The Ice Gods are Angry

At 11am yesterday morning, I received a call from one of the tenants at my Ware St rental property -- their bathroom water didn't work. 😯

I called my bro, confirmed there were no major leaks in the basement, then proceeded to drive to Lowell (from Cambridge). When I arrived, I figured out where the pipes for that unit go up from the basement. I then hooked up an electric space heater, using some metal wire I found on the floor to hang the heater so it blows right on the pipes. About 30 minutes later, I heard a gushing sound -- the ice cleared. I turned the heat on high in the vacant unit where the pipes ran through, so hopefully that won't happen again. I drive back to Cambridge, and arrive at 2:30pm.

Then at 5:20pm, I get another call -- this time from the first floor tenant at my Bowers St property. He says water is pouring out from his kitchen and bathroom ceiling. My stomach drops as I recall the last time this happen and the damage cost me $16k to repair. I told the tenant over the phone, how to turn off the water main, so the water would stop coming out of the broken pipe. After driving through rush hour traffic, I finally arrived around 6:30pm. While I was en route I called a plumber -- he arrived at Bowers St few minutes before I did. He fixed the broken pipe -- a tiny 4 inch section of copper pipe -- then proceed, with my help, to check the rest of the house for possible leaks. Luckily there were none. He charged me $398.96 and left.

Thankfully, there was not very much water damage. The kitchen counter, cabinets, and part of the bedroom were soaked, but the rest of the kitchen and most of the bathroom were spared. The tenant's TV was ruined, which I'll have to pay to replace, but it was nothing fancy, just a basic 27" tube TV. The baseboard electric heater I installed in the hallway a few months ago (specifically to avoid a problem like this) was on high for the past few days, however, people visiting the tenant on the third floor kept leaving the hallway door open -- even though there are two big signs that say "KEEP THE DOOR CLOSED!". Maybe I need to write the signs in 10 other languages.

I decided to install a door closer before I went back to Cambridge, as I don't want to risk this happening again. First I went to Ware St to get my cordless drill from my brother and while I was there, he told me he wants to start painting the vacant 1 bedroom unit in Ware St tomorrow.

9:00pm - I drive to the Nashua Home Depot (in tax-free NH), buy the door closer, two five-gallon buckets of white interior flat latex paint, a box of ceiling tiles (for the tenant to replace the water damaged ones in Bowers St), and two weather strips (for the doors at Ware St -- lots of cold air blows in through the bottom). $183.

10:20pm - Back in Lowell, I drop off the paint and weather strips to my brother at Ware St, then drive to Bowers St to install the door closer. I realize I don't have the drill bit that I need... where did I leave it? Cumberland Rd? Ware St? The factory (the building our family business runs out of)?. Bah, I don't remember, so I drive to Cumberland Rd. Nope. Drive to the factory. Yes! Drive back to Bowers St and spend 30 minutes installing the door closer. The door closer works -- but now there's a problem with the door closing tightly. The door closer isn't strong enough to close the door all the way. I have to modify the door frame to make the door close better -- another 30 minutes of work. I decide to do it later, maybe even this weekend. At least this way the door will never be left open.

12:20am - Arrive back home in Cambridge and write this post before heading to bed.

"Hey, I'm from Portsmouth, NH. My truck broke down and.."

I had to go back to Lowell today for an appointment and while I was there one of my tenants on Cumberland RD (third floor) called. They told me their water wasn't working [insert flashbacks of a few weeks ago]. Panicking, I rushed to Cumberland RD and checked the basement -- no leaks. I went to the first floor -- no leaks. Then I discovered the problem. The first floor apartment has a broken window in one of the bedrooms. With the 40+ mph winds we've been having, the temperature of that bedroom was probably 20 degrees. To make things worse, the water pipes for the third floor apartment run behind the walls in that bedroom. When the carpets were recently pulled up (to be replaced) a section of the water pipes were exposed, through a small crack along the floor.

I stapled some trash bags over the window to prevent the wind from coming in, turned on a portable electric heater, and then turned on another portable electric heater in the basement under those pipes. I also turned on the gas furnace for the first floor (it wasn't on because it costs me ~$70 per day to keep it running!). After about an hour, the ice in the pipes melted and luckily there were no leaks.

Afterwards, I stopped at the Bowers St property to make sure the hallway heater was on high. As I was leaving, a guy approached my truck and said: "Hey, I'm from Portsmouth, NH. My truck broke down and I'm trying to get to Boston. I have $19 and I need $36 for the train and a cab..." -- I stopped him right there. I heard this exact same story from someone a few weeks ago, who also approached my truck as I was leaving one of my other properties. I mean come on people, at least be creative.

My Naked Body and Money

We all need it. Some of us need more than others because we refuse to live a lifestyle less than what we've already become accustomed to -- usually a lifestyle we were born into. What does it take to change your lifestyle to one that requires less? You'd think it would be rather simple, right? It should be simple -- how many different "things" do you actually use on a daily basis? Take a minute to think about it and add them up in your head: everything you use during an average day.

