Monday, March 29, 2010


I bought my first house in 1975 and for 35 years have been the mistress of my own domain. Aside from the positive emotional aspects that owning your own home brings you, there are undeniable practical advantages, chief among them being you are not at someone else’s mercy when something goes wrong.

Hubby and I own rental property in Cape Town and we have always tried to be the kind of landlord we would hope to have, should we ever have the misfortune to be renters. Well…the misfortune happened in January and, unfortunately, we did not end up with a landlord like us.

We are renting a relatively new (less than ten years old) house in what is known around here as a “posh” suburb. I don’t know about you, but there are certain things I automatically assume in such areas, among them a relatively high degree of safety and security, cleanliness, privacy, civility, and well-kept properties. These are things I am willing to pay a higher rent to have…and in my rental house, I do. Problem is, I’m not getting what I am paying for.

Our landlord gave us a paper with useful numbers on it when we moved in…they live in Cape Town now, so we need numbers of people to contact for emergencies. It seemed a little odd to me that there was the number for the person who repairs the motor for the automated driveway gate…there was no number for the garage door opener guy or a plumber or a drain company…why the driveway gate? But with the stresses of moving in, I thought nothing of it and focussed on more immediate concerns.

One of the first things I noticed were the flies…omigod, the flies! They were everywhere! Hordes of them! I found them in my refrigerator (apparently sneaked in while the door was open) I found them in the oven door, between the two sheets of glass. I took to using more kitchen towels to cover exposed food that I used for drying hands and dishes. I could not cut a slice of bread without the flies swarming me, demanding their tribute. My landlord professed ignorance when I lodged a complaint.

The mosquitoes were awful…I am allergic to mosquito bites and the bite that makes a little bump on you and itches uncomfortably for a day or two gives me a red swelling two or three inches across that itches like my skin is on fire for ten days or more. But mosquitoes are a fact of life in Africa, even in expensive, posh suburbs, because nobody here has a clue about screens. Instead, we plug little aerosol misters into the wall and they emit a toxic vapour into the room to kill the little buggers if they come in. Unfortunately, the lure of my pale, plump, succulent flesh seemed to overwhelm even their death throes, and the little buggers continued feasting on me, even after we had installed two different brands of mosquito vaporizers in the bedroom.

Then, a couple of weeks after moving in, I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night only to find a rather large cockroach gazing at me from the front of the toilet tank. Before I could raise the alarm and kill the little monster, it fled behind the tank, doubtless wondering what the feck I was doing up running around during what should have been his personal time. It was not long before I was finding roach droppings and eggs in the bowls and pots…I grew up in a roach-infested house near the beach in San Diego…I know ’em when I see ’em!

The bites got worse…some of them healed in a couple of weeks but others turned blackish purple and after the blister in the centre broke, a deep pit formed. Today, nearly three months after moving into this house of horrors, many those bites still have not fully healed…they are shrinking in size but a nasty purple scar remains. We began spraying a moat of insecticide on the carpet around the bed and spraying the bed and mattress each time we changed the sheets, thinking maybe it was something actually in the bed, but when the maid came to me with similar bites, and her bedroom is down the hall (and we don’t share bedding) I knew it was something else.

And then, outside under the patio cover, we spotted it…a large spider nest that was open on one side…there had been a spider hatch just below the main bedroom balcony, to which there are doors and windows from the bedroom. We actually suffered three successive waves of these biting spider attacks, the maid’s room only being attacked in the second one, so I suspect there were three spider nests that hatched within weeks of each other, the spiderlings taking refuge from our great bird population by coming indoors. These, then, are the purple bites with the blistered centres…spider bites, most likely yellow sac spiders. We keep them out of the bed by spraying every time we change the linens, but I see little spiders on the interior walls of the house almost every day.

The Yorkie has spent most of the last three months fretting at the baby gate at the front door, frantically beseeching me to open the gate and let her out to chase down the rodent she was convinced was hanging around out there. While we were still unpacking, the maid found rodent droppings on the patio where they had chewed their way through a trash bag full of packing paper, and we found evidence of the beasties on the front doorstep. But a few weeks ago, while standing in the driveway, I saw a rat run out from under my car and disappear into the hydrangeas beneath the scullery window. And where there is 1 rat, there are more.

So, a few weeks ago the landlord was in town and he stopped to visit. My first concern was the insect life in this house but I was totally unprepared for his blasé attitude: when I said I had seen cockroaches, his reply was “Oh, yes, you will see roaches here.” Excuse me? The man knew the house had roaches and he let us move in 1) without warning us and 2) without spraying for them? What?? Now my belongings have roaches…I moved in here roach-free (we had our house sprayed every 6 months or so…we lived near a marshland and roaches are common in such places) but I’m afraid I may not move out in the same condition.

