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 New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


 
 

Category — Landlord Biz

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

BAD STUFF

An employee showed a lot of butt cleft when he waxed floors, alienating some of the more fastidious tenants.

I hired a building manager who drove too often to Detroit. This was before cell phones. I couldn’t reach him half the time.

Another building manager grew up in Hough, back when that neighborhood was classy. Her family had boarded Nap Lajoie, the Hall of Fame baseball player. She said to me, “We had the elite in my neighborhood. No mongrels, like from PA.” Her husband was from PA.

There was a manager who rarely cleaned the building. A tenant taped a note up in the vestibule: “This building is a mess.” Other tenants added to the note: “Vacuum the halls” . . . “Take the tree down, Christmas is over!” . . . “Trim the shrubs.”

There was a building manager whose vacuum sweeper was always outside her door but she never vacuumed.

An employee threatened to kill me. He dated a tenant, a problem tenant — a transvestite prostitute. When I fired him, he said he would hunt me down. Luckily, he didn’t know his way around the East Side, where I live. (The East Side has curved streets.)

One employee regularly asked for loans because her husband took her money and blew it at the racetrack. He was a hard worker, but a gambler.

There was a building manager whose kids were thieves. One day I asked the manager where her son was, and she said, “He stepped out to shop.”

“Where to?”

“Marion.” The Marion (Ohio) Correctional Institution. When her son returned from Marion, he burglarized an apartment in the building.

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August 26, 2020   5 Comments

JAMESTOWN VILLAGE

My dad owned an “apartment community” in North Olmsted. The apartment community was garden-style, three-story buildings grouped around a parking lot and pool. The buildings had mansard roofs and looked like 1970s McDonald’s. The community was Jamestown Village. Should have been Jonestown. One tenant peed in the heating ducts and poured aquarium gravel in the toilet on his way out. Another resident seemed to use the hollow-core doors for karate practice.

A high school wrestling coach — who was also a multi-millionaire — bought the complex from my dad and turned it into condos in 1977. Worked out well for both my dad and the coach. The banker said to my dad, “You made your money, and Howard [the coach] made his.”

The coach was Howard Ferguson, who took St. Edward High to 11 state championships. Remember him?  He died in 1989.  Remember my dad? (I write about him frequently so you probably think you do.) Anybody remember the banker — Pete Shimrak? I quoted Pete in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. The Wall Street Journal editor said to me, “Shimrak is dead, right? Because if he’s not, we can’t use your direct quotes [from Shimrak] without his approval.” Of course Shimrak was dead.

Uh, no, the editor said. Shimrak is 88. We tracked him down, via his son, and I got Pete’s OK for the direct quotes. In a voicemail Pete said nice things about my dad and called me “the Stratton boy.” Anybody who remembers my father can call me whatever they want.

Jamestown Village. Many auto workers lived there, and some of them liked to bang on things.

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July 22, 2020   1 Comment

A WHITER SHADE OF WHITE

Steve, an apartment painter, had more words for white than Jews have for fool. Steve talked about antique white, Navajo white, pearl white, bone white and white. [Fool in Yiddish: nar, shlemiel, shmendrik, shmegege, yold.]

“Oil or latex?” — that was the first question at Lakewood Paint and Wallpaper back in the day. Also: “Is Dutch Standard the same as Dutch Boy?” No, Dutch Standard was from Canton, Ohio. Dutch Boy is the nationally known subsidiary from Sherwin-Williams, Cleveland.

Bill, a paint salesman, made regular stops at Lakewood Paint. He told me to use an “alkyd” (oil). He cornered me and asked, “Are you a Yehudi?”

“Yes.”

“What are you doing over here?

“I’m working for my old man.”

“Four years of fun and games at college. Now look!” Bill said. “There are only two Yehudis at Dutch Standard. Me and another guy.”

Bill wandered the aisles of Cleveland paint stores in the 1970s. I traveled a similar circuit. Still do. The other day I paid a man for painting a stairway camel white, which is a Behr color from Home Depot. Lakewood Paint and Wallpaper is long gone.

