Sunday, April 01, 2018

Eviction Threat Ending: A Whimper, Not A Bang

The belligerent new management at my apartment complex has toned it down a few notches and laid off the worst of their bizarre bullying behaviors... or maybe they've simply moved those behaviors to where I can't see them. Meanwhile, I've learned a few things about the south-suburban Atlanta neighborhood where I've lived since mid-2016.

In my last couple posts I mentioned sundry bizarre and possibly illegal behaviors committed by the new management in my apartment complex, including a slanderous “illegal drug violation” notice on my door, followed by a verbal eviction threat when I went to the management office to ask about it.

For a week or so after that confrontation, their behavior grew steadily worse. The fake-cop “Warrant Service” security guard made evermore aggressive rounds with his fake drug dog which barked at anybody who walked past it, including me. One weekday evening around 7:30 (about half an hour after sunset, before Daylight Saving Time kicked in), Jeff and I tried driving out of our apartment complex to go to dinner, and the WS guy had parked his car so as to partially block the sole entrance/exit from the place. Accompanied by the aggressive dog, he was interrogating the driver of a car trying to pull into the complex from the public road. Jeff and I had to wait a couple of minutes before the fake cop let the other driver through, thus clearing the way for us to leave.

All this while their behavior absolutely baffled me: what kind of “professionals” were these, anyway? I hadn't encountered such an attitude since my schooldays, interacting with teachers of the “all kids are delinquents” variety.

Example: the day I was banned from the rental office, another mass memo went out to all tenants, starting with the line “Dear Resident(s), It has been brought to management that there are illegal pets in your home.” (Jeff and I don't have any pets, let alone “illegal” ones.) But as I kept reading the letter's language changed, and it was obvious this was NOT a personal letter directed at us, but a mass missive. Only instead of starting with the tone “Dear residents, this is a reminder that pets must be registered and blah blah blah,” they started it off like a personalized threat.

Reminder: when Jeff and I moved here in the summer of 2016, things were very rushed – we were living in the suburbs of D.C. when Jeff got a job offer down here. Neither of us had been to Atlanta before, and we had only two or three weeks to find a place to live and move into it before he started his new job. Meanwhile, the Atlanta metro housing market seemed bafflingly different from what we were used to in northern Virginia and New England before that, but eventually we found a place that was in our price range, in the size we needed, and would have a vacancy before Jeff had to start his then-new job.

When we filled out the application, it had a disclaimer at the top of the first page: something about how in order to live here you must have a minimum income at least three times the monthly rent. No problem; Jeff's salary alone is well over that, plus there's my (scandalously small, due to under-employment) income as well. I thought that was the case with all my neighbors: every family or tenant paying their way out of a salary at least three times the rent. Come to find out I was wrong: this apartment complex is what's called a “HUD property,” which apparently means only a relative handful of tenants (such as me and Jeff) are fool enough to pay the full market-rate rent. The majority get assistance from Section 8 vouchers.

I learned this from a reporter who works for a local TV news station, after the “curfew for minors” and other edicts inspired me to contact a couple of “News on Your Side” tip lines. She looked into a few things, spoke to people in the management office (off-camera but with her “journalist hat” on), and then told me what she'd learned about this property and its crime history—broadly, management has a lot of legal leeway to be horrible to tenants, for security-theater reasons (though “lots of legal leeway” is not synonymous with “carte blanche” — if we still had that false “drug violation” notice with its unjustified eviction threat, we could indeed cause serious and potentially expensive problems for the management here.)

And that no doubt explains much of the “like teachers who distrust their teenaged students” vibe I'd felt from the management, why they behaved like belligerent bullies rather than professionals talking to a paying client: because they're used to dealing with people so desperately poor they have no other options, people too poor to stick up for their rights even when they know what those rights are. Back in the day, teachers didn't need to care whether their students liked them, because they knew their students had no choice – and apparently, landlords for Section 8 renters can afford to adopt a similar attitude toward most of their tenants, if they (or their hired property managers) are mean-spirited enough to do so.   

THAT explains the property manager's incredulous fury when I questioned their bad behavior, and why she accused me of being “sarcastic” for doing so — no, she didn't mean sarcastic. She was mad because I was uppity: behaving like the indignant middle-class person I am rather than the terrified, impoverished woman she thought I must be, for living here. 

The good news is, the visit from the TV reporter seems to have scared some semblance of decent behavior into the management: no more appearances of the fake drug dog, and no more bogus checkpoints clogging traffic in or out of the parking lot. Of course the management now knows better than to give us another illegal threat in writing (just as we'd now know better than to let them take it back) – but I don't know if they're still pulling such stunts on the other tenants in this complex.


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