He professed puzzlement at the fly problem, saying he’d never noticed much of a problem. Well, I guess he’s never bothered to look at the light fixtures in the kitchen and scullery ceilings, which are literally full of dead flies! And I don’t think he believed me about the rat at all. But he promised to send out an exterminator company to do a quotation.

Three weeks passed and the company came, did their assessment and went. Still no exterminator. Meanwhile the driveway gate goes on the fritz, necessitating a call to the gate guy on the list…ten days, three call outs, and multiple parts swaps later, we find this is an on-going problem in this house, and that is why his name and phone number are on the list. This particular motor was installed last November, a replacement for another, even less reliable motor.

We have had a terrible problem with the doors and locks. On the day we moved in, one of the furniture movers got locked in the guest bathroom because the lock doesn’t work properly. He had to hand the key out the bathroom window to Hubby, who was able to unlock the door from the outside. The door from the dining room to the patio would not close properly…it had to be slammed…which knocked a sensor for the alarm system off the door and broke the interior of the lock, leaving us with a door to the outside that could not be locked and an alarm sensor precariously reattached with tape. The front door had to be shouldered open and the doors to the balcony could be opened, but it took my husband and his 100kg+ frame to pull them closed enough to latch and lock. Our landlord instructed the handyman (who lives next door) to come and fix the doors, which he almost did…he fixed the front door, he half-fixed the dining room door, and didn’t touch the balcony doors at all. This last, however, may be a good thing because, when the landlord was out there with his father just recently, a wasp took umbrage to their close proximity to his nest…right beside the door!...that it stung the landlord’s father. That could have been a tragic event if it had been me, as allergic as I am to stings. It would have been nice if we had been forewarned that this was a possibility, however, so that I could get a bee kit!

Power is a bit of a testy topic in South Africa these days, and I was dismayed to find my electricity unexpectedly going off several times a week. We weren’t sure if we were putting an undue strain on the house’s electrical capacity and ultimately asked the man across the road who told us that reliability of the electricity supply was poor in this area. So, for nearly three months I am enduring unexpected power outages of unpredictable duration several times a week. Ya think the landlord might have warned us about this?

Then there was the hot water heater’s repeated boilovers when we went out of town ten days ago. My poor maid, who was left to housesit (which she loved…she got the big screen all to herself for four whole days!) called me at noon on Saturday to report “water is everywhere!” Do you think the landlord or his wife answered our frantic telephone calls or SMSs? Not a one. Ultimately the maid got the handyman from next door to show her how to shut the thing off and when we returned on Monday…after more futile attempts to reach the landlord…we called his mommy who called a plumber for us and got the mess sorted out.

But as we pulled into the driveway on Monday afternoon, the car boot full of groceries, to see a wall of steaming water cascading off the porch roof…and the driveway gate choosing just that moment to again fail…I finally lost my patience. The following day Hubby and I drafted a letter to the landlord enumerating our complaints and, basically, saying that if he didn’t take some swift action, we would either fix the problems ourselves and deduct it from the rent or we would start looking for another rental. Amazingly, the man who could not return our telephone calls or respond to our texts for a week or more, got back to Hubby in less than half an hour after the email was sent! It was all a big misunderstanding, he says, he’ll look into it…

And so now the gate seems to be fixed…and the handyman will be here Saturday to fix the doors…and tomorrow the exterminators are due to arrive.

Just in time, too...last Saturday morning when Hubby went out to feed the dogs, there at the bottom of the steps was a very dead and thoroughly chewed rat. Pretty little Candy, who looks like a dainty white poodle, is part Jack Russell and I suspect this rat’s attempts to help himself to her bowl of midnight snack kibble wasn’t exactly to her liking...and she let him know it with deadly effect.

So, by tomorrow evening our house should have received a radical verminectomy…bug spraying and rodent traps should help a lot. But I am a loss as to who to call to help us with that landlord…


  1. I'm sorry, but you live in Africa...these things should be expected. That's why your landlord is so blase about it.

  2. Sorry, but I live in Africa...these things should NOT be expected. My husband is South African, he owns rental property, and he does not treat his tenants in this manner. In fact, his rental property is sprayed for bugs twice a year and if a tenant reports the presence of rodents, he takes immediate action.

    It is the character of the landlord that is the problem here, not the location of the house.


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