OK, now think about everything you own; down to the pen on your desk, toothbrush in your bathroom, even the clothes you're wearing, stuff in your closet and that shoe box under your table. Imagine your body stripped naked and piled next to you is all the stuff that belongs to you; clothes, electronics, cars, houses, tools, food, everything.

I don't know about you, but wow, that’s a pretty big pile next to me! Holy crap. How much of that stuff do I really use? I mean, if I were to actually use each thing for 1 minute, it would probably take me a couple of weeks, if not months, to use them all! There are several things, namely services, I couldn't even include in that pile: my cable TV service, Internet service, propane gas, auto gas, cell phone service, email and web hosting services -- the list goes on! If I were to take all of the physical infrastructure required for my services to exist and add them to that pile, the size of the pile would grow exponentially!

So I think I've made my point: there's a lot of stuff we own, and clutter our life with, that we don't actually need. OK, so that's not going to change overnight. I justify a lot of what I own by telling myself it would be stupid to sell it all at a loss, when the smarter choice would be to reduce what's unnecessary and maintain the rest. My three investment properties are a good example. As much of a struggle as it is to keep them, I know that in the long run they will solidify my financial future. Selling them now would cause me to loose money and I'd gain nothing in the long run (besides maybe some peace of mind, but that's a whole other post in and of itself).

My recent (or rather continuing) financial troubles have made me rethink a lot about what I own and what I need to live. I have observed how habits are what cause much of the unnecessary spending (Starbucks) and discovered that breaking those habits can be incredibly difficult. Instead of breaking them, simply reducing their frequency seems to be the best solution. I feel that my spending habits have reached a turning point, a roller coaster resting at the crest of a track, inching towards the long drop into the trough.

When I'm in a tight spot and I don't have enough money to pay bills, I'm constantly thinking about what I can do make more money. I've been brainstorming for the past few months about what could be done in my spare time to bring in extra cash. I ask myself, what makes a successful person and what have they done to become successful? I know for a fact that hard work makes people successful. But in this world of changing technologies and "work" that doesn't require any physical labor, there is something to be said about those who simply outsmart the masses -- who use their brains and figure out how to make money by using the tools technology has created; namely the Internet.

A friend of mine, who is several years younger than I, has come up with a business model that works very well. He's making 2x - 3x as much money as I, working only a few hours a week. Compare that to my 75+ hour work weeks and you'll probably be dying to know what he's doing. Without going too much into detail, I can say that his business model works on a simple principle: bridging the technological generation gap between those who grew up without the Internet and those who use it for almost every aspect of their lives. There's a generation of people whose only source of news comes from the daily newspaper. And then there's the generation who uses the Internet on a daily basis and has possibly never bought a newspaper. The latter being a generation whose lives move at the speed of light, with information in many different forms, pouring in from every direction.

At the end of the day, I don't take any money with me to bed. I don't go to sleep with my car, computer, food, auto gas, or for that matter my house. I sleep in my house, but might I might as well be sleeping in a cardboard box. When I wake up, I wake up with nothing but the skin on my bones. I need a safe shelter to sleep in, yes, but even shelter is a lifestyle item we've grown accustomed to having. I know many people who could not live in a basement -- I do, and I have no problem with it. For the past 6 years I have lived in either a basement or an attic, mainly because I don't see the point in wasting money on a full size apartment when I can save money in something smaller (living at my parents house would simply be taking advantage of those to whom I already owe my very existence, so that's out of the question).

When I was sitting in the 2 bedroom apartment of one of my rental units, I felt for a moment a sense of luxury. There was nothing luxurious about the place (luxurious, that is, to the average person living in the USA), but I felt as if that small 2 bedroom apartment was so beautiful, with all the light coming through the full size windows, high ceilings that I wasn't able to reach up and touch, and a full size living room with separate, closed off bedrooms. I then realized it felt so luxurious to me because I've been living a lifestyle which doesn't have those luxuries. Instead, I have learned to live with the open style basement or attic apartments, with low ceilings and few windows. I finally understood how grateful the people who actually have to live in cardboard boxes feel about simply having a solid roof above their heads.

The more I understand the driving force behind money, the more disgusted I become with myself and all that is wasted. If a human life is the standard with which we measure the value of material things, where does that leave the person who consumes the equivalent of 100 humans? Does that make the person morally obligated to support the very existence of that number of people? And if he doesn't directly support them does that mean he is committing, on a daily basis, one of the worst crimes known to man -- murder?

Don't piss on my floor

I was asked a few weeks ago, by one of my tenants, to rent the vacant first floor apartment underneath them for their birthday party. I hesitated at first, because I know parties can mean lots of trouble, but I really needed the money. The carpets were going to be replaced anyway so I didn't care what they did to them. I only asked that the walls stay clean, that there's no trouble with the police, and that they don't cause any problems with the neighbors.

Also, with all the extra weight from the people attending the party I became worried about the stability of the floor joists for the first floor. I noticed a lot of extra cracking and sagging in the joists and walls after all the water damage a couple of weeks ago. So just to be safe I bought two heavy duty 8' temporary lolly columns and propped up the floor underneath the sagging spots.

