Saturday, October 17, 2015

The story with Ironwood Estates

In August of last year, we rented a trailer in a modest trailer park in the township.  The same park would not, and could not, exist within the city limits due to ordinances regarding the layout of new construction or construction of prebuilt homes.  They have to be a minimum of 28 ft. wide to pass muster.  The average trailer is only 15 ft. wide.  But, I can't blame the owner for having bought in to a park that is outside the city limits.  I mean, a guy can't help where the park was built when he buys it.  And, so what if he exploits the fact that the above mentioned restriction doesn't apply outside of the city limits.  It's the same tactic used by corporations who move entire workforces overseas, where government oversight and government regulation of child labor laws and fair hiring practices are lax.

At the time we moved in, we were given a checklist of things to go through as we moved which pointed out the things that required attention and maintenance, as well as covering us for damages to materials in the trailer that were made before we moved in.  I'm not responsible for the rip in the living room linoleum caused by the previous tenant, for example.  On that checklist, we noted several things that should require an immediate fix, as well previous damage similar to the example.  We went over that list with the manager of the trailer park who told us that the big things would be taken care of in time.  That included, at the time, soft spots and sinking spots in the floors, and windowpanes that did not have all of the glass in them.

That was two managers ago.  Keith, the guy who managed the place at the time we moved in, told us he was moving on because, while he'd like to get some work done in the park, the owner, Bob, refused to pay for, or deliver, the materials needed.  We were sorry to see him go.

Bob decided to bring in one of the hotshots from downstate ( Michigan East Side Sales ) who would come in and take over.  Now, Bob was coming up from downstate with a crew about once a month in the months prior to the winter of 2014/2015.  It turns out that a veteran of those trips, Brad, was taking over the park in November.  We approached this situation with skepticism due to Bob's reported history.  As it turns out, Brad was another nice guy who wanted to get things done around the park.  Unfortunately, none of those things were in our trailer.  Oh, our snow was plowed.  Brad was more than happy to talk to the neighbor about his wandering dog  (more on this subject, later).  But, the smell from under our kitchen sink remained even after two "fixes" by the park maintenance workers.  There were still soft spots in the floor of our kitchen, our hallway, our living room, both bathrooms and our guest room (literally ALL of the rooms in the house!).

Then, January hit.  Shortly after the first of the year, we noticed that 3 out of 4 of the windows on the east side of the house began seeping water.  This water, when it contacted the cold glass of the outer pane, froze in to the most delightful icicles and icebergs, the largest of which, ultimately, measured 22 inches, side to side, and near 5 inches thick against the glass of the window!!  Now, I just want you to imagine an icicle that is 22 inches around.  I could grab the thing around the middle with both hands and my fingers wouldn't touch.

January is also the time when the electric/heat bill flew through the roof.  I know, you'll tell me, "Of course the bill went up.  It's winter in the U.P."   I know it was winter.  The temperature in my bedroom was a brisk 40 degrees all season long.  And, I'm being liberal with that estimate.  I know, I know.  There are little tricks to moving heat into a room.  We shut down every heater vent in the rest of the trailer and left only the three servicing that room open.  That didn't do anything.  We slept with the door to the room open and a fan moving air through the door.  Okay, that warmed it up slightly at night, but I don't keep my bedroom open to the world during the day.

So, as any good tenant does, I contacted Brad, the Manager.  Brad says this sounds like a roof leak, or possibly a leak in the siding between the roof and the window frame.  Either way, neither theory could be tested until spring.  I didn't like that revelation, but it it's winter, there is snow/ice on the roof and I don't need a hole in my wall while the mercury indicates a balmy -20°.

Brad mentioned in January that he didn't have a list of maintenance issues in our trailer.  I told him that we gave a list to Keith in August.  Brad said that the list must have been lost, and he needs one to make a list of materials that Bob needs to buy.  He had a hard time getting Bob to buy anything, but he wanted to get an idea of what was needed.  Okay, I thought, let me make another list for you.  And, in February, I did, again mentioning all of the major items as well as the little nags that I didn't want charge against me (remember that linoleum?).   Added to the list; a new hole in the porch where a board had broke.  The hole was large enough to swallow our small dog or break the ankle/leg/knee of anyone misplacing a step.

So, I eagerly anticipated Spring.  By the end of March, Brad informs us that he is leaving the park and going back downstate due to personal issues.  That brings in a new manager.

