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Return of the Chinese Landlord – Mike Chen’s AirBnB

4 Jan Mike Chen's Kitchen

I have been travelling with AirBnB for several years, and have made the obligatory good and bad experiences. But sometimes life still surprises me with a kick so low that it is more entertaining than hurtful. This is one of these stories, and I take it as occasion for a thorough review of Mike Chen’s AirBnB situation in Toronto, Ontario.

Personally, I don’t have high expectations when it comes to cheap lodging. All I really want is a place to cook my meals, a place to consume them, one to rest my weary body, and safe shelter for my stuff. My needs actually boil down to a clean kitchen and a clean bed room. As simple as that might seem, Mike Chen was able to disappoint on all accounts.

Mike Chen's AirBnB Rental

It looks continuous, but every store front signals one separate building. One of these five buildings is Mike’s rental place.

The Room

Let’s start with the room, because it’s the most obvious and least accessible flaw of this adventure. The mid-sized bedroom was relatively well maintained, and although both the fake hardwood floor and the old mattress were a bit squeaky, the general set up was neither uncomfortable nor out of the ordinary. The panorama was somewhat squandered by the old dresser-drawer with one out of three drawers missing. The absence of an actual dresser, and its replacement with a slightly worn display case increased the impression that the furniture was either hauled in from various yard sales, or had been acquired by a very skilled dumpster diver. Surprisingly, none of the furniture was actually dusty, except for the top shenves. You know – the places Chinese people can’t reach.

The shear fact that the heating vent in the ceiling was bisected by a hastily painted dry wall made it clear that this room had been added as an afterthought. The Chinese landlord also had also inserted a drywall ceiling, so as to block the sky light which would otherwise have provided a natural light source for my dark and sterile cell.

These general circumstances could have made my stay dull and solemn, but luckily the neighbouring house featured a constantly playing radio. Not loud enough to make out words, but sufficiently loud to recognize any song that you know. The radio literally never stopped playing, and it is only due the loud heating vent in the ceiling that I enjoyed times of relief from enforced radio play. The single small window of the room led out to the hallway, so not only could I hear all the other tenants passing by my room, I was also able to partake in their cooking efforts without ever getting up from my gnarly old chair.

Mike Chen bedroom

This bed room is not great. It’s also not unusual, or bad. Just normal, windowless Chinese rental.

Bath Room

Mike Chen Bath Room

A layer of dust, carbonate, and soap covers most surfaces to varying degrees. The top shelves in particular, because Chinese arms cannot reach there.

As in any other Chinese rental the bath room was plastered with notes, printed in surprisingly good English. One note asked “guests” to avoid flushing toilet paper down the drain, which provides you with a pretty accurate idea of the state of the draining power of said toilet. It also tells you something about the olfactory features of the bathroom: when you toss used toilet paper into the garbage bin, it is bound to develop a characteristic odour, reminiscent of any unsanitary Porter Potty or Forest Loo. Luckily, everyone ignored the paper warning.

However, in order to soil toilet paper with your rectal waste products you first have to find some, because the Chen House is one of those bring-your-own-paper rentals (which, obviously, you are not informed about upon booking). Needless to say that the bath room did not come with soap, towels, or any other kind of toiletries. The only gifts offered by management are two carbonate-encrusted drinking glasses on either side of the sink, so you could disgust the hell out of your tooth brush, if need be.

The absolute highlight of the bath room was the note on the inside of the door, saying “please help keep this bathroom clean”. A laudable notion, only betrayed by the crust of calcium carbonates covering the walls of the shower, the layer of grime on both of the cup boards, the dirt that freely floated across the floor, and the various pale greys that seemed to cover both waste bins AND the sink itself.

Mike Chen's Toronto Bath Room

Except for the floor very few surfaces in this bath room get cleaned regularly.

Cooking time

To me the ability to cook my own meals represents a vital part of the AirBnB experience. I always carry a set of bamboo cutlery, but for the actual process of food preparation I need to scout for rooms that feature a fully functional kitchen. I can’t afford to go out for three meals a day, so, yes, the kitchen matters.

Hood Fan cover at Mike Chen's

Someone actually tried to clean the cover of the hood fan. Why did he/she give up after 30% completion? Did the cleaner die or despair? We may never know.