When I came home tonight I found a leak coming from upstairs. It was coming from one of the drain pipes; one that I knew needed to be replaced but had been avoiding doing so for a long time. It was an old iron pipe that was rusted pretty badly, now badly enough allow water to leak through. I had a 1" pool of water on my basement floor, but luckily there was no additional water damage.

I had been worried there would be another leak in the pipes above where I installed a 3' electric baseboard heater, so a few days ago I inquired with my dad about what would happen if water fell on it. As my dad and I suspected, nothing happen. Of course I wasn't taking any chances of being electrocuted by 240 volts and turned off the breaker as soon as I got there. After sucking up the water with my shopvac, I went to Home Depot and bought a couple of fittings, sawed off part of the iron pipe (went through two blades because I all I had were the blades for thinner metal) and replaced the remaining section with newer PVC piping. Then I discovered another leak -- this time coming through the ceiling tiles above my bed.

It was piss (yes, urine) -- dripping down onto my bed. I went upstairs to find a 4x6' section of the floor soaked with piss. Are these people fucking stupid? There's a working bathroom and two doors to go outside. Some people really have no respect for other peoples' property. I mean come on, its a fucking house.

I'm never doing that again.

Independent Thoughts
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Two down, two to go

I got a gym membership at Golds Gym, about a 10 minute drive from my apartment and office in Cambridge. The best thing about it is that it's open 24 hours Monday - Friday. Now I need to figure out weekly workout schedule that will fit my day-to-day activities. No excuses. The longer I wait, the more I'll wish I started earlier when summer arrives.

I received the gas bill for my Cumberland RD property, the one in which two rental units have gas included in the rent (there's only one gas meter). Total due? $1,358. I read the meter in the basement and compared it to the last meter read on the bill to figure out how much gas has been used since that bill. I figured out that between January 24th and January 28th (4 days), $130 worth of gas was used. Damn! How the hell am I going to afford this? I'm going to tell the tenants they have to pay 1/4 of the utilities.

I canceled the digital cable package, which is also included in those two unit's rent. It was costing me $75 a month! I have basic cable in my apartment in Cambridge and I get 75 channels for $10. When the cable guy came by to change the cable to basic, he said Lowell only gets 14 channels with basic cable. Blah. The tenants can either deal with the basic cable or pay $25 a month each for the digital package.

I received the electric bill for my apartment in Cambridge. There are three electric baseboard heaters that heat the entire basement -- and they do a damn good job heating it. I feared the the electric bill was going to cost a fortune because I had the heat running most of the time, however, to my surprise the bill was only $120!

After what happen with the water pipes freezing on Cumberland road last week, I've been paranoid that it will happen again. So I turned on the furnace and set the thermostat to its lowest setting; 50°F. However, after I received that $1300 gas bill, I knew I had to figure something else out. So I decided to install a small 3' electric heater on the hallway wall, right under all the water pipes in the basement. I'm starting to really like the idea of electric heat. This weekend I'm going to install a 4' or 8' electric baseboard heater near the bedroom area in my basement. Hopefully I will be able to do away with gas heat entirely! I'm curious to see how much the electric baseboard heaters effect my electric bill.

With all these energy problems, I was looking into solar energy options and found a really cool company called CitizenRu. Basically they will come and install an entire solar energy system, and maintain it, for free. You give them a $500 deposit, sign a contract (1 year, 5 year, or 25 year) and they will hook the solar panels up to your current electrical system. The thing is, they charge you for the solar electricity you use, however they lock in the current electric rate for the entire term of your contract -- so you never pay more than you would if you didn't use the solar energy. Since electricity prices go up over time, you would eventually be saving money because you'd have locked in the electric rate for the entire term of your contract (obviously the most savings come from the 25 year contract). It's an ingenious way of getting people to start using solar energy, at no additional cost to the consumer.

Although this specific solution doesn't appeal to me, I do love the idea of setting up solar panels on the roof's of my properties to at least take some load off the electric heat and common electric meters.

I finally finished the two 2 bedroom apartments on Ware Street. I need to take pictures. I sold my Nikon Coolpix P1 point-and-shoot digital camera to David, and plan to buy a Olympus Stylus 770 SW for its rugged, go anywhere ability. I also was able to rent both of the apartments on Ware street, so now I only have two vacant units; a 1 bedroom on Ware ST and the 2 bedroom on Cumberland RD. Both will require time and money to finish and I don't have either right now. I plan to have at least the 2 bedroom ready and rented by March 1st and the 1 bedroom by April 1st.

Posiden, have mercy!

The past few days have been quite eventful -- so much so that I haven't had time to write about them until now. Lets see how well my memory serves me:

Tuesday (01/16)
While I was at work in Cambridge, my tenant on Bowers street called and told me their kitchen water wasn't working. They told me their bathroom water was fine, but not the kitchen. I really didn't want to have to drive all the way back to Lowell if it wasn't a big problem, but I wanted to make sure it wasn't something major; like a broken water pipe. So I called my Dad to see if he was nearby and luckily he was. He stopped by Bowers st and then called and told me there was no major leaks anywhere, but the hallway was pretty cold. He knocked on the door for the second floor (the tenant who called me) and checked the kitchen sink pipes. They were frozen! Crap, not again. My Dad plugged in an electric heater in the basement and left it running.

