Welcome to Renters Week Horror Stories, a weeklong feature where Curbed shares the downright terrifying stories of regular Chicago renters. Have you had an awful experience with a roommate or a landlord? Or perhaps you're a property owner who's had to collect rent from the tenant from hell. Either way, be sure to share your story to qualify to win a two-night staycation at a local boutique hotel. Take a quick gander at the official rules and be sure to submit your tales of renter anguish and horror to our tip line right away!
Hi Curbed, got a good one for you. I generally compare this experience to Moses and the 7 plagues, but we'll just call it Gene and the 7 Plagues of 2129 Sheffield.
During my senior year of college, I was living at a duplex down on Sheffield Avenue in Lincoln Park. I was there three years in total (with this being the last) while going to DePaul. My 27 year old cousin and 23 year old friend from high school replaced two other roommates who were there prior. We were paying excellent rent (down from $2,400 to $2,100) mainly because I became buddy-buddy with our landlord, Walter, who, while introducing himself to one of my past roommates for the first time, mentioned he likes to inject meth in his free time. Multi-week benders where Walter became MIA was common (relevant to the story later). I once saw him try to rent an apartment wearing a purple and black leopard print silk robe, large bright purple hat, and a pink feather boa. He drove a convertible smart car with a pink "6" drawn on the side. He claims to have been on Jeopardy and to be in the Mensa club. Plus, he once drag-raced Michael Jordan, who apparently "can't drive for shit." To this day, he is still the strangest person I have ever met.
In late May, my roommate Matt found a rat in our trashcan (a large Rubbermaid trashcan—no idea how he managed to get in there), and thinking it was a one-off type of situation, took the trash out back. End of story.
A couple of days later, Matt went to use the downstairs bathroom at about 3 a.m. (we both had our bedrooms down there, separated by a utility closet with a washer/dryer and full bathroom), and he spots a rat. Previous to the direct spotting, I had become suspicious by the behavior of my long-haired dachshund. At one point I found myself on top of my desk with a seven iron, using my dachshund to try to snuff out the beasts. The next day, Matt tries to reach Walter. Can't be found. We call an exterminator. Exterminator lays poison. My thoughts: "Sweet, lets lay poison so that they'll die and rot in our walls, good call!" Guy lays cages and some poison then takes off.
I move into finals of senior year. Friday night I decide to hang around and finish a paper for my last class. I bought some rat traps for downstairs (the classic spring-loaded snap style). Note: setting rat traps sucks! I almost snapped my fingers off numerous times. But I digress… I set a few of those traps around 5 p.m. and baited them with various delicious cured meats. Thinking rats are nocturnal, I figured it'd be a few hours before I got any action. Twenty minutes roll by and I hear a loud *SNAP* in the basement. Bewildered, I strolled downstairs to see the trap has been set and there are a blotches of blood leading behind the washer/dryer. Confirmed: we have rats.
I set another trap and returned to writing my paper. Twenty to thirty minutes roll by and, yet again, *SNAP*. I headed downstairs to discover a direct hit, cured meat in mouth. I should have mounted the thing it was so massive. We called Walter and yet again, no response.
Fast-forward to Sunday—I graduate from DePaul and return to my apartment. As I walked inside I noticed that, "Hey, Matt's TV is gone, weird. Hey, I thought I left my laptop on the table. Weird." I ran downstairs, suspecting the worse, and noticed my 60 pound safe was gone. Robbed. Everything. And on a perfectly nice Sunday afternoon. All electronics or anything else of value—gone. They even stole all of our bags to put our stuff in...low blow. My dachshund was left behind, so it could have been worse. Close to $10,000 worth of items between the three of us was gone. The next day, I left for Maine to go fishing with my dad for five days.
Next couple of days go by and my roommates start to "smell things." Not good. Finally Walter rolls by, unannounced. He "cleans out the back area," and slithers back to the shadows, not giving us much assurance that the rat disco is over.
My roommates are both very unhappy. Matt ends up leaving and finding another apartment with a friend Tuesday/Wednesday, giving me little notice. Large, lethargic black flies start to emerge. Smell continues. My cousin Mark calls me and says his time in Chicago is done. He leaves. I'm still in Maine. I have verbal altercations with Matt, whom I felt left unannounced while we were obligated to a lease and declares he is done paying his share of utilities. Tension ensues between us over rent, utilities, etc… Not cool.
I return to Chicago to an empty apartment, besides the flies. And the smell. I suspect flies are coming from the utility area and begin to quarantine the area with a large sheet. Regularly killing 15-30 large, blood filled flies multiple times a day. Girlfriend is not happy. Note: the sheer size, demeanor, and incredible amount of these flies was the worst part of this ordeal.
A couple days later we have a rainstorm, supposedly the most rain that has ever fallen in Chicago in a one-hour period in 50 years. Water comes up through our shower and our basement (my room) takes on water, not a ton, but, ya know, water from a drain the wrong direction. I call Walter, he tells me to pull up the carpet and turn on our dehumidifier and that "he'll get there in a couple of days."
I proceed to move all my belongings upstairs. I have no couches, just lawn chairs and a TV. It looks like a squatter has moved in. Water starts to settle, and, naturally, add to the smell, which had actually started to die down (spoiler: we find out later that Walter had found a dead, maggot-infested rat and "swept it all up and cleaned it with bleach." NOT GOOD ENOUGH.). I completely quarantined the basement off with a plastic sheet at the bottom of the stairs. Still, there are flies.
I live in fear of vampire flies and rats for a couple more weeks and eventually move out. Turns out the tenants in the back duplex had broken a window at ground level and remedied the situation by putting a towel in place of the window without notifying our landlord, essentially opening up a rat super-highway. BRO RESOURCEFULNESS!
2.) smell of rotting rat carcasses
5.) roommate conflicts/financial concerns
7.) mutant vampire flies/smell from borderline sewage water/girlfriend disgusted/forced to flee home
Fun Fact: Walter had actually been going through foreclosure and we technically hadn't needed to pay him rent for the previous six months.