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

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.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

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.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

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.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

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

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

November 14, 2018   1 Comment

YOUR MANAGER TRIED TO KILL ME

Mr. Shuck said the tenant above him was running a big fan on the floor and keeping him up all night.  It was November.  Why would anybody have a fan on? I thought, “Shuck is out of work and has too much time on his hands. Forget about it.”

Shuck called: “I was pressing my arms over my ears so hard to block the noise it took the muscle off the bone by my upper arm.”

“Have you tried earplugs?” I said.

“I had tubes in my ears as a child.  I’m not sticking anything foreign in my ears.”

“I’ll look into this.”

“I’ve lost hundreds of hours of sleep over this. Look into this.”

I called the tenant upstairs. She did have a fan — a box fan on the floor. She said she would place it higher off the floor. I said, “You need physical space between the fan and the floor.” I thought that solved the problem.

Not solved. Shuck called again. “They’re literally stomping in the apartment above me. I’m having palpitations right fucking now! I’m calling the police. Your manager won’t do anything. I’m having a heart attack. If I die, it’s on your head.” (A Browns party was going on upstairs.)

Shuck lived. He called and said his bathtub was backed up, and he mentioned the manager had threatened to kill him. I said, “I’ll get the plumber on the bathtub right away. I’ll call the plumber.”

“The plumber is in my apartment right now!” Shuck said. “He woke me up.  I have contusions on my legs and have had to sponge bathe for four weeks because the tub didn’t work.”

“Four weeks?” I said.

“Also, your manager stole money from me.”

“How much?”

“Five dollars.”

Only five dollars? “Your tub was down four weeks?” I said.

“Your manager tried to kill me.”

 “When?”

“Three years ago. She tried to force me to drink a beer. I’m a recovering alcoholic.”

“We’ll have the bathtub fixed right away.”

“Somebody is tampering with my mailbox. That’s a federal offense . . .”

“Shuck” is a pseudonym.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

October 31, 2018   6 Comments

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

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

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.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

July 4, 2018   2 Comments

A GOOD RISK, OR NOT?

I predict Garcia will leave a pile of junk in his apartment tomorrow. He was evicted and has to move out pronto. Today I saw him get on a bus carrying a TV and a lamp. He conned me  — and the court — because he told the court his mother had had an operation and he had to help her recover. He got a continuance and an extra week. Nice play, Garcia.

In court he showed me pictures of his daughter. He didn’t know he had a daughter until last week, he said. He said the girl’s mother had put her in the trash. I said, “Didn’t you know you had a daughter? You had an affair?”

“It was in high school,” he said. “I was pretty popular back then.” He said his daughter, later adopted, has a PhD and is a weightlifter. Maybe she can help him lift his bed, box spring and couch tomorrow.

I bet the furniture stays. Garcia has until 8 p.m. tomorrow to get the stuff out. I told him, “Everything after 8 pm is ours, even if it’s your grandma’s diamond watch.” He laughed.

I could call the bailiff on him. But what’s the hurry? If I wait another day — and he moves the stuff out — I won’t have to hire a hauler. Garcia has already gotten $500 in free rent. What’s another day? His apartment has a lot of pizza crusts and cigarette butts. No roaches.

I shouldn’t have rented to him, but he looked good on paper. He’s 51 and had a job. Now I’m thinking “51, male, and single” isn’t such a good risk.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

May 23, 2018   3 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.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

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.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

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.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

November 29, 2017   3 Comments

OLD THIEVES

mr 1939 crossroad

I got a rental application from Joe, a retired 71-year-old factory worker who made $1600/month. Welcome, Joe. But then I ran a criminal search and came up with aggravated arson, forgery and sexual battery. Pre-internet, I would have rented to him because it was hard to run background checks back then. I once rented to a rapist/murderer because I didn’t want to schlep to county records to check him out. The man got picked up on a parole violation and moved out before killing or raping anybody in my building.

I once rented to an elderly nurse who was a felon. Her previous landlord followed her to my place and told me she was a forger and thief. She didn’t look it. She already had the keys to my building; the building manager had given her the keys in exchange for a dime store ring. We moved the nurse’s belongings into the basement and locked the stuff up.  She said, “Give me my meds!” Good point. I gave her meds, plus her toothbrush.

This cost me. I’ve learned two things: a) Don’t do a “self-help” eviction. Lawyers love self-help evictions. b) Screen all tenants like crazy on the way in.


Rerun

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

October 18, 2017   1 Comment

16-CUBIC FEET OF FUN

The Hotpoint refrigerator — the “value” brand of G.E. — is a good product. It lasts 20 years.

I got 24 years out of a Magic Chef stove.

I used to buy Spanish refrigerators, called Welbilt. The spelling said it all. Good for only nine years. Frigidaire isn’t much better — 10 years. [Exception: the Frigidaire in the photo below lasted 22 years, then got a rash.]

I buy appliances from a small distributor out of Stow, Ohio. He’ll hook up the gas flexline (pigtail) to the stove for $20.  I could buy at Home Depot or Sears, but my Stow man is hassle-free. Sears is the worst.

Refrigerators are fun; they don’t screw up that often, they’re cuddly, and you can occasionally get a free beer or pop in the refrigerator after the tenant moves out. Also, open ketchup.

Frigidaire with a rash

Frigidaire with rash

A version of this post first appeared 6/26/09

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

June 28, 2017   4 Comments

DIE IN THIS BUILDING

When you have a dead body in the real estate biz, go in with the cops. The tip-off is the smell. One time a tenant died without heirs, and the tenant’s estate lawyer practically begged me to take a few months’ extra rent. It was free money. But that’s the exception. Usually there is no money involved. In fact there’s often a loss — hauling stuff away.

