Something very unexpected happened last week. The following is a day by day account of the events since my arrival in Pittsburgh last Saturday.
I was settled into my new apartment by Sunday night. By Tuesday I felt that it was a “home” and I was quite happy in my space.
I had orientation all day long at my graduate school. My mind was on the excitement of starting grad school and meeting all of my new peers. Wednesday brought the start of the drama.
I arrived at my new apartment to two notes taped on all residents’ doors. One was a letter from the Acting Chief of Pittsburgh’s Bureau of Building Inspection and the other was an announcement that the building was unfit to occupy. The letter from the Bureau of Building Inspection explained that, effective immediately, all residents of our building and the one next door needed to move out, or face a fine from the city of $1000.00. Also two of the violations were listed. The only words I understood were “construction” and “fire.” Awesome. The announcement listed only two numbers of contacts to call for help.
By the time I got home it was past 5pm. No contact information was listed on the letter from the Bureau of Building Inspection. So, I decided to call the two numbers listed on the other announcement. Calling the numbers proved to be no help. One referred me to a website, which said nothing. The other, which was the Red Cross, said they could not help.
The last thing I could think of to possibly get some answers…I called my roommate, who notified our landlord. Our landlord said he was working with the city and we were able to stay. So, we stayed.
We also learned that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported a story on the evacuation of the two apartments: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08135/881892-100.stm?cmpid=latest.xml
As well as KDKA news: http://kdka.com/local/Oakland.building.inspectors.2.724424.html and http://kdka.com/video/?cid=9
I still had orientation for grad school starting at 9am. Assuming I could remain in the apartment, I went to orientation like the other mornings.
Outside, reporters from the news stations waited for residents to come out. I was rushed by reporters and cameramen. I told them what I knew, and asked that my name not be used in reports and that I not be filmed and used for the news. The result was this: http://www.thepittsburghchannel.com/news/16271286/detail.html. On the news report, I was used on TV, but my name was changed to “Sarah Neilsen.”
Not fully believing the landlord, I knew I needed more information. I picked up the official document listing all of the violations in the two buildings. It was about 20 pages long. Each page was a new violation. There was no way we would be allowed to stay there.
My boyfriend suggested that I call the Bureau of Building Inspection to find out what exactly is going on. Together, from ten hours away from each other, we searched the city websites for people to contact. I ended up calling the city’s official office of the mayor and the chief of building inspection. From the conversation I had with a city building inspector, I learned the following:
- The landlord was a liar.
- We were not allowed to stay in the building.
- The landlord knew of the violations since 2006 and of the warning of evacuation if the building was not fixed.
- On Monday, the doors to the building would be chained, if needed.
- Tenants have rights according to the Landlord/Tenant Act. He recommended that I read it.
Now knowing that my roommate and I would be homeless as of Monday, the panic set in about not knowing where to go. We needed to find an apartment that would house us immediately.
The people in the administrative offices at my grad school helped me in an initial search. They spent the afternoon searching, calling, contacting, and more searching. In the meantime, I called my roommate and she began her own search.
By that night, a supervisor of my roommate offered a duplex we could move into that night! We had somewhere to go…somewhere to live…somewhere to put our stuff. We were excited!
The excitement only lasted a few hours. The duplex was far from were we wanted to be…across the river and far up on a hill. The duplex was unbelievably dirty. It was inhabited a few days ago, and it was like the men still lived there. My roommate and I agreed that there was no way that duplex could be an option.
Back to square one.
That night, I did not sleep at all. At about 4am found a very distant wireless connection and searched craigslist. I began noting all available apartments. At 6am I went to a Panera and began looking up every realty company in the Pittsburgh area. By 9am I was hitting the phone and calling all of the numbers I wrote down.
Looking for an apartment on May 15 is near impossible. Leasing begins June 1, so there were not a lot of positive prospects. However, one contact offered my roommate and I an efficiency apartment now, then moving to a two bedroom apartment in the same building starting June 1. So, I made an appointment to meet the landlord and see the apartment.
The building was located on the north side of the current neighborhood we were in. It was in a great location and was an attractive building. As I was starting to feel better about the whole situation, a man shouted to me from across the street, “Are you looking for a two bedroom apartment? When you are done with him, you come and see me.” I responded with an “OK” and a thought of “OK, creep.”
Things did not get better from there. The landlord showed me an efficiency that made me wonder why my building was targeted by the Bureau of Building Inspection. This place was GROSS and it was FALLING APART! I had enough. I was heckled outside and shown the most awful apartment know in Pittsburgh. I hated the city, I hated landlords, I hated the fact I was supposed to starting grad school and I had to deal with this.
Determined to solve the problem, I called one more realty company, Lobos Management. I stated I was looking for an immediate move-in two bedroom apartment. The voice on the other end was familiar. He said, “Didn’t I tell you to come find me after you saw that other guy?” It was the “creep” from across the street! I could not believe it. I told him I just saw the worst apartment EVER, and I had enough of seeing crappy apartments and landlords taking advantage of me. After talking to him for a few moments, I agreed to meet him at an available two bedroom apartment. I left CMU and began another appointment/apartment viewing…but this time I expected the worst.
After seeing three GREAT apartments and many phone calls to and from my roommate, we agreed to sign the lease on the second one I viewed. It has new tiling, great light with so many windows, a big kitchen and living room…even living room furniture if we wanted.
The realtor was my savor. He was honest, kind, and answered everything openly. The only thing we needed to deal with in this new new apartment was the fact that there would not be electricity until Monday. Honestly, my roommate and I did not care…we had a roof for our head and an apartment that followed building codes.
We filled out all of the official paper work at the reality office. Once we had the keys in our hands and all the official stuff was done we stepped outside and for the first time in a week (it rained everyday of this ordeal), the sun came out. Everything seemed to be ok, and it was a great feeling.
My roommate and I had one more task that evening. We needed to attend a meeting with a lawyer who agreed to help the students caught up in the evacuation. As it turned out, all tenants of the two apartment buildings felt kicked when down, were frustrated and all noticed when the sun came out that evening. It’s funny how situations like this bring people together. It helped talking about everything with the student tenants…they knew exactly what we were going through.
I want to make the overview of these two days brief. The weekend was full of packing and unpacking. I had just completed this task the previous weekend…and I hated doing it. I just wanted to be settled.
My roommate, her boyfriend and two friends were amazing that weekend. People who just wanted to help out, just did with wanting nothing back in return. I had only known my roommate for a week, but it feels like we have known each other for a lifetime.
NOW THAT THE DUST HAS SETTLED…
Our power was turned on Monday. In contrast, the plumbing in the bathroom did not work come Monday. We were with out water in our bathroom Monday and Tuesday. Everything works fine now. Thankfully.
I did a little research post-evacuation. It’s not much now that the drama is over. Here is what I found:
Mallory, Adam, Tyler, Dave, Mom, Matt, Jenny, Dad, Sean, Bob, Katy, Jerry, Rebekah, Dr. Bobbie, the lady at the bus stop with encouraging words, and the staff at PNC bank…
Pittsburgh is a great city with lots of caring people. Through this ordeal, I fell in love with the kindness the citizens have. Even though I felt cheated by landlords, the amount of help and support I received from people I only knew for a week or didn’t know at all was amazing.
Thanks to all of YOU.