On the old-school Saturday Night Live, Eddie Murphy did a skit called “Prose and Cons” as Tyrone Green, a tenant in jail reciting his poem “Images” on an alleged incident. The video version is a lot funnier, but NBC removes anything that infringes on DVD sales, so I can only present plain script.
Dark and lonely
on a summer night,
kill my landlord,
kill my landlord.
do he bite?
Kill my landlord,
kill my landlord.
Slip in his window,
break his neck.
Then his house,
I start to wreck.
Got no reason,
what the heck?
Kill my landlord,
kill my landlord.
C-I-L-L, my land-lord.
When I look back at the landlords I’ve had in Greece, it makes me sigh with relief to know that the next home I rent or buy will be in another country. I’m looking forward to it, in fact.
The first apartment I rented upon arriving in Greece was advertised in the Athens News and located on a pedestrian street in Plaka. Although it had no cars, I could hear the groan of traffic on the main road, beeping of horns and putt-putt of motorcycles passing under the window. Whatever toxic smell of pollution I detected at the beginning had dissipated with time and tolerance…kind of scary. During Carnival, squeaky bats and general merriment lingered until late evening, and the church next door always woke me on Sunday morning when I’d returned from clubbing only an hour before.
My landlord was a self-proclaimed artist who made primitive clay figures, such as “woman laying naked in the sea,” and he took the meaning of his name very seriously. Theodoros (gift of God) spent all of this time in his studio creating originals and hitting on mature foreign women that he convinced to purchase them. His conquests and other bodily functions could often be heard through the thin wall we shared.
After 3 months of parking his motorcycle in front of my door, which he refused to move and reprimanded me for even touching, not giving me a proper contract or receipts — it was an illegal sublet — and cockroaches the size of yams crawling through my apartment (shoes were always required, as were lids on pots), I decided to look for another place. I gained independence on March 25th. Two years later, his studio went bankrupt and his apartment rented to someone else.
How I learned the word dikastiria
AA was a quiet and eclectic landlord I found in a now bankrupt English-language publication with several apartments awash in marble around the center. I took the less tacky one that my friend K called the “submarine” because it was partially submerged under a medical building but had an open private stairway, large sunny windows and courtyard. The only minus to its location was it faced the American Embassy and was prone to daily rioting.
When I asked for a rental contract and receipts, he said that a lease would be drawn up, and there would be no issues with receipts. A month goes by, no lease and no receipts. I also found out the phone could receive incoming calls but not dial out. He explained that a French girl had run up the bill to 300 euros and never paid, so it would stay that way until he found the money to pay it off.
When rent came due, I said I wouldn’t pay anything and move out until a lease was drawn up and the rent lowered because he wrongly assumed I was a rich American. He proceeded to offer me a handwritten contract, and I demanded that he sign receipts acknowledging my rent — my request, it turns out, was a good move. In a matter of weeks, things in my life were already chaotic with work, Greek lessons and bureaucracy, so moving again was the last thing on my mind.
The next month, I found out he had a key to my apartment and felt it was perfectly appropriate to drop by unannounced because he called and I hadn’t answered my phone. How did I find out? My boyfriend and I caught him. His explanation was, “Well, you’re not supposed to be home; you didn’t answer the phone.” Another time, I came home from work and found a used coffee cup and saucer in the living room. I don’t drink coffee.
I changed the locks, paid the rent and gave a spare key to a trusted friend in touch with my lawyer before I left to accept a job outside Greece, when my ex-boss failed to pay me and produce a document necessary for my work permit.
Three international money orders sent by Fed-ex to my landlord to cover rent and three months later, I came back to find the locks changed and someone else living inside. I followed legal advice and asked police to accompany me with a locksmith, while a photographer documented the event of opening and removing my things with the permission of the new tenant. In addition to missing money, sentimental items I’d gathered from travels around the world and my deceased mother were stolen. Charges were filed.
There was a legal mediation, but it bore no fruit. AA denied taking rent, denied having my deposit, denied stealing anything, denied everything. In fact, he claimed that I owed him money for the enormous phone bill left by the French woman, electricity and damages, all totaling 2000 euros. We showed photos to him and his lawyer that documented the removal of my things, airbills, bank confirmations and signed receipts for the deposit, phone (I never used), handyman bills I paid, electricity and consistent rent payments. His lawyer resigned that day, and we filed suit.
