Where We Live

Money for housing

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. Many things have happened with family, work and life in general. One thing that has continued to remain taunting me in the back of my mind is the situation with our apartment complex.

I realize this post is going to be lengthy, but if you have ever struggled with landlords/leasing agents just so that you could have a roof over your family’s head, please read the full post.

My family and I currently reside at Shorewood Heights apartments in Mercer Island, WA. We moved to this area a little over a year ago from the East Coast. At the time that we were viewing apartments, neither my husband nor I realized the swankiness of the area – we just knew it was clean, convenient and above everything else, safe. Yes, I’m one of those moms that actually checks the crime rates and registered sex offenders in an area when making a decision to call a place home. Now that I have a daughter, I refuse to leave anything to chance. I did have a basic understanding that the area had a higher income base, just from the fact that the rent was quite a bit more expensive than other places. This fact was not an issue for me because you can’t put a price tag on safety.

After viewing a couple of the apartments at Shorewood Heights, we expressed concern about the front door handles. The handles are very much like levers and even if the door is locked, the door can still be opened by pressing down on the handle. This is so easy that even our 3-year-old daughter could do it. I asked if we could have a door chain installed to prevent our small child from opening the door. The leasing agent advised us yes, that could be done. As a further comfort point for me, we asked if we could install a ceiling fan in the living room. I tend to be hot all of the time, even in cooler months, so this request was more about comfort than anything else. The leasing agent told us yes, that could be done, we would just have to buy the ceiling fan ourselves. No problem.

We went on to discuss the leasing terms and price. I was advised that my husband and I would have to pay a deposit of $250, but because of my employer, my $250 deposit would be waived. I was later advised that the additional $250 was not a deposit, but something else – yet at the time we were told it was a deposit, something that was confirmed in e-mail. Regardless, we were excited and made arrangements to have the lease sent to us so we could mail all documents back to the leasing office as we would still be on the East Coast a couple more weeks.

After we signed the lease, that’s when the troubles began. I was informed that I would indeed have to pay that $250 deposit that I was told would be waived because we had no mortgage history on our credit report. Now, mind you, I partially owned the house that we lived in because it was a family home – the house I grew up in. I could not understand this because it was if we were being penalized for not going into debt to buy a house so we had to pay more to rent an apartment. I do realize that a credit check is basically a risk assessment and companies are looking for evidence that you have made payments in good faith and on time. The no mortgage argument still didn’t sit well with me because my husband and I both had good credit and I had a very long history of student loan payments and car payments which were all made on time and without incident. We should have taken this turn of events as a sign, but since the move was already in motion we decided to go ahead and pay the additional $250 and be done with it.

During this time we were making arrangements with a moving company to pack all of our possessions and transport our cars. We arrived in the Seattle area and lived in temporary housing until our stuff arrived at our new address at Shorewood Heights. We soon learned that because the doors are metal, a chain could not be installed on the door without damaging it, so it wouldn’t be done. Disappointing, but we decided to baby-proof the apartment with more plastic alternatives.

While our stuff was in transit to Shorewood Heights, we went to the local Lowe’s and bought a ceiling fan. We were advised by the leasing agent to leave the fan in the apartment and maintenance would install it. In a couple of days we returned to the apartment to see if it had been done only to find out that since there was currently no ceiling light in the living room, the fan couldn’t be installed. In hindsight, I should have known this myself, but the fact still remains that the leasing agent made promises to us about things that she knew nothing about. Maintenance did acquiesce and install the fan in the bedroom where there was already a ceiling fixture.

The first 3 months of living there were fine, but things quickly started to go downhill from there:

