Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.
 

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.
 

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)
 

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.
 

Stratton has written op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.


 
 

Category — Landlord Biz

SMASHED

 
I called Cody’s mother because he hadn’t paid his rent. Cody’s mom said, “I expected you to tell me he was dead. He’s been impossible since he was 15. I have two children. One is stellar and the other is Cody.” Cody was 27.

I knocked on Cody’s door but he wouldn’t answer. I filed on him in court. He eventually texted me, “You’re going to have to go thru eviction process while I work things out.”

I went to his apartment again. I said through the door, “I hear you’re still here. Your mother thought I was calling her to tell her you’re dead. Get it together, man.” He had no furniture and slept on the floor, surrounded by a bong and cigarette butts. I told him to call community services, which was passing out free rent money. His rental application said he was a painter with his uncle’s firm.

I had rented to Cody because, for one reason, his mom had accompanied him when he had come by to see the apartment. She and Cody put down the final month in advance.

Finally, the court evicted Cody. He was supposed to vacate within 10 days after the eviction hearing. I showed up at his door at 9 am on day 11. The chain lock was on. If you have the chain lock on, and you’re inside, I got a problem.

Later that day the chain was off. There was stuff in the apartment. I called his mom. I wondered where he had gone. It was freezing out. She said, “He may look like a druggie but he isn’t. He’s mentally ill.”

Cody’s uncle — the painting contractor — said, “I’m not sure if he’s ill or just lazy. He’s smart. He got in a couple scuffles with my guys but he was OK. I was going to help him buy a truck. He got a few paychecks to get the apartment, and then he quit. He’s not staying at my house tonight. So he messed you up with the lock — the coming and going — at the apartment? That might be breaking and entering. Maybe he’ll get a warm bed in a jail tonight.”

We stored six bags of garbage from Cody’s place for a while. That’s the state law. I asked my maintenance guy, “What about kitchen table?”

He said, “I basically stomped that and put it on the tree lawn. It’s smashed.”

Smashed.

“Cody” is a pseudonym. Drawing by Ralph Solonitz.

 

 

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December 6, 2023   1 Comment

A BAD DAY

 
The tenant in 304 was a slob, but still, he liked a spiffy-looking bathroom. My maintenance man said, “He ain’t did the dishes in years. I mean holy shit. And he’s bitching about his bathroom falling apart?” The maintenance man — Jim — repainted the entire bathroom. Jim also moved out a ratty couch and chair. The Salvation Army wouldn’t even take the stuff. It was all stained. I had to pay Jim extra for moving the furniture.

Generic messy suit and former tenant

A store tenant called and said Jim got dust on some of her stuff when he did a job there. “There was dust all over the place, and they didn’t cover my things.” I told the tenant to give me a price. Jim said he did cover her stuff. That was a bad day.

My plumber met me in the parking lot across from St. Ed’s High and showed me his monthly bills. He said, “This is the second highest amount I’ve ever given you.”

Thanks.

I got an email from a tenant saying he wanted a month’s free month because I was digging trenches through his apartment. We were putting in an underground condensate return line. Eighty-gauge black steel pipe. We were doing this because the entire building was sprouting leaks from the 90-year-old underground pipes. So we were digging a five-foot “grave” in the guy’s kitchen, dining room and living room. I told him he’d get the free rent.

The person in apartment 30 called and said he’s getting back with his girlfriend. Oh yeah? He’s out his deposit.

The worst was the letter taped to the storefront door at the Webb Road building: “Burt, it’s landlords like you that give all of us landlords a bad name. You should be ashamed of yourself. Signed, Tom Corrigan.”

Corrigan rented a store from me. He ran his rental property organization from my building. He had had a leak in his roof. We tried to fix it. I spent a few grand on it. Leaks are a tricky business.

It was a bad day.

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September 6, 2023   2 Comments

WHAT ANIMALS TO BRING
TO A JOB INTERVIEW

 
Before I hire a building manager, I interview the candidate at his or her home. One man had four dogs in his living room. There was very little non-dog space. We wound up discussing the job requirements in a third-floor bedroom. There was a big bird up there.

When a doormat reads “Got beer?”, that’s a bad thing. Nevertheless, I hired a woman with that doormat, and she worked out well. Also, her email was “Imadrunkmonkey@.” Still, I hired her. She had a strong work ethic.

Benny, a man I hired, worked the day shift at Eaton Axle. His wife, Betty, was the world’s best cleaner. She wanted to be buried with a can of Comet. I gave her an unlimited cleaning budget. She liked to vacuum the halls every day. I didn’t try to stop her.

