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Horror Story No. 1: The Mysterious Water in the Basement

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This week, we'll hear firsthand reader accounts of terrifyingly bad rental experiences. On Thursday we'll open the polls for voting, and the winning awful story will move on to Curbed National for a chance to win a month of free rent. (Standard contests rules apply.) Didn't get to submit your horror story for the contest but still want to get it off your chest? Send it along to philly@curbed.com and we'll post it this week.

Horror Story No. 1: The Mysterious Water in the Basement
"That will be all cleared up by the time you move in," the broker told me, referring to the water in the basement as we toured the apartment I was thinking of renting. There had been a tree in the outside walkway just above that section of the basement, and the roots had gotten into the ground and cracked the foundation, letting the water in. This was the story, anyway, and one I found reasonable, given that I had just toured the back walkway where a tree stump was in the process of being removed. "We'll shore up the foundation, get an industrial dehumidifier down here and it'll be all taken care of," he said confidently.
It was a hasty move I was making, a post-break-up-panic-mode kind of move. I knew I wanted to stay near my friends and that I wanted a basement, so I could put the cats' litter boxes down there—that was about as far as I had thought this move through. Several months later, in this apartment—which, by the way, had no washer and dryer (hasty move indeed at 39 years old!), a non-functioning doorbell (resulting in several missed visitors and packages), slugs finding their way into my kitchen through the door that did not seal at the base (so that I needed to turn the light on in the middle of the night on my way to the bathroom in order to not step on one of those large, squishy slugs in my bare feet)—there was still water in the basement.

But, the water was not there all the time. I would walk down there to clean out the litter boxes regularly; on some days, the room was half full of water. On other days, it would dry up. The rain seemed to have no bearing on whether there was water seeping in or not. I called the real estate manager's office numerous times to have the problem resolved. For months they remained mystified.

Finally, the owner of the real estate office came over. A nice guy, but.... When I arrived home on the day he had spent hours there to find the cause, he had finally figured it out. What he told me was bad enough, but it was also the way that he told me. Forgetting that I had been living there for months, with cats that had been in the basement and likely stepped in this water often, he announced to me—very proud that he had solved the mystery—that in the middle of trying to figure out how the rain water was getting inside, it occurred to him: "Why don't I have Joe flush his toilet and see what happens." Joe was the guy who lived in the apartment above me. Sure enough, Joe was home and when he flushed his toilet, the water in the basement seeped through the base of the basement wall. Several flushings later, and the basement was filling with a large puddle of sewage-water.

"So that was the problem," he said to me, smiling, so pleased with himself. And then I saw his face change slightly, as I repeated the scenario back to him: "So I have been living with sewage water for the last two and half months, with my cats walking in it and then spreading it all over my apartment? Is that right?" I asked.

"Hm," he said, "yes, I guess that has been the case." And he didn't even send someone over to clean it up until I requested it. They came with industrial brooms to sweep dried, muddy crap into the corner of the basement. They tracked sewage mud across my apartment floor...And then, when my lease was nearing its end, they had the nerve to raise the rent! This is all true.