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The Vine: November 10, 2010

Submitted by on November 10, 2010 – 10:38 AM25 Comments

A while back I asked for curly-hair-friendly products that wouldn't affect my asthma or my sensitive skin. And something has happened recently that makes me want to warn all my TN peeps about self-diagnosis.

I do have sensitive skin, and I have had contact dermatitis, but the patch I was assuming was allergic reaction isn't. It's cancer. Not, thank God, scary melanoma (because holy cow was that week waiting for the biopsy result a nightmare). It's "just" basal cell carcinoma, "not a danger to your health or life, but cancer so we want to get it out."

My warning is, if you have a patch of skin that flakes over and over and sometimes bleeds, that seems to heal but then comes back, don't assume you know what it is. Don't assume it's what you've had before. Go to a dermatologist. If I'd waited three years and it had been melanoma, I'd be facing a much tougher row to hoe right now. But even with the way things have turned out, it amazes me I could be so careless and stupid. Fortunately I'll just be sporting the forehead of a space alien the weekend of December 10. But I'm lucky and I know it.

So if you don't mind sharing with the crazy tomatoes out there. Be aware. Be proactive. And don't count on the 99.5%-cure-rate version. You never know.

Thanks,

Bo

Dear Bo,

Thanks for the tip — and on behalf of Earth (hee), let me wish you a speedy recovery. Glad to hear everything's more or less okay.

I have my quarterly appointment with Robbie on Friday. If any of you has a mole that looks like it's growing, or is kind of blue, or keeps "turning into a zit," or any other skin sketch that you cannot positively for-sure identify as acne, a bug bite, or a cut: go to the dermatologist. It's probably nothing, but if it's not nothing, catching it early is critical.

Dear Sars,

I have a problem that, practically, affects me only peripherally yet bothers me a great deal. I don't recall seeing anything like this in The Vine in the past, and I was hoping to get your perspective and thoughts.

I'm a single woman living alone in a beautiful, up-and-coming neighborhood in Brooklyn. My place is a block away from the subway. A fantastic bar just opened on my corner. I've got a lot of friends who live nearby. Moreover, my apartment is big (by New York studio standards), charming, and extremely affordable (which is great, since I love having my own space but don't make much money).

The only hitch, which I knew about when I signed the lease, is that I don't have a private bathroom; I share a bathroom in the hallway with my neighbor down the hall, who lives in a similar unit. Honestly, sharing a bathroom just doesn't bother me as much as sharing a kitchen would, and the setup keeps my rent down, so I can't really complain. Generally speaking, I've been very happy with my living situation since I moved here about a year and a half ago.

Then, last night, as I went out to the hallway to go to the bathroom, I ran into my upstairs neighbor. She's about my age (early to mid-twenties), and we've had a couple of friendly conversations since I moved in. She told me that there was a problem with the bathroom that she's supposed to share with her neighbor upstairs, and that the landlady had told her that she could use my and my next-door neighbor's bathroom in the meantime. My neighbor was surprised that the landlady hadn't told me about this arrangement, and so was I, but I told my neighbor that I was fine with it, but hoped that the landlady would be able to fix the problem with her bathroom soon.

Then my neighbor told me that the problem with her bathroom was not a plumbing problem, as I assumed, but was the behavior of the man with whom she shares it. She told me that he's smeared his feces all over the toilet and walls, left used condoms lying around, and pulled the sink out of the wall. Apparently he feels jilted — he made a couple passes at her, she turned him down, and this is his revenge. He also made threatening statements to her when she tried to confront him about the bathroom. He sometimes plays music at ear-shattering volumes to bother her when she's at home, and when she brings dates home, he comes out to the hallway and stares at them. In short, he's harassing her in a pretty intense and frightening way.

My neighbor talked to our landlady (who is a very elderly woman whom I've never met but have talked to on the phone) and our super (who is the landlady's son, and who's always been pretty helpful and courteous to me), but they refused to do anything about the situation except tell her that she could use my bathroom. But the landlady told her to be discreet about it, presumably so that my next-door neighbor and I wouldn't find about how creepy this guy upstairs is. My neighbor otherwise likes living here, but is planning to move out at the end of the year to get away from this asshole who's harassing her.