One of my worst employes was a cocaine addict. She ran up my Home Depot account with unauthorized charges, like for an air compressor and a tool box. What really caught my attention was “gift certificate $50.” She fenced items. I fired her and then went to Taco Bell to reconsider. My father had once given a custodian a second chance after she had ripped him off, and she had repaid my dad and stayed on the job.

But my gal — the coke head — left me feeling blue. I mulled this at T-Bell. She had said, “I have a few shopliftings but I never stole from people.”

Was I not people?

I stuck with firing her. I didn’t say, “You’re fired.” I said, “If you turn in the keys this weekend, I’ll pay your moving expenses and give you an extra $400, and I won’t call the cops.” Sometimes it pays to move people out quickly.

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August 23, 2023   No Comments

SWEENEY’S KITCHEN DIDN’T
LOOK TOO GOOD

 
When Sweeney moved out, he left a huge pile of empty beer cartons. The apartment was a mess. I was surprised, because Sweeney was always so polite, so I figured he’d be clean, too. He called me whenever he was late with the rent. His final call was “I tried like hell to come up with the rent but couldn’t.” Sweeney said he was moving to Cedar Point to work.

Sweeney’s kitchen

He was very polite. I already said that, but it bears repeating. Most tenants, when they’re late with their rent, they don’t call you. Sweeney said, “Don’t bother with an eviction. I turned in the keys. I didn’t have time to clean. I’d be happy to stay in touch. If you have any concerns, please feel free to reach me.” He said his security deposit would probably cover the cleanup.

No way. Should I call Sweeney and spell out “P-I-G” on his voicemail? He was such a polite guy. If you have any concerns? Yes, I do.

I had an essay in Belt Magazine on Father’s Day about the one and only Toby Stratton. Check the article out here.

Toby Stratton at American Greetings, 1954. Age 37

I wrote an essay on how I got scammed.  The article was in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week and was paywalled. So here’s the article, pasted in:

June 16, 2023

AARP KNOWS BEST

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — I used to scoff at “AARP Bulletin” articles about scams targeting the elderly. How could my fellow AARP members be so gullible? Do they walk around with credit-card numbers taped to their foreheads? Do they give out personal information to random callers from India?

I used to scoff. I got scammed last month. Here was the setup. Say, your grandchild had a sporting event, school play, or concert in North Carolina and you live in Cleveland, and the scammer informed you there was a free livestream of the event. You could watch the event from your La-Z-Boy in Cleveland Heights. Nice.

Not so nice. For instance, my son, who lives in Los Angeles, has a band which played a show in Illinois last month. Every Memorial Day weekend, approximately 20,000 people attend the Summer Camp Music Festival outside of Peoria, Illinois. I was not in summer-camp mode last month. For one thing, I didn’t relish standing in a field with several thousand young people, some of whom are colloquially known as wooks. According to the Urban Dictionary, a wook is “a dirty, vagrant variety of hippie. Almost always unemployed, following around jam bands or festivals, and ripping people off.” The Urban Dictionary definition is probably extreme, but still, I didn’t feel like doing the field research to find out.

I would gladly live-stream my son’s show from home. I clicked the live-stream link on the festival’s Facebook page and gave them my credit card info. Slightly Stoopid. That’s the name of a well-known jam band on the festival circuit. And it’s me. The phony live-stream link was posted by a commenter on the festival’s Facebook page. My son had told me the festival wouldn’t be live-streamed, but who was I going to believe — my son or the internet?

Apparently other parents, grandparents and friends give credit-card information to fake live-streamers for bogus concerts and sporting events. The Better Business Bureau and various state athletic associations have issued warnings. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association cautioned: “There are hundreds of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube events being promoted, sometimes within prominent online groups, that appear to be real live streams, but are phishing for your personal information, and sometimes trying to install malware on your device.”

Was I just slightly stupid or 100-percent? My son’s band, Vulfpeck, is legit. They’re playing the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, tonight, and that festival is being live-streamed — for real — on Hulu. Vulfpeck’s slot on the bill is after midnight – Saturday, at 1:45 am Eastern time — following Kendrick Lamar.

Shortly after I disclosed my credit-card information, I noticed a char​​ge on my card for $1.08 from Toned Glutes. Toned glutes? I asked my wife if it was her charge, and she said no. And I knew — from reading AARP articles– that phishers often start with small charges, hope you don’t notice, and then hit you with a major credit-card charge.

