Monday, October 28, 2013

Double Your Closet Space: DIY Cascading Hangers

For those of you who read my previous entry, you know that I have moved! I now have a roomie, which is great cost-wise when it comes to saving money and making new friends, but the downside is that I had to condense my life from a full apartment on my own to a room and shared storage space with someone else. 

One of the biggest adjustments is that I had a bunch of closet space and two bureaus (I used two separate closets for clothes - though, in my defense, they were not very large closets, and all together the bureaus really only had 6 drawers), so - as you might imagine - I had to put my thinking cap on and figure out how to maximize my space. Luckily for me, my librarian tendencies make me hyper-organized, so I decided I needed a cascading hanger, like this:

The downside was that they would not fit over the dowel in my closet and they cost a little more money than I wanted to spend. Then I read a tip on Amazon from someone who mentioned using S-hooks and some chain to make a DIY version. Well, quite frankly, S-hooks are too small for the dowel in my closet, as well, so my boyfriend and I went to Home Depot and put our heads together for a solution.

So this is what I did for four cascading hangers that fit my closet that only cost a total of about $12, including taxes! If your dowel comes out of the wall (mine is actually non-removable, so it cost me a little extra), you really only need the little clamps that I bought for this project. 

You need:
  • Four metal loops that will fit around your dowel/closet rod (about $2.98 for a pack of two, I think); this is optional if you fit them over your hangers, as I did upon realizing my dowel was not removable, so you can potentially save even MORE money!

  • Little clamps for your chain (mine were $0.98 each)

  • 4 foot-long lengths of chain that will fit your hangers (I chose a sturdy chain that was $1.12 per foot)

Simply hook the clamp through the metal ring, like so, and then slip the chain through the clamp. Alternatively, if you bypassed the metal rings, you can just slip the clamp through the chain and around a supporting hanger (I recommend one with a metal handle):

Then you hang in your closet, cascade your hangers as you would with a store-bought set, and voila! You have your own DIY cascading hangers! And, if you forgo the metal rings, your project will get you four cascading hangers for $8.40 or less!

They work a treat. :) Forgive the mess - haven't fully finished unpacking! 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

New Places, Crazy Landlords, and Breaking a Lease - How to Save Yourself

This post is going to be different than my usual posts about beauty, and that is because it is about some serious Life Tips that I'd like to offer. If I hadn't had the foresight and, quite often, the sheer dumb luck that I did at times, I would be in a seriously worse situation than I am in right now - and, let's face it, the situation I have just managed to get resolved was pretty bad. In the words of my boyfriend, who has been renting for almost ten years: "I have never seen any living situation that is to this extent and is this bad." 

Today's topic is: How to protect yourself when you move somewhere, in case things go bad. What to do and what you can learn from my mistakes, as well as what I did right. I will highlight the pertinent parts of my story in bold to make them easily identifiable. 

Let's lay the scenario for my personal experience: I took a job in a city where I had never lived. It was the first apartment that would have only my name on the lease and only me living there. I chose an apartment that fit my current budget and, on the surface, appeared great. It was mostly furnished, included all utilities, had off-street parking, and laundry was on-site and included in my lease. Here were my first mistakes - it fit my current budget and I signed a long term lease with no forgiveness clause. If something happens to your budget or there is an emergency and your rent rate is high, you are going to be in a lot of trouble. In my case, I took a cut in pay and was barely scraping by, locked into a lease that I couldn't break (at first, but I'll get to that). Because I hadn't included a forgiveness clause or any way to extricate myself from the lease, I was stuck. I have been getting groceries only once every two months in order to afford my rent. 

Here is what I did correctly: I over-filled the walkthrough sheet I was given and took extensive pictures of all existing damage in the apartment ahead of time. I did this even though, at the time, I thought my landlady was going to be normal. I then had another set of eyes review the walkthrough list and I provided a copy of the walkthrough to the realty I rented through. That way they had a copy from the point of time when I moved in.

I also familiarized myself with my lease verbatim and I also obtained a copy of my state's landlord-tenant law, so that I was fully aware of what boundaries existed. I also began documenting all of my interactions with my landlady and noting what witnesses were present when I was forced to communicate with her. I also took photos and video footage of me turning in my monthly rental check.

Most landlords are reasonable people; unfortunately, the woman I rented from was not, and if I had not kept documentation and witnesses as I did, in addition to the walkthrough and my photos of the apartment, I would be in deep trouble. 

The first thing that is important is to set boundaries. If you are friends with your landlord ahead of time, that's great for you. If not, I advise you to treat them as a business partner, because that is what they are. When you rent a home or an apartment, you are paying for a good and a service; that property legally becomes yours to do with as you choose, within the realm of your lease, and your landlord should allow you to do so and leave you to your right to quietly enjoy the premises. Do not allow yourself to be a push-over in this matter, or your landlord will continue to push you around. This is another mistake that I made. I like to be nice to people and I am a fairly empathetic  considerate person. Unfortunately, my landlady recognized this trait in me and exploited it.