Admittedly, Mike Chen’s place offered the most elementary equipment, such as microwave, fridge, stove, and a variety of utensils. The state of those items, however, was more than sketchy. The stove was functional, and after a quick clean-up it was ready to oblige my wishes. Yet, finding the appropriate utensils, even to cook up ordinary oat meal involved a laborious journey through the house, because the many shelves of the kitchen were nearly empty, and what little utensils were available, needed to be cleaned in order to avoid at least the most common diseases and infections.

Overall, the second floor contains six bed rooms and two kitchens, and I had to search both kitchens to collect enough equipment to start meal preparation. After finishing my breakfast I stored the pot, the plate, the chipped ceramic bowl, and the metal spoon (the single available piece of cutlery on the ENTIRE SECOND FLOOR!) in my room, so that I would not have to invest the same cleaning efforts before starting my next cooking adventure.

I don’t even want to talk about the greasy microwave, or the grimy fridge. The photos I took of the kitchen should be sufficiently scary to put you off food for a while, and induce a month-long diet on freshly trimmed tree bark. And if you lack the ability to see with your eyes, be assured that the smell of the fridge easily signals its willingness to spread diseases that the Western world has deemed extinct since the dawn of penicillin.

The general ambient of unease was artistically underlined by a variable mixture of dust, grease, and brown sauce that covered the shelves and doors of all cup boards. All this invites the general viewer to give the kitchen a thorough scrub, but with only two cleaning cloths and one towel available this effort would be rather limited in its scope, especially since all three of these rags are rather rigid, indicating that the cleaning cloths themselves have not undergone laundry for a little while.

Mike Chen's Kitchen

The remaining shelves of the kitchen are emptier than these. All are dusty and greasy, though.

Smelly Time

Talking of odours, there are a few rather uncomfortable issues to mention. Firstly the heating vent appears to feature a mediocre amount of dust, and after every heating cycle the room smells like an old sack.

The ancient hole in the wall, containing the aforementioned switch and fuse box, added to that problem. The space between the walls smelled of cold, old smoke, like a pre-war casino that has recently been unearthed by the world’s least ambitious archaeologist.

My hosts did not leave the place unsanitary, though. At least once a week someone came around, swept the floor, and infused some part of the common area with an unhealthy load of bleach. Given the choice between cockroach and airborne carcinogen I would not quite know which way to lean, but note that one can clean a bathroom without making it stink.

Now, all of that would be alright, if you could open a window, and swap the dusty, smoky, bleachy air from indoors with the dusty air from the street. But since my only window went out to the hallway it rather conflicted my nose further with the smell of cooking. At least most of the other tenants used the hood fan when they fried their morning beef, so the overall mixture was never overwhelmingly terrible.

Mike Chen hallway

During summer tenants can slouch on this dusty sofa, and stare at the twenty year old TV across the hallway. Why my room did not incorporate the rest of that sky light is beyond my understanding.

Been there, haven’t done that

Fridge filled with decaying stuff

This fridge does not contain the food of two AirBnB guests. This fridge is the result of at least half a year of ignorance.

 “Hold on!” I hear you screaming. (A remarkable feat, considering that I am writing this blog in your absence.) One might actually be inclined to believe that all of these flaws result from a temporary lack of enthusiasm regarding the health and safety of this Chinese rental dive. However, one would incline the wrong direction – the depth and extent of the dirt covering nearly every surface of the common space indicates that neither kitchen nor bath room have seen any domestic cleaning in half a year or longer.

Back when I lived in Calgary, Alberta, I supervised a house that had long-term tenants as well as AirBnB guests. From that experience I know what effort is involved in maintaining a house, and what it takes to keep its tenants happy. Ten minutes of cleaning every day already suffice for keeping most grime out of the common area. And even if you’re too lazy for that, one hour a week will keep kitchen and bath room in good shape.

My kitchen was always stocked with utensils, dishes, and a huge load of pots and pans. When someone didn’t have time to clean a bowl right away, or broke a plate, or lost a spoon, that accident never impeded on anyone else’s ability to cook, because there were always enough utensils left on the shelves, and those were always clean. Even today you can purchase a box of kitchen utensils for $10 at thrift stores or yard sales, so even IF your guests steal some cutlery, you still have plenty left.

Furthermore, having basic toiletries and cleaning equipment readily available under every sink makes it much easier for your guests and tenants to remove any dirt that threatens to destroy their comfort. The absence of buckets and clean rags made it impossible for me to give the dirty surfaces the scrub that they needed. The general state of Mike Chen’s AirBnB rental showed that little to no effort had been spent over the past year to relieve any surface of its unsanitary load.