Allison, at Chase Bank, confirmed I had been scammed. “Toned Glutes” aligned, she said, with spurious foreign phone numbers and links on her computer. So I jettisoned my Chase card. Now comes my punishment: changing all my autopays. AARP knows best. Lesson learned.

Jack Stratton on a Yiddishe Cup gig, 2017.

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June 20, 2023   2 Comments

RED TAG

 
When a rent check bounces, the bank charges me. I didn’t bounce the check. Am I supposed to ask my tenants, “Is your check good, or is it tissue paper?”

Eve, a tenant, ran a beauty parlor and was a chronic check-bouncer. She once screamed at me: “My freaking check is good! Why don’t you put it in! I hand-delivered it to the manager yesterday.”

“The bank charges me!” I said. “I just called the bank. The teller said it was no good.”

Eve was at the bank. The check was now good, she claimed. And I had just gone to city hall and filed an eviction on her for $100. Now Eve owed me $100, plus the rent. I said, “OK, I’ll put the check in if it’s good.” I would eat the $100 filing fee.

“The check is good!” she said. “I pay my rent and I intend to pay it until the end of my lease, at which point I’m out of here! And you haven’t fixed the back screen door.”

Unfair what-about-ism, Eve. I said, “I’m evil, I know that. You don’t like me, and I don’t like you.” I hung up and called the bank. The check was good.

Peace and prosperity.

Then next month Eve was back in Bounce City. At the eviction hearing, she cried and walked out, wailing, “I’m crying just like a girl!” The bailiff red-tagged her; he taped a red writ of restitution to the door of her store. She had 10 days to move.

She didn’t. She paid her rent. She was legally evicted, but not real-life evicted.

The following month Eve didn’t pay her rent or show up at court. She called and told me her “baby daddy” wasn’t giving her kid enough money. Also, the store’s electric was off. She hadn’t paid the bill. She couldn’t cut hair without electricity.

That was her problem. The bailiff gave her a second red tag.

My locksmith picked the beauty salon’s front door lock, re-keyed the cylinder ($142 for the pick job), and I walked in. Everything was gone — the barber chairs, wash stations and wall cabinets. Ripped out. The red tag was still there.

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April 19, 2023   1 Comment

DO I RENT TO A DRY CLEANER
OR BRIDAL SHOP?

 
The storefront was vacant a couple years, and then suddenly two people wanted it. 1.) Jim, a tailor and dry cleaner  2.) Kim, who sold bridal gowns. Jim said he had 20 years experience running a dry cleaners down the street. The shop went out of business in the middle of the night. Twenty years was good, but closing in the middle of the night wasn’t. As for Kim, the bridal-gown woman, she was picky, like “this door isn’t secure” and “what’s with the stain in the ceiling?”

I said, “Stuff leaks. There are people living above.”

“How often does it leak?” she said.

“Maybe once a year. You should have insurance on your gowns.”

Jim, the dry cleaner, wanted month to month. And he wanted paint jobs — extra work. That was strange — the paint-job request. You need at least $10,000 to start a business, and Jim wanted odd jobs on the side? And what was with the month to month? “Month to month is common,” he said.

No, it’s not, not for commercial leases. I told him if he gave me a security deposit by Sunday, we’d do a  one-year lease. But he didn’t come up with the money. I called Kim. She wanted to look over the lease. I said, “Jim might want the store. I’m at the show-me-the-money phase.”

Jim needed more documents, whatever that meant. Kim said she’d be by at 3 p.m. with the money.

At noon, Ron, my maintenance guy, called and said there was a flood in the store. “Water is coming in from the ceiling. Two inches. Build an Ark. It’s just flooding like crazy.”

“Ron, she’s due in three hours. She won’t rent if she sees a flood. She’s picky. Make the ceiling white. I don’t care if you use toothpaste.”

“I can’t paint wet plaster.”

“Maybe I can get her to come tomorrow,” I said.

I got Kim to show at 8 a.m. the next morning, and she rented the place. (The leak was from a hole in the gutter in back, plus the downspout was out of alignment. We fixed all that.)

Kim rented for nine years. The dry cleaner, who knows what happened to him.

My latest essay in the Wall Street Journal is “My Dad Escaped Taxes, but Not Death.”