Over five years, my case had been called, delayed, called, delayed, called again, delayed again and called again at the dikastiria (judicial courts). Each time, I paid a lawyer to do nothing, hired a translator to do nothing and inconvenienced four witnesses to do nothing. A whole lot of money was flying out of my pocket for a whole lot of nothing. The law forbids you to abandon the legal process once it starts, so I saw it through to the end of six years to finally reach a guilty verdict and was awarded money and damages. AA never appeared in court, in fact I saw him only once — he was offering money to a young man in exchange for $ex outside an army camp. How do I know that? The young man was my friend B, and he said ‘no.’
Police have done nothing to enforce the arrest warrant, and I have not seen a red cent…and I know I never will.
Too many landlords
Mr. A was a respectful man who willingly offered me a lease stamped at the eforia, relinquished every set of keys to the apartment and took pride in promptly fixing things whenever an issue needed attention. He understood from the beginning that I would be commuting between countries and said I could prepay or pay when I came back; he also called in advance and requested the loan of a key if something needed repair or inspection.
I’d been told by neighbors that he wasn’t a nice man before Alzheimer’s set in, but I never knew that part of him and he was always kind to me. When he needed the apartment for his son, I was truly sad he wouldn’t be my landlord anymore. He still smiles and says ‘hello’ when I see him on the street, and I’ll always remember him and his family fondly.
The only complaint I had was that he could see directly into my apartment from his apartment across the street, to which his son said he’d remedy with iron curtains and a jungle of plants after I moved out.
My primary challenge with this apartment was that it wasn’t completely mine. Miss GK from Germany left her furniture and plants behind and had no immediate plans to retrieve them, and I was required to sign a contents lease and pay rent for them even though I didn’t want any of it. When she finally came for them after two years, she gave me two weeks notice to rearrange my life in New York and fly to Athens to meet her and liquidate everything. Since this was unreasonable to both me and my boss unless I wanted to get fired, and there was no way I could get plane tickets without paying exorbitant prices, I wired money to an account and had a friend pay for the few items I wanted and communicate anything that came up.
Upon arriving in Athens months later, the things I purchased and paid for had been sold off and the things I didn’t want were still inside. I was told, “these gifts were left as a favor” — a washing machine that was broken before I moved in, an oven that burned things, cheap ugly furniture, a no name broken stereo (I already had a Sony). So not only was I forbidden to remove anything and forced to pay for furniture I never wanted for two years, but I also never made this space my home with my own furniture and got stuck with getting rid of everything in the end. Excellent!
I told Mr. P, one of the most polite and class acts I’ve met, that I only needed the office space he had for three months. He said it was no problem, and I could have my deposit back. His sister, that’s another story.
I gave a deposit and rent for three months up front and received a lease and receipts in return. Whenever I was gone for more than a week, I came back to find someone had used my office as a leisure space to kick back, smoke, have coffee and watch TV. When I terminated the lease, she understandably kept the deposit for my last month’s rent. But she refused to give her correct AFM to file my taxes unless I paid nine more months of rent. I felt this was blackmail since my intentions were stated and approved from the beginning. Basically, she took my money without paying taxes and made it impossible for me to claim it on my tax return, despite having receipts.
Good, bad and ugly
Upon moving back to Athens full-time, I visited Mr. A and his family to see if there was any mail and bring them a gift for their honesty and kindness over the years. They mentioned having best friends down the street with an apartment for rent that just came available — a phone call was made, Mrs. C appeared, Mr. A gave me an excellent reference as a tenant, and I took the apartment. A proper lease and receipts followed.
I loved this apartment. It was only two years old, had modern sliding doors with double glass, insulation, a proper video screen to see people downstairs before buzzing them in, a huge balcony, self-controlled heating, hardwood floors, lots of closets and a kitchen that matched the color of my komboloi.
But something happened after the first year, which was about the time I transferred to Miami for work and lost my father. When I came back, I found that the toilet float was cheap and broken, and water had been running for an undetermined period. This amounted to a new toilet float costing 9 euros and a water bill of 140 euros, with my landlord refusing to pay even a small portion. In looking at my lease, I realized my renewal contract had been changed to a lease assigning all maintenance to me, instead of the original lease I’d signed that assigned responsibility to the landlord. I hadn’t noticed until then, being preoccupied with changing countries and arranging funerals. Fine, so I paid.
