Thursday, March 6, 2008

A Letter I Haven't Had The Nerve To Send

Dear Ms. Ahlswede,

As I was searching the internet for more information on the fire at Paradise Gardens Apartments in December 2006, I came across the article you posted on your website. As a tenant of that building who found herself homeless after the fire, I want to tell you that I am deeply offended and thoroughly angered by your statements.

Allow me to elaborate.
You said: “Why did this conflagration occur? Smoke detectors absent? No. Fire extinguishers unavailable? No. Unmarked exits? No.”

While on the surface, this may be true, but if you’ll dig a little deeper you’ll find that the fire alarm hadn’t worked in quite some time. As for the exits, they may have been marked, but their fire doors were missing allowing the fire to blaze out of control. What’s the point of having fire extinguishers and marked exits if people can’t get to them during the fire? To go into hallway meant death as that poor couple who were visiting their son from India found out.

Or you could talk to the guy who was trapped below ground in the laundry room. The elevator hardly worked on a good day and the stairway was engulfed in flames. He was only able to escape when the firemen broke through a padlocked door that led to the outside. Should you doubt his story that the stairs were in flames, I urge you to check out the video the fire department posted on their website. It clearly backs him up. So please, tell me again how the owners aren’t responsible for that.

I know it’s more comfortable for you to ignore this, but the owners had 9 fire code violations only days before the fire. So while you so freely assign blame to the tenant for this incident as you do in the next paragraph, I urge you relay all the facts. Not just the ones that make one, who I suspect is a member of your organization, look good.

You said: “A resident cooking dinner had a grease fire and threw water (not baking soda or flour) on the fire, making the fire worse. The tenant then fled the apartment, leaving the door to the unit open to the enclosed hallway, only allowing the flames to be fanned further.”

Your outrage regarding the tenants’ actions comes through loud and clear in this paragraph. It’s very easy to call someone stupid for not knowing how to put out a grease fire as you obviously do, but what about the owners’ responsibility here? Had you bothered to read the official report from the fire department, you would have learned that they couldn’t rule out the stove itself as the source of ignition. Or perhaps you did and choose to ignore that little bit of information because it’s much more fun to pin everything on the hapless and stupid tenant.

And finally, your statements that still have me angry even after a year are these: “Second, the owners of Paradise Gardens are to be commended for their quick response to refunding rent checks and security deposits within four days.

Third, the staff at Paradise Gardens has bent over backwards to help the tenants. They have responded to requests for taking pets off the balconies of burned units to pet shops for safekeeping, making calls for residents, and many other human interest examples of excellent customer services occurred at Paradise Gardens.”

Of course the owners were quick to refund rent checks and security deposits within four days. They couldn’t do anything else with the media watching as closely. What isn’t common knowledge is that my security deposit was short $100. Perhaps they kept it as a cleaning fee for a mess that I had absolutely no hand in causing. I’m sure to your mind, that’s fair, right.

The staff bending over backwards to help us after the fire is such a load of blarney that I’m sure they must have put on a great face for you or you’re smoking something really good.

Or perhaps you consider it great customer service to let a tenant return home in January and tell her, “Yeah. Your place burned down. Sorry.” Or maybe it was great customer service to hire a man with one arm who actually laughed when I mentioned that some of my property was missing. No? Then I’m sure it was great customer service for them to schedule me to pick up my property then not bother to call me when they cancelled the appointment only one hour prior.

If not, then I’m sure you consider it great customer service for the owner to have his attorney send me a Notice of Abandonment after he has prevented me from retrieving my property then demand that I pay rent from December to April 2007 and storage fees from that point forward.

This fire was a complete nightmare from the beginning and the owners did absolutely nothing to make the situation better. In fact, they made it far worse. Even tenants with undamaged property were not allowed to retrieve their belongings because the owners claimed asbestos contamination. But testing is expensive so they only did a couple samples and based their decision to destroy everything on those results.

I had to get my own consultant to test my unit. The only contamination he found was what had been caused by the abatement company the owners hired for clean up. It took me over five months to get anywhere near a resolution in this mess. And I was one of the fortunate ones.

It cost me an unnecessary $10,000 that I didn’t have and talking to every government agency I could find who had any leverage, but I got most of my property. I’m still missing my class ring and some appliances, but that’s nothing compared to the tenant who had a locked box that contained cash, jewelry and checks. The clean up company only returned her checks.

Other tenants are missing their big screen TVs, laptops, stereos, etc. What makes the loss so hard is that none of these things were damaged by the fire. They were seen, intact, the following day, but the fire department wouldn’t allow us to remove those items during our 10 minute reentry. These losses were all products of the owners hiring a clean up company as shady as they are. Tell me, what is there to praise in that?