After work, I decided to drive back to Lowell, stop at Home Depot , pick up an electric baseboard heater and then install it in the hallway at Bowers St. When I arrived, the hallway was nice and warm from the electric heater my Dad turned on. So before I started installing the baseboard heater, I checked with the second floor tenants to see if their water was working yet. I turned on the sink and only a little bit of water started coming out. I tried the hot water and after leaving it on for a few seconds it slowly started gushing out. The ice must have just cleared the pipes. Whew!

It was my first time installing a baseboard heater and the directions were incredibly bad. I used a 12/2 wire, which is able to carry the 240 volts the heater requires. I hooked it up to a 20 amp breaker in the basement that had nothing but a single GFI outlet attached to it, so I figured there would be more than enough power available. The first time I turned it on, it shorted and the breaker tripped. Doh, thank god for smart breakers. I changed the wiring to the thermostat on the heater and flipped the breaker on again. This time it stayed on. However, when I turned the thermostat to high, the heater only felt warm. Ah, it was 11:45pm and I had to drive back to Cambridge and be up early for work the next morning. So I left it the way it was, and prayed the pipes didn't freeze again.

Wednesday (01/17)
Worked in Cambridge. I can't remember if I went back to Lowell later in the evening, or even specifically what I did on Wednesday.

Thursday (01/18)
I was able to take a break from work and spend Thursday and Friday working on the apartments. The second floor tenant on Bowers street referred someone to me who was looking for an apartment. I showed him the Ware st apartment and he liked it. He said he would like to move in next Wednesday and I told him it would be ready.

After the scare with frozen pipes at Bowers St, I decided to check the vacant 1st floor unit on Cumberland Rd, right upstairs from the finished (er, work-in-progress) basement where I live when I come back to Lowell. I don't leave the heat on when I go to Cambridge for the week, because it would cost me a fortune. I'm already struggling financially, so I need to save wherever I can. When I checked the kitchen on the first floor unit, I found ice coming out of the faucets... not a good sign at all. So I turned on the heat and drove to Ware St to work on the vacant units. I called my Dad and mentioned ice in the faucets on Cumberland Rd. When I told him I turned on the heat he was concerned, because he thought I was going to leave the heat on and return to Cambridge for the day. I explained that I was working on the houses in Lowell all day and that I would be in the area to go back to Cumberland Rd every few hours and check for leaks.

Two hours had passed since I turned on the heat in Cumberland Rd and my Dad's concern made me concerned. I was going to stop at LifeAlive and get something to eat for lunch but decided to first check on the pipes at Cumberland Rd to make sure nothing was leaking. I opened the door to my basement apartment and found a downpour inside. Water was pouring down from the ceiling; all over the kitchen I built, half the bathroom, all over my pile of tools, over electric junction boxes, wires, everywhere! Instinctively I ran to the main water shutoff and turned it off. Then I bolted upstairs to look at the first floor unit, expecting the worst. A few weeks ago I spent over $1400 having the entire place repainted and if I had to spend even more money on that unit, it was going to kill me.

Luckily the water damage in the leaking unit was minimal. I must have arrived less than 10 minutes before the leak started, because with the amount of water that was pouring out, it could have been MUCH worse. A few years ago when I had a huge broken water pipe incident at Bowers st, it was uneven floors in all three units that saved me over $70k in extra damage to the units. Starting from the middle of the kitchen and going to the back wall where the bathrooms are, the floor sloped down. This kept the majority of the water out of the rest of the house. The same thing happen on Cumberland RD. The floors in the kitchen and bathroom all slope down to one spot, which kept the water out of the rest of the house. Who knew uneven floors could be a good thing!?

I spent the following 5 hours, basically the rest of the day, fixing pipe after pipe. I found one leak, fixed it, turned on the water, heard the waterfall start again, turned off the water and looked for the next leak. Thankfully there's an ACE hardware store a few blocks from Cumberland Rd. I must have gone there over a dozen times -- the employees kept saying "Back again!?". Eventually they stopped saying anything and simply nodded at me and smiled. I spent my evening cleaning up the water damage. Luckily I had moved most of my tools to Ware St, so nothing electronic and expensive was ruined. I had to toss out a big carpet and throw away some food, but overall I was very lucky. It could have been raw sewage instead of clean water!

Friday (01/19)
I went to Home Depot and asked someone from the electric department what kind of breaker I needed for an electric baseboard heater. I brought the 20 amp breaker from the breaker box with me, because I knew the breakers are specific to the boxes they go in. The guy took one look at it and said that wouldn't work for a baseboard heater and that I needed a double-pole breaker. He handed me the double-pole breaker, which looks like two 20 amp breakers stuck together, said that's what I needed and walked away, as if he didn't want to have anything to do with answering any extra questions I may have. So I walked over to the area with all the do-it-yourself books. I picked up an electronics book and turned to the page on installing baseboard heaters. Argh! It wasn't any more help than the damn good-for-nothing directions included with the heater and the thermostat!

