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14 Cats, a Dead Possum, and Fleas in Old Silver Lake Apartment

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Curbed Horror Stories are firsthand reader reports about terrible Los Angeles apartment experiences past and present. This week, in honor of Renters Week, we're having a rental horror story showdown. We'll post a few horror stories each day with a vote for the best on Thursday. The winner will advance to the national round of our network-wide contest (and the nationwide winner gets a free month's rent!). Horror stories to la@curbed.com, if you please.

The summer of 2008 was the first summer I had spent in my first apartment after college. It would also be my last summer in that apartment.

“Extremely itchy” was the most frequently used answer when asked how I was doing by my friends and family. The [apartment building name redacted] in Silver Lake was this lovely triangle-shaped brick building that had a charming exterior but an interior that became flea infested when the temperature went up. I moved in fall of 2007 when the temperature was nice so I never once suspected that it would become a flea market.

This was a building of beautiful red bricks that seemed to each contain a secret of Silver Lake’s past. Surrounded by trees and architecture from the golden days of it being Hollywood’s countryside, fleas were the last things on my mind. Even though the manor is named after [famous Old Hollywood actress], one should never assume. All the neighbors I met there were wonderful people, with the exception of an elderly man that lived on the first floor by the elevator. He had a pet cat when I moved in (which was fine because management allowed it). He was then given another cat as a gift. Then rumor had it that those two cats provided twelve more. When summer came around, you could smell these cats because the heat would carry the scent up to the fourth floor. The management company decided to install an automatic air freshener in the hallway, which made it even worse when the two scents clashed with each other (if you have ever wondered what the word ‘tacky’ smelled like than this was it! This was an aromatic explosion of feline urine with a hint of lavender and citrus mist, and then some more of that pungent urine to finish it off as a reminder that, yes, you are paying monthly for this luxury). This was just the beginning.

Since he lived by the elevator, which was also by the stairs that led to the trash bins in parking garage, everyone passed by his apartment. Everyone also noticed the unbearable stench that penetrated through his front door. Tenants questioned him and not only did they discover the dozen cats living in his four hundred square foot studio, they also found out about two wild possums he had adopted from the trees outside. Finally, more inquiries revealed that the stench originated from one of the possums--it was dead. Management asked him to get rid of it and so he threw it away in the communal trash bin. Shortly after though, the old man must have experienced some sort of separation anxiety because he retrieved the carcass from the trash bin. He was kind enough to use a bucket. Management found out and forced him to throw it away again. He finally got himself together and got rid of his dead possum. During this process a tenant asked him where the other possum was. He said that it had escaped from his apartment and that the last time he saw the possum was when it found its way into the wall space of the building (there were always a couple of holes on the walls for some reason, probably an on-going plumbing fiasco that originated from the 1930s).

Meanwhile, temperature kept rising and I found my legs covered in little bug bites. When I called the management company about the bites and the possibility of fleas, they claimed they were not aware of the issue. The bites eventually turned into blisters, I then had a little fewer than twenty blisters on each foot. Angry, I called management and they finally sent out the exterminator. In a conversation with the exterminator I found out that they had been to the building weeks prior to visiting my apartment and had sprayed the hallways because management called about fleas. They sprayed the hallways without telling the tenants! Not only was this inconsiderate it also forced the fleas to move into the apartments hence my legs being attacked. They sprayed only units that had approval from the tenant and not the entire building. Management informed me that the problem had been solved. All the while my old blisters scabbed up and new bites formed new ones. Finally, I called management to break out of my lease because I could not stand living there anymore. They returned my phone call and provided an insincere apology. My request to terminate the lease was also denied. One of my neighbors said that from their experience, I was lucky that they even returned my phone call let alone apologize. I decided to call the health department and their representative deemed the place flea infested.

Management finally decided to take me seriously, and do something substantial about the problem. Their solution, however, was not what I had expected. Their solution could have been to spray the entire building, but instead they kicked out the old man. By this time it was already September and my lease was coming to an end. I didn’t know what their solution was yet but regardless I knew I wanted out. I had made arrangements for a new apartment and was not aware that management had evicted the old man. Not until moving day at least. It had started to drizzle and I saw him shove his belongings into his car. Mostly memorabilia of sorts just piled in aimlessly. While my buddies and I packed my over-sized moving truck with the few sleek modern furniture I bought from IKEA, he packed away a lifetime of memories.

In my last contact with management I requested that they waive my rent for my last month--they refused. From what I could remember I think they might have waived the overlapping days because I couldn't move until the weekend (they might have also just subtracted that from my security deposit). The fleabites left scars on my feet and they just started to disappear in the past couple of years. I didn't report them to the Better Business Bureau because I was just so tired of dealing with the issue. To this day, there's still a vacancy sign in front of the building.
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