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April 12, 2023   1 Comment

KICKED OUT

 
I kicked a tenant out after 40 years. I didn’t renew him — to use real estate terminology. Jim ran a beauty salon. He was a good hairstylist and low maintenance as a commercial tenant. My family – first my dad, then me – collected Jim’s rent through the years. The only time I had a problem with Jim was six years ago when he started paying his water bill late. I wrote him: “If you think I like tracking your ‘past dues,’ think again.” This was the worst thing in 40 years.

Jim rented on a month-to-month basis, as opposed to being on a long-term lease. This was his idea. He chose month-t0-month in 2002. Maybe he never considered the flipside of his choice; I could quit on him, with little notice, just like he could quit on me. None of my other commercial tenants elected to go on month-to-month. Jim was 82 and keeping his options open — until I shut him down.

I said, “It’s simply a business decision on my end, Jim. I don’t think any other businessman in my position would make a different call.” A store owner next door wanted to expand, and she needed more space for her furniture and knick-knacks store. The furniture store — a k a home décor boutique — needed to take over the beauty-parlor space, or she would move. The furniture woman was ready to sign a five-year lease and agreed to pay the build-out (remodeling) on the beauty-salon space.

Jim’s security deposit was $300, which my dad had collected in 1982. That’s $910 today, in inflation-adjusted dollars. I planned to give Jim $910 back. Nice guy — me. In Ohio, landlords aren’t obligated to pay interest on security deposits. Jim said I was making a mistake, booting him. He said, “Beauty parlors and bars last forever. My salon and the bar across the street are the only old-timers on the block.”

Jim left the store keys and a lot of junk, including four beauty parlor chairs with hair dryers attached. I didn’t say anything about it. I said, “Thanks for all the years. My family and I appreciate it.”

I put one of the beauty-parlor chairs on the curb and said to the building manager, “I think somebody will want this. It might be a hipster thing.” Like out of Hairspray by John Waters.

The chair remained on the curb for a day. No takers. I rented a 20-yard dumpster for the junk. There was a broken refrigerator and three desks in the basement. It cost me a lot more than $910 to clean the store out. The dumpster alone was $600. A handyman and his son needed two days to fill the dumpster. I kept Jim’s $300 security deposit. On the other hand, I didn’t charge him $63.90 for his final water bill.

Nice guy — me.  Or schmuck? It’s sometimes hard to tell in the real estate business.

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February 22, 2023   7 Comments

THE LONG AND SHORT
OF ASIAN-INDIAN NAMES

 
The architect didn’t show up, so I had some time to kill. I talked with Ram Lal, who was thinking of opening an Indian restaurant in the storefront. I said, “You have a pretty short name for an Indian.” I was making conversation. Give me a break. I said all sorts of dumb things. I said, “I’m Jewish. You ever met a Jew? Jewish, as in Hindu, Christian, Muslim.”

“Oh,” he said. “Jews are difficult.”

Yeah? Not me.

Ram said his uncle Chuck, a motel owner, was considering lending Ram money to start the restaurant. I said, “What’s Chuck’s legal name? I’ll need his name if he goes on the lease.””

“Chuck Patel,” Ram said.

“His legal name isn’t Chuck!” I said.

Ram pulled up a photo of Chuck’s driver’s license. Chuck’s legal name was Chnadrakantb Dhanji.

“How do you get Chuck Patel from that?” I said.

Ram never did tell me. Uncle Chuck died, and Ram rented the store. The restaurant is Vintage India on Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, Ohio. Ram is a terrific guy and his food is superb. My cousin George, who spent two years in India, says Vintage India is the best Indian restaurant in Cleveland. Tip: Don’t ask for higher than “2” [out of 10] on the hot scale unless you want to catch on fire.

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January 25, 2023   4 Comments

FLOWER (SHOP) POWER

 
Tim Stanton, the owner of Stanton’s Flower Shoppe, didn’t need retail any more. His walk-in trade wasn’t walking in. He was moving to a warehouse, to work the internet and crank out $400-$500 funeral home packages. I saw Tim one last time. I was with my son, and Tim was with his son. I said, “It’s been a good run.”

Tim agreed. He had entered the flower shop at 22, in 1976, and walked out 33 years later. Tim often paid his rent late but usually included a flower bouquet whenever he did. He knew my dad. Not too many tenants went that far back. Tim said, “Your dad gave me a start. I always appreciated that.” I was glad my son got to hear that.