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May 27, 2020   1 Comment

PORN AND LIT

Lakewood International News carried the Paris Review, Partisan Review, Kenyon Review and Bustin’ Out. About half the store was porn. The proprietor, Gil, was a part-time railroader. He manned the elevated counter, which was a lookout tower for nailing shoplifters and pervs. I went there.

When Gil lost his lease, I told him about a store I had for rent. A Plain Dealer reporter called me about all this. How’d he hear about it? Who knows. Possible PD headline: “Stratton, New Porn Czar.” The old Cleveland porn czar was Reuben Sturman. I got scared. I hand-delivered a media package to the Plain Dealer reporter. I did a Q&A with myself. I wrote: “I believe in the First Amendment and the bookstore would be an asset. It isn’t just porn. Ever heard of the Paris Review? I’ll rent to the magazine store.”

The deal didn’t happen. Lakewood News moved to a different location, about a mile south, then folded. I rented my vacant store to a bank, and I figured the bank would stay for 20 years. That’s what their lease said. But the bank bailed in a couple years. Banks were merging and consolidating like crazy in the 1980s.

I miss the bank. I miss the porn-and-lit store, too.


On Monday I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. “The Rent Collector’s Dilemma.”

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May 6, 2020   6 Comments

QUARTER STEALERS

Some thieves specialize in quarters. They pry open coin boxes on washing machines and dryers in laundry rooms.  Quarter stealers did this a couple times at my apartment buildings. One time the building manager ran into them, took their picture, and asked them who they were. They said they were Sarah and Michael.

The building manager handed the photo to the police. Sarah and Michael were then videoed pouring quarters into a coin sorting machine at the nearby grocery store. Sarah and Michael hit 21 buildings on Cleveland’s West Side, the cops told me.

I received a letter from the county prosecutor about Paul and Erin — Sarah and Michael’s real names. The thieves were charged with burglary, possessing criminal tools, aggravated theft, theft, tampering with coin machines and vandalism. Paul and Erin wound up in prison. My damages were $884.50. For the record, that’s 3,538 quarters. I never saw any of it.

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December 11, 2019   2 Comments

CRAZY NUMBERS

Wendy from Dominion Retail said there were crazy numbers out there, regarding NYMEX natural-gas prices. Wendy’s competitors were offering the crazy numbers, she said, and she wouldn’t match them. Phil from Hess stopped by and said he could get me a gas contract at 3.99 Mcf, which Wendy claimed was “crazy,” as in she couldn’t match Phil’s low price. Phil said he could also get me a toy Hess truck, as in a matchbox toy. Phil — a goy — started in on Jewish things, about Israel and Hebrew. I said, “How did you know I’m Jewish?”

He said, “The basket of yarmulkes in the corner gives me an idea.”  (He was in my dining room.) Phil learned a new Hebrew word every day, he said. He had recently learned chuppah and ner tamid, and was on remant. I didn’t know remant. Still don’t. He said he could read Hebrew. I brought out a Bible, and he read the first line of Genesis. I didn’t press further.

Wendy decided to match Phil’s crazy number, but then backed off. So Phil locked me in at 3.99 Mcf, and he gave me the toy truck, plus honey for Rosh Hashanah. Previously I had been at 9.84 Mcf for natural gas. Now that was a crazy number (too high). I had been locked in at that high rate for the previous five years, 2009-14.

I only go out a year or two now. Or else I float. I’m at 3.39 now. Thank you, fracking.

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November 13, 2019   2 Comments

LEGIT

The caller wanted to put a restaurant in a 750-square-feet vacant storefront. Seven-hundred fifty feet is not much bigger than a shoebox. The caller said he could fit a couple tables in there. He said he owned two 500-square-feet restaurants in Brooklyn.

“Where in Brooklyn?” I asked.

“Fort Greene and Williamsburg,” he said. “You know New York?”

“I’ve heard of Williamsburg.”

“You know New York?”

“I know about Williamsburg. That’s where the hipsters live.”

“That’s right.”

“That’s what I want if you open here — hipsters,” I said. “I don’t want you open all night and selling cigarettes, lottery tickets and beer to derelicts.”