Goemon's kitchen in Calgary

This was my kitchen back in Calgary. Mark the absence of grime, and the availability of clean equipment.

 

Chinese Paranoia

The signs of sketchy accommodation were visible from the beginning. When I told Mike via AirBnB about my potential arrival time on Saturday evening he did not reply to my electronic message. Instead, I found his front door locked and unattended. If it hadn’t been for a friend helping me with my luggage, I might have stood in the cold in front of that building for hours, because it took several phone calls to get someone to open the door for us. It is always problematic, if the landlord does not actually live at the premise, and does not have a suitable person to safeguard the front door in his stead.

It is also rather unusual for an AirBnB host to demand payment of a $100 security deposit, particularly if this is not mentioned in the online description. But it did not even stop there. When Mike’s mom finally arrived at the premise, and handed me the keys, she asked me to fill in a guest book with personal information, such as passport ID and phone number. I’m surprised she didn’t ask for my SIN card! When I asked if I could take a photo of the “guest book” she did not even hesitate to open it again, thus revealing a page filled with the personal information of a long train of other “guests” in her house. If anyone needs phone and passport numbers of international visitors to Toronto, give me a call, and we can strike a deal!

Cleanliness is not a Chinese invention

The whole affair is colourful and smelly. Much like this microwave.

Chinese Rental

Imagine you just got off the airplane, after six hours of flight and one hour of travel through a foreign city. When you arrive at your chosen dormitory you find it locked and in the dark, and without door bell. So you call up the land lord, and for twenty minutes you wait in the tea house next door for the arrival of keys. When the Mistress of Keys arrives she asks you to sign a contact sheet that contains the phone and passport information of various other tenants, and she has no issue with you photographing it. Your room features slightly broken furniture, and a whole in the wall that a house keeper needs to access infrequently in order to restore power to some rooms. When you try to relieve yourself of the burden of a long journey you suddenly realise that the toilet comes without paper, and somehow you need to clean out your crevices without leaving the unsanitary bathroom or clogging up the toilet drain. When you waddle back to your room, to carefully claim the soap from your luggage, so as to clean your welting fingers, your gaze falls upon brown pots and plates that suggest nobody has taken care of this property since at least the winter before. Welcome to Mike Chen’s Toronto!

In conclusion, the whole set-up of the house screams “Chinese Landlord Trap”. The building looks like it was built as a restaurant, but the new Chinese owners then employed drywall and a bucket of paint to compartmentalise each floor into rentable rooms. They did not quite maximise the use of space, which I am thankful for. I know Chinese landlords who would have cracked another two or three rooms out of that second floor.

In good Chinese tradition the landlord does not actually live near the property, and maintenance visits are so infrequent that you should be thankful to enjoy clean floors, and a continuous supply of warm air and hot water. Anything else would require the occasional wet cleaning cloth getting rubbed over dirty surfaces, but that is already too much to ask of someone who really just wants to make money off a property. The front of the building does indeed feature a shop of some sort, but for the entire duration of my stay I only saw the shop open when one of the tenants moved in or out.

As a result you receive living space that barely scratches over the minimum requirements of any Health & Safety inspector. There are no bed bugs or related vermin, and I guess the accessibility of emergency exits does not matter as long as you avoid setting the house on fire. But for my understanding of comfortable housing this residence falls a few miles short of its target, just about out of sight of anyone who likes to cook, or breathe deeply, or who sleeps uneasily, or people who don’t want to remove the soggy hair sieve from the bath tub to drain water from the shower.

Encrusted pot at Mike Chen's

Crusty black bottom line: the terrible state of Mike Chen’s rental place is not a temporary accident. It’s the result of considerable neglect.

PS.: As a matter of completeness I should mention that the floors of the house were relatively clean, and no bugs or related parasites could be sighted. Unsurprisingly, considering the weekly force of bleach that was employed on key aspects of the house. However, why the person who wiped the floors lived in complete ignorance of the rest of the house is beyond my comprehension.

Also, the host was readily approachable (via digital message), and when I asked for a one-day extension of my stay it was granted within twenty-four hours. My damage deposit was returned without hesitation, and the web camera that was mounted in the kitchen made me feel a limited amount of security.

