Thursday, August 02, 2007

downside of housing with character

When I moved to DC, I was adamant about moving into housing that was different. I'd lived in community upon community in South Florida where there was building after building of vanilla apartments, only differing by square footage, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, the view, or perhaps the presence of or absence of vaulted ceilings.

Looking at apartments in DC was a breath of fresh air. Most I viewed were individually owned condos. Generic cream colored carpets gave way to beautiful hardwood floors. In giving up central A/C, I gained redone ceramic-tiled bathrooms, more individualistic layouts and in some cases, even traded in those blah white walls for a splash of color.

I think my most recent rental though is what sent me back en route quickly to vanilla, and high-rises at that.

Top Five Issues to Brace Yourself for When Your Row House is Over a Century Old:

1) Moths. You just can't escape moths. It seems to come with the territory. I resigned myself to purchasing cedar balls and airtight storage bags at the Container Store to be ready for battle. And, even then, you will still have them occasionally fly at your face. Like happened to me last night. Fabulous.

2) Temperamental Plumbing. You might have a garbage disposal, but you will find yourself encouraged to carefully contemplate what you put down the disposal - if you even venture to dare to put it to use. If you gamble with something a bit more extreme, be ready to dig it out. Or see it come flying up towards your face, one.

3) Busted Wiring. Be prepared to be told wiring cannot be fixed because of the fragile and feeble state of your home. Why is there no front porch light? "Oh, we couldn't ever get the wiring in that portion of the house to support something requiring that much energy". Was that an acceptable answer to three single girls? Umm no. The key to any old home is knowing when your landlords are just being cheap. And it will happen.

4) Forced Ranking on Appliances. Back to the wiring. You may have to accept that we all have choices, and occasionally that extends to appliance usage. Sure, you can run your A/C so you remain cool and refreshed after a shower. However, you will have to sacrifice all of the above and be willing to (gasp) sweat a bit if you actually want to plug in another electrically draining appliance, such as oh say a hairdryer. Clean body or dry hair. Your pick. (And guys, if you can't imagine having thick hair that would take an hour plus to air dry, you don't get a vote here - sorry!).

5) Window Unit Serenades. If your house hasn't had a major overhaul, be prepared for the glory of the window unit. Yes, I do realize we could be A/C-less, but that's an alternative we shall momentarily ignore. If your landlords have not opted to truly install window units, be prepared for poor insulation, high gas bills for radiators in the winter, and loud street noises (how many street crashes have I heard early in the morning? I've long since lost count). And no, shoving paperback books underneath does not qualify as installation.

Recommendations? Know when limits of reason have been surpassed. Feel free to push back (DC laws do favor tenants - remember that!). And definitely push for a pre-move in cleaning. We should have heeded that last one for sure. Think through all of the above before you sign next to the X on your lease.

Disclaimer: I do acknowledge this will vary from locale to locale. Perhaps you won't be so blessed to encounter the above as we did.

Bring on Virginia, baby!


  • Well, if the noise bothers you, maybe you should try one of those zen water fountain thingies. I find them to be...uhhh, zenlike.

    By Blogger HomeImprovementNinja, At August 02, 2007  

  • Haha... well, it's only for TWO more days. Wow, hard to believe.

    Actually, running water drives me nuts when I'm trying to sleep! My A/C I think is slowly wanting to die (again, thank goodness for moving) and has started making this running water noise. I have to use ear plugs or I can't sleep!

    Now my new apartment? That I can already tell is gonna be ummm uber-zenlike. Bring it.

    By Blogger LJ, At August 02, 2007  

  • Who knew older apartments were such a risk for having things fly in your face?? Everything you have described would have driven me crazy. And yes, drying hair is a great time to have A/C. Anyone who does not understand that should not have a vote. I'm glad you've gotten out of that one!

    By Anonymous susan, At August 02, 2007  

  • Thanks Susan - yeah, I'm pretty pumped for the move. Late night moth attacks are not cool with me. Thankfully, didn't wake up Sassy there =)

    By Blogger LJ, At August 02, 2007  

  • We had the moth problem in my rowhouse also. Plus the disposal - some of my housemates haven't gotten the memo on that one. Wiring's a problem, too, as well as negligent landlord. So, so true!

    By Blogger SciWonk, At August 03, 2007  

  • Yeah, the key is to have an attentive and LOCAL landlord who cares about the property. My current landlord for my 1890s townhouse does tend to be annoying with all of his constant maintenance checks, but, at the same time, he's purchased a new washer/ dishwasher when ours broke, rugs for the apartment upstairs so we don't constantly hear the others walk, and new tiles for the bathroom when the old ones couldn't be repaired.

    By Blogger GreenEggsSamDC, At August 03, 2007  

  • SW - glad you feel our pain. I was half-way wondering if I was generalizing a tad based on our situation that may or not be true elsewhere. Sounds like not necessarily the case though!

    Sam - totally true. Makes such a difference. The difference in situation with landlord being local in my prior place in Dupont is night and day. Complete opposite.

    Another key? Personality traits of the landlord you pick up when you go to look at the place. We could tell ours were not super organized. Couple that with not in town and you get disaster... or a one year tenant, whichever way you choose to classify!

    By Blogger LJ, At August 03, 2007  

  • Definitely not something I would have thought about in a quest for a house with character, that's for sure. Makes me appreciate having the vanilla... :)

    By Anonymous zandria, At August 06, 2007  

  • Zan - did I mention how much I'm loving vanilla? It's just about all I can stomach these days ;-)

    I need to add reason #6... when you fall and fracture your foot on the front porch, you won't be able to give the doctor a straight answer about sounds...

    They asked me if I heard a popping noise and I said "ummm I hear all kinds of noises everytime I step onto the front porch, so between the sound of me falling, the clothes clunking to the floor and the porch um just making it's old porch-like sounds, I have no idea about the sound of cracking bones" (ewww)

    By Blogger LJ, At August 06, 2007  

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