CHAOSTOCOSMOS

Monday, 2 June 2008

How landlords treat tenants in Tenerife ...

This problem is about to get sorted, but, since I received an unpleasant, menacing phone call this morning, this is here "just for the record." Recent problems I've had to deal with; floods, every part of the plumbing breaking and the fact that I had to effect all the repairs (mostly through my insurance) and pay for them, is well documented already on this blog.

Terminal Damp 

This is in the bedroom, behind the bed where I sleep. Could it be Stachybotrys chartarum a.k.a. Black Mold?

It was one of many places in the house with similar damage and, even though pointed out, was never tackled.

Tenants have to inform landlords when there is something to repair, which I always have, yet sometimes, I've had to plead for 4 years to get action.

Landlords have a responsibility to maintain and provide basic minimum services, so my legal advisors tell me. It's what tenants pay rent for, apparently! And there was me thinking it's just for the sheer fun of it!

The water people, you may recall, told me that the recent problems are not theirs (naturally) and that it's because the landlords should maintain things (which they should). The fact that I just had to have the new regulator fitted, that was the landlords' responsibility, proves they're failing in this duty.

The two-faced water people (we are not surprised) are apparently telling the landlady that the problem is not theirs (naturally) and that it's my fault, because - she claims - I hadn't told her that the toilet needed fixing.

In fact I had told her that the toilet cistern was faulty and needed fixing, around 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years ago, which earlier she had agreed with and, that I remember clearly, because it was while my mother was here for Christmas and I was concerned that it would cause additional inconvenience (pun intended) if there were two of us caught short without a working loo, during a holiday period. What got done about it? Absolutely sod all, of course.

Now, the landlady is selectively forgetting and trying to twist the blame round to me.

Apart from the recent problems, which had me mopping and waiting around for repair men for almost all of the month of April (and, I'll just mention that the plumber, eventually sent by the landlady, who is meant to be fixing the water heater, still hasn't come back and we are now in June), I've had a list floods, roofs leaking and things that didn't work during the 9 years I've lived here.

Just as an example, when the roof in the hallway began leaking (at the beginning it was just a drip: eventually, I needed to keep three bowls under various places whenever it rained), every month, I advised the landlords that it needed to be fixed. I did this for 18 months until ... it caved in.

Guess what? We had a storm, unbelievably heavy rain, the false ceiling filled with about a ton of water, bowed down like a giant saggy hammock, finally gave in and broke all over the floor, flooding the house, ruining another load of my possessions. The repairs took 11 months to complete and, during that time, someone would turn up whenever they felt like it and do a bit more, which meant I was often disturbed, which hindered any attempts I made at getting back on track. The law is quite clear that where repairs take over 21 days, the tenant is allowed to deduct a proportion from the rent for the room(s) that are not available for use. I never did deduct anything for this, despite the entitlement. (See 5)

There's also the fact that my original contract had called for me to paint the interior of the house on leaving. Painting after a repair such as this was not my responsibility, but the mean landlady decided to use the interpretation that all "painting" was my province, full stop and, this was left to me. Well, actually, my mother painted it. Gotta wear out the old 'uns first! :)

When you see the extent of the damp here, it becomes obvious that the landlords must have already known about it; that it didn't suddenly become damp overnight and that, pretty obviously, it has been painted over before. They act in total denial whenever I mention damp, however.

To comply with the terms of the previous contract (the later, current, one does not include this requirement for painting), "someone" (clue, not the tenant) would have to prepare the walls for the said painting. At the very least this would require removing a lot of plaster and renewing it. To be honest, the only way you'd completely deal with this damp would be to demolish the house!

By coincidence, on the same day as the storm / flood, my then webhost screwed up with my then main site that had used to earn me around $2,000 a month. What do you do, sit in a puddle, working away at a computer (that's plugged into the electricity) to fix the website, or mop up and deal with the flood? Yes, obviously, in retrospect, I should have chosen the former, but I didn't and I've never been able to get back to that point in terms of traffic, earnings, etc., for a whole list of reasons, but the basic truth is, that if the landlords had fixed that roof when I began telling them, then this probably would not have happened and I probably would not have lost my main source of income overnight.

Let's be generous and say that was 5 years ago (it's more like 7) and that, maybe I'd have maintained half of that income (allowing for economic and other factors: and giving myself no credit for any improvement I might have made.) My calculations make that 5 x 12 x $1,000 = $60,000 (€38,664.) Pretty much the same story can be repeated for this last set of plumbing breakages that could have been prevented by some simple maintenance that they are "legally required", but obviously not morally inclined to carry out.

The only difference this time was that I had very little left to lose!

On top of that, I have a yellowed scrap of paper here (that should tell you how long ago it was done), with calculations I'd made at the time, listing my financial losses and expenses due to floods, humidity, facilities not working, etc. These are, in euros, roughly: 1. Clothing, shoes, furniture, other possessions, paperwork, etc. €6,000 2. Loss of income from outside jobs. €7,500 3. Purchase of a dehumidifier. €450 4. Additional electricity for above. €600 5. Deduction for repairs. €264 Those 5 items come to a total of €14,814.

