16 March 2015

Respect Your Customers

I've already mentioned my current landlord, so it might help to read that post to see why I'm ranting about him again.

This month, right around the first, a couple of things went wrong. First, I didn't get a paycheck on time. Second, my disability payment was reduced considerably by an offset from my student loan servicing company. First and second added up to my rent check bouncing, which further added up to my landlord being unhappy. I can understand that-- he's running a business and he's got bills to pay, so when rent is late it makes things harder for him. I really get it.

Most people (I think) would call a tenant and say something like "Hi, this is so-and-so calling from your landlord's office. I'm calling because your rent check was returned by our bank due to insufficient funds. Because it was returned and because we were charged fees, you now owe $nnn.nn for this month. If you could let us know when payment can be made that would be great otherwise we will have to issue you a 5-day notice."

If I checked my voice mail and heard such a message, I'd know exactly what had happened, and what I needed to do to correct the problem. Shit got fucked up, and I need to figure out why and get the man a check. Okay. I would, of course, be completely triggered because something unexpectedly bad had occurred. Because it involved housing, and me being potentially homeless again, I'd probably flip the fuck out for a little while until I could tone down the PTSD response and start thinking logically about what the next step should be. It might take me a day, and I wouldn't like it, but I'd be able to call once I figured out what I was going to do and give Landlord an answer.

Instead, I got a message that went something like "Hi this is Landlord and we've got a big problem. There's a real emergency and need you to call me back right now or there's going to be big trouble. We've got a situation here and it needs to be corrected so you need to give me a call right away."

See the difference? This tells me nothing about what the problem is, only that the world is about to end and we're all going to die. The building is on fire and the parking lot just blew up and terrorists are taking over the liquor store and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are here and they want to talk to you, like yesterday.

That's what it sounds like to me, the Veteran with PTSD, anyway.

Since the message contains no useful information about what's wrong or what I need to do to fix it, it's just another trigger to me. It's the same as if you snuck up behind me without me noticing you and you tapped me on the shoulder. Very likely you'd get smacked, or at the very least I'd tell you to fuck off and I'd need some space and time to be freaked out until I could settle myself down and realize I'm not in the damn Desert and things are ok.

Landlord called me three times that day, early last week, from a couple of different numbers. I'm sure he thinks he's being smart-- if it's a number that doesn't pop up and say "Landlord - TRIGGER WARNING!!!" on my phone, I'll just go ahead and answer it. (That's really how I have him entered in my contacts list on my phone.) I don't answer any call that doesn't match a name in my contacts list, and I've followed that policy for years. So between calling me three times and then leaving a message that did nothing but make me feel anxious, I didn't call him back. Sorry. Whenever I talk to the guy, it's a long speech instead of "Dude, you owe me $. Pay the fuck up or get out."

This past Friday he called again. Several times, before he decided to finally leave a message.

"Hi this is Landlord I left you a message here about 24 hours ago for you to call me and you still have not called me. I don't want this to go on remember the last time we had this conversation. I told you if I leave you a message to call me right away and we're not having this episode that went on here if you remember shortly after you moved in. So I need you to call here today because the bookkeeper (garbled). This is very very serious. I told you yesterday. We've got an emergency here to deal with, with your situation so I need you to call me within the next hour. We're here. Otherwise she's preparing a paper. And then it's going to be severe so you need to give me a call at nnn-nnnn that's forwarded to my cellphone. This is the last time I'm calling and next I will (something something) the paper." (Total time: 1 minute, 9 seconds. Yes, I have the transcript.)

Okay. By this time I've figured out what happened with my bank and my money, and figured out what bounced and what didn't, so I'm not in the dark, but the message he left still doesn't make any sense if I haven't figured out what's happening on my own. Anyway, when I get back home around 0500 Saturday morning there's a 5-day notice taped to my door, which further says that he's going to be showing the apartment-- my apartment-- every day this week to potential new renters.

I haven't called him back yet. I will later tonight, after work, which will be after 0100. That's partly because I'm avoiding talking to him-- hopefully you can see now why I'd want to avoid talking to him directly. I've made arrangements to scrape up the money to pay the rent, plus the late fee, plus the bank fees. I won't be able to pay him until the mail arrives on Thursday, which is a day after the 5-day expires, so I'm going to have to also explain that if he does it the easy way, he can wait a day and get his money on Thursday. If he wants to do it the hard way, he can take me to court and I can give him the check at the mediation hearing at the courthouse, which will likely be one or two weeks from now. Either way, he gets paid. Either way, I've cured the debt and that makes my lease still valid.

My lease, which it should be noted, he hasn't offered to renew. He made a big deal several months ago about letting him know that I planned to renew my lease for another year, but then hasn't made it a big deal at all to get me a lease to read and sign. My previous landlords always either mailed it, or slid it under my door, or called to let me know that I should come to the office and sign it. It's very possible that I'm going to have yet another August 15 come around without a signed lease, so I'm going to need to find somewhere new to live yet again, maybe.

In any case-- current huge emergency the sky is falling OMG we're all going to die situation is handled. I'll worry about looking for a new place once the check is delivered and I have a receipt.

In a broader sense than "I'm venting and need to write to stay sane", why am I telling you all of this?

Because this is a situation that could have been handled so much differently, as it seems every situation is with this landlord. PTSD messes things up. It distorts them, and magnifies them. It's bad enough to be in danger of losing your place to live. When you've been homeless you'll do damn near anything to keep from being homeless again. PTSD makes the world seem dangerous, because you're hyperaware of everything. When someone's getting in your face, threatening you, and most of all not telling you what the fuck is the matter, the flight or fight response (which PTSD also distorts) gives your brain two options. Avoid the situation, or beat the crap out of the person causing the situation. I have, thus far, always managed to stay on the avoidance side of the coin, but I know other Veterans who would have appeared at the guy's door with a loaded shotgun to ask him just what the fuck he was trying to say.  

I'm not saying that's the right thing to do. I am saying that this is where people, Veterans and otherwise, get into trouble.

When you hear about servicemembers coming back Stateside and having trouble navigating being a civilian again, the way my landlord is acting is a perfect example of why Veterans get frustrated and pissed off. The problem is, we turn it inward and we blame ourselves, when it's really the fault of jackasses like this guy, who can't leave a simple phone message (or send an email) explaining the problem so it can be fixed. Guys like my landlord are the reason we drink, and drive too fast, and work ourselves to death, and all of the other stupid things Veterans do to try to cope with a world that just doesn't make sense much of the time. When it gets bad enough, when we've had enough encounters with people like my landlord, we decide that suicide is the only apparent answer, and we-- the entire country-- lose one of our best brothers or sisters.

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