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Moving Hassle III – The Aftermath

25 Dec Autumn in my German backyard

So. I left the house on 24th Street NW. After five years of timely rental payments and an unmatched dedication to keeping the house clean and cozy my landlady Cavan and her agent Jim basically harassed me out of the building. As it looks, there still remains legal fallout.

Jim's move-out notice

Two of the notes that my landlady’s agent Jim taped to my front door. In his best hand writing as well!

As you recall, I did not pay rent for my last month, August 2016. I used the damage deposit in lieu of last month’s rent. In doing so I followed the advice of the previous tenant, and what a clever decision that was! My lease ended more than three months ago, and to this day I have not received a move-out report, or any other news regarding my deposit.

However, on move-out day I did receive a copy of a court file. The “court application” basically opened a court case that circles around my rental payment for August. Apparently Cavan did not agree with me using the damage deposit in lieu of actual rent. Yet, instead of telling me so, she decided to ask for her money in court.

The last pages of that document actually contain my latest e-mail to her, which states that a) the rent exceeds the deposit by $220, and b) I paid some $800 worth of materials that really Cavan should have been accountable for. Whatever happens with that case (and I am not sticking around to find out), my arguments are already in the file. The case could not be any more convenient for me!

 

Monetary Considerations

Now, court work is not cheap, and certainly not free. Jim paid an application fee of $250 for opening that case. Considering that the maximum amount of money he can possibly make with this case is $220, the whole process seems to bite its own tail. Like a snake that somehow got addicted to pain. Then again, that describes Jim pretty well.

I will never read the whole file, because it becomes repetitive and boring within the first two paragraphs. But in an idle minute I flipped through it, and the second page offers something of a redemption. I was invited to state my “side of this matter before the Court”, on the morning of September 1st. Obviously, I do enjoy court talk as much as the next masochist, and I certainly welcomed the opportunity to “communicate” with Jim under adult supervision. Alas, I did have one or two more things to do before leaving Calgary, and my departure was already scheduled for September 2nd.

So … No. I did not go to court one day before leaving the country. I just couldn’t be bothered. Instead, I biked some fifteen kilometres through Calgary, returned a book to the library, returned my internet router to Shaw, took some pretty photos of the city, and deposited my bike at a friend’s place.

I may never fully understand Jim’s motivation behind filing that case. Especially since he already knew that I was leaving the country, potentially forever. But, yes, next time I’m in town there may or may not be a court case regarding my rent. We may never find out. Or even care, because I do not intend to go back and ask. And I seriously doubt that the border personal will deny me re-entry for denied rental payment.

Calgary Downtown

Even during a thunderstorm the skyline of Downtown Calgary has some grace to it.

All the stuff

As I mentioned, Jim proved to be a considerable ass, and Cavan, in her infinite wisdom, sent him around multiple times to harass us. He did not even take the house keys that I offered him, even though he did not have any of his own. To this day he does not have keys for the front door, at least not from anyone I know.

Since we were booted out in such a rude manner we obviously contemplated legal options of making the returned house a sour win for our master and mistress. As you recall, I had acquired a lot of furniture for that house, and didn’t want to give any of it to Cavan. I’m not a revengeful person, but she just didn’t deserve any more good from me than I was legally obliged to offer.

One might imagine that a money-driven landlord would sponsor his own collection of moth-infested mattresses and chewed-on desks, but in this case one would be imagining wrongly. Out of the dozen mattresses, same number of chairs, and half that number of desks none were owned by Jim or Cavan. Just about ALL the furniture in that house had been organised by the previous tenant or me. I tried selling stuff on Kijiji, and even hosted a multi-day super-bargain garage sale. But after two months of effort the house was still stuffed with items and furniture that rightfully belonged to me.

During their hasty move-out many of my house mates actually packed up as much stuff as they could carry, just to leave less behind. “No, I don’t eat toast! Maybe I can fry a steak in that?!”

Yet, furniture and kitchen utensils still bloomed on every carpet when I revisited the house in a last attempt to wreak havoc. Must. Leave. NOTHING!

The new living room of Cavan's house.

This is the living room I left behind. It came a long way from that shabby house I took over.

Hello Friend!

Alas, my AirBnB guest Gilles was still booked in, and needed final attention. Gilles had just singed a lease agreement for a three-bedroom flat that was to house himself and his wife. For his misfortune and my amusement the flat came unfurnished.

