Though my girlfriend and I are not married yet (we're planning for next spring, can't wait!), we've lived together a very long time, and effectively function as husband and wife. Last fall, we lost her mother after a years-long battle with cancer. My girlfriend's sister, who I'll refer to as April, lived with her mother in at apartment at a small complex at that time. The loss was especially hard on April, and she didn't want to live alone in the apartment that she originally shared with her mother, so we took her in to live with us. April's lease wasn't up until 5 months later, but she told the office at her apartment complex that she no longer wanted to live there because of what had happened. They told her they sympathized, but that she would have to write the main office in Columbus to break the lease.
So April wrote the letter, and after a month and a half of waiting and worrying she got her response from Columbus. It looked something like this:
"We will be unable to terminate your lease at this time.
Shredder Management, Inc."
More below the squiggly.
April was understandably very upset. Shredder Management was going to make her continue the lease that she and her mother agreed to, even though one of the parties on that lease had passed away. April would have to pay rent for 5 months for an apartment she wasn't staying in. I told her to fight this, to call the main office in Columbus and not let this go. But April was so emotionally drained from all this and had numerous other problems to deal with, so she let it go.
Winter came, along with a blanket of snow to cover the parking lot at that apartment complex. April started getting angry calls from the office at the complex because her mom's car was still there and did not legal plates, because the car's owner was now deceased. Every time it snowed and they plowed the lot, April got more calls threatening to tow the car, and had to make special trips up to her old apartment several times a week just to move the car and keep them off her back. All this, after everything this crooked landlord had put her through.
This really was starting to piss me off. One day, I decided to Google the main office and Columbus and called them. It went like this:
"Shredder Management, Rocksteady speaking."
Rocksteady had her volume turned up so loud I had to hold the phone away from my ear. I explained the situation, that Shredder Mgt. was forcing April to keep paying on that apartment until the lease ran out. Then I asked:
Me-"Is it standard practice at your company to make someone finish out her lease if the other person on the lease dies? Do you really intend to force April to keep living there after her mother passed away?"
Rocksteady-"I know nothing about that, sir. You'll have to talk to Mr. Bebop."
Me-"Ok, then connect me please."
Rocksteady-"Mr. Bebop is on vacation. He'll be back in 2 weeks. You can write him if you want. The address is..."
Me-"No, I told you we already tried that. I wish we could afford a vacation but we can't, because we have to pay for this apartment for an extra 5 months. Is it really you intention to continue to collect rent, to take advantage of this woman who just lost her mother?"
Rocksteady- "SIR! I TOLD YOU TO TALK TO MR. BEBOP! HE'S NOT HERE!"
Rocksteady was yelling now. I was in an outdoor public place with people occasionally walking by, and they looked because Rocksteady was shouting so loud that they could hear her. I stayed as calm as possible given the circumstances.
Me- "There has to be someone else I can talk to. I mean, isn't this bad for business? Won't this generate some negative publicity, some negative word of mouth? Wouldn't people not want to deal with you guys if you make money by taking advantage of those who have lost loved ones?"
While I was talking Rocksteady let out a sigh so loud and exaggerated it sounded like it came from a bear or a rhino rather than a human being.
Rocksteady- "HAVE A NICE DAY!!!!" -click!- .
And just like that, she hung up on me.
The next morning I called the Better Business Bureau in Columbus, and was very disappointed with the results. Even after I told the story, the woman I talked to was monotone and unsympathetic. She said that Shredder was in good standing with an A-minus rating. April could file a complaint and we might hear back in 30 days, but it didn't seem like anything would come of this. Apparently in the 21st century, the BBB works for business, not consumers.
I did some research on Shredder Mgt. and found that there were a lot of lawsuits against them for various wrongdoings all over Ohio, but that Shredder had won the vast majority of them, presumably with expensive lawyers. One of the worst was an apartment complex in Cincinnati that was sold out from under the tenants that lived there so that a shopping plaza could be built. Shredder lied to the tenants with a letter stating they had no intention of selling the complex. These guys know how to game the system. They know how to screw their tenants and still win lawsuits and get an A- rating from the BBB. Rocksteady on the phones at Shredder was well versed in the art of screaming at tenants who called in to complain.
I called a Fair Housing advocate in Akron and told them the situation. The woman I talked to was actually sympathetic! Unlike Rocksteady and the BBB, she told us she was "sorry for our loss.", which meant something to me because of the hostile responses I had gotten so far. And, she said they might be able to help us, but they needed to talk to April. But by this time, April was already 2-3 months into that 5 months of the lease. It was late December now, and the first Christmas without her mother was very difficult for her. I bugged her repeatedly to call the Fair Housing people, but April never did. She was so emotionally drained after all she had been through that there was no fight left in her. Shredder got paid that 5 months of rent from April, every penny.
This is exactly what crooked landlords like Shredder count on: that their low-income tenants are so overcome with the problems in their daily lives that they just don't have the will to fight a big, powerful management company.
These management companies make big business of taking advantage of the working poor in the worst ways. They do so in relative anonymity, most renters don't know the name of the company until they sign on the dotted line on that contract, 'Till Death Do Us Part.
If you've made it this far in this long, depressing diary, you may have gotten the Ninja Turtle references. To cheer you up, Here's Raphael! He's not a ninja, but he is my pet painted turtle:
Things are a little better now. Now that her old lease is up and she is rid of Shredder, April was able to afford her own apartment in our building now instead of sleeping on our couch. People call this a Recession, but to me it feels more like a Depression. This story reminds me of stories my great-grandmother used to tell me about the 1930s'. The only way to survive is to stick together with a sense of close family loyalty. Fuck Bebop and all the rich Republicans who say liberals have no family values.