My ex-husband, Hal Hilliard, and I lived for several months on the 2nd floor of a 2-unit house on Mason Street near 9th Avenue in Flint, MI in the mid 1970’s.
The house was owned by Gilbert Realty, who also owned many other houses in the City of Flint, and after our experiences with them, I would consider them to be a tad short of slum-lords.
After we moved in, we quickly discovered many problems with our apartment, some quite dangerous and others severely aggravating.
There were wall sconces on one wall in the bedroom that were hanging crooked and when Hal attempted to straighten them, they quickly shorted out and blew the fuses for the whole house.
A few days later Hal found that there were bare wires attached to those sconces behind the wall. After shutting off the power to our apartment, he used electrical tape to keep the wires from touching each other and hopefully prevent a fire until our landlord could get an electrician out to fix that dangerous problem.
Near a corner in our living room we also discovered a real bouncy spot that felt like only the carpeting was keeping us from falling through to the apartment below.
We asked Mike and Mike, the two guys who lived below us, if we could remove some of their ceiling panels to see what exactly was going on with that one spot. And we discovered that yep, it was as we suspected: only the carpeting was holding us up in our own apartment. The flooring in that one spot had completely rotted away.
Our apartment had a huge claw-footed tub but no shower. Unfortunately our water pressure was so bad, I had to get up an hour before I normally would have to in the morning to turn on the water in the tub just so it could slowly fill it up enough to take a bath before getting ready for work.
Doing dishes was the same ordeal with the water pressure. It took over an hour to wash and rinse dishes that should have only taken 15-20 minutes at the most.
Hal and I called Gilbert Realty’s office and filed work orders and complaints left and right. They always promised that they would get those situations fixed as soon as possible but they came up with the stupidest delaying tactics.
Their repairman was on vacation, then he was sick, then his parents, who lived out-of-state, became ill and he had to stay with them and take care of them for awhile, etc. We asked them to please temporarily hire another repairman because of these very dangerous problems but nobody came to fix them.
After a few months of these delaying tactics, I contacted the city of Flint ombudsman’s office for advice. After I had explained about all of the problems in our apartment, they were appalled, especially about the faulty wiring and the soft spot in the flooring in the living room.
They told me to write a letter to Gilbert Realty that detailed the repairs that they needed to immediately fix. This letter would also inform them that, on the advice of the ombudsman’s office, we were going to place the monthly rent in escrow in a new savings account I was going to establish and the funds would be released to them only after all of the problems were repaired.
I was also to state in this letter that if all of the problems were not properly repaired within three months, I would then file complaints against them with the City of Flint, with the full approval of the ombudsman’s office, and then fines and sanctions would be levied against them. Their realtors’ license could also be suspended as well and that would prevent them from renting out new properties and from collecting rent from all of the houses they were already renting out in the city of Flint according to the laws then in place at that time.
So I wrote the letter and sent it to Gilbert Realty via certified mail and Hal and I opened up a specially designated savings account in a local bank where we would deposit the monthly rent amounts.
The certified mail receipt was accordingly mailed back to me showing that Brian Gilbert, the realtors’ son who was also a licensed realtor, had received and signed for my letter. But Hal and I never heard another word from anybody with Gilbert Realty after that.
Hal and I stayed there for the specified three months, putting our monthly rent into that savings account. At the end of the three months, after still no word at all from Gilbert Realty, we debated on what we should do next.
Should we file complaints with the city of Flint against them? Should we stay there for a little while longer and just continue to put our rent into the savings account? Or should we just find another place to rent?
We decided to check out other apartments just to see if we could find something else we could afford that would be a much safer place to live. A place where we wouldn’t have to worry about getting fried one night from the bad wiring in the bedroom or suddenly finding ourselves down in the guys’ apartment below us because we had accidentally stepped on that soft spot in the living room.
We did find the cutest one bedroom apartment that was attached to the garage at the back of a huge one-family home in the south end of Flint. It was like having our own little house because it had its own secluded but tiny back yard as well as a small covered front porch. It was heaven compared to our current apartment!
So we packed up all of our things and moved ourselves, and my adorable Kitty, to our new home. Before we handed the keys to that dangerous apartment to one of the Mikes downstairs, we cleaned, vacuumed and mopped every square inch of the apartment. It was a thousand times cleaner than when we had moved in.
We also told the Mikes about the revenge we had decided to take against these negligent landlords. We told them that we had left all of the windows shut and the blinds up. We had unplugged the refrigerator and then filled it with all sorts of vegetables and fruits.
We told the Mikes that we had left a message on the Gilbert Realty’s office telephone telling them that we had moved out, that the apartment key would be left with the downstairs Mikes, and that in accordance with the advice from the ombudsman’s office, the landlords had also forfeited the three months’ rent that had been held in escrow for them.
The Mikes told us that they would miss us, and we gave them our new address and phone number and told them to stop by any time because we had also so much liked having them as neighbors as well.
Two months later, on a very hot and muggy August day, Brian Gilbert stopped by the two Mikes’ apartment. He asked them if we had indeed vacated the upstairs apartment and was it true that we had left the key with the Mikes.
The Mikes told them that yes, we had left and given them our apartment key, and that it was shameful how the Gilberts’ had treated us because we had been great neighbors as well as tenants.
The two Mikes followed Brian Gilbert up the stairs to our old apartment as Brian unlocked the door to see what condition we had left the apartment.
Although our apartment was stiflingly hot, Brian went from room to room, exclaiming, “They left it so clean! I was expecting it to be totally trashed!” One of the Mikes told him, “See, we told you they had been good people and good tenants.”
Then as Brian entered the kitchen and peeked into the stove that we had meticulously cleaned as well, the Mikes began to stealthily step backwards towards the apartment door.
They knew what we had put inside the refrigerator and that because we had left the windows shut with the blinds up and had unplugged the refrigerator for two months during that very hot summer, that fridge was going to be an explosion of pure stench the second Brian opened it.
When the Mikes saw Brian approach the refrigerator to open it, they ran down the stairs as fast as they could and they both heard Brian as he yelled, “Oh my God, oh my God!” Then the Mikes heard Brian run to the bathroom and throw up in the sink and they began laughing so hard at how well our revenge had been played out!
They were still laughing like crazy, with tears running down their faces, as they sat on their couch in their apartment, when they heard Brian slam our apartment door, lock it, then run down the stairs and jump into his car. They went to their window and saw him open his car door to lean over and heave up another round of vomit before he finally recovered enough to leave the driveway.
The Mikes then called us, and through their continued laughing and gasps for air, we finally found out what had happened. Hal and I also laughed and giggled along with them, enjoying our hugely successful practical joke.
There is that old saying that revenge is sometimes best served cold but in this case sweet revenge was best served hot…and stinky!