Over the past few months, I’ve had a pretty challenging start to 2015. If I could, I’d rewind the clock about four months, and re-do it. In other words, I’ll share a bit more about what I’ve been up to lately and what I’ve learned.
Where do I begin? I suppose I’ll start in chronological order since it’s easier to follow.
Suing a shady landlord.
A little over a year ago, I fulfilled my obligations with a previous landlord for an apartment in Chandler. They didn’t return my security deposit and even after trying for several months to bring it to their attention, I eventually filed suit to compel them to return my funds. What followed was they challenged my claims, even though they lacked any such evidence. This entire process sucked up all my “free” time. They eventually retained counsel to fight my claims and eventually so did I, but not after a painstaking amount of hours to rebuttal their claims and make a strong claim.
After a few more months supporting my claim, we met in court and they eventually settled for the principal amount. Which of course, in writing we mutually agree there is no wrongdoing, but in reality no one should need to sue a landlord to recover $700. Their two-star rating on Google reviews and Yelp is of no surprise; which it was four when I originally moved in.
In the end, we ended up with a neutral outcome. I’m not upset, but I’m not exactly thrilled, either. After heeding the advice from my attorney and observing the biased nature of the judge, absolving myself of a lengthy battle all over $700 is the best course of action.
With any mistake, I tend to look at it and ask myself, “What did I learn?” Here are the lessons I’ve learned:
- When one has a dispute with a landlord for failing to return a deposit, the courts are the absolute, last resort. I probably could have gone through alternate means such as contacting the local media, appearing in their offices requesting my deposit and sending certified mail with very clear language that states I did not receive payments — I did that, but it was slightly ambiguous.
- When taking a corporation to small claims court, seek counsel before filing against them. This is important because the typical informalities that are tolerated in small claims are not tolerated in civil court. Hence, why I needed to retain counsel to not lose the case or incur further damages. Next time, I will seek the advice of an attorney first before filing a complaint.
- Always appear at your move-out inspection. I let the otherwise decent relationship with the landlord cloud my judgment to let them contact me if they found anything dirty or damaged. They did, yet withheld payment. Even when contesting it, in writing, they simply didn’t respond. With the move-out inspection, you can immediately protest any undue charges. Mind you, in this circumstance, it was not possible for me to appear due the fact I was traveling on business. Next time, I will be present or schedule it well before the vacancy date. It turns out that next time was just a week ago, so it all worked out for the reasons I stated above.
I probably spent about 50–60 hours on this alone. It was a very stressful time, but as you keep reading, you can see it just prepared me for what was next.
Burglarized after only 13 days
[I have taken some liberty in expressing a few of my personal views here. It might be a bit lengthy, but you can skim it and get to the point. Forgive my tangents; a lot has been on my mind.]
My lease for my apartment in Tempe was ending soon. It was a very small place, but it was acceptable for me. I decided I wanted to branch out and get ready for life in a house. What better way to do that than to actually rent a house and get used to it? Or, so I thought.
I shopped on a budget and checked out numerous rentals. For the ones that fit my needs, they often have one or more applicants already in the process of signing. As my vacancy date came closer, I became a bit more eager to sign and not be indecisive. One of the factors in moving is that I wanted to live a bit closer to Downtown Phoenix, among price, features and square footage for things such as a home-office and room to work on my car without interruption. Location wasn’t a huge concern, but I did my best to cross reference an address/neighborhood for crime statistics. Only one problem — user error.
For the rental that I chose, it was professionally managed. It was located near I-17 & Jefferson St, which is on the west side of Phoenix, just within the jurisdiction of South Phoenix. When I searched crime reports, I failed to notice that the results were filtered by incidents within the past 30 days. So, naturally, nothing showed up and that’s why I felt good about moving forward.
The house was very nice on the inside, but the yards were mediocre. The front window had security bars on it, which was a signal, but it wasn’t enough to sway me to avoid it. The house was located near a recycling center and the industrial noise from it didn’t concern me. Overall, it didn’t seem like a terrible choice. I thought it was a decent house for someone on a budget. It wasn’t too long until I found out why.
After I moved in, I realized how off the beaten path this place really was. Oddly, every other hour during the day, ice cream trucks (vans) would circle the area even though there weren’t many kids. Then at night, a multi-housing property a couple houses away literally, literally, would blast loud music until about 1:00 AM every other night. Not just one resident; but the entire complex threw parties even on ‘school’ nights.
Then, I took out my first bag of trash to the dumpster in the alley. To my surprise, I saw graffiti sprawled all over the wall in various forms. A couple gang-related ones and a one domestic related (ex-boyfriend, likely). The alley was also littered egregiously with trash all over the place. It was so bad, I literally couldn’t help but volunteer my time to clean it up. After discarding several used diapers, 40-ounce bottles, about 50-pounds of loose trash, the alley was much more respectable. The good from this is that I got to meet my upstanding neighbors and learned a bit more intel about the neighborhood. (It was also nice to see that once I started cleaning things up in the alley, so did they.)
