids were living with their dad at the time, so the lease terms were Husband, me, and Original Kitty. Since then, both kids have moved in, (Donovan moved out again) one dog has come and gone, another dog took his place, and a second cat has joined us. None of which we cleared with Mike, and no further deposits were paid. The original lease reverted to month to month after a year of tenancy, but still, we are probably still bound to abide by those terms, ethically if not legally. Furthermore, while Mike is required by law to deal with the rat situation, his original offer of having his maintenance guy deal with the problem does fulfill his legal obligation. He is required to get rid of the rats; he is not required to do so by the methods I prefer. So my ranting was out of place, and childish, and unfair to him. I called us "great tenants" in one of my tweets. Dishonest tenants are not that great, really. Although I do have to stress that we have done no damage to the house, my kids were always well behaved, my cats have never been scratchers, and there was only one unfortunate incident with the dog, which I cleaned very, very, thoroughly. Still, given that I haven't behaved in an exemplary fashion, I do feel as though I should retract the rant.
I have such a bad temper. And I am bad about owning up when I'm wrong, and I think I'm wrongish in this case, so, sorry Mike. You're still not a great landlord, but I'm not such hot stuff either.