Friday, July 25, 2008

Tenant from Hell, Redux

On 6 June I wrote that our attorneys had informed us that they had “received a call from Lynda’s attorney earlier today requesting the full outstanding balance and our banking details to attend to payment by no later than close of business on Monday, 9 June 2008.” Lynda, you will remember, was our tenant who owes us a boatload of money in past due rent, late penalties, and damages to the flat she rented for two years.

One of the key elements in our battle with Lynda is that she is a hopeless liar. By the time I posted the 6 June blog entry she had promised to pay at least part of the debt we claimed no less than a dozen times, at least twice in writing. Finally, just before we were to go to court, Lynda’s attorney faxed our attorney the above commitment to pay the debt in full.

Well, it was no surprise that 9 June came and went and we didn’t see a centavo. Wise to Lynda’s ways, we didn’t hold much hope of payment and so did not suspend our legal journey. Prior to our next court date Lynda’s attorney, with no explanation or apology for Lynda’s failure to pay on 9 June, again communicated with our attorneys, this time claiming that she could not afford to pay a single lump sum and offering a payment scheme. Lynda was offering to pay a sum weekly until the debt was paid.

Knowing that magistrates often frown on a refusal to accept a reasonable offer of settlement, we declined the offer with the explanation that Lynda had failed to make good on offers of payment in the past and, absent any kind of onerous penalty for failure to make her payments, we had no confidence in her promise to pay. We heard nothing back from Lynda’s attorney and so, after waiting a respectable time, our attorneys filed what is called a “Demand for Plea.” This gave Lynda five working days to submit her plea to the court and should she fail to do so, we could then apply for a default judgement after which her assets could be seized and sold to satisfy the debt.

We waited for ten days for her to submit her plea…basically her refutation of our claims…to the court. After all, this was her very last chance to have a judge look at the claim and maybe—just maybe—let her off the hook. If I was in Lynda’s place, you can bet I would submit a detailed and eloquent rebuttal to the claims, hoping to minimize the amount I would be ordered to pay. To fail to respond at all is to just give the judgement to the opposition.

But that is exactly what Lynda did. We gave her ten days instead of the obligatory five, and still she did not respond. And so, on 14 July our attorneys filed for a Judgement in Default of Plea. Yesterday we received, via our attorneys, a fax from Lynda’s lawyer containing yet another offer of settlement: “…2 monthly instalments of R10 000 as from 01 August 2008 and 01 September 2008 provided that the amount be capped at R20 000 and no further interest, costs, etc. are levied.”

I nearly laughed out loud! What on earth makes that woman think we have any interest in accepting any kind of deal from her? It’s over! Only the formalities are left to attend to. She defaulted, we won, so now it is just a question of getting the paperwork signed and her BMW hauled away by the Sheriff for auction. Yes…she drives a late model Beemer and she is a 35% owner of a lucrative employment agency…it’s not like we are trying to take bread out of the mouths of starving babes, here!

And so we countered with an offer of our own: We are in receipt of Lynda’s…offer to settle. In view of the fact that Lynda’s history is one of making agreements to pay and then failing to do so, we are unable to accept this offer. We will counter with an offer of our own: full payment of all amounts owed in a single lump sum. Interest, costs, penalties, etc. to stop at the moment her payment clears the bank.

The more I thought about the offer, the more incensed I became. This has been a power struggle with Lynda almost from the day she moved into the flat. She actually expected us to cut down a tree, demolish a significant part of the garden and build a garage for her where the front patio stands! When we demurred, reminding her that she leased the flat knowing it had no garage (but secure parking nonetheless), she darkly hinted that she would remember this when it came time to renew her lease. The fact that it would cost a full year’s worth of her rent to build the bloody thing was apparently unimportant…she wanted a garage and we were somehow remiss in not providing it for her.

She ignored the conditions of her lease that were not to her liking, from confining her dogs to smoking to paying her rent on time to watering the garden. When we pressed her to abide by the terms of her lease she responded with indignation and hostility, as if we were overstepping our bounds! Even on the day she finally left, she determined to do so on her terms, refusing to set an appointment for a final inspection of the flat and even refusing to give the keys to us…she gave them instead to the new tenants!

After she moved out and we sent her the results of our final inspection, she had the audacity to substitute her own thumb-sucked figures for the quotes we had carefully and painstakingly gathered. She stole a down lighter from the dining room ceiling and damaged two electrical outlets in the kitchen, which a certified electrician repaired for us at a cost of R1100: Lynda’s offer of reimbursement was R80…less than the cost of a replacement down lighter kit! She damaged a carpet that was in new condition when she moved in…when she moved out there was a circular water stain at least 20”(50 cm) in diameter and the carpet fibre had rotted. Because there is no spare carpet to make a patch and the damage is highly visible, we must replace the entire carpet at a cost of nearly R2000: Lynda’s offer of compensation for this damage was R80 to have the carpet shampooed!

If we had any concern that her blatant flouting of our legitimate authority was based in some kind of personal animosity, it was laid to rest when she treated the court system in the same manner. Lynda has apparently decided that the courts hold no legitimate authority over her either, and so she simply ignores the rules of litigation. She made commitments to pay us both directly to our attorneys and in writing through her own attorney which she failed to keep and she failed to submit documents to the court by the deadlines. She seems to think she doesn’t have to abide by the rules, that she will make up the rules as she goes along and do things her way.