In the 1970s, I used to take lunch breaks in back of the flower shop in the alley. Probably the coolest place — temperature-wise — on the West Side. Always shady and usually with a lake breeze. I was pointing up bricks in the building basement. That was a make-work project, suggested by my dad. I wanted to be a blue-collar guy, and my father had said, “Go ahead, be a blue-collar guy and see how much fun it is.”

A plumber, watching me pointing bricks, said, “These walls are going to be standing long after you and I are both dead. Why are you doing this?”

Because my father said so. I didn’t say anything.

Tim Stanton, in his heyday, employed his mother, sister, brother and several others. I re-rented the flower store to a 26-year-old woman who started a gelato shop. I hoped she would walk out 33 years later. She lasted nine years. Not bad. Now the place is a coffee shop.

The first time I met the gelato woman, I told her, “You don’t want to be on your death bed thinking you didn’t give it a chance. People regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did.” That was my standard spiel, lifted almost verbatim from Stumbling on Happiness by psychologist Daniel Gilbert. “If you don’t give it a try, you’ll never know,” I said.

Gilbert also wrote: “Because we do not realize that our psychological immune systems can rationalize an excess of courage more easily than an excess of cowardice, we hedge our bets when we should blunder forward.”

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January 18, 2023   1 Comment

DON’T CALL ME “PISHER”

The phone number at AAA Window Shade Co. was something like 221-3700. The proprietor, Joe Villoni, started there at 13, and was 87 when he pulled down the last shade. Seventy-four years, same job, same location. He quit in 2003 because nobody was buying window shades anymore. Everybody was into $5 mini-blinds at Home Depot. My father kept Joe’s rent low because Joe never asked for anything. Joe had a large window shade-making machine, about the size of a car. That apparatus, and possibly the whole store, belonged in the Henry Ford Museum.

I always liked Joe and other old-guy tenants. I was just a baby, a pisher (pisser/youngster), to these guys. Another old tenant, Jim English, gave me a metal Phillies cigar box full of screws. I appreciated the cigar box more than the screws. I was in my 20s and collected anything older than myself.

Jeanne Saunders left me several novel manuscripts when she died. She had one lung, a great disposition, and a very tough life. She should have written more about her life and less about gladiators and cowboys.

Another old-timer, Mary Kubichar, produced a concert for Yiddishe Cup at the Beck Center for the Performing Arts in Lakewood, Ohio. That was the first — and last — major Yiddishe Cup concert on the West Side. (West Side means “not a lot of Jews.”) Mary was from western P.A. (Say P. A.) After retiring from Higbee’s department store, she volunteered at her church and the Beck Center. The Yiddishe Cup concert at the Beck Center was a neighborhood appreciation party for Mary. (She died the next year, 1996.) Even the publisher of the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed up. We played a couple Slovak pieces for Mary.

These days I’m older than most of my tenants. At least nobody can call me pisher.

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September 21, 2022   2 Comments

STOLEN BASS

A thief stole a bass guitar at one of my apartment buildings. It was a Lakland bass, worth about $1200. The bass was left unattended on the fire escape for a few minutes.

The thief took the instrument to Guitar Center in North Olmsted, Ohio, where he tried to sell it. The Guitar Center store manager checked out the instrument and immediately called a friend. The manager said, “Hey, man, somebody right now is trying to sell me your bass, and I saw your post on Facebook [about the stolen bass].” The cops nabbed the thief right there in the store. He was the boyfriend of the female tenant from apartment 403. (The bass’s owner — the victim — lived in apartment 202.)

The thief wasn’t on the lease for apartment 403. I thought about kicking the girl (403) out. I asked the detective what I should write on her eviction notice. He said, “Stealing shit.”

I called 403 and said, “Your boyfriend isn’t on the lease. Stealing an Amazon package from the lobby, that’s bad. Stealing a bicycle, that’s worse. Stealing a musical instrument, that’s affecting the entire society!” I had rehearsed that.

The boyfriend had no prior criminal record. The bass player (202) said he was “chill” with having his axe back and didn’t want to press charges. He was more chill than I was. I wanted 202 to press charges, but he repeatedly said no.

I let 403 stay. But I did tell her, “You have to get rid of the boyfriend.”

“That’s what my parents say, too,” she said.

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August 31, 2022   5 Comments

GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY

(This is a good one. It was originally published in City Journal 12/24/15).

“I don’t like rich people,” said Irwin, the singer in my klezmer band, as we loaded in our sound equipment at the country club. The club manager as usual made us go through the kitchen door. At the luncheon—a bar mitzvah—she wouldn’t let us eat the chicken fingers at the kids’ table and would only serve us lemonade, not soda pop. Definitely no beer. We were service-industry workers.