A more minor case of damp damage can be seen on this cabinet (pictured right), which had belonged to me. This was caused merely through it having been kept in the damp house. You should have smelled it though!

Shoes previously kept in that cabinet turned green and had to be thrown away.

The figures for losses are exceedingly generous in the landlords' favour (undervaluing my costs and losses) and, were based on reasonable numbers (trust me, I'm an accountant) at the time. The clothing, furniture, etc., was based on purchase prices. Back in the day, I used to compere karaoke once a week, but owing to the lack of hot water (I've confirmed with the legal advisor that hot water is a basic requirement that landlords have a duty to provide), meant I could not prepare and present myself adequately to do this job (on stage, in public) and had to turn down bookings, which eventually dried up, because I was not reliably available.

Bang went my second source of income.

Shortly after moving here, I'd lost the main work I used to do for one of the newspapers here.

The cost of the dehumidifier can be demonstrated by the receipt.

The electricity to run the dehumidifier was measured by the difference between the previous and next bill at that time and is a generous estimate, because I have merely multiplied that by the number of months for 5 years (again, it's probably 7) and, have not increased that with rises in electricity prices.

The deduction for repairs (for the fact that rooms were not available to me for 11 months, while the said repairs were carried out) is based on the legally allowed formula. It only counts one room too, while another was also used to store materials for the work and, whatever way you look at it, the figure is pathetically inadequate to compensate for the inconvenience it caused.

It actually took the landlords 4 years to install a water heater that consistently worked here and, then only after a neighbour had told them that the one that was previously installed was of a type that would never work here. Which is what I'd said. They tried to tell me that it worked fine, while they could obviously see and feel a mere trickle of tepid water that any fool would be able to work out was not going to provide a shower. And that was on a good day. On the 364 days that the wind blows here, it wouldn't even light, because it's outside!

Then they also tried to tell me that it's "normal" to hang your clothes outdoors; like everyone does this, on some regular basis or, put the other way round, if you keep clothes in a wardrobe then they always go mouldy. News, isn't it?

They also tried to tell me that I must have bought the stuff with me damp.

Yeah, from the desert south of the island, on a day that was so hot you could hardly bear it ...

You could clearly see the damaged roof above the area where the wardrobe is, in Google Earth. This was since painted in 2003. Only painted. Otherwise, that roof just acts as a sponge.

A damp and damaged corner of the bathroom ceiling, above the toilet.

The roof in the bathroom (right), leaks to provide a free cold shower while using the potty in heavy rain.

The landlady has seen this ceiling on many occasions during the 9 years, but only painted the roof outside. She can't say she hasn't been aware of the problem. I've drawn attention to it, several times and I've stressed that I get wet when I sit on the loo when it rains. Still hasn't been fixed.

While the painters were working on that in November 2003, it rained, which provoked another flood: this time with red roof paint everywhere over a predominantly white / cream tiled bathroom. It looked just like a pig-lizard had turned inside out and exploded. This, naturally, I was left to clean this up.

When it came to paying for the additional repairs that the painters couldn't avoid having to do to attempt to seal the roof to take the paint, the landlords had tried to wriggle out of paying. I know this, because the painter told me. He also said that they are "muy mala gente" (very nasty people.)

The corrugated roof on the Jerry-built slum of an outhouse at the back of the house, leaked from day one. This was once fixed and a bodge made to fill (with some sort of foam in a can) the leaking gap between the top of the wall and the roof.

That worked for, oh, all of five minutes, relatively. The photo here was taken, ironically, on June 2, 2004. Four years ago today, to the day. The workman is doing some work to the house next door, for them, but, without consultation, is standing on the roof of the outhouse to this house to do so. The weight of the man created a whole load of new leaks, where the roof was damaged or was pulled away from the wall (which took a couple of years of pleading and two more winters constantly mopping up floods to be repaired).

It also had the effect of squashing the foam in a tube stuff, so that the gap opened between the wall and the roof, which has still not been fixed, despite my constant requests and their constant promises that it will be "in summer."

Depending on the wind direction or the strength of the rain, this leaks and forms an indoor lake. There are three steps down from that outhouse into the house proper, so when it floods, I have no option but to stay there mopping to avoid it coming indoors and causing greater damage. I have spent days and nights doing so in really bad weather, when the lake was refilling and I could fill a bucket every 15 minutes.

Nobody came to help, despite the emergency nature.

And we still haven't taken into account the amount I've spent (wisely, I think) on a household insurance policy (circa. €200 p.a.); on other small repairs and parts that I've just got on and dealt with (even if they had been the landlords' job); my time spent dealing with it all and constantly mopping, etc.

In October last year, I had to replace my washing machine (another €389), because it was old, but also because it was finished off by a previous surge in water pressure, that again, could not have happened if the landlords had correctly maintained the regulator. (This is something I could not have informed them about as a regulator does not show signs when it no longer works, is some distance away from and outside the property and, in any case is a responsibility of property owners who have the contract for the water supply.)