So, after ruminating about this for a while, I sent an email to Hubby: It occurs to me that Lynda is still trying to run things. She is trying to set the terms of settlement…“2 monthly instalments of R10 000 as from 01 August 2008 and 01 September 2008 provided that the amount be capped at R20 000 and no further interest, costs, etc. are levied.”

“I’ll give you this money but on the following conditions…” is basically what she is saying. What makes her think WE have to bend to her conditions? The court is going to take her car away from her and attach her wages if she doesn’t pay the debt, and every month that this drags on is more court costs and legal fees, both hers and ours. There’s no question now that the judgment will be in our favour and for the full amount we claim because she defaulted.

Does she think we are stupid? Or maybe greedy? If we agree to cap it at R20K and we run up another R10K in legal expenses because she again fails to pay (which I suspect is her plan), we would have to go to court to invalidate the agreement because of her failure to perform, and then we have to start the whole process all over again. Why would she think we would want to stop now when we are now just about at the end of it, and we are winning?

I am sure she is trying to minimize the monthly increase in this debt, but what makes her think we would even consider such an offer? Why would she think, after a dozen or more defaulted promises to pay, we would accept a deal with her, especially one that provides no onerous penalty for her default? She could have been off the hook for half this amount if she had just paid up in the first place. The longer she drags it out, the more it costs her…she is racking up R600/mo in late penalties, plus our lawyer bills and hers as well.

We are still waiting to see if she accepts our counter offer…whether she admits it or not, she doesn’t have much choice in the matter because whether she forks over the cash or the Sheriff seizes her assets and sells them at auction to satisfy the debt, she going to have to pay. The only control she has left is whether or not to allow the debt to continue to grow due to her delaying tactics. Her debt to us, including our attorney’s fees, is now at least R20,000. Additionally, she has her own attorney’s fees to pay.

Does being a control freak feel so good that it is worth this kind of money?

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Beatification of John McCain

And so it begins…the supposedly liberal US media has begun its escort of John McCain into the White House with this morning’s headlines: “McCain attends church, visits VA hospital.”

I kid you not…my husband thinks it must have been a very slow news day in America, but if that was the case, why was there no corresponding headline regarding the activities of McCain’s chief rival for the job, Mr. Obama? Where was the “Obama attends church, visits Eternal Flame” or similarly unsubtle attempt to show him as a man of the people?

My distance from America and her daily political angst seems to have afforded me a clarity, an objectivity, that is just impossible when immersed in it. It has been interesting to witness the Right Wing’s continued demonisation of Hillary Clinton, a woman of strength and intelligence and more experience in White House intrigue than all the other presidential hopefuls put together, and its attempts to characterize Obama as anything other than what he is: an educated, well-spoken Christian American male of black and white ancestry. If you believe the Right’s lunatic fringe, he is a black Muslim intent upon paving the way for Islam to dominate America…something I can’t see as being any worse, in the long run, than allowing these lunatic über-Christians to force their antediluvian notions upon the entire populace.

And so the media grooming of John McCain as a political saint has begun. Never mind that he plans to keep feeding young American men to the war machine, never mind that the economy is at its lowest ebb since the Shrub’s daddy held the throne and McCain has no recovery strategy…the media is now more about big business than critical analysis and hard reporting, and the Republicans are more about servicing big business than anything else. Even Jayzus.

Neither McCain nor Obama have White House-worthy credentials…that lone jewel sits firmly in Hillary’s crown. But Americans, ever eager to avoid anything that smacks of hard work…including the work of firing up the brain cells and actually making them think…have chosen to reject the only person with the experience and knowledge in favour of the smooth orator, the glad-hander, he of the polished charm and photogenic smile. It will be interesting to see if the media campaign to buff McCain into an American Saviour. With the media deeming McCain’s venture into a church to be a headline-worthy event, I’ll be waiting with bated breath to see what other kind of saintly behaviours the media chooses to showcase.

But one thing is for certain…you won’t be seeing the media shining up Obama’s halo.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Winter wet and windy

It’s the Fourth of July. Today, all over America, people are preparing picnics and cookouts, planning trips to the park or the beach, and looking forward to firework displays. Tomorrow they will b nursing sunburns and hangovers, traditional legacies of America’s celebration of her independence from Britain more than 200 years past.

It is almost 10 in the morning here in Cape Town and it is the dead of winter. The rain alternates between downpour and deluge and, with no central heating, the doggies and I are tucked up in the bed with the mattress pad heater beneath us and a duvet topped by a boutis quilt, weighty and warm, on top of us.

The light is dim, more like immediate post-dawn than approaching noon, and the best news is the infamous Cape Doctor…that stiff and bracing wind so characteristic of these parts…has not decided to pay us a visit concurrent with the monsoon. I’ve never been fond of extreme weather, and one form or another at any given time is all my nerve will take with equanimity. I especially dislike heavy winds and coupling them with a torrential rain is my particular idea of hell.

But, ever the seeker of the silver lining, I will say this for today’s dim and soggy state: the wind is tolerable, there is no thunder, no lightning, and if I go outside for a bit of a stroll, I won’t get sunburned, only damp…and between the clothes dryer and a cupboard full of fat, fluffy towels, that is quickly and easily remedied…and without lasting ill effect.

But the doggies seem to have the right of it, tucked up warmly in the bed, snoozing the foul weather away. Perhaps I should join them…