Sunday, April 14, 2013
* Having made the decision to live in rented accommodations long ago, it's been my experience there are certain signs to watch for when you begin to suspect the current arrangement may no longer be conducive to a peaceful lifestyle. This is one of those stories.
At the time we'd been living in Portland for nearly three years, residing in a type of complex known as a California courtyard apartment, where a pair of two storey buildings faced one other across a heavily planted median. The eight ground floor places, four in either building, were spacious two bedroom apartments with broad windows looking out at the garden. We lived in one of those. Above them were twice that number of studio apartments accessed by stairways and long balcony decks. The place was quite old as evidenced by the age of the plantings - huge camellias, thick clusters of azalea and impenetrable rhododendron bushes - which masked, but didn't really hide, the opposite building.
Time passed with us mailing the monthly rent checks and rarely talking to the guy who'd owned the place for decades. One day there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find a small well dressed woman holding a briefcase standing next to a respectable looking middle aged man wearing a suit. They looked like insurance agents or active proselytizers for some religion except for the fact the man was also wearing a brand new tool belt. The woman introduced herself as the new owner, gave me copies of the legal documents and a card with information about where to mail the rent checks. She also said she had no experience with rental property ownership so had engaged her next door neighbor (the now smiling man) who had often thought about being a contractor. He would be hiring and overseeing a crew that would make necessary repairs to the buildings..
One of the first things he and his crew did was to remove half of the support columns for the studio apartment access deck for the building across the way. They probably intended to replace them but left for the day without doing so. That night the whole midsection of the structure fell down. Happily nobody was hurt but the fire department had to be called to rescue the people stuck in their second floor places. I have no idea what kind of fines were levied but that didn't stop the renovations taking place. Their next plan was to redo the plumbing in all the studios, a disturbing enough process to listen to in the first place, but made so much worse when it turned out that every time someone upstairs used the shower, sinks, or toilet, water cascaded down the walls into our kitchen and bathroom. By then we'd begun to search for a new place but didn't find one that suited us quite soon enough. It was February by then, a cold wet month just about everywhere as you well know. We came home from work one afternoon to find our bedroom windows boarded up and broken glass all over the bed, bookcases, night table and floor.
The man hadn't quite made it back to his car when we found him making ready to leave. 'Oh, that?' he responded to our outraged protests, 'We had a little accident with some lumber but we'll get new glass for you in a few days.' Although he affected surprise when we insisted he clear up the broken glass he did call over a couple of his boys to help. So it got fixed, mostly, but a week later we found a new temporary home.
It wasn't the first or last time we witnessed renovations go wrong but it reminded me of a weakness often found among people. That man might have been a well trained and skilled member of his chosen profession but he was no carpenter or plumber. What he had was the mistaken confidence that he could master anything. What troubles me is that same unfounded confidence that leads people who know nothing about the environment to make even worse mistakes.
It's a problem of scale.
* Apologies but some images aren't worth more than five minutes of drawing time.