I began being bullied by my landlady the first day I moved in. As I was carrying boxes up to my apartment, she stopped me and told me off for "making too much noise." Instead of telling her I was moving in and that is to be expected, I apologized. I should not have done so. In the duration of the 8 months that I lived in my apartment, I was harassed almost daily by this woman; I was informed that I wasn't allowed to wear shoes or slippers within my apartment, that I wasn't allowed to have guests, that I wasn't allowed to make any sound in the hallways or outside on the property, that I wasn't allowed to make any sounds after 9pm in the evenings, and more. 

My landlady informed that she watched for me to come home and leave my apartment and would pounce on me then. She accused me of having wild parties, and when I asked her who she thought I was having parties with, she described the other tenants in the building. When I pointed out to her that they rented from her, and were going to their apartments and certainly not to mine to have "wild parties," she admitted to me that she didn't know any of our names.

I found my landlady in my apartment without informing me first, which is illegal, and I would hear her doing the same to the other tenants and to guests at her bed & breakfast, as the apartments and bed & breakfast are in the same building. She used to follow me around for up to 30 minutes at a time, ranting at me and attacking me for imagined slights. She blamed an ant infestation that the house has on me, telling me that I brought the ants with me when I moved from Maine. (It should be noted that I found reviews of her bed & breakfast online from over 5 years ago complaining about the infestation of ants on the property.) 

She began attacking friends of mine that would stop by to go to dinner with me and my family members. She threatened constantly to evict me, and proudly boasted that she had evicted the last several people that had rented from her. She also began telling people that myself and another girl who rented in the building were lesbians together; she also would scream across the house in increasingly louder shrieks until I realized she was trying to get my attention. She became more and more volatile, and I was tiptoeing and whispering around my apartment premises in an effort to escape her constant wrath.

Again - every time I had an encounter with her I controlled my temper and documented the time, date, and whether any witnesses were present. This showed that there was a pattern of behavior and that these were not isolated incidents; in addition to that, it provided additional people who could vouch for what I was saying, so that it was not only my word against hers. 

She also insisted that I never communicate with her in paper or electronically; she did not want a paper trail. For this reason, I always provided her with paper copies of everything, even though she literally would throw away the documents in front of me, as I watched, and insist to my face that she did not receive them as she did so. I kept copies of everything myself, as well, to back up the fact that I had provided them.

Several other tenants spoke to me and revealed that she was treating them the same way. Finally, at the end of September, one of the tenants who would also find her randomly in his apartment for no reason (again--illegal) came to me and confessed that he couldn't take it any longer, and that he was moving. He left the next morning and said goodbye to me as I headed to work.

The following evening - about a day later - I had my boyfriend over for a visit. My boyfriend is in the military and lives up by the military base closest to us in the state, which is over an hour away from where I live, so I do not see him frequently. It was late at night, and I was wearing my pajamas, when I heard a dreaded knock on the door which meant she was there to harass me about something else.

When I opened the door, my landlady immediately attacked me. She accused me of having my boyfriend live there and never leave the apartment, raising her water bill, and raising her costs. She never showed me this alleged difference in the water bill and told me that she had "spoken to people and they told her that she was right to raise the rent." She told me to pay her an increased rent right then and there, that evening, or I was going to be evicted. She then stated that she would ask my boyfriend directly for extra rent money and that if I didn't like it, I was welcome to leave, as long as I told her I was leaving "more than a day in advance." 

In a state of shock, I told her that I didn't understand how she could raise the rent, since I had a lease that was a legal contract, and that my boyfriend certainly didn't live with me. She flew into a rage and told me that I "was not in the same class as the other people she rents to in the building", that I was a child, and that she "couldn't believe I was being so unreasonable." I managed to put her off by telling her I didn't have the money that night, which was the truth. 

I knew for a fact that there was no way my boyfriend, who visited only occasionally, could have raised the water bill. For one thing, the entire house had the same water bill - there are not separate meters for each apartment. For another, my boyfriend and I started dating at the very end of May, which is the beginning of tourist season in the city I live, and the end of tourist season is - fancy this - the end of September. As a bed & breakfast owner, the landlady had guests almost every single night since I started dating my boyfriend. In addition to these things, also at the same time I started dating my boyfriend, my landlady's developmentally disabled and deaf nephew moved in with her full time and has been a 24/7 constant fixture in the house. That, plus the fact that she had just suddenly lost the rent of the guy who lived downstairs, meant that there was no way, with all of these factors added in, that my boyfriend being there once every two weeks could have raised her water bill. 