Didn’t the club manager realize Irwin and I are middle class? Irwin is a retired middle-school art teacher. I’m a landlord. We dabble as working class several hours a weekend, period. Forty-four percent of Americans self-identify as middle class, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey. “Upper middle class and upper class” account for 15 percent. “Lower middle and lower” is 40 percent. Nobody says rich.

At my apartment buildings, many of the tenants are food-service industry workers, and some don’t like me on principle; I’m the landlord. These tenants all lived rent-free as children, and now, in their twenties and thirties, they have to pay for walls and a roof. About 5 percent of the tenants don’t pay on time. Many of the servers and bartenders come home late and begin partying at 3 AM. When I ask for the rent, the tenants sometimes get sassy: “You want the rent? Let me pull your coat to this—my bathroom ceiling is still leaking.” Luckily I know some jazz slang.

My older son said I seem miserable in my real estate job. I said to him, “Nobody said the job was supposed to be fun. It’s a way to raise a family and hopefully provide decent housing.” Real estate is not music.

In the music biz, weddings are the Rolls Royce of gigs. Nobody wants to be a wedding singer except real musicians. They die for wedding gigs. The money is good and there’s often salmon. One musician in my band brought baggies to gigs. That was particularly useful at buffets. Was he middle class, working class, or just hungry? I seem to go through a couple social classes a day. I suspect most poor people don’t.

I’m a part owner of a medical office building. There, some of the tenants play golf on Wednesdays. The doctor-tenants complain unhesitatingly and often. Irwin—the artist in my band—put up six original paintings in the medical building lobby. A doctor texted me: “If you’ve got money for pictures, then paint my door.” So we painted the door. The door painter said to me, “If you gave that doctor a gold-plated key to heaven, he’d complain the lock was broke. He’s Dr. No.”

The medical building was a house of pain and uneven temperatures. Very few patients were in a good mood there, unlike at bar mitzvahs and weddings, where everybody is happy (except the club manager). I visit neighboring office buildings and say to receptionists, “I have a general question for you. How’s the temperature in here?” Everybody is too hot or too cold. I read how women and men react differently to air conditioning and heat. Apparently everybody needs their own personal bubble. I’ll probably never get the temperature right.

Irwin has memorized all of Bob Dylan’s “list songs.” Driving to a gig, Irwin sang this for me: “You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks. But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed.” When we got to the country club, we went through the kitchen door.

Dr. No was late with his rent, on purpose. He was punishing me. I was in his corner office, the area with the family pics and diplomas. Dr. No said, “Take a seat.” I sat, he stood, and he lectured me on climate control. He was hot, and I was sweating the rent. Eventually he handed me the check.

At weddings, I work with a photographer who writes “no wraps” in his contract, meaning no sandwich wraps for him. He insists on a hot meal. But sometimes you get it cold. If my food-industry tenants could have seen me in Dr. No’s office, they would have loved it.

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July 6, 2022   1 Comment

BOUNCE CITY

When a rent check bounces, the bank charges me a fee. I didn’t bounce the check. Am I supposed to ask the tenant beforehand, “Is your check good or is it tissue paper?”

Eve, a tenant, ran a beauty parlor and was a chronic check-bouncer. She screamed at me: “My freaking check is good! Why don’t you put it in! I hand-delivered it to the manager yesterday.”

“The bank charges me!” I said. “I just called the bank. The teller said it was no good.”

Eve was at the bank. The check was good now, she claimed. And I had just gone to city hall and filed an eviction on her for $100.

I said, “OK, I’ll put the check in if it’s good.”

“The check is good!” she said. “I pay my rent and I intend to pay it until the end of my lease, at which point I’m out of here. And you haven’t fixed the back screen door.”

I said, “I’m evil, I know that. You don’t like me, and I don’t like you.” I hung up and called the bank.  The check was good.

Peace and love.


Yiddishe Cup plays a free outdoor concert tomorrow (6:30-8:30 pm Thurs., June 9) at the Cedar-Fairmount, Cleveland Heights. The show is in a secret location — the parking lot in back of Firestone, 12420 Cedar Rd. (The parking lot’s entrance is on Grandview Road.) Bring a chair.

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June 8, 2022   3 Comments

FLOWER SHOP POWER

Tim Stanton, the owner of Stanton’s Flower Shoppe, didn’t need retail any more. His walk-in trade wasn’t walking in. He was moving to a warehouse, to work the internet and crank out $400-$500 funeral home packages.