Now about a week a half in, I completed my move. I was very secure with loading my valuables out of sight from people. I was meticulous with locking my doors, even investing in an security alarm, too. In my storage, I also had a surveillance system that I figured that if any of my rentals needed surveillance, this was it. I stealthily installed the cameras and calibrated them to monitor the likely entry areas. I didn’t fully secure my DVR unit yet, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary about the place. With my security systems configured, boxes emptied and everything where it should be, I was able to sleep easily at night.
One morning in late February, I did my usual routine. I left for work at around 8:30 AM. I worked a full day and needed to get a hair cut and gas. This resulted in me arriving home at around 8:15 PM that night. When I opened my garage, I noticed that my back door was open. That was peculiar, but not implausible since it was windy that day, so I tested the latch to see if the door would stay shut. It did.
From that moment on, my heart raced. Someone left the door open. To verify my concerns, I noticed the entry door (into my kitchen) was also not secured and saw muddy shoe prints on the floor along with an audible verbal commands from my home alarm indicating which sensors were triggered. Immediately, the sinking feeling in my stomach became adrenaline after my place was violated, but not sure if an active threat still existed.
I darted back to the sidewalk, but with keys in hand, contacted the police to report a burglary and requested they clear my house for any possible suspects. At this point, I was angry, scared and even a bit ashamed this happened. Twenty minutes later — this is my first time police contact for an active crime took this long — officers arrived. They cleared the house and confirmed no suspects were there. And after I took a quick accounting of what was stolen and damaged, they found some fingerprints and lifted them.
The suspect made off with a personal laptop, a TV, a camera and lenses and a little bit of cash. Not everything, but they sure had a good look at my possessions, since my bedroom was ransacked in the process.
I asked the officers about the area, its crime and if they think the suspect would hit the place again. The officers provided some pretty standard, neutral statements, but hinted that it’s not likely a suspect would hit the place twice. Luckily, I didn’t believe them.
After being violated and knowing full well that the suspect had seen everything I had, I took defensive action. That night, with the help of my lovely girlfriend, I packed up every other bit of my possessions and transported it to her apartment. But left behind my clothes and furniture since realistically, it’s not attractive and easy to flip for cash.
After I packed up and transported everything, I armed the house’s alarm again. I removed my security cameras and DVR so it couldn’t be stolen or destroyed later. I originally forgot my password since I last used it several years ago, but the video footage was definitely on it. I then spent a few more hours capturing the video so I could provide it to investigators. Then I got a little rest.
The next day, I contacted the property management company to discuss termination of the lease. See, the night before, I was discussing with my neighbor the history of the house and he informed me that two prior burglaries occurred including a home invasion on him. Seriously. I made my mind that I would be terminating this lease and moving elsewhere. After emailing and phoning with my contact who originally said, “That’s not possible; crime knows no ZIP code,” then would take my requirements under consideration to further secure the property such as a higher wall, security bars on all the windows and even razor-wire along my perimeter. They did their best as they quickly boarded up one of the damaged windows the next morning.
A couple days later, I returned to the house at 9:55 AM to pick up laundry. I was greeted by my back door wide open again along with the kitchen door unlatched. This time, I heard my alarm’s siren and immediately contacted the police again. Several minutes later, they arrived, cleared the premises and took another report. At this point, I was livid — not at the police, or the landlord, but at the suspect.
The suspect hit the place again. I was angry, shocked, but oddly, relieved. I was relieved since I took defensive measures to remove my valuables from a compromised house, the suspect must have been so pissed that there was nothing there. At this point, all he stole was a watch and belts that I forgot I left behind. Yes, this scum stole my non-designer, Faded Glory, Wrangler and Dickies belts. Good grief.
Hours later, I was on the phone again with my contact at the property management company. She was nonresponsive at first to my four voicemails, three texts, two emails and eight phone calls. But by around noon, while I was en route to their offices, she answered her phone and she was eager to take a message. I raged a bit, but quickly calmed down since I realized she was listening and willing to help. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: “I need to terminate my lease without penalty. I have legitimate personal safety concerns and need to move out.”
Her: “Unfortunately, our property director is off-site at a conference in Florida, and can’t do this now.”
Me: “Well, you’re going to need to call, text, email and page him and his colleagues to get on the phone with me immediately about it. — ”
Her: “I understand you’re upset, I would be — ”
Me: “Look, if this isn’t resolved today, the next maintenance request I’ll submit is to clean blood off the walls the next time someone trespasses on the property.”
[At this point, her tone entirely changed]
Her: “Okay, I will get in contact with him and get you an answer in the next hour. Is that okay?”
Me: “Wow, yes. It would be fine. I appreciate your prompt action on this.”
[30 minutes later, I get a call]
Her: “I’m happy to inform that we have terminated the lease. Can you confirm when the house will be vacant?”
Me: “Wow, I truly appreciate it, but I don’t know when I’m moving. Let’s see… how is next Friday?”
Her: “Next Friday it is, I’ll schedule a move out inspection and get the paperwork going.”