“Man, we want the hipsters.”

“What’s your name?”

“Ezzat. And my partner is my brother, Rizi.”

“That’s a lot of Z’s. You should call your restaurant Z’s.”

“Yeah.”

“What’s your last name?”

“Assad.”

“What’s your brother’s last name?”

“He’s Hamda.”

“What kind of restaurant?”

“El Toro Taqueria.”

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September 11, 2019   No Comments

RESPECT MY CHECK

I write about 50 business checks a month. The other day I hit check number 10,000. This made think of some old-timers (not me, other old timers).

liner notes I’ve had tenants whose personal checks went into the 8000s. I respected those people, their age, and their numbers. Also, I knew their checks wouldn’t bounce. The scariest check number is 101. Young tenants don’t even know how to write checks. I have to fill in certain lines for them.

That 10,000. Please respect it.

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July 10, 2019   2 Comments

I RENTED TO MODIGLIANI

Brian said he was good for the rent. He said, “I’m not like that [a deadbeat]. I pay. I’m an artist. I have $750 tied up in PayPal right now that won’t be released.” His paintings were dark and red like Franz Kline’s. He didn’t pay and I evicted him. The good news: he paid after the legal hearing, so he stuck around. I said, “Modigliani didn’t pay his rent either.”

“The guy who did the long faces?”

“Yep.”

Brian didn’t pay his rent the next month, so I evicted him again, and this time he moved  out, and left a wall of splattered paint, like Jackson Pollock. Also, he wrecked the bathroom floor because he never used the shower curtain. He left one painting, which I offered to the building manager.

headacheThe bailiff bumped into me at the city court and said, “Your tenant knocked over a couple display shelves in Drug Mart and is under psych observation for a couple weeks.”

“He’s already out of my apartment,” I said.

I told an employee about Brian. This worker liked to stay up-to-date on horror stories. The employee said, “There are two sides to this. Everybody is mentally ill.”

“He sold paintings in Germany on the internet,” I said.

“Everybody is a star on the internet. There are two sides.”

At least.

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June 26, 2019   1 Comment

EASTER SUNDAY SNAKE JOB

lolly gag
I ignored
several voicemails during Seder. Finally, at 11:15 pm, I listened to my messages:”You really should call me. The main sewer line is backing up and my snake broke. I know it’s Passover but you should call me.”

I talked to my plumber and a couple other guys. My best shot was Roto-Rooter (commercial division), which a few years back had cleared the line with a water jet. My second choice was a plumber from Bay Village with a big snake.

Mr. Bay Village showed up the next morning — Easter morning. RotoRooter — I never heard from them.

A store tenant, Rush Inn Bar & Grille, was part of the problem. Rush Inn has the fourth-best french fries in Cleveland, according to Scene Magazine, so the building’s sewer line, shared by all the tenants, sometimes gets greasy.

I got the snake-job invoice the other day: “Opened line at 103 feet just before line tied to city sewer. Blockage was grease, rag and a shirt in pipe just before main. $867 (holiday rate).”

I’m not complaining. I‘m happy Bay Village showed up. An Easter Sunday of floating fries, feces and baked ham would have been miserable. And I had a nice Seder.

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May 15, 2019   2 Comments

SHREDDING IT

Cleveland is in the middle of the cereal belt. Shredded Wheat of Niagara Falls, New York, is to the east, and to the west is Kellogg’s of Battle Creek, Michigan. Shredded Wheat moved from Niagara Falls years ago, but the cereal belt remains. Cleveland is the buckle.

cerealI eat cereal just about every day. Nothing too sweet. Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Weetabix. Blueberries added, maybe. You don’t care.

I had a prospective tenant who wanted to open a cereal store. He opened down the street and went under almost immediately. He was Cereal Central or Cerealicious. I don’t remember. Nobody in Cleveland wanted to eat cereal in a store. (He also had a store in Columbus near Ohio State. Apparently, OSU students in pajamas were willing to eat cereal in a restaurant.)

Most people like to eat cereal alone and not talk about it.

