Bill was looking for an apartment. We were looking for a tenant. He was very friendly. We were very relieved. It was a lovely apartment. We had just finished cleaning and painting it. The hardwood floors gleamed. The rent was modest and the utilities were included. We lived downstairs and looked after the property. Other buildings on the street had been similarly converted into multi-family units, but the owners were usually from out of town. They didn't care who moved in. They didn't care how their properties appeared. They were investors. They looked at the bottom line. But as I explained to my wife, the best policy was to be conscientious as landlords and respectful as individuals. It didn't matter if the other houses on the street were falling into decrepitude or if they were occupied by the criminal or insane. Treat others with kindness, I explained, and they will return it with gratitude.
When Bill arrived he was the personification of gratitude. He was quiet and neat and always greeted us when he saw us outside. But it wasn't long before he suffered hard times. He soon found he could no longer afford to live there, and informed us of his intention to leave. He had paid first and last month's rent when he arrived, so he was paid up until his scheduled departure. But a poor credit history kept him from finding a suitable place to move, and he decided to stay on a month-to-month basis. Of course he could no longer afford both first and last month’s rent, so I agreed to let him stay without paying his final month in advance.
Not long afterwards, he injured his arm in a car accident. Unable to work with one arm, he went on disability. For some reason he didn’t strike me as especially disabled. He went to summertime festivals; he carried his laundry and groceries around; he even managed to change the fan belt on his car. But he was a long time in healing. I asked him what was wrong with his arm and he said it was a mystery. The doctors were puzzled. He was scheduled to undergo an MRI, but that wasn’t for another few months.
Because he was on disability, he found himself unable to pay his full month's rent all at once. He began paying half on the 1st and half on the 15th. Eventually even this became too much and he informed me of his renewed intention to move. He gave me a portion of his half-month’s rent and promised the rest when his cheque arrived.
My wife and I had already decided on a change of lifestyle. Being landlords just wasn't very rewarding. We found a buyer and needed only to pass a building inspection to finalize the deal. I told Bill that a building inspector would be going through his apartment the next evening. Unfortunately, I was out of town when the inspector arrived and Bill wasn’t home. As I had the only other key, there was no way to enter his apartment—except through a window that he had left open. Entry was made; the apartment was inspected; conditions on the sale were waived; the house was sold.
But Bill discovered from a neighbour that someone had entered his apartment through the window. His anger was unexpected. I explained the situation. I reminded him that he had been given notice of our intention to inspect his apartment at that time, and that he had given his approval. He explained that he had only given permission for keyed entry. I explained that since there was no key available, entry was made through the window. He pointed out that when he left, the storm window was open and the sash window was closed; but when he returned, the sash window was open and the storm window was closed. He could have been robbed, he said. I asked him if anything was missing. He explained that it wasn’t the point. I asked him if anything was damaged. He explained that he was victimized. He accused us break and entry. He said he was calling the police. He had a friend who worked on the police force for over twenty years. He knew the law. I asked him what damages he had suffered. He screamed that someone had broken into his apartment. I asked him if he could accept my apologies. He demanded to know the name of the individual responsible for the crime.
A few days later I went upstairs to see if he had any money to pay his rent. He explained, again, in a rather exasperated tone, that he was waiting for his cheque. I told him that I had been waiting for quite some time. He reminded me that he had been waiting quite a while for the name of the individual who broke into his apartment. I asked him why he wanted to make a scene. There was nothing to gain. He told me that it was already a police matter. It was out of his hands.
We have only one mailbox, and I usually bring Bill’s mail upstairs myself. So when an envelope arrived that appeared to hold a cheque, I was quite relieved. I admit I held it up to the light to make sure it was a cheque: it was. So I brought it upstairs and cheerfully announced the good news. Bill did not look cheerful. He explained that it would be good news only if it were in fact a cheque and not something else. It was difficult to disagree. I suggested he open it and see. He agreed, and while I waited at the door, he went into his kitchen to open it. He came back a few minutes later with a telephone bill in his hands and announced that it wasn’t a cheque after all. I told him I was sure the envelope contained a cheque. He asked angrily if I was calling him a liar. He loudly warned me that he would sue for slander. I told him that I could see through the envelope that it was a cheque. He told me it was a crime to go through his mail.
I asked him if he was being fair. I reminded him that I had done my best throughout his tenancy to ensure that he was comfortable. He scoffed at this and pointed out that during the winter the furnace hardly brought any heat to his bedroom on the third floor. I explained that I knew he supplemented the heat with portable electric heaters, so it was always warm in his apartment. I also mentioned that in the summer I allowed him to install an air-conditioning unit and never demanded money for the electricity it consumed. He reminded me that I told him not to turn the air-conditioner on when he wasn’t home. I mentioned that I had an electrician install extra outlets so the breakers wouldn’t trip when he made popcorn. He pointed out that he never asked me to do that, and suggested that it was a matter of my own convenience: I no longer had to climb down to the basement to reset the breakers. I later overheard him on the phone telling someone that I was being an idiot. He told his friend how astonished he was when I once went upstairs and asked him to smoke his marajuana on the balcony so that it wouldn’t drift down into my foyer. He explained to his friend that it was his apartment and he could do whatever the hell he wanted. He paused as his friend asked a question to which he replied: oh, less that an ounce: let him call the police if he wants; there’s nothing they’re gonna do about it.
I was demoralized. I was growing worried that he might refuse even to vacate his apartment and that I would be forced to go through the long, tedious process of getting him evicted. My wife suggested we offer to forgive his rent in exchange for an early departure. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary. At the end of the month he rented a truck and started moving out. His brother came by to help him carry the furniture down the back stairs. Watching them lug the heavy pieces into the truck, my wife came up with a brilliant idea. Instead of dwelling on the negative, she said, we should count our blessings. Among our blessings is a modern, compact digital camera. She suggested we take some pictures as a memento. I was truly impressed with her ingenuity. Bill had his shirt off, and his muscles bulged as he struggled to carry a large book shelf down the stairs. Focused on the task at hand, his injuries were a forgotten memory. I stood at the window and started snapping pictures. I tried to stay out of sight, because I was embarrassed to be seen standing there with a grin on my face, taking pictures like a silly fool.
But Bill spotted me. And what a reaction! At first he was furious. I went outside to have a cigarette. He mumbled to my neighbour about how he wished he had a shotgun. When asked why, he made a gesture like he was holding a camera. As he walked by he asked in a rather venomous tone if I liked taking pictures. I know it’s considered rude, but I replied with a question: I simply asked if he had my rent money yet. His response was inaudible but distinctly unfriendly.
The next day, however, a miracle occurred. He had been thinking things over. He sent a note promising to send money in the next few days. He was deferential, acquiescent: a strangely driven bundle of energy that mopped and cleaned his apartment with hitherto unseen enthusiasm. I attribute it to my changed attitude. No doubt he could sense the change: my renewed confidence, the smile that had returned to my face, the swagger in my walk. I had shrugged off the negativity and instead of grumbling about my deadbeat tenant, I concentrated on the simple pleasure of photography. I didn't even need to blackmail him.