I stuck the double-pole breaker in the box, and attached the black wire to one of the two breakers. Hmm, no change in the temperature of the heater. I tried a couple of different wiring configurations with the thermostat, but nothing helped. I don't have time for this, and its not freezing outside anymore, so I shouldn't have to worry about the pipes for the next few days. I went to Ware ST and spent the rest of the day working on the vacant units over there.

Saturday (01/20)
I scheduled several computer related appointments for Saturday morning, starting at 9:30am. They ended up lasting longer than I'd expected, so I didn't even finish until 2pm. Afterwards, I worked on Ware st.

Sunday (01/21)
One computer related appointment in the morning, which was quick, and then spent the rest of the day working on Ware St. Installed some much needed lights in the basement of Ware St and got the electric stove in the first floor rear unit working. Installed vinyl shades on the windows of the unit for which I have tenants moving in on Wednesday. I was surprised that new vinyl shades at home depot were only $4 a piece! I was expecting something closer to $15.

Headed back to Cambridge late Sunday evening.

Monday (01/22)
Spent the day working in Cambridge -- had an off-site deployment and training to attend -- and later in the evening I went back to Lowell to check on Bowers street to make sure the hallway wasn't too cold. I had to stop at Cumberland road and get something, and I realized there was an electric baseboard heater in the first floor unit. I looked at the breaker box in the basement to checked how it was wired. To my amazement, but at the same time confirming what I had suspected, both the white and the black wires were connected to the double-pole breaker; one to each lead.

I went back to Bowers street, attached the white wire to the second breaker on the double-pole breaker, changed the wiring on the thermostat to how I had originally wired it, flipped the breaker on, turned up the thermostat, and voila! Now it felt like a heater! I had searched Google for wiring directions earlier in the day and found nothing but other people asking the same question! I'll see if I can post a wiring diagram tomorrow for anyone else who might be having the same problem as I did.

Work myself to sickness

Well the past few days have been interesting enough to finally set aside 20 minutes and write a post before I go to bed. I spent Saturday working on my sisters new house with my dad. I obtained some rather large blisters on the palms of my hands (which by the way looked a lot like stigmata) from scraping up old tiling on the kitchen floor with an ice chipper (!?). I did not realize how much concrete dust I was breathing in until I was all done. There was a pack of new dust masks sitting on the kitchen counter the whole two hours I was working.

Sunday morning I woke up and had a really bad sore throat -- you know, the kind you get when it hurts to swallow. That was my first signal that I was about to get sick. Also, all of my joints started aching, as if they had been under huge physical stress. By Sunday evening, I was really starting to feel out of whack. I was shivering non-stop, I couldn't get warm enough, my stomach was turning, head hurt like hell (behind the eyes), throat hurt, every muscle in my body was sore -- even coughing hurt my abdominal muscles. I hate that feeling -- the feeling as if my entire body was falling apart.

When I woke up on Monday morning, I felt sick, but not sick enough to skip going into Cambridge. Monday evening I worked out, even though I still felt pretty sick. Working out usually makes me feel better, so I figured what the hell. I didn't feel any better afterwards, but I didn't feel any worse either. After my workout I went to my sisters house again to work with my dad. I screwed down the concrete backer board for the tile floor. I put in about 800 screws (with a drill, of course). Bending over like that for two hours really puts a toll on your back!

It probably doesn't help that my basement gets pretty cold at night (around 45 - 50 degrees), which I'm sure weakens my immune system even more than the small amount of sleep I've been getting (5 - 6 hrs a night, even on weekends). I've decided to try and get at least 6 - 7 hrs of sleep every night, and sleep extra on the weekends. Also drinking more tea!

A Dirty Job

Well yesterday the main drain pipe in my Bowers street property clogged and caused the basement to flood with sewage. I had a plumber fix the problem, but I was still left with a basement full of sewage, which smelled badly and would become a huge health risk if I didn't have it cleaned. The longer I waited, the harder it would be to clean. So I called a few places and got some estimates; they all wanted at least $800.

There is no way I have $800 to spend, not after spending $420 to fix the plumbing problem. So I decided to do it myself. A shop vac, gloves, a hose, and my brother were all I needed. Ravi and I started at 7:00pm, but Ravi had leave at 8:30, so I worked until 10:30pm and got most of it finished (80%). The rest I will finish Friday morning.

I was surprised how much I didn't mind the dirty work once I had got started. The smell was only bad when I first entered the basement. A few seconds later my nose adjusted and I couldn't smell anything. I understand now how people can do the jobs that others would think are horrible; its really its nothing more than a job. Just as fear is mostly created in our head, disgust and the thought of filth are largely overplayed in our head as well. The pictures are pretty graphic, so I'll only post one, but you can see the rest here.

As Ravi commented, it was a Dirty Jobs moment when I mumbled to myself "I will never look at shit the same way again...".

Bowers Street Main Stack Clogged

The third floor tenant in my Bowers street property called me while I was at work today. He said that there was sewage flooding the basement and that it smells really bad.


