The summer after Jason and I got married we both planned to work at the camp I ran in New Jersey, and therefor would be leaving our apartment empty for the summer. Now, I don't know how common the practice is in other parts of the country, but if you're a New Yorker and you plan to vacate your apartment for even a short time, let alone three months, you better believe you're going to try to capitalize on that and sublet it! So, that is what we set out to do. We posted on craigslist and even offered to pay utilities if the potential subletter was willing to keep our cat for the summer and take care of her (we took our dog with us to camp, but couldn't accommodate the cat).
New York is a pretty hot spot for subletters, and although the Bronx is slightly (or more than slightly) less appealing than most of the other boroughs (except Staten Island...no one wants to live there), we did get a fair number of responses. We showed the place to a few people, but it was a pretty long commute to Manhattan, so no one was interested so far. Then we met Kerry*. She was a law student with an internship in upstate New York and so our Bronx apartment was perfect for her. She came to take a look and immediately wanted the place. We were less sure about her. I couldn't put my finger on it, but there was just something about her that didn't sit right - she seemed a little awkward in kind of a hostile sort of way. Oh, if only I had heeded my gut instinct. But, it was very close to summer and we desperately needed a subletter, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt and we decided to go ahead and sublet to her. I mean, she was law student, after all, how bad could she be?
Despite our hesitation, our good nature and assumption that others are also of good nature took over, and we didn't even write up a contract. We did ask for a security deposit, equal to one month's rent, and then asked for each of the three month's rent to be paid on the first of the month. We packed up our clothes and some of our more valuable items and left them with a friend, scrubbed the heck out of the apartment, and then left our cat and moved to New Jersey for the summer.
Fast forward to August 15th and we haven't received August's rent yet. I called her and e-mailed her several times, but got no response. By sometime around the 25th of August the kids had left camp, but I was staying for another week to close things up, and I still hadn't heard from her. I feared the worst. I had visions of scenes worthy of Law and Order running through my head, and at the very least I was worried about my cat. So I grabbed a friend and drove the 2 hours back to the city. I remember distinctly sitting in the car outside of my apartment, feeling nervous. What would I find? Would she be alive? Dead? Tied up? What other solution could there be to not getting rent and not hearing back from her? Or would I find my apartment emptied of all of my possessions?
Well, I still had a set of keys, so we went up to the door, knocked several times, and finally entered with my key. I cannot describe the scene before my eyes. I literally pushed the door open against a pile of clothes and shoes and the pile continued all the way down the long hallway to the bedroom. The living room was also a disaster. And then I saw my cat. My poor, street-rescued cat had more than doubled in size! She was so fat her head almost disappeared! Before I walk into the kitchen to further inspect the damage, Kerry popped her head out from the bedroom, clearly only half-dressed. And this was the weird part - she didn't say "Hang on a minute let me put some pants on" or "I'm just in the middle of getting dressed, give me a minute" she just proceeded to have a conversation with me while she poked her torso out of the bedroom. I told her I hadn't received rent and that I had been worried because I hadn't heard from her and all she said was, I sent a check, sorry. I was so taken aback by the state of the apartment and by her oddness, that my only response was "I'm taking the cat and going back to camp." My friend still laughs at that statement. It had a ring similar to "I'm taking my toys and going home!"
I went into the kitchen to grab the cat's food and discovered why my poor animal was so obese - there was container after container of cat food sitting on the counter. It was like an all-you-can-eat buffet, 24/7. Now some cats might know when to say when, but not rescue kitty - oh no, she always ate in survival mode. If it was there, she consumed it just in case it wasn't there the next day. So she had been gorging herself on cat food for who knows how long! Then, we left and drove back to camp.
A week later, on Labor Day, Jason and I returned to our apartment for good at about 8:30pm, not sure what we would find. On first glance, it didn't seem to be too bad. But as we looked closer, we saw just how disgusting this law student was. Oh friends, it was ugly. Let's just say we cleaned for three hours before I felt Ok going to bed, and then spent the entire next day trying to get our apartment back. Words are good, but pictures are better. Below, please observe the grossness...
The Kitchen floor, before we even had a chance to sweep up the rest of the stuff on the floor. (No, that's not a real tomato, it's a timer, but still)
Our bed, with a mysterious, scary stain on my Egyptian Cotton mattress pad. That stain went through the mattress pad, the foam egg crate and the mattress! We threw the top two out and got a new mattress a few months later.
The buildup of cat hair on the area rug in the living room.
Where the cat box usually sat. It looked as though it had not been cleaned out once. Then we picked it up and saw this beneath it. Clearly, the cat litter that went over the edge of the box had not been swept up. It took me over thirty minutes to clean this 2 square feet of tile!
I wish this was all. There was pot ash on the coffee table, strange stains on the wood floor that took off a few layers of finish, she had taken our laundry basket and our bathmat, had gotten bleach on one of towels, left an air conditioning unit on a windowsill and turned it pink with water damage, and had left various sundry clothing items, books and jewelry. And it didn't stop there. We continued to find evidence of her damage and presence long after she left. Part of the deal was that we paid utilities. When we got the electric bill for the month of August, it was $200 more than it had ever been, due to the running of the air conditioning unit 24/7. When we got our cable bill, she had ordered pornos on our TV.
Now for the worst part. Remember that last month's rent that I never received? Well, I never received it...ever. I e-mailed and e-mailed and called. Her number had been discontinued and she never responded to my e-mails. We had her security deposit, but there's no way she would have gotten that back after the damage she left, and we still ended up losing money because of the things we had to replace. She also hadn't returned our keys, which started to freak me out. I finally got kind of urgent in my e-mails regarding the keys. A few days later, the keys showed up in several layers of envelope, with no return address.
Some of my friends and family wanted us to pursue her, try to get her to pay her last month's rent. But honestly, I was just so sick of the whole thing and was so glad to be done with it that I just wanted to close that chapter and forget about her. Annoyingly, we continued to get mail for her for several months, and even found an old package addressed to her when we were packing up to leave, nearly three years later! She just would not be forgotten...
We had all kinds of ideas about what we would do differently the following summer - collecting the whole summer's rent up front, drawing up a contract, having a friend in the city just drop by every now and again, trust our gut instinct, etc. However, Jason ended up getting a job he couldn't and didn't want to leave for the summer, so we never had to deal with that again. Which is good, because I'm not sure I would have had the stomach for it anyway!
* Name has been changed to protect the guilty.