For our mutual benefit Gilles found visual comfort in the furniture, utensils, and house hold items that my ex-house was pickled with. A few phone calls and several Canadian bills later a moving van stopped in front of the house, and removed every scrap of usable house hold item in my possession. Gilles got his furnished apartment. I got my grand finale. A beautiful magic trick that left Cavan and Jim a clean, yet utterly unfurnished house. One that they don’t even have keys for.

I’m sure they solved both of those problems, and billed someone for it. But, man, did I ever sleep well.

Moving Hassle II – Move-Out Day

18 Dec The new living room of Cavan's house.

As described in the last blog post, I once rented a house on 24th Street in Calgary NW. For five years I laboured to keep that house clean and comfortable. At the end of August 2016 I returned it to the hands of the landlady Cavan and her property manager Jim. I did not expect any thanks from them regarding the time and money that I spent on the house, but I was not prepared for the harassment that came with move-out day.

 

The new living room of Cavan's house.

This is the living room I left behind. It came a long way from that shabby house I took over.

As mentioned, Cavan was not quite happy with my proposal to use the damage deposit in lieu of rental payment for August. The way she communicated that with me was by sending Jim around, ten days before September. Jim stood at the doorstep, together with his brother, and handed me a move-out notice, signed by himself and witnessed by his brother. At the same time he told me that I could not use the deposit as rental payment. Upon me telling him that I already had done so, and he was free to argue his case with me, Jim just said: “I don’t discuss with you. I am just messenger.”

He spun around three times in his black leather shoe, and vanished in a puff of smoke.

 

Law and Disorder

Call me naïve, if you must, but until that day I believed that a land lady needs to provide thirty days worth of notice to usher a tenant out of the property. I told my house mates as much, and they agreed. Thus, we all just continued living in the house. Let Jim come around, and stalk around the house, he didn’t have any legal right to touch us! Or did he?

Well, at the very least Jim reserved the right to be obnoxious. One week before move-out he came around again, telling me that I had to leave, and I should call the legal service. He actually gave me a phone number, scribbled into the corner of a sheet of paper that already contained a hand-written move-out notice, two addresses, and multiple signatures. I posted a picture of said paper, so you can try for yourself to decipher any of the symbols imprinted on it.

The phone number did not actually lead anywhere, and when I pointed that out in an e-mail later that day, Jim sent me another number. That the second number did not work either should not come as a surprise.

Thus I went back to my travel preparations. Afterall, my plane was to leave Calgary on the 2nd of September, so there was little time to waste on pointless arguments with the “messenger”.

 

Jim's move-out notice

Two of the notes that my landlady’s agent Jim taped to my front door. In his best hand writing as well!

All the young boys

Meanwhile, all but one of my house mates confirmed moving plans of their own. The only one who didn’t was our resident hospital doctor. Believe it or not, he was the only one who could not afford to pay the deposit on a new room. Yes, the payment for new doctors at the Foothills Hospital is THAT shitty. Not to mention the student loan agencies that subtract their monthly contributions from his pay cheque, the very second that he deposits it. But on to other problems.

At that time I had four house mates. The doctor, unable to relocate. One who moved out that weekend, because he did not want to deal with Jim any more. One made arrangements to move across the street into his old home. And one confirmed a new place, but only could move two days after move-out day. Yes, week days are genuinely bad for hauling stuff around.

On top of that I had two AirBnB guests scheduled. One was in town for a conference, and was scheduled to leave on the 30th of August. The other was a visitor from France, scheduled to move in on the 30th. And stay until the 1st of September. Considering that I was supposed to hand over the house on the 31st, one might expect trouble from that time table.

 

Goemon5's moving boxes

Until two weeks before I left Calgary I was still packing. So, no, I did not pay too much attention to my landlady’s squabbles.

Return of the Jim

Sure enough, on the 31st Jim knocked violently at the door, no later than when he was summoned. He really wanted to visit at noon, but I told him 4 p.m. was a more suitable time. My five years of training him paid off, and he arrived as told. That visit consisted mostly of myself and one house mate sitting on the sofa, asking him to settle down, and discuss matters with us. Meanwhile Jim was hectically flailing his little arms about, telling us “You have to move out. You cannot stay here.”

