FRANKIE AND JOHNNIE
Frank and Donna were in their last year of college when they got married. They were in love since they were kids, and in high school became romantically involved. They were inseparable, with plans and dreams for the future that no one could tear apart. In their senior year, they moved into Donna’s parents’ home, which had a large, finished basement with plenty of room for both of them to live comfortably. They stayed there until the fall. When college classes began, they found an off-campus apartment. They rented a spot on the 5th floor, not far from the elevator entrance. They liked living there and fixed it up the best they could, making it a home. There was a community pool, a gym, nice tree-lined pathways to walk on that were lighted at night. They were both athletic people and used to work out in the gym almost every day. When the spring came, they started to use the pool and began to make friends with the other tenants.
One night a group of couples got together and threw a pool party. They all swam, ate hotdogs off the barbecue, and drank beer and wine. They were having so much fun the party dragged into the late hours and may have gotten a bit loud. One of the neighbors called the cops. A squad car was sent to check on the commotion. The cops seeing there was nothing illegal going on, came walking up with a smile and were invited to eat a couple of hotdogs. They asked the kids to please keep the noise down, and when they left that seemed to be the end of it.
The next day there was a sign on the pool gate that said it was closed until further notice. Young renters swarmed into the office asking why the pool was closed. They were told that they had abused their privileges and the pool would remain closed for the remainder of the summer. It wasn’t more than a week later when the place was sold to another investor. When tenants asked the new owners to open the pool back up, they refused, saying there were problems with safety standards– what safety standards?
It was later found that the filtration system wasn’t working properly and the owners were just covering up the problem with blame. Then strange things began to happen. The elevator stopped working. And though the couple was young and fit, it was difficult to carry groceries and other heavy things up five flights of stairs. A group of tenants sent a letter to management demanding it is fixed. An elevator repair company came out to look at it and said it wasn’t safe. The elevator car needed a new motor and cable, which was costly, and the new managers refused to pay to have it fixed. Then the automatic doors that opened up on both sides of the complex stopped working. The only way to get into the complex was to force the doors open by hand or stick a big block in front of the gate to keep it permanently open — not a safe option.
Frankie and Donna have had enough. They wanted out. But there were still six months left on their lease. If they just left. it would screw up their credit and they didn’t want that to happen. They were getting ready to buy a new car and were saving money for a new home, so they needed to protect their FICO Score. A few of the tenants got together and hired some crooked lawyer. They waited and waited for some results, but nothing happened. The lawyer chewed up his retainer and went on his merry way, accomplishing nothing.
Donna called our service to see if we could help. The first thing I did was ask her to try and get a petition signed by as many tenants as possible. So, she did that, and just about everyone in the complex signed it. I sent the petition along with a demand letter to the owners. They did not respond. So, I did a little detective work and found that the owners, two brothers, owned broken-down apartments all over the city. They had been in and out of court for years and had tons of fines and violations stacked up against them. I investigated the prior owners and found they were related to the two brothers, all of them slum lords, exchanging marginal, and run-down apartment complexes back and forth to split the risks. I went down to the courthouse and picked up the forms for Frankie and Donna to file a claim in small claims court. On the date of the hearing, the brothers never bothered to show up. The judge vacated the lease and gave the couple time to move out of the apartment and find a more suitable place to live. Why the lawyer couldn’t accomplish a thing still remains a mystery to me. Maybe the brothers paid him off. Sometimes things just remain a mystery.