October 2, 2007

Drowning in a sea of red tape

I find it odd that my landlord company (let’s call them Landlord X) can claim to be involved in “Property Management.” Aren’t there laws against false advertising? Sure, “Mismanagement of Property, Destroyer of Lives, and Devourer of Worlds” may be unwieldy, but it is far more accurate than the otherwise reassuring “Property Management.”

My saga involving Landlord X began in this spring, when I signed a lease with Landlord Y. In July, I received a letter from Landlord X, informing me that they had purchased the building I was living in. I expected my next interaction with Landlord X to be something like this:

Me (answering my telephone): “Hello?”

Landlord X: “Hi, sorry to bother you. I just wanted to introduce myself as your new landlord and assure you that all of the paperwork has been taken care of on our end, so you have nothing to worry about.”

Me: “Thank you for this timely and unusually succinct telephone call.”

Instead, I received another letter, which read (basically): “Dear Resident, Please vacate the apartment in the next week.” This seemed funny, as I was fairly confident that I had signed a lease that allowed me to live there for the next year. I shuddered at visions of bright young couples touring my apartment while I was showering.

I went about informing Landlord X of the existence of my lease, a surprisingly difficult task. Landlord X consists of two separate offices in Hyde Park, about a mile apart from each other, Office A and Office B. Office A specializes in telling you that you need to go to Office B, whereas Office B exists to inform you, “No, we’re quite sorry for the confusion, but Office A is really the place you need to be.” For reasons considered top secret, Offices A and B cannot fax, telephone, or otherwise communicate with each other, which left me stuck trudging between them for an entire month.

On top of this, I learned some other excellent methods for businesses looking to decrease both their efficiency and customer satisfaction. For instance, it is impossible to get angry with people who work for Landlord X because all of them claim to have been recently hired and therefore not be responsible for anything that happened in, say, July. Of course, given what appears to be massive incompetence at the highest reaches of Landlord X, it is plausible that they have to hire a completely new staff every two months.

Another method I learned is simple denial. One day, Cheerful Employee from Office A called with good news. My lease had been placed in my “folder,” but not in my “file.” Apparently this was the root of my problem. Cheerful Employee promised that he would get his supervisor’s approval first thing Monday and then move my lease from my folder to my file. Cheerful Employee asked for me to call him on Monday morning, which I did.

“Hi, may I speak to Cheerful Employee?”


I recounted who I was and why I was calling.

“And you’re looking for who?”


“Why me?”

“You called me.”

“I did?”


“Why did I call you?” I summarized, again, what had been going on. He considered what I had said before concluding: “Oh, you need to speak to someone in Office B.”

After two months, Landlord X acknowledged my lease. This came after much more incompetence and profoundly illegal suggestions on their part, which were introduced in a laughably off-hand way. (Example: “No problem, Mr. Hill, we’ll get this lease thing straightened out. Say, do you mind actually signing a new lease with us?”)

Finally, I thought my problems were solved. Then the calls to my parents began. I guess when filling out a form that asked for my contact information and an emergency contact, I managed to be unclear that my mother was only to be contacted in emergencies. As it turned out, Landlord X had my name listed as my emergency contact. That was cleared up, but now Landlord X is claiming never to have received the security deposit I paid Landlord Y in the spring (Landlord Y has since gone out of business). Upon being told it was my responsibility to get this deposit to Landlord X, I read to my good friend Cheerful Employee an Illinois ordinance that clearly states the opposite. He responded, “Well, that law is pretty clear, but that’s not how we’ve been doing things here.”

They call themselves a property management company? I’m fairly confident I could be doing a much better job, which is why I am thrilled to announce the creation of Phoenix Property Management, a landlord company by and for University of Chicago students. What’s that, you say? I have no experience, credentials or licenses? That’s quite all right. Apparently controlling apartments is something any idiot can do.