Sunday, December 12, 2010

Building Inspectors from Hell, Part 4: The ceo

Notice I used lower-case letters. See, that’s the main problem with code enforcement officers: they’re ceo’s, but think they’re CEOs.  Often they’re just insecure bullies with a badge and some power.

The Undertaker was finally gone, and we got a reasonable building inspector.  And now permits were sprouting up all over, like mushrooms after a summer rain.  In the years of drought, one building inspector did everything (which wasn’t much), but now he needed help.  It came in the form of assistants - code enforcement officers.

One day we had a bathroom flood from a second floor apartment.  It ran down the wall that housed the electrical box for the apartment beneath.  The first floor tenant, who had always been a needy pain in the arse for other, minor issues, called the fire department instead of calling us.  We heard the call over the scanner, met them at the building and stopped the water.  After inspecting the problem, the chief told us to turn off some of the circuit breakers in the first floor apartment for a few days so the wires could dry out. 

But the pain in the arse wasn’t satisfied with that.  Since she was inconvenienced, the next day she called the building department, and they sent a brand, spanking new ceo.  I was in my office when I got an angry phone call from this guy, demanding my immediate presence at the building.  I told him I was right around the corner, and would be right there.

When I got there, with all 6 foot something of him towering over me, he got right in my face, and started loudly pushing his weight around about violations in this woman’s apartment.  “Whoa”, I said, smiling, “you’re overreacting.  Let me tell you what happened and why some of the breakers are off.”

But he wasn’t having any of it, because he knew something I didn’t know:  that all landlords are bad, and all tenants are good. In the course of his inspection, he noticed the smoke detector was knocked off the ceiling, which was obviously done by the landlord, no, make that “slumlord”.* So now he got louder. He threatened that, if the power wasn’t back on and the smoke detector re-installed within 24 hours, he was going to close the whole building down.  And, by the way, here’s a $100 fine.  See ya in court.

Well, now I was fuming.  I did quick math.  It would’ve been a quick and cheap eviction to be rid of that troublemaking tenant, who, as we know, knocked her own smoke detector down because it needed a new battery.  All I had to do to be rid of her was nothing!  Only, I had four other tenants in that building who didn’t deserve to be out on the street.  So I grit my teeth, had the smoke detector re-installed, turned on the power, and called my lawyer.

I was not going to pay that fine without a fight.  Even though it was going to cost me more to have my lawyer in court than to pay the fine, and I might lose anyway, I was furious.  As it turned out, I won the court case, but it wasn’t over just yet.

A few months later I had occasion to go to the building inspector’s office on some unrelated matter.  There, sitting at the first desk, so it was impossible to bypass him, was the ceo I’d tangled with.  There were two courses of action I could take. I chose the high road:  I put a big smile on my face, thrust out my hand, and suggest we start over.  He sheepishly shook my hand, and, here’s the best part, actually apologized!  He said he was new on the job and didn’t know there were both kinds of landlords as well as tenants. 

So, this story ends well.  But often, it doesn’t.  The Undertaker would go around citing people for litter in the alley, but couldn’t act when something bigger needed his signature.  (He once cited a woman for weeds in her front yard, only to find out she was a famous horticulturist, and the “weeds” were exotic specimens.  Was he embarrassed by his gaffe?  Probably not.)

And it didn’t surprise me at all to learn that the BTK Killer was a ceo.

*See Dec. 7th post.

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