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February 6, 2019   4 Comments

LOST MONEY

My main job is getting the rent money in the bank. A tenant put $640 cash in the drop box at the apartment building. Thirty-two $20-dollar bills. The money never made it into my hands. I was in Peru. That didn’t help.

screw upI should get rid of that drop box. It’s a thin metal box with a cheesy diary-like lock. The lock wasn’t broken. From now on, each tenant mails the rent, just like back in the Stone Age. Or maybe I should simply put a sign on the box “no cash” and still permit checks.

I believe the tenant – that she put the money in the drop box. She always pays with cash. And I don’t think it was an inside theft job by my employees. (Take my word on that, or not.)

My dad used to say, “Job one is getting the money in the bank.” He didn’t even trust drive-thru tellers. He always waited in line in the bank.

Another tenant put a money order in the same drop box, and that check is missing, as well. What’s happening here? I told the tenant to get a replacement money order. He said, “This sucks.” True. I apologized three times and told him to take $50 off his rent. So now I’m out $690 (= $640 + $50) for January.

I really wanted to write about bumping my head on a door jamb in Peru, but I’m too upset about this money thing to write about door jambs. I’m 5-8½. Bumping my head on a door jamb is new to me. A lot of people in Peru are short. I have a scab. In junior high I was the fourth-shortest boy in my class. Of about 165 boys, three were shorter: Krill, Kramer and Gold. (Kramer and Gold  became wrestling champs — 93 pound and 103-pound, or something like that.) At the start of high school (10th grade), I was five feet.

Back to money . . . My dad wouldn’t be happy with me today. This is the first time I’ve lost a rent payment in 43 years, to my knowledge. I’m thinking about video surveillance cameras.

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January 16, 2019   5 Comments

A BUNCH OF BURGLARS

I employed a building manager whose family was “a bunch of burglars,” according to the police. Why the cops waited so long to tell me, I don’t know. The building manager’s adult kids pilfered tools and lawnmowers, but I couldn’t prove anything, and, besides, I liked the building manager. He was a hard-working “hillbilly”— his term. I was his “little bitty buddy” — his term again. His kids took the master key and broke into an apartment. They also committed a botched burglary down the street and got caught. They confessed to that, plus the break-in at my place. My building manager and his family had to move out. “See you in the funny papers,” he said.

Years later I hired another manager, Speedy, who also had crook relatives. His “niece” was a prostitute. She took the master key and entered an apartment and stole a tenant’s checkbook, ID and ring.  The “niece,” Amber, slept on Speedy’s couch. My plumber said, “A black guy is pimping her.”

I told the police about Amber, and the detective said, “Amber Carney. She’s a known druggie and thief.” Amber’s victim — my tenant—said the stolen ring was an Irish ring. Whatever that meant. The ring was fenced and gone. The tenant asked if I was Irish.

“I’m Jewish,” I said.

“I’m Palestinian,” she said. OK. I had the locked changed, and she stayed another year, pressing charges against the whore. Amber went to jail, and Speedy moved out and took a job at an adult bookstore.

blindfold test

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November 14, 2018   1 Comment

DIVING FOR DOLLARS

When Alice Gibson, a tenant, skipped out, I phoned her because she left her apartment purple, black and yellow.She didn’t want to talk about that. She wanted to talk about why I hadn’t changed the toilet seat when she moved in, and why I hadn’t fixed the ceiling in her hallway, and why had the building manager told her she could paint the walls purple, black and yellow if she couldn’t.

Ms. Gibson had never been late on her rent. She was there two years. She was a good tenant. But she skipped and used weird paint colors.

“Didn’t you get my final month’s rent?” she said. “I sent it with a note saying I was moving.”

I didn’t receive the check or the note. I went dumpster-diving in my wastebasket for the check. I had a 30-gallon wastebasket.  I wondered how many more times I would go dumpster-diving for liars. Ms. Gibson had seven months left on her lease. I called her back and threatened to take her to court.

diving bert5bmp

She said, “Go ahead, I’m broke.”

“It’ll be on your public record,” I said. “If you try to buy a car or a house, the public record will be on your credit report. At least pay this month’s rent. You said you mailed it. I didn’t get it. So mail it again. Do the right thing.”