Here is how I was able to somehow, miraculously remove myself from the situation and from a landlady that is completely unhinged and a slumlord (I won't say her name, but it sounds like Schm-an Sch-maylor of the Sch-ohn Sch-easton Sch-ouse), which is a total blessing. 

It is illegal for a landlord to violate the contract of a lease by attempting to raise the rent while the lease is still in effect; harassment of a tenant and violation of their right to quiet enjoyment is also illegal, and so is the fact that she would go into my apartment without gaining consent and without there being an emergency to prompt such actions. Even if I had not had a lease, it is illegal for a landlord to raise the rent on a tenant without putting it into writing and giving the tenant 30 days notice at the minimum

The next thing I did right: once I realized what was happening, I didn't waste any time or put off taking action. Had I done so, the landlady would have prevailed over me and I could have lost a lot of money and ruined my credit score. I called the realty company to check and see what they had to say about everything that was happening and was told by the shocked realtor that my landlady had come into their office, claimed that my boyfriend never left the apartment, and asked what she should do. Not knowing that she was lying, they told her that she would need to bring my boyfriend and myself and negotiate a new lease with both of our names on it. Instead of doing this, she knocked on the door at night and demanded I pay then and there, which is, as I have noted, illegal.

My next step, having hit my limit with the gall of this woman, was to call a landlord-tenant lawyer for a free consultation. He told me that I should get her to sign a mutual termination of lease document to protect myself legally and to give my notice as soon as possible. Because I knew my landlady would pretend not to have received my notice, I sent it digitally, CCing another person to verify that it was sent properly, and I sent it via Certified Mail, with a read receipt requested. This is easy to do; you go into your local post office and ask for Certified Mail with a read receipt. You fill out the little card they give you and choose whether to obtain a hard copy or an electronic receipt copy. Because I wanted tangible evidence, I opted for a hard copy. All total, ensuring that I covered my derriere in this manner cost me only $6.11, an amount I gladly paid for my peace of mind.

When I attempted to contact the lawyer I had spoken with several times and never heard back from him, I scouted around online and found a mutual termination letter. I downloaded it and adapted it to my lease and to my situation. The whole time this was going on, I kept checking in with the original realty company. While I realize I made a hassle of myself with the realtors, if I had not been so loud about the situation, I would have been ignored. I always remember what my father told me: the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

I received the read receipt in the mail with her signature on it and saved it with my files. Not only did I have her signature saying she had received the hard copy, but I realized she had read it as well, since the following morning as I was leaving my apartment for work at 7:20am, I walked out the door to find her waiting for me. She began screaming at me so loudly that another tenant in the building woke up and sent me a message asking what was going on! I was so stunned at her behavior that I informed her I had to get to work and couldn't speak with her.

I called the realty company and told them what had happened; I finally was able to convince the realty company to call my landlady to get her in to the office to sign the mutual release. I asked my boyfriend to accompany me to the meeting for support. Even if whoever is there with you doesn't utter a word, the fact that you have another body backing you up is a great morale booster and can give you additional strength. 

I also did so to prove that he was not living with me - as he is in the military, he could show his military ID and location to demonstrate tangibly that he was not, by any means, residing with me at that address. Thirdly, I brought him as a witness to her behavior and to her telling me to get out that evening.

I am unbelievably grateful that I had obtained her signature, kept documentation of her treatment of me, did my research on the law, and brought witnesses, because my landlady would have hung me out to dry had I not done so. As an older woman, she made an attempt to play the senile card, and my older realtor quite obviously believed her until I brought out proof after proof of her insane behavior towards me. 

She claimed that she had never met my boyfriend - interesting, as she was claiming he was a full-time resident at the address, where she also lives - and both of us said, "You have met him 2-3 times now." She tried to state that she had not demanded I pay an increased rent, which I countered by describing the situation and pointing out that my boyfriend had witnessed it, which made her then admit to the realtor she had done. 

She then attempted to claim that she had never received the notice I provided, to which I pointed out that I had not only sent her a digital copy, but that I had a physical signature from her indicating her receipt of the notice I had legally tendered. When she stuttered that she had received it but hadn't read it, I stated that she certainly must have, since the evening after I received the mail saying that my landlady had signed for the notice, she was waiting for me that morning at 7:20 am outside my apartment door and began screaming at me about it so loudly that it woke another tenant up and they asked what was happening. 

When she had the gall to ask if we could "work things out," I then added that I had found her in my apartment several times before, as had another tenant, which was illegal, and that it was illegal to raise my rent, that I felt like I was living in a cage, and that I was not able to quietly enjoy the apartment, which is also a legal right. 

