When I woke up and got out of bed, I thought my ears were playing tricks on me: I heard a squishy sound as I stepped down.
Then my sense of touch kicked in—my foot was wet. I took another two steps, and saw footprint-shaped puddles on my carpet. There’d been a flood the night before, and it was still raining hard.
I was set to move in three days but suddenly had more pressing concerns. I had an hour to get my kids ready for school and beat back the still-streaming water seeping into every room of my apartment. I threw towels against the wall, made breakfast, packed lunches, got them dressed, and headed out the door.
I called the leasing office when it opened at 9 a.m. The agent said I wasn’t alone—25 other first-floor units were flooded, so I should sit tight and wait for the contractors to come.
“What’s standard operating procedure in this kind of situation?” I asked.
“They’ll come in with fans and heaters and dry the carpet out.”
“But what happens if my place isn’t habitable tonight?” I asked.
“Why would you think it wouldn’t be habitable? It should be fine by tonight.”
The contractors came an hour later and told me to come back at around 6 p.m. But at 6, my children and I could barely get in the apartment, since my furniture was stacked every which way against the door. The smell of mold was overwhelming.
When I started climbing the obstacle course of dressers and beds and bookshelves, I realized it was about 100 degrees inside due to all the heaters and dehumidifiers. The area rug I had on top of the carpet was still soaked and still sitting there on the carpet, oddly enough, even though all my furniture had been arranged into a cockeyed game of Jenga.
It was clearly uninhabitable.
So I called the leasing office, but it had closed at 5 p.m. So I called the national maintenance hot line of my big, public REIT landlord.
“Sorry, I’m in a different state; there’s nothing I can do. You have to get in touch with your local manager.”
“OK, how can I do that after hours?” I asked.
“Oh, you can’t do that after hours, it’s impossible. Sorry.”
When I called the leasing office the next day to find out when I could move back, the agent told me it would take another day.
“We can’t dry the carpet because of your rug—it’s sitting on top of the carpet.”
“OK, then move the rug,” I said.
“We need your permission to do that.”
“You have my permission,” I said.
“No, we need it in writing.”
After finding a fax machine at my local library, I called to make sure they got it. “So, when will my furniture be back where it was?”
“The contractors only moved your furniture as a courtesy, but they won’t move it back. We’ll let you know when you can move back in.”
Problem was, another day went by and I didn’t hear anything. I couldn’t believe that nobody in the leasing office of this Class A community made any kind of attempt—via e-mail, voice mail, text, carrier pigeon, whatever—to just contact me.
I moved the next day as planned. But adding insult to injury, three weeks later I was told $225 would be taken out of my security deposit for carpet cleaning.
Folks, I love this industry, but I hate this behavior. So, this is my challenge to the C-suite: Live in one of your own communities for an extended period of time (and no ultra-luxury units—that’d be cheating). See if your company’s customer service lives up to its billing. You might be pleasantly surprised. Or, you might just get smacked in the face with the Golden Rule.