She said she would send one-half month’s rent. I started talking Spanish with her. I knew she was going to Argentina. I ended in English: “Make sure you send it. You know, you painted the kitchen cabinets black.”

“And those cabinets look a lot better than when I moved in,” she said.

I didn’t get the rent. I left Ms. Gibson a voice mail: “Pay a half month’s rent. Give it to the Pony Express, or the mailman, or hand-deliver it to me. If you don’t, I’m going to sue you. I don’t care if you are broke. It’s not right what you’re doing.”

The new tenant — post-Gibson — liked the black cabinets.

Yiddishe Cup / Funk a Deli is at Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Ohio, for Simchat Torah 7 pm Sunday night (9/30) and at Park Synagogue, Pepper Pike, 7:15 pm Monday night (10/1).

yiddfellas CD cover

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September 26, 2018   2 Comments

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

I had a commercial tenant who sold gravestones and pistachios. His main window sign read Porter Monuments and a smaller sign was Pistachios. Not a good sign. He went under.

I had a tenant, the India Food Emporium, which sold Indian spices, Indian bread, Indian music. Then came the Marlboros and malt liquor. Went under.

You want a samosa with that 40?

You want a samosa with that 40?

I got a call from a prospective tenant for a headlight removal business. Not a bad concept; headlights are tricky to remove. The caller corrected me: “Head lice.” I was still OK with it.

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July 4, 2018   2 Comments

SHE KNEW SHE OWED ME

Gilbert, a tenant, said the plumber stole a roll of dimes from her apartment. Next, it was a jar of pennies. “I want to call the police,” she said. “I know he took it. Everything in my place has its place and it doesn’t deviate. Even the spices on top of my microwave have a place. I don’t have clutter.”

claw foot tubWhy would a plumber steal a jar of pennies?

Gilbert has to go. Or not. She’s been a tenant for seven years. Last year she caused a $800 leak and only partially covered the damages. She overflowed her tub. Cost me some bucks with the tenant below. Gilbert had said, “Take the rest of out of my security deposit when I move.” She owes about $400, still. I wonder when she’ll move.

Hey, she just moved! No forwarding address. She knew she owed.

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May 2, 2018   3 Comments

WHAT DOES HATE MEAN?

I hired Sabina’s husband, not her. She was not into shoveling snow, cutting grass, or climbing ladders. She was a Russian Lit major from Russia. But then her husband deserted her, and I was stuck with just her.

When I asked a tenant how Sabina was doing, he said, “I hate her.”

mower crew“Do you hate me, too?” I said, trying to establish a baseline on what hate meant. He said I was OK, but “Sabina doesn’t clean, she has her young kids cutting the grass, and she doesn’t tell us anything — when anything is going to get fixed.”

I fired her. Then I rehired her because she said she couldn’t feed her kids. Eventually she found a boyfriend in Avon Lake and moved out. I owe that guy.

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April 11, 2018   1 Comment

I’LL PAY THIS TENANT’S
MOVING EXPENSES

I’ll give Caleb $200 to move out. I’ll give him his security deposit back, too. Maybe I should offer more. He kicked out a radiator vent in the hallway. He’s always breaking blinds in the hallway. His buddies kicked out the windowpanes in the front door. He has a 10-year-old conviction for drugs. From now on, no felonies, period; I don’t care how old the crimes are.
bad gig

He’s got a disorderly and is on probation. The cops are coming out regularly. I gave Caleb a letter saying I wouldn’t renew his lease. He’s mentally unhinged, but not so much I won’t call the cops on him. He has threatened to steal the building manager’s car and “drive it to California.” He also called the manager a “fucking Jew,” which he’s not. (He’s not Jewish.) Caleb said he’s going to smash every window in his apartment.

I’ve been on the cops just about daily, but they aren’t as gung-ho as I’d like because everything is “hearsay,” according to one dispatcher. We don’t have video cameras everywhere.
Maybe $200 isn’t enough. Maybe I should go $400.

Caleb is a pseudonym.

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November 29, 2017   3 Comments