On 2004-12-19, I bought a house. Technically speaking, the house is my house, not "Jessie's and my house," because of the fear that her name on the paperwork would hurt the chances of getting approved financing and the
like. Now she's got a fairly good credit history thanks to our joint accounts and the fact that I seem to have mostly dug myself out of the Black Pit of Debt with only a third of my owings going to unsecured holes. None of that is really relevant, save the fact that we have an actual house-house instead of an apartment or cave-dwelling or other stuff-keeping-place that belongs to a third party.
Our house has a garage. It's kind of a manky, tinky outbuilding, with a broken outhouse, rotting support beams and crumbling shingle-siding. The previous owners had started to put up new vinyl siding, but they'd abandoned
the effort pretty early into the game, with two-thirds of one of four walls finished and the rest ignored. It looked... bad. There really isn't any other way to say it. It was tacky and cheap, and I wasn't happy about it, but I never went back there because I was renting the garage to Aly and Aly didn't care how it looked as long as it gave her a place to work on her Firebird, toke and listen to Howard Stern.
I think she did more of the last two than of the first.
At any rate, the garage for the house has never been up to code since we bought it. The appraiser looked down his nose at this little rundown building, and the borough gave us a lot of grief over it during the purchase process, but ultimately it worked out that the previous owners would agree to finish siding the house within ninety days of the purchase, since they couldn't legally sell the house with the garage in its current condition anyway. Jessie and I both thought at the time that that was an acceptable answer, and we signed off on it when we claimed the keys and the mortgage.
The previous owners contacted me exactly once over the next ninety days after that. Perhaps twice. I remember one call to arrange a time to meet to learn about our new coal furnace, and I know at some point there was a discussion about when the siding on the garage would be finished, with the ex-owner saying he was going to do the work himself and would get to it as soon as the weather was more hospitable, and these conversations may have been on the same call but it's possible they were on two different ones. Even if they were, though, that's still only twice that I ever spoke with the people responsible for bringing my new house into code.
I probably should have done more across the intervening time after that to follow up on this and get them to fix the siding, but shortly after that—or is it those?—call(s), the pipes froze, and then there was the major reconstruction, and then The Bad hit, and by that point my focus was on other things entirely.
So, imagine my surprise when last week, I got a letter from the Borough inspector's office, saying that they'd tolerated my eyesore for quite long enough, thank you very much, and that I had thirty days to fix it, get rid of
it, or get fined.
Of course, I called them the day after the letter arrived. I did my best to explain to them that it was the previous owners who were legally and financially responsible for the problem, as they could not have legally sold the house to me without an agreement to fix it, and in fact I had that in writing in my sale contract. The city inspector said he sympathized, but he also pointed out that I was the owner of the outbuilding in question, and that it was my responsibility to follow up my own business contracts and enforce them, not theirs. If I thought in thirty days I could cajole, beg, bargain or intimidate the previous owners into fixing the garage like they were supposed to have done by beginning of March 2004, he'd be more than willing to drop the entire matter. Otherwise, he said, it was my problem.
I hate it when other people make sense.
A day or two later, I found a contractor who could take on the job of "dealing with my outbuilding" on such short notice, and he agreed to come out and inspect it to give me a free estimate on either repairing it or hauling it away. He showed up, studied the little ramshackle shack for half an hour, pointed out all the things he thought he'd need to do to it to make it functional again, and gave me a number.
I twitched and said, "I've got five thousand in the bank, and I'm in no financial shape to go over that; that's my entire safety net." While the statement is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, it's not much of one. I maybe have another five-hundred beyond that but that's getting into the financial Red Zone. Remember the X-Men video game in the arcade, and how when your hit points got low enough you could use your special attack without it hurting you? Ever play City of Heroes? This is Financial Defiance, people.
He chuckled, said, "I never leave anybody broke," and agreed to do the whole job for four-thousand.
He spotted Aly's Firebird in the garage and said I'd have to move it before he could get started; it'd be in the way. I told him I didn't have the legal ground to do so and explained the whole convoluted mess involved in this
piece of the Vixapede Legacy. He looked at his son, shrugged, and said he had four guys and a truck, and the car'd be "handled" as part of the job.
I don't know if he threw that in there to clinch the deal, but it worked.
Last night, I gave them a check for the repair work, which they took off to Magical Bank Land to convert it from a worthless piece of paper into a lot of not-so-worthless pieces of paper, or perhaps some very valuable ones and zeroes in a computer system somewhere. I think this guy is the pieces-of-paper sort of guy, though. That's fine, too. All I know is that pretty soon here, a lot of my valuable ones and zeroes—mostly the ones—are going to go away to cover this conversion cost.
The practical upshot of all of this is manifold:
- After next week, I should have a practical, useful, pretty garage again that looks like it belongs on my lot, not as part of a set for the re-enactment of a post-apocalyptic suburban warfare movie. I'll sort of miss
the look, but not really.
- Jessie and I are likely going to have to cancel our planned trip to visit her parents in Shreveport in November. This one's not guaranteed, but it's pretty likely given the state of our financial cushion. Their place isn't big enough for us both to stay on their couch, and they have enough pets that my allergies get hammered after just a few hours, so that means a hotel and a car rental on top of the plane fare which at this point is likely to be over a thousand dollars of trip that we now cannot afford. I'm not giving up on
it, but I'm not counting on it either.
- Further Confusion is off for both of us. Don't bother asking. If some financially-independent party has two-thousand dollars to throw at a couple of Universe-A refugees to attend church for four days, let us know, otherwise we'll be here in Philly when the opening ceremonies commence.
- Megaplex may happen as a substitute con, but this one's stretching it. I won't have fully rebuilt our buffer by that point, and to be blunt it's in Florida for Dobbs' sake. Getting Jessie south of the Mason-Dixon Line once was hard enough; I don't think I could manage it again without, like, cookies the size of dinosaurs.
I checked with a debt collection agency about getting the money back, and they sent me to an attorney. I checked with an attorney about getting the money back, and they said it was two-hundred dollars per hour to pursue it as a case, meaning it's not cost-effective if it takes more than three days of wrangling to try to get blood from these turnips.
Maybe I'll find the previous owners' new contact information in the paperwork for the settlement, call them and get profuse apologies and a check for costs plus heartache. Maybe I'll strike oil in my backyard, too.
Four steps forward, three steps back.