The happenings surrounding the Urban Porch over the last week have been laced with a series of incidents that have been both mildly and somewhat greatly dramatic. A few days ago I was out with the dog for his final walk of the night, when sounds of a loud, terrible screaming and screeching began. Before I could locate what direction it was coming from, two very huge raccoons came barreling by me at high speed, shooting out from the piled up garbage at the side of a house where some of The Horrible Neighbors reside. They raced closely by where we were standing, stopped, and began to viciously fight before breaking apart, then ran out into the street and resumed the screaming battle right in front of us. In the meantime, I went running with my little dog in tow in order to get away and into my house as quickly as possible. This was not anything you wanted to be anywhere near. Having never seen a live racoon fight before, I wondered if it was a larger territorial thing or if they were just fighting over the pizza boxes and other assorted garbage in the neighbor’s overfilled and open pails.
Once safely inside, I watched from the door as they attacked each other in the middle of the street, the first chasing the second a couple of yards more, then the second turning around and battling it out again with the first. Eventually they vanished into the dark somewhere. It was both exciting and a bit unnerving, and oddly, I experienced a weird sense of foreboding concerning “altercations”.
The second dramatic incident has involved The Crow Tree. I have mentioned the Crow Tree before in these posts. There are two massive, actively dying maples on the corner, whose bare pinnacles have been providing viewing perches and gathering areas for the crows, starlings and a few hawks. The bark on these trees has sloughed off. Very large boughs have been dangerously crashing down over the last year or so. Because of this, I have stopped walking near it.
The property where these trees stand changed hands sometime last year. The new owner clearly has invested a great deal of time and money into restoration of the old Victorian on the property – upgrading both the inside and outside of the house. There is a new roof, new siding, stairs, railings, windows. A lovely outside paint job with carefully chosen and tasteful colors and a rather cool star window at the top that glows at night. They have been fixing up the apartments on the inside too, all of this, I imagine, as part of the gentrification situation that has been going on in these parts. Given that, it absolutely boggles me that there are two towering, pretty much dead trees that actively drop large portions from very high above – any one of which could easily wipe out the costly work that has been put into this house. This is not to mention that any one of those boughs could kill a person who happened to be walking near it. And yet, the work has continued on the house while the trees remain standing.
It was windy the last few days. It didn’t take too many gusts to cause another large bough to break and fall – this time it came crashing down through the back window of a car parked on the street. Luckily, the owner of the car was not in it or near it when it happened. She might have been killed. A police car arrived and a couple of highway workers were out there cleaning up the debris. The workers cleared up the glass and branches quickly, while they kept anxiously looking up, worrying that something might drop down on them. That was days ago. And yet, the owner has not brought anyone out to take down those trees, leaving them to continue being a dangerous situation for anyone who lives around here or might walk there unaware. This should be done immediately, and in the meantime, the area should be taped off. When the tornado came through here, people on the street had the tree crews here within hours. When we discovered our Linden was imminently dangerous, we had someone come the very same day. What are they waiting for? I don’t get it, I really don’t.
Okay, so here comes the longish rant. The last situation of the week, and definitely the worst, concerns The Most Horrible Neighbors. It is a long and frustrating story concerning how our street and the one behind it has had to suffer them. The house is owned by an absentee landlord from down in The City. Supposedly he won it in a poker game many years ago….I am not sure if that is actually true, although it does make the history a bit more colorful. Over the years he has rented it out to a number of mostly very unpleasant tenants. Because the landlord doesn’t live up here and doesn’t have to be exposed to what has been going on in his house, it seemed as long as he continued to receive his rent he really wasn’t all too concerned about what anyone else had to endure. So first there were the crack dealers and their friends. This was an uncomfortable situation. They must have been on the police radar though, because eventually the main players were arrested and everyone associated with them moved out.
After that was a nice family – his, hers and theirs. Friendly, pleasant. One day we discovered they were gone too – they had been evicted, apparently having gotten behind on their rent. We were very sorry to learn this, and in hindsight, I bet the landlord wishes he had given them more of a break.