This was followed by a scene on the street in which she screamed at me in Greek (not in English, which is the language she usually used) about how I was a poor tenant, never paid anything on time and tried to cheat them. I believe this was intentional so everyone could hear and understand. I couldn’t go door-to-door to show receipts or other evidence to the entire neighborhood to prove she was wrong, so I let my reputation be smeared. She blamed the change in our relationship on my attitude. If attitude meant I wouldn’t be a doormat, then I suppose that’s what I had.
Over three years, she dropped by unannounced whenever she saw my light on, sometimes as late as 22:30 to look at an alleged leak or for nothing in particular. My friends and boyfriends witnessed her behavior and wondered if perhaps she wasn’t well.
My repeated requests to call in advance were ignored, and she got other people to buzz her into the building if I would not. If I ignored her when she came to the front door, she would pound on the door, yell my name in the hallway and use a key she claimed to not have to let herself in. I got used to bolting the door from the inside, and my lawyer advised me to call the police if it happened again. It came to the point I only dealt with their son, who was a truly nice person and is still a friend.
When I finally moved out, there was no dickering over money, just a lot of dour faces and unwarranted comments about the cleanliness of the apartment, despite the fact it was spotless and I’d hired someone to professionally clean it against the advice of Greeks who told me to “f___ them.”
Hot and cold
The last thing I needed after calling police to report a threat from an ex, getting engaged and preparing to leave for India for a month was to move house a few days before departure. But that’s what I did.
My fiancé insisted we look at a place that my future sister-in-law found for us in the north via her real estate agency. Stating my objections from the beginning (and further objections upon seeing the place) fell on deaf ears, and it was clear that this might be the first of many compromises necessary in my future as a couple. My fiancé, who’d never lived away from home or signed a lease before, assured me he could handle it and did not need me to come along to flush out terms or size up our new landlord. He came to regret this decision.
Because the icebox never reached beyond 16°C in winter and exceeded 45°C in summer, we moved our life into the living room to essentially camp around the two heaters or two air conditioners to feel comfortable. Instead of being two grown adults with careers, we were reduced to “starving student” status of 20 years ago. I felt demeaned and humiliated.
Each month revealed a new hidden delight to my original objections of no insulation, no proper roof, too many dogs, noisy kids downstairs, prehistoric doors, shabby tentes, cheap roller doors, no storage and bad floor plan. First month, we discover the advertised and confirmed self-controlled heating is actually central. Second month, we discover that there is kinokrista, which contradicts the advertised “no kinokrista.” Third month, the electric bill comes for the past four months and we’re expected to pay 80 percent of a 280 euro bill, even though we didn’t live here the first two months and were in India the third month with only the refrigerator running. Fourth month, the landlord asks us to pay money for gardening (three rose bushes and a tree), and we refuse; then the water bill arrives and it’s revealed that our meter is actually shared with another apartment on the ground floor.
In addition, we were forbidden to have the electric/water bills in our name and refused any reimbursement of repairs to a home that was poorly constructed and falling apart. When we left that apartment, she refused to give us back our deposit or retrieve our TV antenna from the roof. She’s been unable to rent the apartment since we left in November 2007. I’m not shocked.
So I basically went from having everything in my name to again having nothing in my name, and the housing situation is no better than it was when I first arrived a decade ago unless I’m willing to spend my entire salary on rent. It’s like time warped back to 1997, and I’m back to the same feeling of being uprooted and left to dangle, despite my efforts to put down roots in a country that I’ve invested 11 years of my money, heart and soul.
In telling stories about landlords past and present, or any story for that matter, I am neutral on the subject of nationality because I feel people are people all over the world. Others, however, bring it up with the hope of blaming “foreigners.” Antagonists will be disappointed to learn that none of my landlords are or have been foreign.
Comparing any single residence I’ve rented in Greece to a lifetime of rentals elsewhere, I can see I had it pretty good. This includes when I paid rent to live in my parents’ house and adhere to their rules, which was the worst of both worlds. This includes the time I found a patent leather heeled shoe from my bedroom closet in the front garden after contractors painted my kitchen. This includes the time I found out my roommate was a exotic male dancer at Latex-a-Go-Go and flew into a rage when I ran out of toilet paper to steal.
People tell me that owning a house is a lot of responsibility and renting is easier. I beg to differ. Responsibility doesn’t scare me.
In the News
“Man in Thessaloniki rents flat to multiple tenants, takes deposits”
“More than half of 301 courthouses to shut down” — To Vima
“Court fees up 500-1000 percent” — Eleftherotypia
“Man posing as owner rents apartment to 11 different people” — To Vima