He even managed to call the tenancy hot line of the City of Calgary, and demanded that the man on the phone explain to me that I could not stay. Which he did. Apparently once a lease agreement runs out, the landlord can set you on the street overnight. So, yeah. Be aware, Calgary tenants!

How we were to leave the house in the blink of an eye, considering that we did not have the ability to move our possessions before the weekend, might have been an interesting question to answer. As was the matter of cleaning and packing while Jim was doing his best to stand in our way. But never try to use logic on a Chinese demon; you might as well try to argue with a Trump. It only pains your brain.

At that point we had quite enough of Jim shouting at us, so I made one last attempt to fill in the move-out report, and other paperwork that he wanted. I even picked up the keys for front door and tenant rooms, dangled them in his face, and asked him to take the house.

As loud and insolently as he demanded everyone out before that, when I showed him the keys he just as quickly turned on his heels and swirled out of the house. Leaving the keys in my hands and yelling the magic formula “You have to move out; You cannot stay here,” he evaporated before us, leaving behind another assemblage of Chinese runes on paper, and the faint smell of burned sulphur.

 

Cavan Yee and friends

One of the few surviving visual documents of landaly Cavan Yu (left), seen here conspiring to move some yet uninvolved people.

Enough already!

Jim returned twice more that evening, shouting and harassing as before. I was tempted to shout back, just to get the attention of neighbours and coppers, but unfortunately I had better things to do. Departure from Canada was two days away, and I still had to finish some business, and pack some stuff.

I decided that it would be best if I moved out on the spot. Fortunately, I have friends in Calgary, and Jon and Donna were both happy about me staying as a guest in their homes for one night each. With myself gone I hoped that everyone else in the house would be able to sleep quietly. As the only tenant on the lease I was the only one who could be made accountable for poking imaginative holes into cardboard walls. So, with me gone there really was no point in harassing anyone else.

I packed all of my belongings into an armful of bags, and hauled it off to Jon’s place, where I spent the next few hours I) packing my luggage for the flight, and II) playing some games with Jon and Dave, in a farewell to seven years Calgary experience. It wasn’t what I thought my move-out day would look like, but it certainly beat harassment from Jim.

 

Moving out apparently had some positive effect on the situation. Everyone was motivated to leave the house quickly after me, and Jim only shouted at the neighbourhood once more that night. Even though I returned to the house multiple times over the next two days, I never saw him again. That would be the end of it, but we still need to resolve the matter of keys, furniture, and my AirBnB guest from France. I shall do so in the next blog.

Moving Hassle I – Five years of Cavan

11 Dec Cavan's living room

For five years I was Cavan Yu’s tenant. Five years of timely rental payments, house repairs, and unasked favours. You’d think that landlady would be thankful, and let it show, but no, not Cavan. The only reason she was able to maintain that house on 24th Street in Calgary NW was my dedication to cheap and simple living conditions, and yet, after five years of service Cavan basically booted me out. For anyone who asked about the weird occurrences during my last days in cowtown, here is a brief account of the happenings that carried us to Move-Out Day.

The back of Cavan's "house"

House is actually a misleading term. It’s more like a bungalow, containing little more than the six bedrooms and two showers.

 

The Players

Cavan Yee is a middle-aged Chinese woman with a Canadian passport. She lives in Vancouver, and owns a house on 24th Street in Calgary NW. Since she only visits Alberta once a year she needs 1) someone to rent that house, and 2) someone to manage it. From 2011 to 2016 person 1 was me. Person 2 was also me, although landlady Cavan continued the contract with her property manager James “Jim” Wong. In those five years that I rented Cavan’s house I barely saw him four times total, and that was for the better. What Jim lacks in respect and attitude he makes up for with a sense for money, and a willingness to extort it.

I rented Cavan’s house starting September 2011, and Jim visited twice that month. Mostly to waddle through the house in his shoes, check the house for things that I could repair, and scribble numbers on doors. I told Cavan that Jim was a nuisance, and he immediately popped out of existence.

Cavan has a rather distant relationship with reality. Most of the year she appears to live in some parallel universe, and her annual descent into the human world is always trifled with oddities. From an artist’s perspective it is fun to see reality bending around her, but as a tenant I often felt uncomfortable in her presence.

Once a year I singed a new lease agreement with the landlady, and about that often I called the contracted maintenance man to perform some random handyman stunt. Most of the important repairs I made myself, but anything that involved replacement of parts was a job for Jim’s handyman. Dad taught me the job of the plumber, but he also showed me how to delegate costs.

