Moving to Ellensburg, Part II

This entry was published at least two years ago (originally posted on January 17, 2011). Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed (in general, assume a more open and liberal current viewpoint). A fuller disclaimer is available.

Okay. So at the end of Part I of this little adventure, I’d left off with ominous words about how moving in to the new apartment did not go smoothly. That’s actually something of an understatement!

(Facebook people: most, if not all, of this post is copied directly from my original Facebook note. You can probably skip it, unless you really want to re-live the drama.)

When all of this began, we started looking for one bedroom Ellensburg apartments for Prairie, searching real estate websites and Craigslist from our place in Kent. Since we were calling around on Christmas Eve day, we weren’t terribly surprised when we couldn’t get ahold of many offices, but we were able to get ahold of one of the most promising looking places: a 1-bedroom unit, half of a duplex, that was listed on Craigslist. The landlord sounded decent on the phone, and was willing to do a short-term four-month lease, so we set up an appointment to look at the place while we were in Ellensburg so that Prairie could have a few meetings about the transition to her new job.

We got there, and while it’s an old building and the place looked kind of funky (in a fun, quirky kind of way), it was actually quite a bit bigger than we expected, and we agreed that it would fit our needs perfectly. We signed the lease, got a key, put the utilities in Prairie’s name, and (after the work meetings) came back home to pack for the move.

On Monday the 3rd, with the help of Prairie’s dad, we schlepped all the stuff she’d packed out to the new place…and it wasn’t long before things started to look a little pear-shaped. There was an extension cord sticking out of one wall that could be plugged into one of the few interior outlets, and les outside, apparently to the floodlights for the parking spots, but it didn’t seem to actually do anything. We weren’t entirely sure why that was, but Prairie’s dad looked at it and said that it looked like there’s some disconnected and possibly exposed wiring. The electrical socket in the kitchen underneath the counter was kind of falling out of the wall, and because there’s no other socket close to the refrigerator, there was an extension cord (just barely long enough to reach) with a plug doubler on the end running from that socket to the fridge (I added a power strip to the mix so that the cord wasn’t quite so stretched, and so that we could plug in the toaster and microwave). There were cobwebs in a number of places around the apartment, indicating that it hadn’t had a good cleaning anytime recently. When we touched the shower head in the bathroom, it literally fell off of the pipe. Initially, this wasn’t a big deal, as we were planning on putting a newer shower head on anyway, but when we tried to remove the old pipe, the threads broke inside the socket, rendering the shower unusable. However, even the unusable shower paled in comparison to the realization that the pipes were frozen, and there was no running water.

So, by noon Monday, we’d had electrical weirdnesses, cleaning grumbles, broken plumbing, and frozen pipes. We called the landlord, and I (reluctantly) left Prairie to wait for calls from the plumber and Roto Rooter (since the plumber didn’t have the equipment to deal with frozen pipes) to let her know when they would be arriving, and Prairie’s dad brought me back home to Kent. That evening, Prairie let me know that the plumber made it out that afternoon to fix the shower, but all she’d gotten from Roto Rooter was a statement that they’d “probably” be out to her place between 8 and 10 Tuesday morning, though they wouldn’t actually make a definitive statement.

By 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Prairie’d heard nothing from anyone, and was justifiably pissed (especially because she was supposed to be on campus beginning the transition process for her new job, but was stuck at home trying to get the apartment livable). After filling me in, she made another round of calls to Roto Rooter and the landlord, and Roto Rooter finally showed up just before noon (perhaps coincidentally, but perhaps not, just before the 24-hour window where landlords are legally required to respond in instances where apartments lose water or heat). As the Roto Rooter guy started to try and work, he wasn’t sure where the pipes came into the building, so Prairie called the landlord…who didn’t know. The Roto Rooter guy went over to ask the neighbors in the other half of the duplex, who weren’t sure about where the pipes were, but did say that frozen pipes are apparently a pretty regular occurrence for the building. Great.

So, as the Roto Rooter guy got to work, Prairie went off to the store to find space heaters, as one of the things tenants can do to avoid problems it to keep space heaters near the interior pipes during cold weather. She got back home with the heaters, plugged them in…and not much later, a fuse blows and the entire place loses power. And, of course, these aren’t circuit breakers, but old screw-in style fuses. So, another call to the landlord…and that’s when I asked Twitter about whether there is such a thing as the rental equivalent of a “lemon law” or “buyer’s remorse” clause. At this point, it was looking like if things didn’t improve fast, we’d be better off just getting out while the getting was good, and finding Prairie a different place.

For a while, things seemed like they were improving…or at least on the way to improvement. By Tuesday afternoon Roto Rooter hadn’t succeeded in getting water flowing, though they were certainly trying: they’d gone from one guy to two vans, three guys, and a “big scary machine” working on the pipes. More importantly, though, when the landlord came by with more fuses, Prairie was able to get him to agree that after all the problems, if the water didn’t get going soon (by Tuesday night or Wednesday morning) then he would be willing to let Prairie out of the lease so that she could find another place. At that point, we were still hoping that it wouldn’t come to that — there were enough good aspects to the place (price, size, the short-term lease, etc.) that we were hoping to keep it if it could be made livable, and the process of finding another place (quickly) and moving (quickly) again wasn’t terribly appealing — but at least we had been assured that we wouldn’t be locked into a lease on an apartment that wasn’t actually livable.

As the evening wore on, though, it became more and more clear that staying there just wasn’t tenable. When Roto Rooter was finally able to get water flowing, it was clear that the pipes were only partially unfrozen, as it was only a small trickle of water. Futhermore, when water did start coming out, it was an unpleasant color and was spitting out small metal shavings. The Roto Rooter guys told Prairie that the pipes were really old and in bad shape, and recommended that not only should she not drink any of the water, but she shouldn’t even cook with it. When they left, water was still just trickling, and they’d advised Prairie to keep the water running, the heat in the apartment cranked as high as it would go, and the portable heaters she’d purchased trained on the exposed pipes, in the hope that this would keep them from refreezing overnight.

Of course, constantly running water plus the heat on high effectively turned the place into a sauna, and then to top it off, Prairie discovered a leak underneath the kitchen sink spilling water across the kitchen floor.

At that point, enough was enough. She called me, we talked it over, and (after putting a pan under the leak), she got ahold of her old boss (who she’s also good friends with) and went over to stay at her place that night, and I wrote a “we’re out of here” letter to the landlords.

Here’s a small video that was originally shot the day we first took a look at the apartment. At the time (and as evidence in the audio track), we still thought that it was a funky but functional place that would work for our needs. As that was far from the truth, I’ve added subtitles pointing out some of the more egregious issues.

Next up: Getting out of the slums, and into an apartment worth living in.