So when I arrived in Lowell tonight I went straight to Bowers street. As I entered the basement it smelled as if I was entering a sewer. I walked into the basement to find 60% of the floor covered in 1" of liquid feces, brown colored and all. I laid down some things to walk on and checked the main stack. It looked like it was coming from below the house... where the main stack connects to the street sewer pipe. Hmm...

I don't have the time or the tools to deal with this, so I called Roto-Rooter, an emergency plumbing service I've used in the past. They told me they would have someone out there within two hours, so I went to the factory and completed the workout for today.

An hour and a half later, the plumber called me. He told me it was going to be $420. Blah. I needed to get it fixed ASAP. Fourty-five minutes later he's done; $420 for fourty-five minutes worth of work! I keep telling myself that it would have taken me a lot longer had I tried doing it myself, because I don't have all the fancy tools and gadgets he had. It's so hard for me to spend money on something that I know I could do myself.

I guess sometimes you have to know when to outsource.

Ware Street Health Department Notice

A few weeks ago, approximately one week after I evicted the tenants from the first floor front unit, I arrived to find a notice from the health department stuck on the front door:


First of all, the unit they went into was vacant and locked, so they must have broken in to gain access to the inside. Secondly, there were no debris around the building -- I had spent over an hour cleaning up the entire yard only a few days prior. Improper wiring on the outside of the building? How is the cable TV and telephone wire my problem? That's the cable and phone company's problem! How is damaged siding a health issue? Side door improperly secured?? It's a brand new door with a brand new lock and deadbolt! Front door damaged? Yes its damaged and I'm going to replace it as soon as I start renovating that unit. The rest of the list refers to things inside the unit that I'm going to renovate and in the meantime, no one is living there -- so why is there such an urgency to repair them for "health reasons"?

I requested a hearing to dispute the claims and after a week or so, I received a letter with the hearing date:

The 8th was this past Wednesday. I went to the health department and met with the health inspector. He told me they were under the impression that someone was still living there and that was why they gave the notice. When I told him I was renovating the place he understood and told me not to worry about the notice. He also told me to get a vacancy permit from him after I'm done the renovations and before I rent the apartment.

I've decided not to sell the Ware Street property and instead put about $10,000 into it and get it rented. I'm replacing two furnaces, one hot water tank, redoing all the plumbing in the basement (the pipes are in very bad condition), fixing several broken windows, replacing old single-pane windows, replacing a couple of doors, buying a couple of new appliances, remodeling two kitchens and one bathroom, and fully renovating (kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedroom) the first floor one bedroom unit -- $2500 is my budget for the entire renovation of that unit.

My goal is to have the two vacant two bedroom units finished and rented by December 1st and the one bedroom unit fully renovated and rented by January 1st. I'm doing most of the renovations myself, however I'm going to hire contractors do the furnaces, plumbing, and windows. I'll post updates on the progress of all this stuff as it happens.

Cumberland RD Update

Here are a few pictures of the on-going work of the Cumberland RD unit, which previously had a tenant whom I had evicted. Steve Stairs, the contractor doing the work on the unit, charged me $2,400 to strip all the old wallpaper from the walls, patch several areas of the sheetrock, paint everything (including the ceiling), paint the moldings and part of the bathroom a separate color, replace an entire bedroom wall with new sheetrock (the old wall was falling apart too badly to simply patch), replace the front door with a solid door, and replace two bedroom doors. I will post new pictures as soon as he finishes.

Over the weekend I took some pictures of an old police car and some birds taking a bath. DJT, I thought you might like the police car. 🙂

53 Ware Street Eviction Evidence

This morning I met with the Lowell building inspector, Mr. St. Hiliare. He emphasized that I have a huge problem to deal with and explained what happened at the property. As I mentioned in my previous post, I explained to him that I was only aware of one incident involving the police. He explained that the Massachusetts law says that he can throw me in jail for a year, vacate the 53 Ware St property, place all the tenants in a hotel for 1 year and make me pay the bill. He also said there is "no way in fucking hell" he is going to put a landlord in jail and a drug dealer in a hotel. So he said as long as I'm willing to work with him, he's willing to work with me. He provided me with evidence to use in court to evict the tenant, George Alicea. First he gave me a news paper clipping to read: Police: Stepmom slashed woman on face in fight. Then he gave me the police report:

As if that wasn’t enough, he also gave me a list of each of the times the police were called to the property since December 2005:

So I called Larry Hickey today and asked if he could serve the 48 hour notice for me. When I told him the street address and the tenant’s name, he said he wasn’t surprised and that he’d dealt with that tenant many times. He went over there today and served the 48 hour notice. Hopefully the tenant will move out and I won’t have to go through the whole court process.

Second eviction in the works

I received a call from the Lowell building inspector, Mr. St. Hilaire. He told me the tenant living in one of my properties, located at 53 Ware St, has been dealing drugs and has constant traffic coming in and out of the building and that there has also been a stabbing, several fights, and numerous arrests. Mr. St. Hilaire also said he has photos of the drug paraphernalia taken inside the property. He said that because I'm the landlord, it's considered "allowing criminal activity on your property" if I don't evict him within 48 hours and that I can face a $1,000 fine or 1 year in jail. He explained that he obviously doesn't want to put a landlord in jail and that he will work with me to have the tenant evicted.

