My Week in the Ghetto

Joe Ruelos


The following is a summary of Saturday 4/26/03 thru Saturday 5/3/03.


In exchange for free-rent and no greater than $400/wk, I verbally agreed to provide 24-hour security coverage for 6 days (Monday through Saturday) of the "School 181 Apartments" building (converted from the old Frederick Douglass High School in Sandtown-Winchester into approximately 100 residential units).  I moved into the building on Saturday 4/26/03 and planned to begin "work" the evening of Monday 4/28/03.  As a 1099-Misc "contractor", I arranged to split the security duty and money with another guy (my friend Greg, who lives down the street from the building).  On his first shift, Greg decided to quit Tuesday morning (while I was down in Annapolis to get some remaining items and enjoy my last moments before surrendering the keys).  The manager (who lives in Virginia) said it would just have to be me on security until he came back into town on the weekend.  By Wednesday, I made plans and was highly in favor of getting out of the arrangement.  I got my cousin and his friends to fill in for me briefly Wednesday night so I could make choir practice in Eldersburg.  The manager came back Friday night to relieve me, and I asked him how much he would pay me if I were to take the rest of the weekend off and come back Sunday night.  He said he would only pay me 4/6 of the $400 because my coverage would have been from Monday night through Friday night, which is only 4 of 6 days of agreed coverage.  I asked him to give me closer to $400 as consideration for the time I spent mostly by myself with very little sleep.  He said he would pay me $350 if I would return and work most of Saturday, citing that this would be more in accordance with our "previous agreement".  I asked him just to write me a check for 4/6 of the money because I wanted to take the rest of the weekend off and I needed to deposit the check into my account soon to pay bills.  He offered to write me a check for $265 (rounded down from the more accurate $266.67), but he was nice enough to round it up to $270, after my suggesting it would be "more fair".  I left peacefully, telling him that I would return Sunday evening, though in actuality, I was already prepared to move out the next day.  Saturday, a week after I moved in, I returned with another moving truck and some friends, and we moved my stuff out of the "dilapidated" apartment and into my parents' house.


You might ask, "Why not stick around to see if things improve?"  For one thing, I heard constant complaints from the tenants about the manager.  I actually befriended most of the tenants and briefly got inspired to stick around for their sake.  Quite simply, the manager is a bad businessman, willing to spend as little money as possible, even at the expense of pissing off his tenants and workers.  Upon moving in last week, I had to spend my own money to buy a bathroom sink, 2 light fixtures, and a front door lock; and I was still missing a refrigerator, which he suggested that I purchase as well, where the total of my expenditures would constitute a "security deposit" on my rent-free apartment.  He even asked me for cash to pay the "maintenance man" for installing the things I bought for my apartment.  I told him I would pay if I had the cash, and he was kind enough to let me off the hook for that.  Then, when I moved out Saturday, he asked me for the keys to the apartment (even though I had previously given him a copy).  I told him I wanted the lock back because I paid for it, but he said, "Well, if you want the lock, you'd better pay me $100 that I paid Jonathan (the "maintenance man") for installing it."  I argued that: 1) first of all, the $100 was probably for installing the bathroom sink, 2 light fixtures, and door lock; and 2) I shouldn't have to pay shit for un-installing the door lock anyway, because it's mine since I paid for it.  After a heated conversation involving extreme anger and swearing from me, I ended up neither returning the keys nor getting the lock back.  He has since left three messages on my cell phone, referring to my "holding onto keys of another property" as "a crime", threatening to put a stop-payment on the $270 check he gave me Friday if I don't return the keys, and advising me with "Joseph, I am not playing games here."  Too bad I had already cashed the check on Saturday!  All I hope now is that he has no legal recourse against me regarding the door-lock, or for bailing out on a verbal agreement.  I *think* I'm safe since I never signed any contracts, and everything seemed to be a verbal-trust arrangement.


There's so much more to tell, my interaction with the tenants and my assumption of other management-type responsibilities beyond my security duties such as entertaining prospective tenants while the landlord was "doing other business" in Virginia.  It's unfortunate that people who need housing have to settle with places like these.  The landlord charges $500/mo for 2-BR and $600/mo for 3-BR, and he asks for two months rent as security deposit for units which are mostly un-finished, probably un-livable (by most people's standards), but "leasable" according to him (maybe he has a "slum-lord" manual which says it's okay to let people live in these conditions).  Greg, my friend who quit, quoted the landlord as saying, "Oh, most of these people are used to living in dilapidated houses."  The tenants equated their tenancy with "living in prison", mostly because: 1) the security person is the only way the tenants can get in and out of the building (and the guard has to hold onto the picture ID of any visitors until they leave); 2) the tenants/visitors were allowed only to go from the front door to their unit; and 3) the landlord wanted the security alarm on all day to monitor any un-wanted entry in the building (this required me to turn it off anytime anyone crossed through the main lobby).  His reason for all this was to provide a safer environment for the tenants, although ulterior-ly he was most likely concerned that someone would break in and steal a water heater or similar -- which of course would require him to spend money replacing it.  He warned me when I started, "I am serious, Joseph, if anything is missing from this building when I return, I will hold you legally responsible."  Ironically, the tenants felt "too secure" with the security arrangement, almost like in a maximum-security prison.  Anyway, I'd rather just forget all of it for now.  If anything, it'll make a nice short story or grounds for legal action against him.  All I know is that I'm back home with my parents, and after the hell of last week, I'm so grateful to be back here, get sleep, take a shower, eat Mom's awesome food, etc.