And, of course, twice a year Cavan contacted me to fuzz about a weed complaint that she received from the Calgary Police department, because I let the grass on the front lawn grow longer than 15 centimetres. Yes, there is a law for that.

That was the limit of my interactions with my “authorities”. A few signatures, a phone call, and a couple of e-mails. Beyond that I never had a bother with my Chinese landlady or property manager. Communication with either of them was so draggingly difficult that I rather made repairs myself than tried to communicate with them. I replaced the kitchen counter, installed a new washing machine, stove, carpets, and ceiling lights; and cleaned that shabby excuse of a property more thoroughly than anyone before. Cavan’s house was well lived-in, but apparently within twenty years of rental agreements I was the first tenant to actually care for it.

Cavan's living room

When I moved into Cavan’s house it was full of surprises. Like a Chinese cyclist who trained and yelled in the living room.

 

Take-Over Time

None of that mattered when my final days as tenant were approaching. I invested a lot of time, effort, and money into cleaning, repairing, and redecorating that house. I started with a house that people literally avoided at Halloween, and transformed it into a sought-out property for students and seasonal workers. [I know exactly what you are thinking, but you would not doubt me, if you knew Cavan.] Thus, I did not even intend to return the house to the hands of Cavan. Instead, I tried to convince any of my Calgary friends to take over the lease. For once I did not want the house to return to its former state of disaster. On the other hand, I rented out sublets to students, which allowed me to live there for free. That is a pretty good deal for a struggling musician or graduate student, and I wanted to pass that on to someone else.

However, nobody was interested. For over a year I was searching for a prospective new tenant for the house, but no-one claimed the prize. The most prominent reasons for rejecting my proposition were responsibility and effort. Well, yes, if you want to make money, and you are not a CEO, it usually involves taking responsibility, and putting in effort. Yet, in this particular position you did not really have to do much, because at the low price that I offered the rooms for, I always had plenty of prospective tenants to choose from. Life without house mates is nearly unaffordable for most graduate students, but at least I had my pick of the litter, and most of my house mates put in considerable effort to keep the house clean. Still, not a deal that anyone else wanted to pick up.

Kitchen Repairs

Among other things I scrubbed off the old kitchen counter and installed a new working plate.

 

Cavan’s Peril

Cavan knew that I was leaving Canada in autumn 2016. She tried to convince me to stay, mostly because every time she gets in touch with reality, the pattern births another abyssimal monstrosity; like Jim. Thus, six weeks before my scheduled departure I sent her an e-mail phrasing the latest state of affairs. I) I really was leaving this time, despite all the non-existent job opportunities in Calgary. II) Nobody wants to take the lease from me, so you better keep looking for a tenant yourself. III) I resolved my Canadian bank account, so you can’t deposit the cheque for August rent. [Whoops!] IV) Considering that I invested some $800 worth of materials, and twice that amount in work hours into this house, I will use the damage deposit in lieu of the rent for my last month.

Yes, there is a $220 difference between damage deposit and rent, a deficit to be picked up by Cavan. But seeing that a) I took over a house that was not rentable at all, and b) I am giving you a house that the new students will flock to (September marks the beginning of fall term), you are still getting a mighty sweet deal.

Cavan’s reaction was lost in the blight. I never received a single answer from her again. Nothing to say whether or not she found my proposition acceptable, or had any further worries about my move.

The new living room of Cavan's house.

This is the living room I left behind. It came a long way from that shabby house I took over.

 

Eventual Feces hit the Fan

Four weeks before move-out day one of my house mates had the brilliant idea to call the property manager Jim, and ask about his plans for September. He and Cavan both immediately started negotiations with my house mates regarding their potential stay. Obviously they never came to terms, because neither of those two figures is able to communicate in understandable phrases, and Cavan asked more rent per room than the house was worth, without somebody like me actually maintaining it. So, the negotiations just died away. People wanted to remain in the house, out of convenience. But no-one wanted to put up with Jim, because clearly he was just grabbing for money, and had no intentions of ever attending to anyone’s needs.

Thus, ten days before my move-out day, Cavan sent me an e-mail, informing me that she expected to get her house back at the 31st of August. Just like that. But if you think this would mark a clean cut in our long-term rental relationship, you better prepare yourself for a blast, when next week we talk about the great harassment of move-out day.