I explained to him that I was only aware of one incident with the police at 53 Ware St and that I was at work when it happen. After work, I called the Lowell Police department to find out what happen and no one knew anything about it. So I left my phone number with them and asked that they call me as soon as they find out what it was about. I never received a call back. I told him that I have absolutely no problem evicting the tenant, and that I will stop by the apartment tonight after work.

On my way home from work, I stopped at 53 Ware St and told George (incidentally, he has the same name as the George who was just evicted from my other property on Cumberland Rd a few days ago) that he has 48 hours to leave. I explained that it's out of my control and that the city wants him out of there immediately. He said a 48 hour eviction was illegal and I told him that it's not illegal if there has been criminal activity on the property and if there is a police report to prove it (which there is). He said he will go to the town hall tomorrow morning and talk to them. Yea, sure you will George.

I have a meeting tomorrow morning with Mr. St. Hilaire. Check back for updates on this developing situation.

That property already has two vacant units, which is costing me $1400 a month in rents. I'll admit that I haven't been doing everything in my power to get them rented and I won't even bother you with an excuse (though I can think of many). As soon as this eviction is through, I'm going to place an AD in the paper and start interviewing people. The biggest problem is the time constraint with interviewi... wait, I said no excuses.

This morning I met with Steve Stairs, the same contractor that worked on the two, currently vacant, units on 53 Ware St. He's going to take care of repairing the Cumberland Rd unit. I really want to replace the old cast iron drain pipes that drain the second floor unit. They leak every once in awhile in the basement, and I can tell they are badly in need of replacement. Now is a good time to replace them with PVC pipes because I can tear apart the wall under the kitchen counter in the first floor to gain access to them. If I decide to do it, I'll do it myself. It's way too costly to pay someone to glue a few pipes together. I could easily do it in an afternoon, on the weekend.

The Nine Month Eviction

After 9 months, George Demasse has finally been evicted. He owes me over $15,000, of which I have been told by both lawyers and the sheriff that I should forget about ever seeing again. If George has nothing of value, and no money in his bank accounts (I don't think he even has a bank account), there is no way for me to get the money back. I already spent $1800 to have him evicted, so I'd rather cut my losses and get the placed fixed up and rented.

The sheriff, Lawrence Hickey, was very helpful. After a couple days of pestering and yelling at George, he finally forced him to move all his stuff into the yard. Being the pathological liar George is, he kept telling Larry that a truck was coming to pick up all his stuff. Larry didn't care and told him to move all his stuff out of the house and into the driveway. He then locked and posted notices on the doors. Larry told me that every time he went into George's place, him and all his friends were so high on coke that they couldn't even walk straight; some of them were even passed out. He called them "hardcore drug users".

When I came home that evening from work, George was outside alone in the rain under a tree, watching to make sure no one stole his big pile of junk, which he had covered with a plastic tarp in attempt to keep out of the rain. The following day, he and the rest of his goons attempted to start the junk car that has been sitting in the driveway for over a year. I heard George saying "we'll be on the road in no time". The following day, the car was still there and him and his pile of junk were gone.

Now comes the task of cleaning out and repairing the apartment. All the trash in the picture below was in the yard and hallway:

You can see additional pictures of the yard, and inside the unit here.

Adding Power and Lights to my Shed

I needed light in my shed and the only way I would be satisfied was if I had real lights, not those dim battery operated ones. Besides, I know having an outlet in the shed to plug things into would be very helpful. I already ran the wire to my door when I installed the outside light, so all I needed to do was get the power 12 feet away to my shed.

First I dug a 14" deep trench between my basement door and shed (sorry, no pics of the trench 🙁 the line in the sand shows where the trench was). Inside that trench I laid metal conduit with an outdoor 12/2 wire inside. Since I might build a summer house next spring, I figured I would take advantage of running the wire and add a CAT5 Ethernet cable along side the power cable. I'm not sure how the power cable will effect the data running on the CAT5 cable, but I had extra CAT5 cable laying around so I ran it anyway.

I used flexible conduit at the basement door and where the wire comes up from the trench into the shed.

After adding a junction box to the ceiling of the basement entrance (power in on the top, on the bottom one wire to outside light, one wire to shed), I added a junction box inside the shed where the wire comes in. I'm going to be adding an outlet later and having the junction box right there will make that a lot easier. I then ran power up to a switch and from the switch up to the florescent light. The switch will control two lights, but I'm only attaching one light for now. I ran the wire for the second light but just wrapped the end with electrical tape.

Once I attached and wired the florescent light to the ceiling joists of the shed, I turned on the breaker in my basement and flipped the switch in the shed.

Another two weeks of rent free living

My lawyer called me today in reference to George Demasse, the tenant that has not paid a single dollar of rent for the past 12 months. He said that George went to the court to get a Stay, basicly something that will allow him to keep living there. The judge gave him until the 31st of this month. My lawyer said he doesn't think the judge will give him any more extensions because of how much money he owes me. So after the 31st, the sheriff will come and kick him out himself.

