By Tony Deyal
I live in a rented house and like Andy Capp I can hear the landlord shouting loudly, “Rent.” Like Andy, the word “Spent” comes into my mind but instead of shouting it, I feel it. I am totally and completely spent, much of it from dealing for the past eleven months with a landlady. I have lived in about 30 OPHs (Other People Homes) in five countries – Canada, the US, Barbados, Belize, Antigua; and of course, Trinidad.
I only owned two houses in the 30 years I was mostly on the road. The first one I had to break down and sell the land. The second is one I have to build back up, a process that is now taking place at great cost, time, and prayer that the weather will improve and make Bret leave the Caribbean, head into the Atlantic, and become un-Don together with Emily and all the others.
My landlady, who is more a Never-done than a Don, was upset that I kept demanding that she repair the air-conditioners that were not working properly from the first day I entered the house. I emphasised my rights as a tenant that are set out in the agreement which we both signed. Who tell me to say so? Worse, I had sent pictures of the flood that had damaged my car and locked us up in the house while my son had to wait for hours in a nearby mall. She had assured me that there were no floods in that street.
Worse yet, I had sent her two articles on the “Crime Spree” and “Heinous Crime of Home Invasion” in our area. She fired back a rhetorical question, “Is this meant for me?” and followed it with some hard talk on the phone. When I replied, “As a tenant, I have my rights and you have no right to speak to me with threats…I am not a slave.” She grabbed me in the short and curly, or at least thought she did with, “You are a writer and you obviously love to write!” She then added some other aggressive stuff. I replied very nicely, “I am a writer and I do love to write. Unlike you, I won’t tell you what you are and what you might love to do.”
Instead of keeping cool and quiet, she took a different approach. She wrote out what she wanted from me and then at the end put in questions demanding, “A simple yes or no to my questions will suffice for a start. We are not going to make any progress otherwise.” She did that twice and I ignored her because I did not want to tell her my favourite “YES” and “NO” story that caused me to break down a courthouse. I was saving it for you, my readers. I am sure my Landlady doesn’t know or ever heard the calypso composed by Winsford Devine and sung by King Austin. If she did she would have chosen another calypso like “Mama Ban Youh Jaw”.
Essentially, as she will find out, “The Price of Progress is High.” What is even higher is the hard talk I gave a lawyer when he was questioning me in a matter where I was a witness for the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) against the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) where I was once the Corporate Secretary. I actually broke the house down, but fortunately for my Landlady, not hers.
While I regret making the Lawyer the laughing stock of the people present, including a member of his family, the fact is that this lawyer had represented the WICB against me in a matter where I was fired for standing up to the president for trying to use the company’s money for his own house. It was not so much the last straw as the last piece of concrete, steel and furniture, or what my Aunty Moon used to call “funny chairs”.
The lawyer was asking question after question and I kept trying to answer each to the best of my ability. He did not want me to explain anything. He demanded, “You have to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.” After the third time, I had more than enough. I told him nicely, “There are some questions that cannot be answered as ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. For example, “Have you stopped beating your wife? Answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.” Then I raised my voice and thundered, “Have you stopped beating your wife? Answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’!” Almost everyone present was in tears of laughter. The Judge looked me up, down and sideways and then, despite not having a shotgun, he made me shut up and sit down. So when my Landlady asked me to say “Yes” or “No” she didn’t know what she was letting herself in for.
Fortunately for her I have the greatest respect for her husband and said nothing. It was a payback to him because when we once asked him how he dealt with his wife he admitted that he kept both his ears and mouth shut.
In the rest of the Caribbean people, and not just their mouths, are being shut or kicked out of the places they’re renting. Some of these are as costly as they are squalid. Right now, most of the Caribbean countries are losing the middle class mainly because the rich are getting richer and the poor, who will eventually become everybody else, are getting much poorer by the minute, faster even that the birth-fate in Niger (47.28 per 1000 people) or China which has the world’s biggest population. In Jamaica, according to one newspaper, there are “Tenants from hell” and “Landlords flouting laws by barring families with children as tenants.”
In Barbados, a newspaper article on, “ To protect rights of everyone” mentioned, “The relationship between landlords and tenants in Barbados has always been strained due to the fact that there are some unscrupulous persons who take advantage of the rules to the detriment of others. This could lead to unnecessary homelessness, inability to pay bills, damage to property along with verbal and physical altercations.”
Generally, landlords and landladies are not much liked. Sociologist, Matthew Desmond, put it very clearly, “Poverty is a relationship that involves a lot of folks, rich and poor alike. I was looking for something that brought a lot of different people in a room. Eviction does that….” US Democrat, Nydia Velazquez, stressed, “Too often, the landlord-tenant relationship is unbalanced with all the power on the side of unscrupulous landlords.”
It is why there are so many landlord and landlady jokes like, “What do cuckolds and landlords have in common?” Neither of them wants to give you your deposit back. Or, “What’s the difference between a landlady and a pit bull?” Lipstick. Then there is one that is for game players, “What is a landlady’s favourite game to play?” Monopoly. The toughest, roughest one of all is, “Do you know how to save a drowning landlord?” Take your foot off his head.
*Tony Deyal was last heard responding to a question from his son, “Daddy. What would you say when you’re leaving this place you’re renting?” Namaste.