So the next set moved in. Had the landlord done his homework, he would have discovered the people he rented to next were actually on a “do not rent list” of seriously undesirable tenants with a long history of bad behavior. Inevitably, there was some trouble with this next guy he rented to, at which point he asked us to let him know what was going on there, so periodically we would update him. This troublesome guy was finally asked to leave, but not before he brought in one of his friends to live there with him.
This guy who piggy-backed in and ended up taking over the house is a drunken, loud-mouthed toad who holds court from his office chair on the front porch, loudly cackling and croaking, drinking and smoking from early morning until night. He began bringing in a revolving door of friends and sub-letters who he charges to make money off of. Because the landlord was getting his rent paid and never came up to see for himself what was going on, he didn’t seem to care that they have been running an illegal boarding house. So for about the last ten years the neighborhood has been subjected to their noise, filth, loose animals and constant stream of temporary – and sometimes criminal – boarders. Police cars and ambulances are a regular event there. Loud altercations. It has been rather awful.
As he requested, we continued to let the owner know what was happening, but eventually – probably because he was getting the rent and just didn’t want to hear about it anymore – he not only stopped listening to us but he let the Horrible Tenant know what we had said. You can imagine what a betrayal that was and how it set the stage for hostilities going forward. At that point, no further contact was made with the landlord again. Meanwhile, other neighbors continued to call the landlord to tell him what was going on with his tenants and he would just hang up on them.
So the situation kept on, and on……and on. The house behind them has been a lovely Bed & Breakfast for years. The owner’s business became seriously compromised because her windows looked down on their dirty yard and garbage, the discarded mattresses, broken furniture, bare muddy ground. Her property had been invaded by their many free-roaming cats, her guests had to hear their ongoing loud noise. Her repeated complaints to the city government yielded no relief and only caused The Drunken Toad to badmouth and hatefully rant about her. The woman who lives across the street from them chats with them and acts like she is their friend to their faces, then secretly shares that she is pretty uncomfortable, actually afraid of them, and wishes they would leave. People up and down the block can’t stand them and dislike walking past that house.
Some of the nicer temporary sub-letters who rented from The Toad (there were a few) realized their mistake and didn’t stay long. Upon leaving they have shared that it was too crazy and too volatile to live there. Some of them only stayed a few weeks. One of them, a man I didn’t know at all but only recognized from sight, actually approached me in the supermarket one day and said, “Are you the lady who is the neighbor? I want you to know, I’m not like them.” He indicated it was awful there and that “They will take anyone’s money”. He also indicated that The Toad has been saying hateful things about me. I actually felt sorry for him, that he had to be in a position to live in a situation like that.
Things probably would have kept on in this way, except one day their then-recently adopted dog (who happened to be a pit bull) chased a woman who was walking her dog down the street and (from what we were told by another neighbor) she was so badly frightened that she got a lawyer and threatened to sue the landlord. So the landlord told The Drunken Toad he had to get rid of the dog or move. The Toad opted to get rid of the dog.
This situation was sad, but inevitable. It is not the dog’s fault, it is the bad owners fault. Worse in a way, because irresponsible dog owners are part of what gives pit bulls a bad reputation. The dog seemed to be an OK dog, and had he kept it on a leash while out in the street, I can’t imagine why there would have ever been an issue. It’s a shame its owner continued to be a disrespectful jerk.
Previous to this incident with the woman, I had gotten into a dispute with the Drunken Toad when his large, loose dog had come charging up onto my porch chasing after my very small dog – twice. Each time I asked him to please leash the dog and each time he totally ignored me, stumbling onto my porch and dragging his dog away by the skin on her neck and back. It was only a matter of time until something happened due to his negligence. I’m glad the other woman and her dog were only frightened and not hurt. Unfortunately, The Toad has it stuck in his besotted brain that I am the one that turned him in to his landlord – even though I had not been in touch with his landlord for many years at this point, and had absolutely nothing to do with any of it. Needless to say, I have totally avoided him.