I saw Tim once more. I was with my oldest son, and Tim was with his oldest son. I said, “It’s been a good run.”

Tim agreed. He had entered the flower shop at 22 (in 1976) and walked out 33 years later. Tim often paid his rent late but included a flower bouquet whenever he did. He had known my dad. Not too many tenants went that far back. Tim said, “Your dad gave me a start. I always appreciated that.” I was glad my son got to hear that.

In the mid-1970s, I used to take lunch breaks in back of the flower shop in the alley. Probably the coolest place — temperature-wise — on the West Side. Always shady and usually with a lake breeze. I was pointing up bricks in the building basement. That was a make-work project, proposed by my dad. I wanted to be a blue-collar guy, and my father said, “Go ahead, be a blue-collar guy and see how much fun it is.”

A plumber, who saw me pointing bricks, said, “These walls are going to be standing long after you and I are both dead. Why are you doing this?”

Because my father said so. I didn’t actually say that. I didn’t say anything.

Tim Stanton — in his heyday — employed his mother, sister, brother and several others. I re-rented the flower store to a 26-year-old woman who started up a gelato shop. I hoped she would walk out 33 years later. She lasted nine years. Not bad. Now the place is a coffee shop.

About the gelato woman. The first time I met her I said, “You don’t want to be on your death bed thinking you didn’t give it a chance. People regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did.” That was my shpiel, lifted almost verbatim from Stumbling on Happiness by psychologist Daniel Gilbert. “If you don’t give it a try, you’ll never know,” I said.

Gilbert also wrote: “Because we do not realize that our psychological immune systems can rationalize an excess of courage more easily than an excess of cowardice, we hedge our bets when we should blunder forward.”

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May 18, 2022   2 Comments

GREAT NAMES IN THE RENTAL BIZ

Arvids Jansons. I got his desk when he left.

Argero Vassileros. Nickname: Argie.

Michael Bielemuk,  a k a The Professor. He had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Maria Malfundido. A kleptomaniac. She stole light bulbs from the hall so we glued the bulbs into the sockets.

Saram Carmichael. A transvestite who solicited customers from her second floor window. The johns waited at the bus stop outside her window.

Stan Hershfield. One of the few Jews at the time on the West Side. He was raised in an orphanage and loved the word bubkes (beans), as in: “Stratton, I have bubkes so don’t hondle me about the rent.”  [Hondle is haggle.] When Hershfield painted the natural wood floor in the kitchen, he beamed, “Only the best, Stratton, Benjamin Moore!”

Malfalda Bedrossian. She was never late with her rent.

Chris Andrews. He had a regular name but slept in a coffin.

Merjeme Haxhiraj. She talked me down $10 every year on her rent.

Patience Osuma. She wasn’t patient. She had multiple beefs. She thought she was living in the Ritz.

John “Chip” Stephens. He played jazz piano all day and was so good he landed a tenure track job at a university in Missouri.

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March 2, 2022   3 Comments

ROACH MOTEL

We sprayed the tenant’s suite for cockroaches. It didn’t work. The tenant wrote a letter demanding we do it again, and if we didn’t, she would put her rent in escrow. She worked at a law office. We sprayed again. Then we sprayed the whole building — approximately one-thousand dollars’ worth of spray.

She still had bugs. She called the city building department, which sent out its most gung-ho inspector, who decided we needed to point the chimney and plane the boiler-room door in the basement, and fix up everything in between.

We did all that. And we brought in our cockroach “bomber,” a guy who zapped her apartment, including a direct hit on her coffee maker. A dozen cockroaches scampered out. She had gotten the used coffee maker from her boyfriend. That roach-infested coffee maker set me back thousands.

I planned not to renew her lease, but she told me she was moving before I told her I was not renewing her. That bugged me.

So did her 20-pound bond, legal stationery. She wasn’t even a lawyer.

Here’s my op-ed from last Friday’s Wall Street Journal: My Deadbeat Tenant Insisted on Eviction.