I realize that this problem isn't really any of my business. (I mean, I find that I have to wait to use the bathroom because someone is in there taking a shower more often than I did when there was only one other person using it. But obviously I see how trivial that problem is, given the context.) However, I'm furious that my landlady won't do anything about this. It's clear to me that she needs to kick this asshole out of the building, and it seems terribly unfair that my upstairs neighbor has to be the one to move out (and that she has to live in fear for her safety until she can gather her resources to move). Moreover, I don't want to live in the same building as someone who's capable of this kind of treatment of woman.

I don't think it's a good idea for me to tip off the police or make a big fuss about this to my landlady, since that might trigger the asshole to assault my upstairs neighbor (or me, for that matter). It seems like my upstairs neighbor has made up her mind: she'll put up with this for a few more months, then she's moving. But it infuriates me that the landlady and super are basically surrendering to this campaign of harassment instead of doing something about it.

Am I out of line in thinking that my landlady is being derelict in her duties by refusing to get rid of the asshole upstairs? Is there anything I can do here, other than tell my upstairs neighbor that I'll support her if she ever decides to press charges? (Though, honestly, I doubt I'd be much help, since I haven't witnessed anything firsthand.) What would you do in this situation?

Sincerely,

Formerly untroubled tenant

Dear Ten,

I would move.

Yes, you can probably go on rent strike, or threaten to take the landlady to court over the failure to meet the terms of the lease (provided that she's actually violating the terms of your lease by asking you to share the bathroom with more tenants than you'd originally agreed to), but that takes time; it means you have to collect evidence; and the housing-court judge is probably not going to order the guy evicted. S/he'll more likely tell your landlady to stop making you share with X number of people, because as far as your lease goes…you see what I'm saying.

There's kind of no such thing as a bargain in NYC real estate, just trade-offs you can live with; you shouldn't keep living with this, because we're not talking about creaky floors or a bathtub in the living room here. The guy's dangerous. I moved out under similar circumstances — beautiful, inexpensive apartment; elderly landlady; stalky fellow tenant — and I understand that you want to save money, and that it's not "fair" that the psycho gets to stay and everyone else has to move out to get away from him. But it's hard to rout a crazy tenant, and unless you own the building, the effort is just not worth it.

Mr. Stupidhead is a Brooklyn rental agent; he can help. Send me an email with some specifics, if you like, and we'll see what we can do. In the meantime, start checking Craigslist for other apartments, and buy a baseball bat.

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25 Comments »

  • Jeanne says:

    @Ten- Seconding the advice to move. It's not worth it to fight him, believe me. I've had bad living situations and it is just so much easier to leave rather than try to tolerate or change someone like that.

    I had a roommate once who I'm convinced had some kind of personality disorder, she was incredibly controlling and she ran hot and cold on me. I never knew if I was going to get the needy version who desperately wanted someone to talk to or the psycho version who'd yell at me for no good reason (I got chewed out once because I dared to use the bathroom before her one morning.) It got bad enough that I pushed my desk chair in front of my door and slept with a sharp metal object by my bed at night because I was so afraid of her. The day I left that place, even with all the headaches of moving, was one of the happiest days of my life. My next two roommates were lovely people and now I live on my own in a great neighborhood. Sure, it's a 4th floor walk-up in an old building with old plumbing, but I don't live with a psycho anymore. Totally worth it.

  • Ruby says:

    Move out, and tell the landlady WHY you're moving out once you've gone. It's a way to let her know that her maybe-everything-will-just-get-better-on-its-own strategy isn't working. She probably still won't do anything about it, but it's a way to make some kind of difference in a way that doesn't endanger you or your neighbor (assuming that she would have also moved out by this time)

  • birdie says:

    I'm wondering why your upstairs neighbor is waiting to move. Is the landlady reluctant to let her out of her lease early? Maybe I'm overreacting, but this sounds like a situation where your friendly upstairs neighbor should move out immediately, or as soon as humanly possible, and you should consider the same. Sure, your UN-friendly upstairs neighbor might not escalate his current campaign of unpleasant behavior, but I just don't think you guys should wait around to find out. I can't imagine the landlady has grounds to require her (or you) to stay to the end of the lease – it seems that the warrant of habitability implied in such a contract has now been violated.