The ramp that no one used.  They spent two weeks on this one, while mine sat, waiting on a whim from Bob.
So, fast-forward to April.  There's a new maintenance guy in the park.  "Henry" (who prefers to remain anonymous) tells us that he wants to get some work done around here.  This place has quite the reputation for being a slum and he wants to change that.  It's not like it takes a lot to get these places back in shape.  Then it'll be easier to keep up the place.  I'm thinking, the guy sounds like things might be looking up.  "By the way," I mention.  "I've got work that was promised to start in the spring, and it IS April..."

"Let me get a list of issues you have and I'll get a look at them," he said.

"Nancy," the new manager, "should have the list that we gave to Brad in February."

What's this?  A 10 minute job?
It turned out that Nancy did NOT have a list from either August of '14, OR a list from February, '15.  On May 8th, we finally got smart.  We had gone through the house from one end to the other, mentioning everything we could remember; windows, floors, walls, etc., and gave that list to Nancy, keeping a copy, and mailing a copy to the head office in Alpena, MI.

So, Bob comes to my house on May 10 and Peg explains each item on the list and how it affects how we live.  By the time he finally got around to tell us that he didn't think the windows were a real issue, I had to pipe in.  I told him that we didn't have icicles in our windows all winter.  We had icebergs!  We didn't want a complete deck with a built-in barbecue, we wanted a hole fixed and we wanted the steps adjusted to something more reasonably pitched.  We didn't want hardwood floors throughout the trailer, but we wanted to get rid of the linoleum trampolines that were there now.  In so many words, Bob told us that only one of the items on our two-page, single-spaced, bullet-pointed list of issues would be "fixed".  As of the time I write this, even THAT issue remains un-"fixed".

As of the beginning of September, this year, we began depositing our rent in an account at our bank, and we sent a Notice of Tenant’s Intent to Withhold Rent Due to Needed Repair to Alpena.  I'm not kidding you when I say, we sent the letter on the 2nd, they received it on the 7th, and by the 10th, the maintenance guy is at my door with our May list of issues.  Looks to me like someone in Alpena said: "Oh shit!  They're hitting us in the wallet!  We better look like we're doing something about all of this!"

I wish the lighting was better, but it was SOAKED!
"Henry" says that he's going to start working on our stuff at the beginning of the following week, so that weekend we began clearing the things from a closet that provided access to plumbing for our tub on the other side of the wall.  What do we find there but a soaked wall which had seeped, soaking clothing that was stacked on the closet.  Turns out that the entire time we've been there, water spraying from the hot AND cold water lines to the tub had soaked the wall, the ceiling, the floor under the tub and closet...   Wow.  Just, Wow.  After thinking about it, I've been paying an electric bill for what could be 12 months that included the hot water that was now draining into this wall!




We're into October now,  We've withheld this month, again.

Right at the front door.
The State of Michigan has a .pdf that guides both, renter and landlord, through the process of renting homes  ( Tenants and Landlords: A Practical Guide ), and settling disputes.  In it, there is an example of that letter of intent to withhold rent.  There is also a section that told us that, until ALL of the issues are resolved, we don't have to give our rent to the landlord.  We do, however, have to have the funds available, in that account.  We'll probably be holding payment through November.  We'll see.

I know that there are a few of you who, while reading this, have screamed: "GET OUT OF THERE AND MOVE SOMEPLACE ELSE!!!"
Repairs continue.

I'm sick of moving.  When we got here, Peg said that she liked the layout of this place and could really do something with it.  We were always assured that the work would get done, and we were always under the impression that it was waiting on Alpena to start the ball rolling...

So, yesterday afternoon, Nancy stops us to inform us that Kiley, who apparently runs the park from the Alpena side, wants us to call him.  He's the guy that Nancy and "Henry" report to.  Okay, I think.  Let's hear what he has to say.

Peg called him and they spoke for about 5 minutes.  He mentioned that there was no way he was going to have the windows replaced, and that, as long as there were people working on some of our issues, that we should give him our rent.  We told him that we were considering holding back some of the money to replace ruined clothing from the closet fiasco, as well as money for electric that heated the water that leaked into the wall.  Let's never mind the fact that, all that was needed for the windows were panes of glass that were missing.  I don't need new windows.  Sure, I want them, but we don't get everything we want.  We also told him to begin the process of evicting us.  When the time comes that we get to a courtroom, we think we have a fighting chance of coming out on top.  Most of the lawyers that we talk to agree.  The repairs continue...

The story continues...   Film at eleven.
Water damage at the window

Along the same wall
More at the wall


...and it's layers thick!!

