Curbed Horror Stories are firsthand reader reports about terrible Greater Boston apartment experiences past and present. This week, in honor of Renters Week 2015, we're having a rental horror story showdown across all Curbed sites, with the winner receiving a staycation. Have a terrible tale to share? It's not too late to submit. Up now: two recent college grads confront a bait-and-switch and seriously bad vibes.
Back in 1996, I had finally graduated from college and was ready to move into a more adult situation with a single roommate. I had a great friend from my job at the BU Bookstore and that spring we set out on the apartment search by stopping at one of the many rental offices on Comm. Ave.
I don't remember much of the search but we finally settled on a lovely two-bedroom apartment on Carol Ave. in Boston. A little farther out than I wanted but I loved the place. It was spacious and had an amazing, large balcony out front that really captured our hearts. It seemed perfect for two young women ready to start "real life."
The summer passed quickly and we were pretty excited to move in. One afternoon in late August, we decided to take a walk over to Carol Ave. and see it again. We hoped to knock on the door and be greeted by a nice person who might let us just peek inside to make sure our couch would fit. If not, no big deal. We couldn't quite remember the apartment number so we stopped by the realtor's office to see the lease. I quickly glanced at the paper, got the address, and we were on our way.
Once we got to Carol Ave. something looked ... off. I had distinctly remembered the front of the building being different. Still, we entered the lobby and went upstairs to the apartment number we had been given at the office. We glanced at each other uneasily. None of it looked familiar. It had been a whole summer since we'd been there last time, but, still, would we really have forgotten what everything looked like?
We went up to the door and I said, "Monica, this isn't the same apartment." We knocked, a young guy in shorts answered, and we explained the situation. He had no problem letting us in. We both immediately knew it was not the apartment we had agreed to rent. Different layout, NO balcony, and one of the "bedrooms" was too small to even fit a single-sized mattress. Neither of us would ever have agreed to that. We left the apartment confused and nervous. Maybe we had gotten the number wrong?
Back at the realtor's office the lease was pulled for us again and this time I looked closely. It was easy to see whiteout over both the street and apartment number on the form. Bait and switch! I started to cry - not like a crazy person, but tears were definitely coming. This new apartment would never work for us, plus we had utterly fallen in love with the original one. We were told that the original apartment had already rented and the agent we were with that day didn't know. So instead of telling us he just ... switched apartments on us. This was utterly mind-blowing to two young kids totally naive to what kind of horrible people were out there in real estate.
The only thing we could think of to do was call our parents. There was a payphone just outside. Monica went first. Turns out her dad was a lawyer. Score! He was absolutely furious and called the office while we sat in chairs and waited. When the call was done we were told that we could get our money back but they warned us that it was almost September and we would almost certainly not be able to find anything else. I pondered that for a moment but the injustice of what had been done to us overruled everything in my mind. We got our deposit checks back and walked out of the office feeling sort of numb. And terrified.
The next 10 or so days were a blur. We called every single realtor in the Allston/Brighton/JP/anywhere area. (Using the phone book!) My mom drove up from Connecticut for a day to help. I remember being laughed at by more than one person. Some just hung up on me. It really was a very difficult experience and I soon wished that we had just taken that stupid small apartment with no balcony.
After a few days of desperate calling we eventually found one sympathetic, human realtor with an office on Harvard Ave. in Allston. He listened to my story and did not laugh or hang up on me. He said, and I remember this clearly, "Oh my god, honey. Oh my god. I'm going to help you somehow. I promise." He warned that there really was almost no inventory anywhere in the city, given the date, but that he would call us back after he checked on something.
He did call back but told us we weren't going to like it. He said it was literally the only open property in all of Allston. I believed him, actually. The problem was that it would not be ready on Sept. 1. We'd have to wait until Sept. 15. The current tenants were being evicted and the landlord needed time to clean the apartment and make some repairs. He said he didn't even want to show it to us because it was so bad inside. He protested vehemently. He said it was the worst he'd ever seen and he didn't want to scare us.
We told him that we were tough and we could take it. That we HAD to see it, if only to just make some logistic plans. We didn't back down and he finally agreed, VERY reluctantly.
We met him at the address on Brighton Ave., just across the street from what used to be the Kells. He brought us up to the third floor and I will never forget what we saw. It became immediately clear why he hadn't wanted us to see it. It was a true horror show.
There appeared to be approximately 10 occupants (based on number of bunk beds) in this small, two-bedroom apartment. Someone who lived there was a hoarder. There was almost no space to walk besides a small path lined with stacks of newspapers piled higher than my head. Our realtor had to use a flashlight! We could sort of see that there was a kitchen around the piles, but most of the counters and stove were obscured by empty soda bottles, take-out containers, magazines, lottery tickets, coffee cups, etc. The walls had holes in them and pieces of the ceiling were crumbling and falling down. The bathroom? Nasty. I could barely look at it.
We made our way into what we were told was the living room. It was dark and musty. There was a path that led to two milk crates set up in front of a TV. A woman was sitting on one watching the TV, totally ignoring us. The entire room was piled HIGH with papers and junk, totally obscuring the windows. It smelled like rot and body odor. It was a grim and devastating scene.
The agent promised it would be 100 percent cleaned and repaired by Sept. 15, and we had to believe him. We signed the lease because it was either that or move back home. But we had jobs and lives in Boston. Our stuff went into storage and we stayed with friends.
Fast forward to Sept. 15 and, just as the realtor had promised, the apartment was empty and "clean," more or less. The stove almost electrocuted me the first day and needed to be replaced, and we discovered an alarming cockroach problem that required a massive extermination, but overall the space was decent by Allston standards. The living room was enormous and filled with light, something we hadn't been able to see before, and we had a stunning view of Boston. We lived there for a year and eventually replaced the crazy memories with normal ones.
I look back and can hardly believe that it actually happened.
· Our Renters Week 2015 archive [Curbed Boston]