    I'm not a lawyer, but I am a long-time renter with a difficult landlord and I've occasionally had to bone up on my local rental regulations to protect my rights. In my hometown we have a tenants union that offers clinic hours for people who don't need to hire a lawyer but just need to figure out what their rights are. Maybe there is something similar somewhere in Brooklyn or Manhattan? Even if there isn't, I think you guys should try to get out of your leases ASAP. Good luck to both of you, and keep us posted!

  • Holly says:

    I am… just… okay. Having read Ten's letter, and the responses, I'd love it if folks here could go into some more detail about why this situation is, perhaps, the way it is. Because I read that letter and I think to myself, "you've got to be kidding me — ripping a sink out of the wall of a shared bathroom in your rental building ISN'T grounds for eviction?"

    That is, I guess I'm trying to get into the landlady's head here, and… tenants-rights stuff. Situation: your rental comes with a shared bathroom. Fine. How is the bathroom then not at least partly a "common area" that the landlord is responsible for the upkeep of? In any rental situation, if some part of the bathroom that is vital to its function breaks, the landlord of course has to repair it. I would sort of EXPECT (am I naive?) that if you were in a shared-room situation, that there would be a legal expectation of all of the users that they must agree to keep the shared-room minimally useable by the other legal users of the room.

    So, okay — you vandalize the shared-room in a way that impedes its function (ripping the sink out of the wall) = strike one. Then you vandalize it by smearing feces all over it = health-code violation = strike two.

    I'm just… how is that not grounds for a landlord to say to a tenant that he is violating the terms of his lease (which must include reasonable use of the shared-space so as to make it available for the use of the others who share it)?

    Obviously, according to this letter, the landlord is not reacting the way I would expect her to react, and I guess some of my questioning is basically, "what kind of an idiot landlord *doesn't* stipulate that gross vandalization of the property, included shared-used areas, is grounds for eviction?"

    I guess I don't fundamentally disagree that the easiest solution for both Ten and her upstairs neighbor is to just move out. Even if, logically, the landlord shouldn't be acting this way, for whatever reason, she is, and if she weren't an idiot in the first place, they wouldn't be in this position (and the guy would already be out on his ass). It's hard to reason with someone who has already decided to be an idiot.

    I just don't get why the landlord would be so tolerant of the vandalizing, health-code violating tenant in the first place. I mean, this isn't just a "she said, he said" situation.

  • Rachel says:

    I would ask upstairs neighbor if she wants to find an apartment (with a bathroom) that you two could share. Because dude – living there is only going to get worse.

    If your living situation is stressful (even a wee bit, like with the bathroom sitch), that can really affect the rest of your life in ways you wouldn't think about, at first. But if you can't come home and relax, when and where can you do that?

    Move. Soon.

  • Andrea says:

    Big thanks to Bo — I have a patch on my left hand that is EXACTLY what you described. I've had sensitive skin all my life, so I haven't given it any thought, but I just put a call in to my dermatologist to have a skin check. Better safe that sorry.

  • ferretrick says:

    I kind of agree with the overall advice of just move, and this is probably going to be futile, but you and your neighbor could try approaching the landlady together and tell her that she is going to lose both of you when your leases expire as a result of this tenant. As a businesswoman, does she want to trade two paying, easygoing tenants for one crazy douche?

  • Bria says:

    In the landlady's defense, evicting a tenant is incredibly complicated, particularly in cases where the issue isn't non-payment of rent. Tenant rights are complex, and there are substantial legal barriers in place to keep landlords from evicting people without due process. My knowledge of NY landlord/tenant law is cursory at best, but I believe the process involves a hearing, then a resolution meeting, then a trial (if no resolution is reached at the prior meeting). The process takes at least 30 days, if not more, and landlords are usually advised to retain counsel. I second Sars's advice to move.

  • Jen B. says:

    I'm surprised Sars didn't mention this (maybe because the victim herself didn't write in) but you and/or your upstairs neighbor should read "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin deBecker to know exactly how to best deal with this.