One day The Toad actually came charging out into the road as I was walking down the sidewalk with my dog, screamed in my face and accused me of “reporting” him, yelling “I KNOW it was you!!!!” It has been extremely unnerving having to be the target of this angry drunk’s delusions. Meanwhile, The Toad has continued to take money from his ever-changing boarders, yet apparently was very behind on his rent. I guess between the potential for a lawsuit from that lady, and now not getting his rent, the landlord must have finally decided to evict them. The Toad has chosen to blame me for the reason.
But then Covid hit. Despite being served multiple eviction notices, nothing happened. Between the free legal aid lawyer they procured and the attitude of this Very Woke City we reside in that tends to demonize even the good landlords and to protect any kind of tenant, regardless of the situation, they have been able to keep staying. The incredible part is that for the last three years they have not paid any rent… and he continues to collect money from any boarders they can get. The landlord has been wanting to sell his house, yet he can’t even do that because he can’t get rid of them. Perhaps it is some just retribution this landlord deserves after the ten years of hell our neighborhood has had to endure due to his disregard…. but somehow I still can’t help but feel sorry for him.
The problem with horrible tenants is that they cost landlords a great deal of money, not only in unpaid rent, but the price of repairing damaged property, the labor of removing their garbage left behind, the legal and court fees spent trying to get them out, the time devoted to dealing with it, the physical and emotional toll. The multiple police and ambulance calls put strain and cost on our municipal services too. Because of this, the price of these expenses inevitably gets passed on to all the other good and responsible renters in the community. I am sharing this opinion, actually a fact, which has been told to me by a very good landlord who has, like many around here, unfortunately experienced this all too many times.
So – a couple of days ago I am pulling out of my driveway on my way to an appointment. The loudly croaking Toad and friends are out on the porch, as usual. As I drove past their house, I glanced over to look at a somewhat cute little white dog who is sitting on the porch steps, when suddenly The Toad starts violently screaming at me and giving me the finger. I had no idea why, and honestly it kind of freaked me out.
Later on that afternoon, while out walking the dog on the other side of the street in the other direction, he once again started screaming and cursing at me. It was extremely unnerving, and suddenly I reflected back on the fighting, screaming raccoons. It’s odd how these premonitions can be. At that point, I waffled between calling the police, maybe looking in to getting a restraining order against this nut, or calling his landlord after all these years, to see if he might know what is going on. I was no fan of the landlord, but opted to call him first.
He tells us The Toad, his wife, friends and boarders are all being evicted in the next three days. Which perhaps explains why the guy was cursing and screaming at me – because in his disturbed mind he still wants to believe I had reported him to his landlord years ago (which I hadn’t), causing his eventual eviction years later. Not the fact that he hasn’t paid rent, is running an illegal boarding house, has kept the place like a pig sty, and is loathed by everyone.
The day of the scheduled eviction, two sheriff’s cars showed up, along with a couple of carloads of guys who are supposedly there to empty the contents of the house to the curb. There is another guy standing there in front of the house with a bullhorn. This group stood outside for about an hour, but then suddenly all of them packed up and left. Due to some clerical technicality, The Horrible Tenants are still in the house, although there was a small U-Haul there, so perhaps they are packing up to leave. We hear the eviction crew might be returning this week. I have a vision of all the neighbors lining the streets, holding New Year’s Eve noise-makers, cheering loudly as they finally vacate and drive away. In the meantime, until this really happens, it has been like living in some kind of Suspended Animation.
Having been on both sides of the situation, my feelings regarding gentrification have always been rather mixed. In this case, on this street, gentrification has mostly been a good thing – as far as quality of life goes for everyone else who lives around here, for the people who have worked hard to own and maintain their home or are responsibly paying rent and being good neighbors. I do hope the place is sold to someone who is going to invest money into repairing a turn of the century house with good bones, which will hopefully be owner occupied. If this happens, The Urban Porch is going to be a much more pleasant place to hang out on this summer.