What's another two weeks when it's been 12 months? I'll tell you what two weeks is; it's $500 worth of rent.

House Hacking

Hacking your own house can be pretty fun. I don't want to incriminate myself on my own blog so I won't go into the details. I may not have any gas, but after 45 minutes, I do have hot water.

    The power of knowledge is not realized until that knowledge
    plays a key role in bridging an otherwise impossible gap.

I was having trouble displaying PNG images in Internet Explorer while cross-browser testing the programming work I'm doing for Aerva. A Google search later and I found this site providing the solution. Very useful if you've ever wondered why PNG images don't maintain their transparency in IE.

I removed the collapse categories plugin I had previously installed for the side bar. I found a page with information on how to use the wp_list_cats() function, which is apart of the standard WordPress installation, to format the category list in a much more useful way. Calling the function with particular options allows you to see all the categories in hierarchal fashion. I used the following options to display the categories as you see them on the right. Just edit your sidebar.php file inside your current theme's directory:


I was tired of not having any light outside my back door at night, so I installed one today. $35 and an hour of running 14/2 wire from a junction box to the back door (yes, the door is dirty. rain + dirt + door = what you see below):

From Bad to Worse

Yesterday I received a call from one of my tenants who told me the gas company was there and that they were shutting off the gas. I asked to speak to the gas technician who was there. He told me that they were turning off the gas for the first floor (George) who owes them a lot of money and hasn't paid his bills. I told him that George is being evicted, so that doesn't surprise me. I told them to make sure they turn off the correct meter and not the meter for the second/third floor. He said they are certain they turned off the correct meter.

I get home later that evening, only to find the hot water tanks for the second and third floor not working. The tenants in the second and third floor call and tell me their gas stoves are not working. Great. The person who's been paying his bills (me) has no gas, while the person who owes all the money (George) still has his gas turned on. So I call the gas company. It's 10:30pm, so the customer service desk is closed. I speak to someone on the emergency desk. After explaining the situation she tells me she will send someone out and they will be here within a few hours. I told her to have them call my cell phone when they arrive so I can bring them into the basement to see the problem. My phone has bad reception in the basement, so rather than risk missing their call, I wait outside in front of my house for them to arrive. Midnight arrives, and still no one. I decide to call back and see if they really are coming tonight. This time I'm told there isn't even any service request entered in! She tells me that the emergency desk it only for gas leaks so she can't do anything for me, and to call back tomorrow morning at 7am and speak to a supervisor. I take a deep breath, and go inside to sleep.

The next morning, I wake up at 7am and call Keyspan. They tell me that the supervisors don't come in until 8am, so I need to call back after 8. I explain what the problem is and then I'm told that there's already a service request that was entered in last night. (?!) I head to the blvd and go for a 25 minute run.

At 8am I give Keyspan another call to speak to a supervisor. I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to speed up the response time for the service call. I'm told that I can't speak to a supervisor and that the most they can do for me is give me a voicemail to leave a message and a supervisor will call me back. Grrrr. So I leave a message.

9:30pm rolls by and finally I receive a call back from a supervisor. I explain my problem and she tells me she will call the dispatch office and have someone come out right away. So I pack my bag for work and sit outside in my truck waiting for Keyspan to show up. By 10:30am I decide I can't wait any longer. I put the key to my basement in a place where the gas technician could get it when he calls me. I drive to the train station and catch the 11:15 train to Boston.

While on the train, the gas technician calls and tells me he's there, but he has no idea what he's doing there. So I explain the situation to him and tell him where the key is. He says he will see what he can do and call me back in a few minutes.

An already bad situation gets worse. Thirty minutes later he calls me back. He says that he cannot turn the gas back on because the gas piping in the basement has not been inspected. He confirmed that the meters were crossed and wrote up a long explanation of the situation to enter in the gas company's computers. He said the customer service department needs to handle switching the meters on the accounts so the correct meter is linked to the correct account.

A Free Bookcase

When one of my tenants moved out, they left behind a nice big wooden bookcase. After disassembling, transporting the pieces to my basement, and then reassembling it (not without some help), I was able to replace the over sized desk I was using as a makeshift TV stand. Now I have a place to store all my books and DVDs as well as extra space in front of the TV. Not bad for a FREE bookcase. 🙂

A Chance to Save $1850

Lisa, the person living upstairs, approached me tonight when I arrived home. She told me she doesn't know when George is getting out of jail and since she can't afford to pay the rent, shes moving out to her mom's house. Great I thought. I just spent $1850 to get her evicted and now she's voluntarily leaving! She said she'll be out by next Friday and wanted to know if I could keep George's latter's for her until he gets out of jail, since they won't fit in the storage space she's renting. I told her I'll keep them until the end of August and if aren't gone by then, I'm selling them.

I'm going to call the lawyer first thing in the morning and tell him what happen. Hopefully I can get all, or at least most of, my money back. It's only been three days since I gave him the check. I just looked at my bank account and it hasn't cleared yet.