Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Rant About Elevators and Rents

I haven't had a good rant lately, and I think I'm about due. Bear with me on this one for a while, because it's going to take a while ...

First off, there was an article a while back in the Washington Post about a DC hardware store, a longtime neighborhood landmark, that is closing after 35 years in business because of skyrocketing rent for the store space. The owner noted that his rent has nearly doubled in the last three years, and said that "When the rent is so high, it becomes very hard to make money."

Well, not for everybody. It seems to me that the person who owns the store space is making lots of money. He just makes it by soaking the hell out of his renters, who have to pass the costs on down to their customers who - being at the bottom of the economic food chain - have to eat it because they can't pass their increased living expenses on to anyone else.

Which leads us to my rant about rents and the failures of those who charge them ...

I rent a 10-by-10 foot, non-climate controlled storage space in a local self-storage facility that's part of a nationwide chain. I've been renting this space for a very long time, and one of the most reliable facts of life is that every July, the rent I pay for that space goes up. Last year it went up by $19 per month. This year it went up by $16 per month. Per month, that may not seem so bad, but it works out to a lot of money over the course of a year*.

Now, back in January, 2014, I was taking all of our Christmas decorations back to the storage unit to put away until the following season. I was riding up in the wheezing, creaking freight elevator and happened to notice that the elevator inspection certificate would expire at the end of that month.

I didn't think about that for a while, but when I needed to get some things out of the storage unit a few months later, I noticed that the elevator inspection certificate was still the one that expired the previous January. On the way out, I mentioned it to the on-site manager, who faithfully assured me that the elevator was safe and they were working the issue.

My rent having just gone up, I was a little upset that they couldn't handle something so ordinary (and legally required, per county ordinance) as an elevator inspection, and so I made it a point to check that certificate each month when I went in to pay the rent. Each month, I got the same response - a variation on "don't worry, it's safe, we're working on it."

I was pretty well fed up by the time January 31st of 2015 rolled around, the inspection certificate had been expired for a full year, and I was tired of getting stonewalled by the on-site manager. In March, I sent an e-mail to the company's district manager, asking when the elevator would be inspected and certified safe ... and I enclosed a picture I'd taken of the expired certificate.

I received no response to the e-mail. I told the on-site manager that if I received another rent increase notice and the elevator hadn't been inspected, I'd report the whole thing to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). She made all the right noises and assured me (as she had each month up to that point) that she was keeping the district manager informed, but nothing happened.

Sure enough, at the end of May came the post card from the company, announcing the usual rent increase, effective July 1st. I duly submitted a complaint to the Better Business Bureau, including a copy of my unanswered e-mail to the district manager and a copy of the photo of the expired inspection certificate ... now nearly a year and a half out of date.

The BBB promptly acknowledged receipt of my complaint, and then things went dark for about another two weeks ... at which time I got another e-mail from the BBB, telling me they had referred my complaint to one of their offices in California! I called the local point of contact at the BBB to ask why my local problem was not being handled locally, and he told me that their procedure was to refer all such issues to the BBB office located nearest the home office of the company concerned, which in this case was in Glendale, California.

The issue sat there for another week, at which time the California BBB office sent me an e-mail to tell me they'd assigned a case number, and referred me to their website where I could track the resolution of the issue. Two weeks later, the website announced that the case had been closed ... with no further explanation or information. And, needless to say, no contact from the storage company.

I managed to find a phone number for the local district manager of the storage company, and called him directly. There was, of course, no answer, and so I left a detailed message on the answering machine, giving a brief history of the complaint and noting that he had never responded to my earlier e-mail request for information.

A few days later, the district manager called me back. Here's what he said:

1. He'd only been in the job for a few months, so he couldn't tell me why things were the way they were and he wasn't to blame. He was working with a company to fix the elevator so it would pass the inspection, but the paperwork on display would probably continue to be out of date because the inspectors had to do that part, and he couldn't control how they did their jobs.

2. He had no control over the rent I was charged, which was set at the national level and depended on a lot of factors like the zip code, the space size, proximity of the space to the elevator, the phase of the moon, the latitude and longitude of the Playboy Mansion, and the value in Greek drachmas of five square yards of linoleum**.

3. He told me that although he didn't have the authority to reduce the rent I was being charged, I could pay less if I cancelled the contract for the space I have now, rented a different space of the same size in the same facility for the new renter's introductory price, and moved all my stuff.

I told him that was stupid. His response was the equivalent of a take-it-or-leave-it shrug.

And today - August 19th, 2015 - the elevator inspection certificate has been expired for more than a year and a half, in which time my rent has been raised twice and I've been casually farted off by both the storage company and the Better Business Bureau ... which is supposed to be looking out for my interests, ha, ha.

But that's life in a capitalist system. If the GOP should win the next election and keep kissing the backsides of big business interests, there'll be no point in complaining about rising prices, lousy customer service, or jobs shipped overseas, because when the ruling party worships at the festooned altar of the Holy Church of the Mystical Job Creator***, Joe Consumer is completely unimportant and beneath notice.

Unless, of course, he's late with his rent ... in which case he gets plenty of notice.

And my rent will continue to go up every July, whether or not that elevator is ever repaired and inspected.

End of rant. I'll let you know if the elevator is ever fixed.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* The obvious solution, of course, is to get rid of most of the stuff that's stored there. Unfortunately, for a lot of reasons that's not an option.

** He really didn't put it that way, but his explanations made about as much sense.

*** Let me hear you say, "Hallelujah!" ... then look around for all those jobs they're supposed to have created.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

Amazing! And what happens if the elevator breaks down due to nonfunctioning. It seems that the city safety inspectors or the fire marshal need to get involved. Why aren't they following through?

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I live a lot of this daily. Fun eh?
What I don't get is the irresponsible so called manager who you spoke with. I don't care if you are only on the job for the last 24 hrs not giving a shit or stating that you just started are only excuses. How about pretending you give a rats ass and look into this and get back to me with a real answer? No one really cares about their jobs anymore, no cares about providing service to anyone, no one cares for anything except instant fame on social media and money. Aargh! Thank you for my rant. :-)

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer said...

The new manager needs his ass kicked, not that I'm advocating violence.

Anonymous said...

Owners of rental properties often plan to raise the rent gradually by assuming that the disgusted renter might be annoyed, but not enough to go through the process of moving.

Anemone said...

That's a rip-off!

rashbre said...

I remember when customer service and retention were a goal. Now it seems to be more about ciutsomer inertia, i.e. assume they are too busy to notice they are being ripped off.

As an aside, why not ask if you can cancel and restart in the same space? Say you won't tell anyone you've done it. Saves them the hassle and you get what you need. Except the elevator being fixed.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

That's so wrong! If you have a heavy load or an outsided package, what do you do?

allenwoodhaven said...

Sounds like someone needs to get injured and then file a lawsuit. THAT might get their attention!

Mike said...

What about the local entity that inspects the elevators? Start raising hell with them.

Bilbo said...

Mike, the county outsources elevator inspections to a private company ... which also did not return my calls.