Good thing no one fell through the linoleum
So, fast-forward a few days.  I've been debating on whether to publish a lot of this.  There are/were parts that color some people in a bad light.  I'm not writing this to bash anyone here, at the park, for trying to do their job.  "Henry" and Nancy can't help it if there are no funds available for them to buy the things that would repair our problems.

The thing is, there is one common thread to all of this.  Everyone, from the on-site manager and the maintenance supervisor all the way to the main office at Alpena; everyone tells us the same thing.  They can't get past Bob telling them he's not going to put money into the park.

More layers..
We're the first tenants that they've seen in the park that decided to assert their rights and demand that repairs to our unit are complete before we turn over our rent.  We're the first unit to withhold that rent by depositing it in a bank account.  We appear to be the first unit in recent memory to write-up a "Notice of Tenant’s Intent to Withhold Rent Due to Needed Repair".  It sounds to me like we only have people paying attention to our issues because we did it the right way.  And it sounds like the only way to get anything done is to withhold money.  Hit Bob in the wallet and let the chips fall where they may.

We called the main office and talked to Kiley, again.  He wanted to know when we would be forwarding money to him for the two months rent they feel we owe.  We informed him that we are still holding rent because there are items on our list that are important and haven't been addressed.  We also told him that we feel that, because we've had damage to property due to the water leaks, we'll be deducting the cost of that, as well as the cost of the heating the water that sprayed the wall.  All in all, and considering the huge hassle this has caused here, we think it's fair to hold BOTH months that we've withheld.  I don't think there's a judge in the world who would say that it wasn't fair.

I'm nearly a week into writing this, and I really don't like letting people in to my household business.  Honestly, however, I've found that writing this has become somewhat cathartic.  This issue has become the topic of nearly every conversation in my home, these days.  I'm sick of hearing it all the time.  I think I should be compensated for the headaches.

I don't get a whole lot of money, these days.  Disability isn't what it used to be, I guess.  So when I lose the necessities, like clothing, to a problem that could have been avoided were it not for the negligence of someone else, I feel like someone owes me.  When I get a bill from my power company telling me that I need to pay for heating the water that was spraying into the walls, I feel like I should get something in return.

And, as long as there are people who are willing to let themselves get screwed like this, there will be people like our current landlord getting rich off of us, while ignoring our well being.  Us?  We're finding a good lawyer.  I figure, if his rates are similar to most, a lawyer will as for 30% of what we win if we should take this to court.  Now, that would motivate me, as a lawyer, to raise the roof and fight that much harder to help us win.  We've heard of cases where the tenant walked away, not only  without having to pay the rent that they withheld, but also with compensation, damages, court fees AND lawyer fees paid by the landlord.

If you're already living here, take our example.  The only way to assure yourself of a solution is to hit Bob's wallet.  Make the complaint, send off a letter of intent, and withhold your rent.  Talk to other residents of the park, and when you find enough of them that are just as unsatisfied, start a rent strike!!

Short of that, the solution is to find legal representation and go to court.  When Bob tells the judge, "They haven't paid me the money I'm owed." we fire back with "Where is our rent going if you're not fixing the homes, paying the water bill, maintaining the park vehicles (I'm waiting for winter to roll in, just to see what his plan for snow removal is all about), etc., etc.

If you're not living here, already,...  well...  don't.  Just, don't.

Rumor has it the entire park is up for sale.  Most folks might say, "Better the devil you know..." but I say, "Bring on the new blood."  Maybe someone with the sense to take care of his renters will buy the place.  Maybe...

GET A CLUE!!

GET INFORMED!!

GET WHAT YOU DESERVE!!

Just one more thing before I publish this.  I won't make any friends once this goes out.  I tried hard to make sure that anyone named in this came out looking, at least, human.  In most cases, my hassle isn't with "Henry", Nancy, Keith, Brad or anyone else working for the park.  (There have been some doozies.)  But, everyone who has worked for the park says that the cause for the problems with maintenance are firmly on Bob's shoulders.  He won't put money into this park, yet he continues to buy parks downstate.  Most of the people who have seen these downstate parks have said that they are orders-of-magnitude better maintained and attended to.  There are rumors floating around that the "shit-trailers" that are found in the downstate park are transported up here.  Now, these are rumors and talk is cheap, but I believe more than 50% is true.

In the end, if we're evicted for some reason beyond our withholding the rent, you can bet that this is where it all started.

Wish us luck...