  • Being a secure building we were advised that our phone number would be programmed into the system so that visitors could enter the front door. We were later told that – ooopppsss! – since we didn’t have local area codes, our phone numbers could not be used. My husband and I were not willing to change our cell phone numbers for this given that we had the numbers for years and in my case, I often use it for business.
  • There are not enough parking spaces to accommodate all residents. Each apartment gets one garage space and additional cars have to park outside, first come, first serve. Because of my back issues, we made the decision that I would park in the garage, closer to the elevator. My husband works non-traditional hours and often doesn’t get home until after midnight. He would return home and there would be NO outside parking available, so he would take one of the empty spots in the garage. Management began sending out notices that if you didn’t have a parking permit to be in the garage (I did, my husband didn’t) your car would be towed without notice. When my husband complained about this, he was offered garage parking – in another building – for an additional fee. When he complained about this because we already paid so much in rent, he was advised to have me park outside to save him a spot, then he could move my car to the garage when he returned from work. You know, because my back issues and partial disability at the time shouldn’t be affected with the extra walking.
  • More on my partial disability – my back issues were so severe that I would at times go numb from the hips downward because of intense pain. While I was in treatment, I was granted disability status because standing and walking makes the pain worse. I had multiple issues where I would return from work and one of the property carts – similar to golf carts that Shorewood Heights leasing agents and maintenance would use to travel between buildings – would be parked in such a way that it blocked the disabled parking space that I used. Yes, there was another disabled spot in the garage, but it was for compact cars and my car is not compact. I complained about this and was advised that they would alert all employees not to do this. A little over a month later it happened again. This time I took pictures and sent another complaint. Only then was the issue resolved. EXCEPT one time I returned home and a new resident had set their possessions in the disabled spot to be closer to the elevator. I complained about this and was told, verbatim (I have this e-mail too) “will follow up tomorrow and see if the items have been removed.  I am sure someone won’t just leave it there.  Thank you for the information.” That’s it! Talk about a lack of respect for disabled residents.
  • We received a notice that someone had complained about TV noise coming from our apartment late at night. I asked for more information on this because I checked our TV levels and went outside our door – you couldn’t hear it even if you put your ear to the door, much less be able to hear it through the walls or ceiling/floor. My requests were ignored except for an e-mail that had a thinly veiled threat that it was part of the leasing agreement that “quiet time” is observed after 10 p.m. Since that appeared to be such an issue, I decided to point out noise issues that we had to deal with after 10 p.m. – mainly from dogs barking and people having loud sex with their windows open. I even recorded some of the noise from my bedroom using my cell phone. You could still clearly hear things – from inside my own bedroom. I sent this information to the leasing office, along with one of the recordings. Still, the e-mails were ignored.
  • It came close to time for our lease to be up and my husband and I really wanted to move. Family sickness and family visiting from India at the same time the lease expired made us explore the option to renew the lease for at least 6 months. When we were finally able to get a firm answer on the leasing rates, we were advised that rent was being raised across the board regardless of length of lease agreement – in this economy, the property management company still made sure to get theirs – and of course, renting for only 6 months costs more than if you agree to 12 months. We felt stuck because we could not manage moving with family arriving and me traveling to the East Coast to help with family illnesses. We decided to sign a 6-month lease ($185 more than what we had been paying) and advised that family would be arriving and staying with us for 3 months. We were told we would have to pay a $40 application fee for each person and they would have to sign a lease. I explained that it didn’t make sense to me because they have no credit history in the U.S. and cannot fluently read/understand English. I was told that what they do for visiting family who cannot speak English is that the current resident explains the lease to them and they sign it. That’s how things are always done with family members who don’t speak English. I inquired if we could execute a power of attorney and after investigating, the leasing agent told me no, they would have to come in and sign – even when we ALL know that they wouldn’t be able to read and understand what they’re reading. I asked where this policy was posted and was directed to where it said that any visitors staying for more than 1 week would need to sign a lease. I complained that nowhere did it say that a different process was followed for people who didn’t speak English and that a power of attorney could not be executed – the only response I got was “sorry for any inconvenience.”
  • After family signed the lease, I was called on my cell phone at work telling me that I needed to come in and sign some paperwork. When I answered the phone, I told the man that I was busy – and he just kept talking like my time didn’t matter and it was more important for me to come in and sign papers. When I went to the office, come to find out that the paper I needed to sign was an addendum to OUR rental agreement because there were additional people living in our apartment. We had not been told, nor was it in the lease, that we would have to sign an addendum. As a matter of fact, the only thing the lease said was that the new residents would have to execute a lease. That’s it. When I asked where the policy was posted that we would have to sign an addendum when the lease said otherwise, I could not be provided with an answer. I could not waste any more time on this as I was leaving for the East Coast the next day, but I did send yet another e-mail complaining about all of these things and the assistant property manager – finally, not just a leasing agent – requested to meet with me in her office. I told her that I would be out of town for a while and it would have to wait. After thinking on the issue and getting some consultation, I e-mailed her to advise that I would not meet with her and that all communication would be in writing – e-mail or letter. Big learning point and something I’m glad that I did – keep ALL e-mails/photos/written communication. I can come in handy later.
  • While I was gone a notice had been sent out that multiple cars in our parking garage (and another) had been broken into. The notice advised residents to be extra vigilant with their property. I found this rather annoying because they can post notices in the garage that the garage will be regularly monitored and if you don’t have a permit, your car will be towed (need to encourage people to pay that extra fee) but they cannot see fit to monitor the garages to discourage criminal activity (the company makes no money off that) nor can they post notices telling current and future residents not to pile their boxes in handicap parking spots.

Needless to say, once our 6 months is up, we will gladly move from Shorewood Heights apartments. This type of stress does not make for a comfortable place to live.

I hope that you made it all the way through this blog. Please, PLEASE, be very weary of who you rent from and if you’re willing to take my advice, stay away from Shorewood Heights Apartments and any property managed by Pinnacle Family, Inc.

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