Without a Trace

My rental property has a lot to tell me. It is almost a month since my first tenant moved out. I remember telling him that “you were the tenant that I was waiting for.” That was a mistake. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He turned out to be the tenant that I needed to meet in person. I am pretty certain, by now, that he didn’t leave my home because he didn’t feel safe. I think he was just looking for a place to stay for a month, before he moved on. Even now, I can see signs that something was odd about that family. For one, it seems like they hardly used the home at all. The new stove is still new. It was never used. Same with the new cabinets in the kitchen. There are still little piles of sawdust in the back of the shelves. He told me that he wasn’t using the dishwasher. “I don’t want to waste water,” he said. “Besides, I want to teach my kids to take responsibility to clean up after themselves.”My mailbox is piling up with his bills. The City of Durham has a water bill for him, and so does the gas company.

Today I called the gas company to get them to turn the power back on. “My tenant left after 35 days,” I said. “Without a trace.”

The operator was deadpan. “Same for us. Without a trace.”

– – – –

James could not believe that it took two months to find a tenant. “Adam,” James says, “you just don’t know how to rent a house. Do I have to do it for you?”James can’t believe that I interviewed almost fifty people before I found a tenant.  “You don’t need to ask a lot of questions, Adam. Just get that government money.”   James has two rental houses, and both are rented to Section 8 tenants. “I make them let me inspect three times a year, and if there’s a problem with a boyfriend, then it’s on them. Other than that, you’re good. Checks comes on the 30th, you don’t have to even worry about it.”

James is drinking a coke on my back step, at the end of a day pouring concrete, when a black Nissan Maxima turned into my driveway. Tina is on time.  She’s hardly out of the car before I extend my arm and introduce myself. “I’m Adam,” I said, “and James is in the back, having a coke.”

She follows me on to the front steps. As I open the door, I begin my standard speech: “This is a nice three bedroom, an older home, with lots of nice updates. I really like how the house is laid out…”

James interrupts. “Adam, let me do this.” He pauses, looks at Tina. He holds his palm open, as if to refute the doubt that this scene might be provoking in Tina. “We’re business partners, is what it is. We fixed up this house. Well, I fixed, but we’re partners.”

Tina relaxes against the foyer wall. Her arms are folded, and she’s holding her keys in one hand. She is about 34, with long hair. There are no children with her. It is my understanding that she has a three bedroom voucher.  James is in no rush, it seems, and she’s not either.

“Let me ask you,” he says. “I bet you’ve already got a feeling, just walking into the front door. Are you going to want this house? Do you like this house? Tell, me, do you think you want it?”

She stands up and lets her arms drop.  She steadies herself with a palm against the wall. “Yes, I do want this house.”

“Well, good. I could tell.”

“It’s just that I love an older house. I’m in a townhouse right now, and everything is broken, I’m living next to someone, and it just doesn’t feel right. No, I like a house with hardwood floors, some space.”

“Well, great. Now, how much is your voucher? Is it for three bedrooms?”

“Yep, it’s a full voucher, I think $1,089, because I have a boy and a girl.”

“But you don’t look like you are a day older than 24!”

She swivels, turns her back , and walks into the first of two of the children’s bedrooms. She turns for a moment and looks to James.

“My friends tell me that.” I believe that James has just managed to not only rent my house, but also to flirt with my tenant.

She’s about to leave when I feel like I should interject. “Don’t we want to ask her at least a few questions, like where she works or how I can contact her landlord?”

James stops talking. He looks at me like there’s a roach crawling on my arm.

“Adam,” he says. “Why do you want to know that. All you need to know is, does she have a voucher, and when can she move in?  Just leave the rest to this fine, fine lady.”  

In a few minutes, he’s tracing back with all of the people that they know in common.It turns out that they both went to the same high school. They know a lot of people: Frank, who still works odd jobs as a roofer and a journeyman carpenter.  Jimmy, who stayed over in East Durham and sold pot after he got back from the war. Sam, the guy who became a big time lawyer.  James has his big white truck parked out front. It has a small doll attached to the front grill.

Tina recognizes the truck. She points – “Is that you in the truck with the man on the front? You know that you almost hit me yesterday,” she says,  “driving that truck over on Geer St.”

“Oh, that must have been Deon.”

“But,” he says, “you should just ask yourself: is that a good thing, or a bad thing. If its a good thing, maybe it is telling you that you need to be catching up with me, that this is a good place to stay. Or, you can think its a bad thing that Deon almost hit you, and then maybe it is a warning. What do you think, is it a good thing?”

“Gee, I suppose it is.

– – –

Four days later, I get a call back from Tina. Her old house has very high utility bills, as high as $600 in February, and DHA has decided to cancel her ability to contract for a tenant. Naturally, she’s mad. She’s taking it out on Tina. She’s going to keep Tina’s security deposit . That means that she’s out of cash and she won’t be able to put together enough for a deposit for at least another month.


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