Then there's the fact that the rental came with a washing machine provided, listed in the inventory. The landlady took hers away, because I had my own, however, she made no allowance in the rental price for this.

Same deal with the fridge / freezer, which again is mine.

I've also replaced both a double and a single mattress (€450).

Then there's the potentially, mildly venomous damp loving bugs. A previous tenant (happens to be my next door neighbour and the landlady's sister-in-law), tells me that this house has always attracted more of them. Yes, because it's more damp than other places, which again proves it was before my time and suggests something that the landlady could not have been unaware of.

Whilst breakages and misuse would be the tenants problem, wear and tear never is. The problem here is that, for these landlords, wear and tear does not exist. Nothing is ever their responsibility. It's always someone else's. They will even try to foist wear and tear, damp, age, etc., on me, saying I caused it somehow.

What would you dare plug in here with all that damp?

There's also the fact that, the electrical wiring in this house (fitted, I am told by a son who is an electrician), is, at best dangerous.

There are shorts; the power often trips off for no apparent reason; light fittings that have burnt out, blow bulbs on a very regular basis, short when it rains and, to top it all, the contract they signed up for with electricity company, UNELCO, is for the lowest rate they offer. This is for small appliances only and is not rated for a washing machine, so potentially, this is illegal. Apart from the fact that I can only use the washing machine on cold (if I want the electricity to stay on) and, can use only one major appliance at a time.

There's also the fact that there are vines in the backyard, which someone comes to maintain, which interferes with my right to privacy and "quiet enjoyment." Chemicals are used regularly, which mean that I am unable to let my cats out.

The rent here is cheap, but compared to what's being asked for other properties available for rent in this valley, it's the normal rate for a property in good and working order in this area and the price certainly does not allow a discount for "putting up with" something like this. They didn't mention that the vines even existed in advance. Indeed, in the first year or so, they appeared abandoned, but nothing was said, when they began to maintain them.

There's also the fact that there are cables on the kitchen roof that had been ordered to be removed (by the town hall, I'm told) before I had even moved in here (yes, I have my informants too).

A couple of years ago, they changed these from uninsulated cables that carried the electrical supply to the entire valley to insulated cables with just the supply for three houses.

The landlady keeps telling me that those cables are about to be removed.

It keeps not happening, of course.

Meanwhile, I have no idea if now, or particularly before, these cables could have had any effect on my health. Experts can't agree on the effects from exposure to the magnetic fields around electrical cables, I have no idea what voltage they were, but there are those who allege problems, such as "A University of Bristol (U.K.) study involving experiments on 2,000 pylons concluded that electric cables are responsible for tripling the effect of cancer-carrying pollutants in the air. "

My father died of liver cancer, my mother has leukaemia and I've already had microcalcifications found on a mammogram, which were declared to be of concern. Therefore, naturally, this concerns me too.

Severe headaches, nausea, exhaustion and other symptoms that I'd suffered, suddenly and notably became less severe when the cables were changed.

By law, calor gas installations must be checked once every five years. I've been living here for 9 years. There has never been an inspection.

An old friend (since passed on, sadly) told me he had friends who lived in this house previously. He also told me that it was "uninhabitable", officially.

Finally, I have contracts and receipts, but I know that the rental is not registered officially and that no tax is being paid on the income from it.

At this point in time, after you deduct the parts (for which I have receipts) from the water bill that has so far been presented to the landlady (in her name and, for which I actually have no liability), then there is a difference she considers I should pay of around €20. And I owe her €200 in rent. A total of €220. (Not forgetting that she has my deposit to cover that.)

Even discounting most of the above that she would be sure to dispute (for those not keeping score, it came to a laughable grand total of €55,317 (£43,738), still doesn't cover anything - least of all my loss of sanity - and that she wouldn't even be able to cover even if she gave me the property) ...

She damn well knows I've done her far more than €220 worth of "favours" in 9 years. So phoning me this morning, shouting, arguing and demanding money; telling me I can leave, really redefines the meaning of "cutting off your nose to spite your face", doesn't it? Exactly the idiotic reaction I expected, mind you.

She also redefines meanness and taking money on false pretences, if you ask me, but at the end of the day, she should count herself very fortunate indeed that I have paid up and shut up (to keep a heavily leaking roof over my head for 9 years) and not, for example, responded to the electricity people who have queried my usage level and wanted the contract upgraded.

Or pressed the issue with her over the cables on the kitchen roof.

Or organized a gas inspection.

Nor spoken to lawyers, doctors, the housing department or the tax office ...

She needn't worry: everything will be sorted by the end of the week.

In case you didn't spot it in a previous post: these are BEST landlords I've found on this island, by the way. Most treat their fellow Canarians no better, but I do wonder if immigrants and "defenseless" single women get "special treatment". It certainly makes it specially stressful.

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