Tuesday, November 06, 2007


So, I've moved to a lovely duplex, and we are lucky enough to have terrific neighbors. They are quiet, they don't smoke, and when they play loud music, which is seldom, they play music I like. Also, they're nice people - they let me use their washer when mine wasn't working, their little girl is very sweet to Bean, and I've had several nice chats with them. They are also clean freaks and they put me to shame (I was just down there, and I feel like I need to clean the house again, even though I just cleaned it yesterday).

Our landlord, however, does not treat them very well. When I moved in, Landlord told me, with her hand held to her mouth to indicate that she was telling me a secret, that they were Black.

We all know what this means, right? When someone tells you in a stage whisper or in some other way that communicates pretend secrecy that someone is Black (or gay, or whatever), what they're really saying is, "and you know how they are." Or, "watch out - we're likely to have a problem." Or, when it comes from a landlord, "let me know if there are any problems."

And, sure enough, Landlord has not been as receptive to their requests for repairs and maintenance as she appears to be to mine. Now, it's true, I don't call her nearly as much as they do, and they have a lot more complaints than I do. But even so, it's not like they don't have valid concerns. And it's disturbing that they can call a number of times because their washer is acting up and get no response, but I can call once about my washer and have the maintenance guy over to fix it the next day.

This is a pretty clear example of white privilege, isn't it? Especially because I would have been totally unaware of it had I not struck up a friendship with the neighbors, had they not informed me of their unanswered calls.

The question has been what to do - how do we handle this situation? For the moment, I've called to report the things that they're concerned about - to work the system, in other words. But it doesn't feel right to either of us. On the other hand, challenging the landlord doesn't feel like a very productive move (for either of us), either.

What would you do?


meejies said...

For starters, you might:

Find out whether there is a tenants union in your area. They will be able to help.

Both you and your neighbors should document all maintenance requests made to the landlord, and when they are responded to/acted upon, how many days it took, etc.

It is probably a good idea to research any local laws regarding how much time a landlord has to respond to a maintenance request (here's an example of such a law from Washington state) and whether the laws dictate that maintenance requests be made in writing, whether you can legally have repairs done then deduct the cost from your rent, etc. Again, tenants' unions are a good source for this kind of information, and the Washington State Tenants Union may give you ideas about what sort of laws to look for and how to deal with landlords in general.

Green said...

I think I'd tell the washing machine fixer dude when he came and was finishing up fixing my washer "Hey, and do you have any extra time? My neighbors are having the exact same problem - can you fix theirs while you're here so you don't have to come back?" Or if I couldn't be home while he was fixing I'd leave him a note.

Or I'd watch how he fixed and go over and fix their washer myself.

If I were all fired up about it and I were the black person, I'd keep a log with your help. My problem, how many times I reported it, when it got fixed, vs. your problem, how many times you reported it and how long it took for your issue to be fixed.

Then I'd call up a lawyer who does racial discrimination and invite them to write a strongly worded letter on my behalf to the landlord. And maybe I'd discuss with that lawyer cc-ing the news. And then, because this is reality, I'd start looking for a new place to live because the reality is the landlord will become enraged by being challenged that way, and will lash out in some way that will ultimately make me want to move.

People suck sometimes. Your neighbors are welcome at my house any time.

andi said...

Not sure how I would approach it as there is no real tenants association here. Can you talk to someone on Campus and see what options are available to you and go from there?

Brandy said...

I've dealt with this before, in an apartment complex. There wasn't a tenants association, but there were regular meetings of the tenants and for a while, things would get better...then slowly start going back to the way they were. It was sad, really.

But, I agree with meejies that your neighbors should document all requests and with green about retaining a lawyer. Do you know if the landlord has multiple duplexes or properties? It would seem the landlord would be more willing to do something about the issues if under threat of a lawsuit, but then, they could make life harder on your neighbors.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Thanks for all the helpful suggestions. The issue is whether or not confronting the landlord will result in more problems for my neighbor. However, I like this documentation idea and will suggest it to her, and I will document, as well. Then at least we'll have the information if we need it.

Re. the amount of time a landlord has to respond - the problem I've experienced is that "respond" doesn't have to mean "fix the thing." It can mean "look at the thing," or "suggest that the tenant try x, y, or z." The landlord responds - they just don't get the thing fixed properly (in some cases).

Plain(s)feminist said...

Oh, and thanks for the links - I will follow up on all the suggestions here!