I once put an ad on Craigslist captioned “50-year lease available. Die here.”  Craigslist spiked that one pronto. My point was the building had three residents who liked living there so much they had each clocked more than 50 years on site.

Reality: a third of tenants move out in a year, a third stay 2 years, and a third stay 3-to-8 years — and a minuscule fraction stay longer than that. Doesn’t matter what you do.

50 years of stuff

Hauling stuff away

A version of this first appeared on this blog 6/25/09.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

March 29, 2017   1 Comment

MONTEGO BAY

Stewart, a tenant, skipped and went to Jamaica. I saw a picture of him on Facebook with a long beard, drinking Red Stripe, and sitting on the Jamaican beach. Was I going to file — spend $36 in small-claims costs — on a guy who was on a beach?

Before skipping, Stewart had written: “I’ll have my legal team on standby if you oppose my actions. I’ve already sent the contract to them, and it has been looked over and deemed inappropriate and audacious in demands. Have a great day. The keys have been left inside the premises.”

I wrote back: “Is your legal team going to move the furniture and clean the refrigerator too?”

No, his legal team wasn’t going to do that. Stewart left the apartment a mess. He worked (or had worked) for the Veterans Administration and was 36. Might be collectable. I called his parents but they didn’t answer.

Maybe I’ll sue him when he gets back. Maybe I won’t. Have a great day.

montego bay


“Stewart” is a pseudonym.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

March 15, 2017   3 Comments

FREE PIZZA

I used to give Kelly, a tenant, an eviction notice every month and file on him in court. Then he would always pay the day before the court hearing. He’d pay an extra $120 — to cover my filing costs.

I got tired of it. When his lease was up, I gave him a non-renewal.

I wasn’t sure he would  move, so to protect myself I filed an eviction. He moved. But he left some pizza . . .

pizza steve kelly b 202 1_30_17.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

February 15, 2017   2 Comments

TRADE SHOW

At the apartment owners trade show, I talked to a salesman about toilets. I talked to Sears about refrigerators. I talked to AT&T about the high bills for intercom service. Another subject: halogen lighting for my parking lots.

toilets

My wife encouraged me to attend the trade show. I hadn’t been to one in years. She said, “You’ll have fun.” I ran into Marty Cohen, who owns about 900 rental units and “a dumpy shopping center in Amherst. You want to buy it?” He said he had previously owned five or six other shopping centers. Landlords tell you what they used to own, as well as what they own. Another landlord, Lou Powers, has some doubles in the Heights and wouldn’t mind selling them, he said. John Marcus – whose wife is a rabbi — was there. He has something to do with real estate, not sure what.

So the trade show was good, people-wise. But I’m sick of toilets.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

November 16, 2016   1 Comment

DIRK

There was mold on the window sill and black spots on the bathroom ceiling, probably because the tenant never opened the window to her bathroom. She called the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, and the county called the city, and the city told me to get rid of the mold, preferably by knocking down every wall in the bathroom and replacing them with drywall. Destroy a village. I called a back-up drywall guy, who said he’d there Monday. “What if you’re not there?” I said.

“Then I’ll be in the morgue,” he said.

He didn’t show. I called McNeeley, who said he could be there in 10 days. No thanks. (My main guy was busy.) I found Dirk on Craigslist. Not such a great name, but he showed.

“You seem like a nice guy,” I said, “but you never know with Craigslist.”

“You never know,” he said.

He painted over the mold. No new drywall. I used Dirk a season then he disappeared. I never got entirely comfortable with his name.

mold be gone

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

September 28, 2016   3 Comments

ALMOST NAKED

Courtlin passed out in the apartment lobby, so a cop called me: “He [Courtlin] set up a picnic on your landing with some 24-ouncers,” the cop said.

socks“My custodian says he’s naked.”

“To his credit, Courtlin has his socks on,” the cop said.

A  tenant discovered Courtlin an hour earlier in the lobby. I told the tenant the trespasser was fairly harmless — no felony convictions, just criminal trespassing and disorderly conducts. She was OK with that; she didn’t say “I’m moving,” which would have been in line.

The cop said, “He goes to the well — apartment lobbies — for a while until he’s arrested, then he goes someplace else.”

The criminal hearing is in a couple weeks.

. . . Done. He got three days in jail. He’ll be back.

Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. tomorrow (Thurs., Aug. 4) on the lawn at John Carroll U., University Hts., Ohio. Free. Indoors if raining. Free ice cream, kids!

yiddishe cup 12_15_15 300 dpi maybe

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

August 3, 2016   4 Comments

WATER IS NOT CARPET

The building manager called at 2:48 a.m. and said water was pouring from 202 into  102; the manager couldn’t get into 202 because our extra key was missing and the tenant wasn’t home. Take the door down?

The door came down at 5 a.m., right off the hinges.  Sludge was backing into 202 and 102 from 302.

At 11 a.m. a tenant’s ceiling fell in. I said, “We just spent $8,500 on a new roof for your part of the building. It better not be water coming in through the roof.  I bet it’s coming through the window well.” There were five inches of rain in the window well.

The above paragraphs describe two different incidents, in case you’re confused.

water and electricIn the rental business, it’s always about water. One time I had a water line burst on the fourth floor and leak through four floors of the building.

Water goes wherever it wants. It’s not carpet.

 

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

July 21, 2016   No Comments