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January 26, 2022   7 Comments

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
OF PROPERTY MANAGEMENT

  • Don’t rent to anybody for less than a year. How about six months? Nope. You’ll attract unstable — in all ways — tenants.
  • Don’t go long-term on a natural gas contract. Anything can happen with natural gas prices.
  • Don’t assume store tenants will do preventive maintenance. I once hired Roto-Rooter to jet a restaurant’s drain. The bill was $925. The restaurant owner didn’t reimburse me. He said, “How do you know it was my grease?” Well, was it grease from the flower shop next door?
  • Roofers are gonifs. It’s hard work and you can’t easily check their work.
  • When the temperature goes below 20 degrees, everything fails: pipes, downspouts, boilers, walls, roofs, snowplow guys, concrete.
  • Miller is a good all-purpose name. Miller can be Amish, African-American, Jewish, German, English, Gypsy. I once rented to Gypsy Millers. The cops wanted their license plate number but I didn’t get the number fast enough. The Millers left suddenly. They had New York plates.
  • There aren’t enough Elvis lovers in the trades anymore.
  • Real estate brokers wear expensive suits even though they’re not all rich. They go into boiler rooms and climb roofs. They have significant dry-cleaning bills.
  • Make sure there aren’t any Q-tips — even new ones — in the bathroom when showing vacant suites.
  • Wear a tie to court. The defendant usually will not. You win.

  • WSJ readers, here are more real estate stories.

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    January 19, 2022   3 Comments

    FREAKED OUT MANY TIMES

    Natalie was freaked out about black mold. She was freaked out about a radiator spewing. We fixed the problems, but then my building manager entered Natalie’s suite without 24 hours’ notice. That freaked out Natalie.

    Freaked me out too. I don’t like getting sued. When I got Natalie’s certified letter, I figured she worked at a law office. Turns out she worked at an insurance office. Nevertheless, she knew how to quote the Ohio Revised Code.

    We fixed all her problems. But then she deducted a half month’s rent from her next payment. I told her, “That’s not how it’s done, but I’ll let it go this month.” I even said she could move out.

    She was ecstatic. “I can be out this weekend!”

    She was too happy. That didn’t sit well with me. I said, “I changed my mind. I’ve put a lot of money into this apartment. For business reasons, I need you to honor the lease. Just call if anything bad happens again. Any leaks. Whatever.”

    “You can be sure I’ll call and you can be sure something will happen.”

    Nothing happened. No more freak outs. She stayed a year and got her security deposit back (minus $40 for a dirty refrigerator and stove. TMI).

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    October 13, 2021   1 Comment

    THE GOOD, THE BAD
    AND THE NUANCED

    Stan Herschfield paced his apartment at 3 a.m., waking up the tenants below. I asked Herschfield to ease up, and he said, “What do you want from me? I can’t fly.” He moved out shortly after that. About 10 years later, he called me: “Stratton, you remember me — Herschfield. I want to move back in.”

    “Herschfield!” I said, emoting like I was in a bad JCC play. “You painted the floor! You complained about the deaf guy across the hall blasting organ music! You complained about the people below you fornicating! You skipped out on your final month’s rent! It cost me fifty dollars to clean the place. But you did teach me some Yiddish words.”

    “I didn’t skip! Those yentzers below, they drove me out!”

    “You painted the kitchen floor.”

    “But I used Benjamin Moore. Only the best!”

    I didn’t let him back. Maybe I should have. I’ve allowed old tenants back in. Usually not into the same suite, but often in the same building. I save records on previous tenants. F. Scott Fitzgerald said bookkeeping is not a sexy subject, but it is somewhat interesting. I wish I hadn’t thrown out my dad’s tax returns, which would make interesting reading now that I’m older and into nuanced returns. I have mini-dossiers on ex-tenants. Nothing personal, no nude posture photos like those Ivy League colleges used to do, just notes on whether the tenant paid his final month’s rent, turned in his keys and didn’t trash the place. If all’s well, I’ll let them back. Could be a decade later. The good tenants, you don’t remember. You have to look them up. Herschfield, I remember.

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    June 16, 2021   2 Comments

    LOST MONEY

    I lost 16 rent checks. I used the bank’s night drop, and the envelope wedged between the metal chute and the bank’s brick wall. Just got buried in there like a time capsule.

    I wondered, Did I forget to make the deposit? Was the deposit in my car somewhere?

    I spent hours looking through file cabinets and garbage cans for that deposit. The bank found the deposit three months later. I wrote the bank manager about my embarrassment — having to tell 16 tenants I lost their checks. I asked the bank to waive its service fees for a year. I wrote: “I heard my father — who died years ago — talking to me, saying ‘You did what? You lost the money?’”

    The bank didn’t waive the fees. They did, however, give me $110 to cover tracer fees.

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    December 2, 2020   2 Comments