The Lawyer Card

It’s been an exciting few days in the household. And by exciting, I mean exhausting and stressful. Our landlord is currently out of town until sometime this afternoon, which means we breathed a little easier this weekend.

After Wednesday, things have been pretty tense. The super-chatty, in-your-face Anne has turned into the ice cold, brusque Anne who only uses her front door (which she never did in the past two and a half months we’ve lived here), and doesn’t say more than two words to me.

Not that I’m complaining, but after yesterday, things took an even nastier turn. I did some searching the past few days, spoke to a law student and two friendly attorneys, and found the Chicago city clerk’s web site with the municipal codes for landlords and tenants (located here, for your reference). I sent an email to Anne with the information — one particular part of the ordinance applies to any renter in the city of Chicago, which states that a landlord cannot take retaliatory action against a tenant when they ask for inspections or repairs that interfere with a basic warranty of habitability.

Her response to my email detailing this information boiled down to: you’ll hear from my attorneys. Plural. This was sent on a Sunday, which leads me to believe she probably has a friend that she called and that friend said they’d draft up a scary letter telling me and Charlie to pay or they’d start legal proceedings against us.
I, too, have friends who are lawyers, and I’ve spoken with them. All I have to do, they said, is stand in court and read the municipal code out loud. No attorney, no filing fees, no need to do anything but state the facts.

As it turns out, her termination of the lease after we asked for a mold inspection and prospective remediation was illegal. Not only are we entitled our security deposit, we can take up to 30 days to find another place without paying her further rent. And, in the most extreme situation, we could take her to court for all the rent we’ve paid up to this point, as well as asking for attorney’s fees.God knows I don’t want to be here for 30 more days if I can help it. Her personality has done a complete 180.

One of the ordinances says a tenant in this situation can sue for up to a year’s worth of paid rent, if s/he lives in a larger building, but what applies to us, in a dwelling with less than 6 units where the landlord lives on site, says you can only sue for two months. Which is about how long we’ve been here. We weren’t even asking for that — just our security deposit and the same period of time she gave us to get out, initially.

I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to actual legal bullshit. Ideally, she would’ve handed over the deposit (assuming she has it, which I think is a major part of the problem. If she hasn’t put it in escrow, we’re all in trouble) we would use it to put down on a more satisfactory apartment with better living conditions, and, hopefully, a landlord that doesn’t live on top of us, and just get the hell out. We have found some prospective apartments but we don’t have cash in hand, which makes things complicated for us. Again.

In my email, I was honest, saying, look – this is your space. You live here, you work here, you clearly don’t want us here anymore. So let’s resolve this issue as soon as possible so everyone can go on about their lives. The only people who are really out anything here are me, Charlie, and Bea. We’re the ones who have to pack up, who have to enlist the help of friends again, who have to put in another change of address, take another trip to the license branch, change all of our utilities. We are the ones who have to uproot ourselves, try to explain to a future landlord why we were here only 3 months, find a new pediatrician.

And, sadly enough, even if she has no legal grounds to do so, she could still at least start the process of eviction (filing the paperwork is nothing more than her paying a fee and claiming we’re late on rent), which would appear to other landlords if they took the time to look it up. So if she wanted to be a super duper mega-bitch, which would not surprise me at all, she could do that. We would fight it and win, but it wouldn’t change the fact that there’d be a court record of it.

Deep down, I do empathize with her. Despite feeling as if she’s put me and my family in a nasty living environment – first our physical and now our emotional health – for her own personal gain, I think she truly believed it just wasn’t that bad. Her office was down here for a while and she claims she didn’t have any problems, her business partner has a mold allergy and didn’t have any problems. But they weren’t here when the plumbers were tearing up the floor and drywall. They didn’t have to breathe in all the junk and have their belongings covered in the dust and mold spores. Telling me to “go to the doctor” didn’t change the fact that I couldn’t see anything for half an hour, every day, five days in a row.

She initially tried to make it sound as if this was what I wanted (I didn’t want to move, no matter how it sounded to her or in previous blog posts. That’s merely the eventual conclusion I came to, given my understanding of the expense of addressing the problem from her end) and she’s just doing us a favor. Which probably makes her feel that much more pissed off.

Like many women do, she’s got a mental chalkboard going where, every time she’s done something nice for us, she’s made a mark. Now she’s pulled out the chalkboard and is fuming, thinking, “I can’t believe they would do this to me after I did X, Y, and Z!” But the principle of the matter is, picking up a stroller she found at a thrift store for ten dollars isn’t the same as me feeling sick for two weeks, talking to her about it during that time, and her saying nothing but, “You could have had an aneurism/stroke/brain tumor.”

All the little things she has done for us, I appreciate, but I would have appreciated it much more if she’d just minded her business, stayed polite, and offered to clean up the effing mold.

I feel as if she’s yet another in a series of people in my life who are The Victim. While Charlie and I stand around feeling like we’ve been hit by a truck, the driver screams out the window that we damaged their truck. I just don’t get it.

Even if she suddenly decided she would address the mold, it’s too late. Of course, she’ll need to address it, anyway, because if anyone else with mold allergies lives here, the same thing is going to happen again. Her complete disregard for me and Charlie and, especially, Bea leads me to believe she is not as genuinely nice a person as she wants to be perceived. From Day One, she tried to act like Bea’s grandmother, demanding hugs and kisses and giving her little trinkets to try and win her over. It sort of grossed me out. Most of said trinkets were dirty, covered in dog hair, or something that Bea didn’t particularly care for. A bag of glass stones does not negate the potential asthma or pneumonia my daughter could develop from living in this house while people are tearing out walls.

I get that she feels threatened and totally betrayed, because that’s how my mom and my dad and several other people I know are. It’s never an issue of the other person attempting to be rational and hash things out. It’s, “I have done this and this and this, and this is how you repay me? You stab me in the back? You try to ruin my life?”

Because, essentially, I’m feeling the same way. Although I don’t think I’ve gone out of my way to do favors for Anne, I feel as if I have done nothing wrong and am being punished for no reason.

We knew she wasn’t going to do anything. We knew she didn’t want to put out more money. We knew she was going to try and make things uncomfortable for us (and I’m honestly scared to see how the next few weeks go). But her first response of “pay me rent, leave your deposit, and go,” was not quite what I had in mind. Her second response of, “You’ll hear from my lawyers,” also was not what I was expecting.

And, of course, now I’m thinking, “Shit. If I’d just relented, given her the rent, and left the deposit, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” But she knows that, which is exactly why she pulled out the lawyer card. I’ve pissed her off, I’ve broken her trust. She thought we were friends and I asked for more than she was willing to give. So now she wants me to suffer. And, in the process, she’s going to make an innocent two-year-old suffer.

We’ll see how things go when she returns this afternoon. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. I hate confrontation. But if she indeed wants no further communication, she’ll just have to ignore me when we’re outside at the same time.

By the way, why can’t I just catch a goddamn break?

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