And from the end of that phone call, I began all the moving logistics that I just completed. Holy crap, how was I going to pull it off?
I updated my police reports with the lost items, updated my insurance company with my lost property. And occasionally checked Craiglist for my stolen merchandise to no avail. From this point forward, I found a better place, signed on the spot after some basic checking on crime reports, and for the most part this is behind me. Except for one thing — I’ll explain it in a moment.
Now, what did I learn? Here goes:
- Check the crime reports and verify that it is all records as far back as you can go to see if the house is a crime target.
- If your car is the most expensive car in the neighborhood, you probably shouldn’t move in. You’ll be targeted. (Even if garaged.)
- If a price is too low, you should say no.
- Keep receipts, photos or other examples of proof of ownership of your valuables. It will help or hurt you later when you deal with the insurance company.
- Do your research into the demographics of the ZIP code. See how it compares to your existing way of life. I kid you not, house where I was victimized had startling facts and figures.
- Don’t be judgmental, but don’t be stupid or naive, either.
Despite all this and the fact that the incident has shifted from present day reality to something of historical significance to me, I’m still rocked by it.
When someone knocks on my door, it crosses my mind who the person is, what their intentions are and whether I should grab my firearm. I call this fear. It still haunts me. Even when the power goes out on rare occasions, I instantly think it is someone carrying out an attack on my premises. I don’t like to be pushed or compelled by fear. I’m becoming a bit more trusting. For instance, when I answer for FedEx, I am relieved. And contacting the power company to confirm an outage in the neighborhood. With little incidents like that, I am overcoming my sense of fear and trauma. I suppose one could call this “Post-Traumatic Stress,” but I’m no psychologist.
Phew, with that behind me, now what?
Playing catch-up at work.
I don’t bemoan hard work. I enjoy challenges, but at this time of year, we are all laser-focused on ICON, our annual user conference. Related to it, I operate a notable developer contest, Battle of the Apps, that had a lot of moving pieces. With being out for a few days, plus a few more later, it dramatically limited my productivity and sent me back to about another 6–8 days of backlog.
Then, I had South by Southwest (SXSW) to attend on behalf of the company. Add another five days to my backlog of work. At the end of SXSW; it was great and had netted a number of great connections, I was focused on making up for me deficiency at work. My inbox was stacking up to well over a hundred emails. (Anything above 60 is crisis-mode for me.) Most of which were all actionable emails and required roughly 3–5 minutes of time to respond.
But with a contest on my shoulders along with various legal obligations, I prioritized with the age-old “important vs. urgent” dilemma. Focused on urgent then pulled back to important, then started to get to a place of calm. Everything worked out, but barely.
Then finally ICON15 arrived. It was an awesome event and I finally was able to kick back a little bit and just naturally take it in. But to be completely honest, I was working during the event. With a lot of power comes a lot of responsibility, but I was able to unwind every night and have a few drinks. Most importantly, I wanted my Finalists to all have a wonderful time. I know they are usually on pins and needles until the winner announcements, so the more they can relax, the better it is for everyone. And guess what, they did. To my suprise, they were pretty chill about everything — way more than I was. And that was a relief for me to see and be a part of.
And ever since ICON15, I was able to catch up. It doesnt feel great to respond to emails from last month, but I follow through and made good with everyone who was waiting for an email from me.
As of this writing, I am caught up to about two days ago. I can now relax, write, read and enjoy a bit more of life again.
So, why did I share all this?
For a while, many people have asked me, with good intentions, “How are you?” And I usually respond with my usual, “I’m good, doing well, etc.” But for the past quarter, it really was a disappointing time for me. I was depressed really through a lot of it. Not over my possessions or any one incident, but really upset and questioning my own welfare. I was unhappy with this trajectory of one situation becoming worse and not advancing further.
This is my time to tell you that these past few months have been particularly troubling and stressful for me. But, I am focused on making my next ones better. I don’t want your pitty; rather, just to acknowledge that and move forward. I don’t like to live in the past, but I do like to acknowledge it.
I’m enjoying my new place and I feel at home now. I am happy to have all the amazing people in my life and I appreciate their connections and concern for my welfare even more. With my newfound sense of peace, I am eager to try things that interest me again. Specifically, read more books, write more blog posts, get reinvigorated in social media and become more adventurous, ahem, dangerous, at work and make more of a difference.
It’s not always easy to share. It’s easy to hold back. With my privacy and security obviously at the front of my mind, I selectively choose to share and open up about my current reality. But I did. Right here I did. I hope to educate others from my experiences. And in the light of transparency and openness, I figured I’d tell all and keep you posted on me.
Perhaps when things aren’t going your way, it’s safe to open up a bit and let the world know what you’re doing (or have done) about it. And if not, that’s okay, too. Just be willing to open up later and don’t let it stress you out for longer than it should. Writing for me is stress-relieving and therapeutic, so if you’re holding onto something, I suggest to let it out and let the world know about it.
‘Til next time.