    Also, boning up on tenant laws is a great idea, as is getting suggestions from a housing legal clinic. For example, I have to believe that there is some sort of law against smearing feces in a non-private bathroom; a lawyer at a clinic could help your neighbor can bring that to the landlord's attention (with photos) and threaten a lawsuit unless he's evicted immediately.

    Side note: you can't trigger someone who is already triggered. Just be aware that if the only reason that you won't say anything to your landlord is because you're afraid of his retaliation, he's already controlling you.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Jen B.: I considered making it a tag, actually.

    I just don't get why the landlord would be so tolerant of the vandalizing, health-code violating tenant in the first place. I mean, this isn't just a "she said, he said" situation.

    Because he's scary and she's a senior citizen. She also knows how much more trouble it is to get him out than it is to let him stay, even under these extreme circumstances.

  • Holly says:

    Because he's scary and she's a senior citizen. She also knows how much more trouble it is to get him out than it is to let him stay, even under these extreme circumstances.

    Yeah, but Ten seems to say that the tenants never see the elderly lady landlord anyway, they deal with her son, the super. So it's not like she has to be scared of dealing with the crazy tenant personally.

    I guess I'm just shocked that it's actually THAT difficult to evict someone when the circumstances are that extreme. I mean, I get why it shouldn't be easy. But the law isn't doing people any good if it is discouraging landlords from taking swift action in situations where real damage is being done to property and a real danger is being posed to other tenants.

    (Huh. That in turn makes me wonder at what point a landlord could have one of their own tenants arrested for vandalism?)

  • Ix says:

    First, I want to comment that Bo's piece has reminded me that I really need to do a mole check the next time I see my family doctor. I've had a lot of new moles pop up in the past couple of years, which probably isn't good news.

    Second, to Ten: get out. Now. Urge your upstairs neighbour to do the same. Look over your rental agreement and get your neighbour to take her copy – and her story – to a lawyer to find out if your landlord is violating the lease by allowing someone to stay who's trashed the place and violated the health code.
    But even if she is, it'll still take time to get through the courts. Don't wait; find somewhere new, somewhere safer than your current location.

    After all, even if your neighbour moves, nothing says that the creep won't fixate on someone else who's close to hand – like you.

  • Juliet says:

    Seconding Bo's suggestion. I went to the derm for the first time a few years ago, mainly to have something removed, and she discovered a very small mole on my arm that turned out to be pre-cancerous. Removing it was quick and mostly painless–just a coupla stitches. I shudder to think what the treatment might have involved if I'd waited a few more years.

  • TashiAnn says:

    I don't mean this to sound snarky, it's a sincere (and possibly rather naive question. Is there any reason that Ten should not suggest to the upstairs neighbor that she notify the police?

    If the guy is truly a wacko and has violent tendencies (at least against a sink) shouldn't the police be informed in case it escalates? Granted this could make her current situation worse since she can't move out right away but she has rights too.

  • R says:

    I would move out, and I would suggest to the upstairs neighbor that after both of you move out, she report the guy to the police. His harassment sounds like criminal behavior to me.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    As a former apartment manager (not landlord) in Seattle, who had a devil of a time evicting a trio of non-rent-paying drug dealers in the building I lived in, I can testify that evicition is a time-consuming and heartbreaking task. It's designed to prevent landlords from being assholes, but it also means a huge hassle and lots of court dates with lots of paperwork.

    You have to serve certain papers, like a "Three Day Pay Rent Or Vacate" notice, at a certain time, then serve anther paper, than ANOTHER, so the tenant is fully apprised of the actions against them, then go to court, then make sure the tenants are properly served eviction notices at the proper time, than call the sheriff so he or a deputy can supervise the evicition (be prepared for them not to show up at least three times, since they have more "important" things to do) than hire a cleaning service to scrub out the filthy rathole the tenants reduced it to, than hire a repair service/plumber/electrician to repair all the revenge damage they did on the way out the door, rent a storage facility for their crap that you're legally required to hang onto for a set amount of time, all the while explaining to your boss that yes, you'd LIKE to get the unit re-leased, truly you would, but you have to get the smashed light fixtures rewired and the kitchen cupboards replaced from where the exiting assholes tore them off the walls.