At this point the realtor was openly gaping at her and my landlady's face was - I must say - priceless. She realized I had completely legally out-maneuvered her and that I was not some dumb child that she could exploit. She also realized that she had been caught breaking several laws and breaking the contract and that she was lucky that I had not come against her legally, which the realtor reinforced by stating, "You realize she spoke to an attorney, right?" 

It was then that my landlady broke down and signed the mutual termination form I had drawn up, dated, and already signed. After the realtor read it out loud, affirming that my landlady was agreeing to return my security deposit in full, that the lease was absolved, and that no legal action could be brought against me (or her), she signed it hastily and the realtor signed it. I then requested that all of us be provided with a copy and the copies were made without further adieu. 

I arranged to do the final walk-through of my apartment with the realtor, with the landlady not present - as I had been warned by another realtor at the agency that my landlady was notorious for not returning security deposits and pushing false claims of damage - which I am not concerned about. My parents taught me to always leave a place better than when you found it, which I certainly have, having had made repairs and thoroughly cleaned and kept up the apartment. And, if there is any question, my thoroughly detailed walk-through form from when I first signed the lease and gave it to the realty company and the extensive photos I took of all damage when I first moved in should absolve me of any problems.

I am lucky that I have managed to escape this situation the way that I will when the end of the month arrives. She asked if I would leave before November, and I informed her that I most certainly would not, as I had already paid for October. I found out this morning that she had already rented my apartment - she had wanted to collect, illegally, I might add, two months' rent in October for the same apartment! 

I can't wait to move into my new place and escape this woman (hopefully) forever. 

So, to sum up, learn from my mistakes:

  1. If a place seems too good to be true, which mine did - beware.
  2. I fit the apartment to my budget when I moved to the area. When my job changed, I took a cut in pay and could not afford the apartment, but was locked into the lease.
  3. I allowed myself to be locked into a lease without any sort of clause or forgiveness for if something happened to my job or my health.
  4. I became a push-over and didn't assert myself from the very beginning.
  5. I should have also insisted on only speaking with her via the written word, no matter what she squawked at me to the contrary.
And learn from what I did right:
  1. I over-filled the walk-through and had another set of eyes look over the apartment and add to it. I then filed this with the realty company.
  2. I took extensive, time-stamped photos of existing damage to protect myself.
  3. I just about memorized my lease.
  4. I familiarized myself with my state's landlord-tenant law so that I knew when my landlady crossed the realm of annoying to constantly breaking the law.
  5. I documented every encounter with her and made notes of witnesses.
  6. I gave her hard copies and kept hard copies for myself, in addition to photos/videos of me turning in rent or letters.
  7. I controlled myself every time I spoke with her; had I not done so, she could have said that I was emotional and out of control and could not, therefore, be trusted.
  8. I acted quickly when a confrontation was unavoidable so that the situation could not be stacked against me. She confronted me regarding the rent raise about 9pm Tuesday evening and I began working on combatting her and extricating myself legally from the situation Wednesday morning.
  9. I received a free consultation from a landlord-tenant lawyer familiar with the laws of the state. He pointed me in the right direction and confirmed my belief that her actions were illegal and I had a case. Had he ever responded to my calls and emails, I would have retained him. As he didn't, I had to research and obtain legal documents on my own.
  10. I found a new place before I gave my notice so that I had somewhere lined up to go.
  11. I had the realty company act as a witness and bring my landlady into the office, where she couldn't rip up the papers in front of me.
  12. I brought at least one witness with me, along with my documentation and proof of what had been happening.
  13. I stood firm when attacked by the realtor (my landlady's friend, I discovered) and by my landlady and prevailed.
  14. I ensured that a witness signed the mutual termination of lease and that it included the fact that the landlady could not with-hold my security deposit, which she had threatened to do.
  15. I arranged to do the walk-through before I left the apartment and with the realtor, with the landlady not present, so she could not cheat me of anything.
  16. I made a digital copy of the mutual termination and all of my supporting documents in addition to my hard copies and archived them electronically.
I will certainly be even more vigilant in the future; it feels like a weight is off of my shoulders, and when I left the realty office and realized that my ordeal was over, I almost started bawling right there in the road. My boyfriend, bless him, stayed with me the whole time, and I am so grateful that he was my rock throughout the nightmare I found myself in.

As a final note:

If you are in a similar situation, please realize that you can get yourself out of it even if you don't have enough legal evidence to do so and that you don't have to stay living with the cards stacked against you. You can force the landlord to evict you. Simply stop paying your rent. Be warned that this can screw up your credit and your standing when you try to rent an apartment in the future, so if you do this, make sure that you have already lined up another place to rent and that you have enough proof that you can convince someone that even though you couldn't legally get out of the situation, that you were in the right. 

While I realize this was not a happy post, I wanted to share my experience to hopefully prevent someone else from going through the same thing. Even if this post only helps one person, that will be enough.