Before the hubs and I met, he had bought a little condo. The building doesn’t have a big showy lobby or a swimming pool, and the unit overlooks an uninspiring back alley. But it’s conveniently located close to the downtown and the university, and it’s just a few steps from the river valley. It’s never been worth enough to sell for what he paid for it — oh, those bachelors and their “investments”– so we’ve just kept renting it out, hoping to cover our costs (and usually missing the mark).
Over the years, our renters have been a motley crew. Some have been lovely, others trying, and a few highly regrettable.
There was one lady who insisted she was a “great” painter and wanted to “spruce up” the place. Foolishly, we agreed … without checking the colour of the paint or the quality of her work. When she gave notice, we discovered that the once-neutral space had been transformed into a trippy kaleidoscope. The bedrooms were gaudy shades of pink and purple; the kitchen and dining room a gothic horror scene of blood red; deep brown accents abounded. As we worked to cover her mistakes, we discovered she had not even bothered to remove switch plates, or plug covers, rolling directly over them instead. To top it off, she actually suggested she be paid back for “adding value”.
Then there were the “tree people”. They both did something with forestry and clearly saw no issue with bringing their work home — literally. On the occasions we entered the unit for repairs, we discovered it was crammed with every manner of tree and shrub, fern and fungus. Spider plants hung from the kitchen cabinets, cacti huddled along window-sills, even the bedrooms were adorned with creeping vines nailed (!) along a living picture line. After they left, the carpet actually sprouted.
For the last little while, we had a pair of academics from the US. They seemed young and a bit lost, so we tried to be as kind as possible. We’ve been renters ourselves, so remember all too well how far a little care and concern goes. We offered help navigating a new city. We left bread, milk and fruit on move-in day. Whenever there was a problem, we tried to act as their parents’ might, sending repair-people quickly to fix the dishwasher.
When it came time to move, they asked for an additional ten days into the month. They were going away to visit their families, they said, and it would be difficult to get everything done before. Wanting to continue to be kind, even if it meant paying out of pocket ourselves for the days left in the month, we agreed. That was our first mistake.
The second mistake was not hiring a babysitter for the final walk-through. You can only look so carefully when you’ve got two little kids in tow, although they are great at finding stuff in cupboards (don’t eat that!) and figuring out which doors squeak, and where the best closets for hiding are.
The following week, we sent our cleaning lady over to make sure it was ready for the next tenants. She’d been there before several times but we knew there was a problem when she called to say she’d need more time: it is filthy, she said, I’d be ashamed to leave a place like this!
The fridge and oven hadn’t been pulled out in years and the grease was caked-on. Same story for the washer and dryer, except with the addition of fluff and cat hair to the greasy bits. The oven smelled something fierce when it was turned on because, like everything else, it hadn’t been properly cleaned. There were flies in the light fixtures, light bulbs missing, blinds covered in dust and bugs. Worse still, they had screwed bathroom organizers into walls, and applied a mesh door cover to the balcony with sticky tape that now wouldn’t come off.
It took six hours to clean it properly, with another four hours of steam cleaning the carpets from the cat hair and heaven-only-knows what else.
I would charge $500 for cleaning and another $500 for the carpets! my cleaning lady said. She runs her own rental units with military precision, so I don’t think she was exaggerating. At all.
But in the end, we deducted just $350 from the damage deposit for all the work, because once again, we wanted to be kind.
I sent a friendly note explaining the deduction.
I got a less-friendly note back, asking why it needed cleaning when they cleaned the place themselves and thought it was “spotless”.
Are you kidding me? I thought.
I sent another note, also friendly, gently explaining about cleaning behind appliances, the dust, the bugs, the damage etc. Also pointing out what they weren’t charged for, and how accommodating we’d been with their move out.
I thought that would be the end of it. After all, who would have the audacity, when told exactly why the place needed cleaning so desperately, to complain further? Wouldn’t any reasonable person leave it at that? You would think. But apparently being reasonable is in short supply these days.
I soon received another complaint, ignoring the point about the discrepancy between move-in and move-out states. They still felt it was “reasonably clean, as per the contract”.
Uh-oh. When you start arguing over contract clauses with vague terms like “reasonable”, you know no good will come of it.
I was also informed that they felt being allowed extra time to move couldn’t have caused us any hardship, because of course, it’s so easy to rent a filthy apartment for two-thirds of a month.
At this point, I was getting pretty cross. We’d bent over backwards to be kind and accommodating with them, and they left us with a huge mess they were refusing to pay for even a small portion of it. It wasn’t as though they were starving students: both were now solidly employed and making more money than I ever will.
I thought about being rude and telling them exactly what my cleaning lady had said about the embarrassing state it was in .
I thought about sending them the book “Cleaning for Dummies”.
I thought about tracking down their parents and asking them if that’s how they raised their children, to run out on their messes?
I thought about mailing them a bouquet of swiffer dusters and magic trees.
But in the end, I didn’t do any of it.
Instead, I cut them a cheque for $350.
Because I didn’t want to be angry, or have this continue to take up space in my head.
And because I didn’t want the hubs to have to deal with a law suit, or any further fall-out just because these people were awful and unreasonable.
But mostly, because I realized that kindness doesn’t always generate kindness. In fact, sadly, the opposite is often true: when you are kind to people, you will often find yourself taken for granted or your kindness abused.
I told my Dad all about the saga, and what we ended up doing.
You took the high road, he said, the view is better, but it isn’t a free trip.
So I’ve decided to think of the $350 as the toll; it’s what it cost me to be kind to people who didn’t appreciate it.
But it’s also what it cost to know that even under pressure, I can still call myself kind. And that, I think, is worth a lot more.