    And these people were scary and intimidating, just like Sars said, and I had no, absolutely none, backup from my boss (King of Assholes.) So I can see this turning into a cling to the ills we have scenario pretty rapidly for your landlady.

    I do think your neighbor and her landlady should contact the police and start a file on the guy, because police reports will go a long way towards getting him out the door when the inevitable day comes that she has to get rid of him, but as for yourself: yeah. Move and don't look back, maybe file it under "Life's Quirky And Unfair", but it's just not safe there.

  • Jill TX says:

    @Sars: This is random, but was the "Bo"/"on behalf of Earth" joke a reference to that obscure teen show They Came from Outer Space, featuring alien twin brothers Bo and Abe? (Probably not, but I can hope…)

  • Amy says:

    I don't really have advice here about the tenant situation, just commentary that it's awful that a person as horrible as the psycho neighbor gets to keep on being psycho and everyone else has to suffer for it. The guy is acting totally bonkers and yet everyone ELSE has to alter their behavior, actions, living situations. It's just not right. I don't know how hard it is to evict someone in NY (or anywhere else, for that matter) but there just doesn't seem to be any plausible reason why everyone else has to suffer the consequences of this guy's psychosis. But, I'm probably just preaching to the choir.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Jill: "Bo" was the name she gave me; the "greetings from Earth" bit was in reference to her saying she would look like a space alien.

  • Emma says:

    Nothing constuctive to add, but @Holly:
    ~It's hard to reason with someone who has already decided to be an idiot.~
    needs to go on the Vine-ism list.

  • RC says:

    For tenant: I don't know about landlord-tenant law OR criminal law in NY, but could this be treated as a criminal matter? Not just reporting the harassment to the police, but filing some sort of charge ?
    Like I said, I don't know about criminal law in NY, unless it was covered accurately in Law and Order.

  • Jane says:

    On Ten–I'm guessing that even if the police are called, that doesn't get the guy out of the apartment any faster. Even if he did something stupid that got him hauled in when the police came to talk to him, it'd probably only be overnight. It'd take a while to build something like this into a court-worthy status, and he's running around pissed in the meantime. It doesn't change the eviction complexities or shorten the time.

    Basically, I like the idea of it being on record that he's Not Right, but I just worry it raises the risk of sharing a building with him.

  • Whitney says:

    My management company is actually taking eviction proceedings against my downstairs neighbor at the moment (dude smokes so much pot that the entire building gets a contact high, and everyone has complained about him). Before this happened, I wrote a letter of complaint to my management company on my super's advice, they got their lawyer involved and I'm now keeping a log of every time the pot smell gets out of hand, and they've also advised me to call the police if it gets too bad on any particular occasion. But the company representative did tell me that, even though they are taking action against the tenant, it may be a while before they can get him out.

    Which is just to support Sars' advice to just move. Because I can suffer through a pot-head for a few more months — but this guy is dangerous. Even if the landlady does start eviction proceedings, who knows what he might try before she's able to get him out.

  • Grainger says:

    "…it's awful that a person as horrible as the psycho neighbor gets to keep on being psycho and everyone else has to suffer for it."

    The opposite side of the coin is landlords who evict tenants for the horrible crime of being Mexican.

  • Amy says:

    I'm going to chime in with the chorus that you should move. Even if landlord gets rid of poo-guy, who's to say she won't rent it to someone worse? (Coming personal experience narrative not reflective of this point, just my reasons why I think moving is the better option.)

    I once had a violent neighbor, this one across the hall from me. One time, he and one of our neighbors downstairs got into a fight, and he slammed downstairs neighbor so hard against the wall to my apartment that it dented the plaster. Not sheetrock, plaster. I called the cops, and made arrangements to move out ASAP. On move-out day, he asked me why I was moving. (There were burly paid moving guys going in and out, so I thought he was unlikely to do anything) I told him that I couldn't bear living in the building anymore. He asked if he was the reason, so I told him yes. He apologized to me, and then I told him that he needed to apologize to our super-nice landlord, who was now having to find a new tenant. I didn't expect that apology, because I didn't think that he had that level of self-awareness in him, but it was really nice to get.

    Especially for upstairs neighbor: consider hiring movers, or at least convincing the biggest, burliest men you know to help move.

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