It was early February, and Old Man Winter was still pulling his iron-fisted punches. Despite the looming dangers of winter snow storms, I was eager to get the rig on the road.
The only thing keeping me from doing so was a pending landlord tenant hearing for Wade Road with my long-term tenant, Tim. I needed to get this case resolved before I went on the road.
So while I waited earnestly for the hearing, I decided to fly to Dallas to see an old friend – a week to clear my mind and soak up some raw Texas sunshine. Amazingly, that short respite worked wonders – when I regretfully headed home to the frigid beltway, I felt refreshed and reinvigorated.
I’ve spent many restless nights at foreign airports, but never in my wildest dreams in my own hometown. When I arrived at Washington Reagan Airport, the Metro had promptly shut down for the night. Since I had neglectfully forgot to bring my house keys, I didn’t want to disturb my slumbering roommates, so I decided to hunker down.
In DCA, you can’t actually sleep in the concourse — they close that down and do security sweeps after midnight. So I slept in the main terminal, and by 4am I was briskly awoken by fliers arriving several hours early to line up.
With the huge volume of passengers, the weekend had to be right around the corner. And it would be the most unforgettable Friday in my topsy turvy-trucking career.
I was aghast when I called FMCSA, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. They informed me that my application for my Operating Authority had been cancelled, and I needed to resubmit my paperwork. Because of the pending trial, I had missed my year-long deadline to purchase trucking insurance and now I had to go through the 30-day waiting period again.
I rushed to the library to print out a bunch of paperwork to get signed and submitted before the weekend arrived. I could kick myself for letting my Authority lapse, but this was par for the course in this industry so c’est la vie. Now that the admin was completed, I could finally take a breather. I would head to my favorite watering hole for happy hour.
Then out of the blue, I decided to make a surprise visit to one of my tenants who hadn’t paid rent since November. He was only three months behind and in a couple of weeks our dreaded Landlord / Tenant hearing would be upon us. Again par for the course as a rental property owner in the District of Columbia.
Why I would make a bee-line to see Tim instead of heading to the obligatory Chaplin’s at Shaw is still a mystery.
It would take Ed McMahon holding up a large Publishers Clearinghouse check for Tim to open the door. He wasn’t paying rent and he clearly didn’t want to speak to me. But something that day told me to try anyway.
As I approached the apartment, I saw a couple of guys installing a mailbox by the door. One I recognized as Labros the president of the Association, but I had never actually met him in person
I climbed the three flights of stairs to the top and knocked repeatedly on the door. There was still Christmas decorations – kinda late to still have Santa hanging still greeting visitors long after he’s returned to the north pole. After leaving a note on the door, I headed back down and rushed out the building. Couldn’t get me out this hell hole any faster.
Then an inner voice prompted me to go back and introduce myself. My autopilot took over.
“Are you Labros?” I asked, ashamed that I even had to.
“Ah yes, are you an owner here? What unit number – let me get you a copy of the new mailbox key.” He seemed happy to meet me.
“So I’m here to see Tim, who lives in #30. Has anyone heard from him?”
Don’t know him. I’m afraid. I don’t live here, so I don’t know everyone in this building.”
I quickly thanked Labros and made my way out.
“Wait!” He suddenly called out as I was entering my car. “A policeman was here earlier and was looking for someone in #42. Apparently someone made a welfare call.”
The moment he said that, our eyes made contact and we both raised our eyebrows as if coming to the same conclusion.
This was no longer a tenant ignoring his landlord to avoid paying rent .
“My Goodness, we have to get in ASAP!” I shouted. “And sadly I don’t have a key.”
“No worries. Just pay my contractor $50 and he’ll drill through your lock.”
Labros quickly gathered his tools and along with his repairman started drilling through the lock.
Thankfully he had all the tools available and after 5 minutes he had broken in and was inside.
Immediately, I knew we would make a grim discovery.
It smelled like a million dead rats and I had to cover my nose to keep from gagging.
I walked into the bedroom and found Tim lying on the floor. He was fully clothed and both the sheets and comforter had fallen off the bed disheveled on the floor.
I immediately called 911. When the police arrived, they were both surprised and dismayed since they had arrived earlier that day to check on Tim.
Minutes passed which seemed like hours, then the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner arrived to recover the body.
I then changed the locks and headed home to see who I could contact.
There is no textbook that tells you what to do when a tenant passes. There was a lot of junk and clutter, but I had to first work with his estate. I had to immediately remove some trash including soiled clothes.
Unfortunately, I did not know any of Tim’s NOK. He had been my tenant for over 15 years and all the family members that he had listed on the rental application were now deceased.
I went on Facebook and found Tim’s page. Then I started searching for some of his friends who worked at Home Depot. I then contacted KC, a colleague, who was filled with grief when I broke the news.
Thankfully, KC got me in touch with Tim’s cousin who was the NOK on the will. When I spoke to Beatrice, she was pleasant and happy to talk to me. It turns out that it was she who had contacted police to conduct the welfare check. And if it wasn’t for that, I would never have discovered Tim’s body that day.
It was quite traumatic finding a dead body, especially a tenant who I’ve known for years. But the hard part was not over. Next we had to do the biohazard cleanup. Tim’s body had been in the apartment for a while. Luckily the power was off, so there was no heat and it was the dead of winter. So his decomposition was not that advanced.
Then I had to coordinate with the estate to see what items they wanted to keep and what items we needed to dispose. Tim was a music aficionado and freelance DJ and had the largest vinyl record collection I’ve ever seen.
This wasn’t easy but little by little, we finally got it done. In a month, the unit would be renovated, and a few weeks after that ready for the next tenant.
I decided to move Zaylee to the unit. By now she had found a job at one of the restaurants that she had visited, and she had caught up on her rent.
“Tim lived here for 15 years,” I told her. “This will always be his sacred place.”
In the bedroom floor, a light trace of postmortem staining still remained.
“I will take care of this apartment,” Zaylee stated. “And I’ll keep up with the rent this time, so you can focus on staying safe on the road.”