A Still Angry Tenant

Random Acts of Meanness

I’ll admit it. I’ve been sort of a grump lately. I’m won’t bore you with the details of what's motivating the grumpiness, but I’ve noticed a sort of unexpected side effect that I will tell you about. I can be really mean when provoked. In my current State of Grumpy, it doesn’t take much to provoke me.

Earlier this afternoon, I went to the kitchen at my job to get a bit more of my sausage and rice concoction. I’m all set up and waiting to get in the refrigerator because some guy is standing in front of it talking to another man at the table. Finally the guy moves and I open the door just as one of the security guards comes in. I guess he thinks I’m opening the door for him because he just went straight in and put a tiny little bottle of chocolate milk inside.

So now I'm really annoyed at his presumption and he doesn’t even bother to acknowledge me with a nod or even say thank you. I may as well have been invisible. Really? Is he convinced he’s so important that fairies randomly open refrigerator doors for him?

But in that split second before I remembered I’m saved, I considered dumping his milk down the drain and putting the empty bottle back. That’s what I’m talking about. Just a random act of meanness.

Last week, I finally got my first romance novel critiqued, revised and ready to submit. Thursday was going to be a very exciting day for me. I found a post office that had early hours and planned to get there the moment they opened. Except, I’m very good at finding more stuff to do than I have time for so I ended up being a half an hour late. Instead of going to the post office I’d planned, I figured I could just find one closer to my job so I wouldn’t be late to work.

So much for that plan. I did find post offices along my route to work. The problem is that none of them had window hours before 9a. By the third post office, it was 10 til 9 so I just stayed put. I ended up 2nd in a line of about fifteen people. And to make things even more fun, they didn’t actually open until about 9:03a.

The line moved into the window area. Despite having seen more employees on the premises, only one window was open. After another minute or so, another employee sauntered out to her window. She took her good ole sweet time shuffling whatever it was she had to shuffle before gesturing to me to approach.

One of my address labels started to peel so I asked her for some tape. She plopped the tape dispenser on the counter and proceeded to weigh the inside contents. She handed them back to me to seal inside the outer envelope. When I got ready to tape the envelop she snatched the dispenser back with the declaration that she didn’t have all day.

Really? You don’t have all day? To do your stupid job? Are you kidding me? I’ve been standing here for the last 20 minutes waiting for you to earn your fricking pay check and now you don’t have all day?!?!?! Then I remembered my salvation, smiled, thanked her for her time and headed off to work. I arrived there almost an hour late.

And to make this morning complete, while on the freeway, I ended up behind a van from the clean up company that totally ripped me off and stole my property when my apartment building burned down. I’m telling you, these people turned an already brutal situation into a complete and utter nightmare. I’m talking five months solid of fighting these people and they were still able to get away with stealing things like my high school class ring. And don’t get me started on the landlord who allowed all this to happen or the one arm guy he hired to oversee the property retrieval and thought it was very funny when tenants’ property came up missing.

The point is, it took the complete power of the Holy Spirit in me not to run this van off the road and be thrilled about it. It was full of employees and I can only imagine they were on their way to another job site to steal more property from fire victims. I’m still considering writing “DO NOT USE THIS COMPANY” on the side of one of their boxes and posting it in the back window of my car. I still need some prayer on this one.

And just when I thought I could let the one arm guy go… After the fire, I went to building to retrieve what had already been salvaged of my property. To give a little background on the fire, it went to six alarms and two people died. I saw video of flames shooting out of a window that was only one apartment over from mine. Yet, God is good. I had no fire damage or water damage in my place at all. You’d think it’d be easy to get my stuff back, right? You'd be horribly mistaken.

Back to the meeting with the one arm man. He was having all the tenants sign forms supposedly to release our property to us. I guess they didn’t count on anyone actually reading the form. It said nothing about releasing the property. What it did say is that I wouldn’t sue the above mentioned clean up company. I ended up going around and around with the one arm man about what the form said. Finally, I told him to point out the section that says it releases my property to me. He pointed to a paragraph which I read aloud for everyone in the room. It was the 'will not sue' clause. I refused to sign it.

He gets all huffy and threatens to call the landlord. I can’t believe he actually expected me to be scared by that. I settle in to wait. The landlord tells him just to give me my things. To make this already too long story shorter, the one arm guy takes me to an apartment where my things are supposed to be. Except, they’re not my things. He doesn’t want to believe me when I tell him this. What if someone wasn’t as honest? Were they just going to give away property willy nilly?

After two more tries, he finally finds my stuff. As I’m going through it I’m pointing out things that are missing. Which is what set off his little laugh attack. He thought it was hysterical. He says jokingly that they should make a list of all the things that have come up missing. I turned a glare on the man. It was only by the power of God that I didn’t tell him that we should add his arm to that list ‘cause I was certainly thinking it.

And that brings this rant to a much overdue close. Thank you for reading.