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Horror Story No. 3: "That House Was a Total Hellhole"

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. 3: "That House Was a Total Hellhole"
The first year I lived in Philly I was 18 and doing a year of service with Americorps, so when I was apartment hunting my main priority was finding something that I could afford on my tiny stipend. The plan was to live with an Americorps alum who was friends with the daughter of a man who managed apartments in UCity, he was giving us a great deal on a 7 bedroom house. The rent was incredibly cheap, it was way below market value for the neighborhood and included utilities as well as a 10-month lease.

We later discovered that the reason the rent was so cheap was because the landlord had no intention of putting any effort or money into the property. The landlord's daughter's friend bailed on the plan before move in, but the rest of us had already signed the lease. Maybe if his daughter's friend had been living there the landlord would have put more effort into the property but that house was a total hellhole from the day we moved in to the day we (finally) moved out.

Here are some of the problems we had:

1. The house itself was a huge mess. When we toured the place we were told that it would be professionally cleaned by the time we moved in. It was not. There were old paint buckets laying around the house, presumably from the last time it was painted, which was puzzling because the house clearly had not been painted in years. Additionally, whenever the house had been painted last they must have used the wrong kind of paint because it was chipping and there were paint chips everywhere. Even after we moved in, as many times as we swept, there were always paint chips in the corners. The kitchen was grimy and the bathrooms were mildewed. The linoleum in the bathrooms was missing or peeled up in patches and the linoleum in the kitchen didn't quite fit the room.

2. The outside of the house was literally a trash dump. The front yard (if you want to call it that) housed piles of garbage including an old tire, a rusted out metal barrel, some old boots, various pieces of rusted metal in addition to a couple of basic bags of trash. It was also totally overgrown with gigantic thorny bushes. Like the house itself, we had been told that it would be cleared out before our move in date. And like the house, it was not. Instead the landlord gave a couple of my roommates a $50 rent discount one month to clear it out. The front yard also had a gigantic and overgrown hedge that screened the house from the street. This was why our porch was a preferred spot for homeless folks to sleep. Mostly they stopped coming around after we moved in, but on one memorable occasion my roommate was threatened by a man on our porch. The backyard was in a similar state of disrepair with what used to be a stone patio, totally overgrown, a rotting wooden table and a rusted out metal chair.

3. The refrigerator didn't work. And the landlord didn't replace it until we had been living there for over 3 months.

4. The basement was like something out of a horror movie. I think the floor had been concrete at one point, but was closer to packed dirt when we were there. It was dark except for one lightbulb hanging from the ceiling near the laundry machines. One part of the basement had a bunch of rusty bent nails sticking out of the wall (to hang tools, maybe?) and there were these back rooms that were totally dark and mostly housed old wooden boards with more rusty nails sticking out (as far as we could tell, no one ever ventured back there because it was so creepy).

5. The house was beset by the usual pests including an especially robust mouse population. To be fair, this may have had something to do with how messy we were.

6. The utilities, both electric and gas, were supposed to be included in our rent. In January (we had been living there since August) we got a letter from PECO saying that a recent meter reading indicated that our house was using power (obviously) but that it wasn't registered or paying for the electricity and that our electricity would be turned off if we didn't register. I copied the letter and sent the original to my landlord along with an angry phone call (voicemail, of course) telling him to get us registered. In February, we received the same notice again, so again I passed it along to my landlord along with another angry voicemail. When we received the notice a third time in March, I took the morning off of work and went into the landlord's office. He wasn't there (surprise?). His colleague claimed that they had already rectified the problem and that the 3rd notice was PECO's mistake. I insisted on sitting with her as she called PECO so that they could confirm her story (or I could have her register for power while I was there). After waiting on hold with PECO for around 30 min, I had to leave, but we never received another notice, so apparently they finally started paying the bill.

7. The heat didn't work all winter. In December the landlord finally sent someone to fix it. The house was toasty for 3 days before the heat failed again. He never sent another repairman. The cold was exacerbated by the fact that several of the windows had pretty serious cracks in them. I survived using a space heater (because our landlord was supposed to be paying our electric), but I'll never know how my roommates made it through that winter.

Thankfully it was only 10 months. A couple of years later I met someone who ended up in the same house with the same landlord. Apparently the rent is slightly higher (though still low for the area) and the hedge is gone, but not much else has changed. At the time I was too young and naive to really advocate for myself as a tenant but I'm definitely a more savvy renter now.