Sunday, July 27, 2014
Swan's End: The Basement Apartment Before and After
My other renovations posts all contain two sets of photos: the first set depicting the given room or area of my house as it was when I bought it in December 2006, and the second set depicting the room or area as it looked after I finished renovating and decorating it. This renovations post, of the basement apartment of my house, is unusual in that it contains four separate sets of photos. You'll find out why when you read through the post.
We'll begin with the set of photos showing how the apartment looked when I bought my house in December 2006. Here we have the "front door" (actually, the only door) into the apartment. It stands open, and the bathroom door can be seen on the viewer's left and the furnace room door on the other side. Notice that the corner of the wall on the right looks terribly rough and damaged.
Slightly more revealing shot of the furnace room door.
Shot of the bathroom from the doorway.
Another shot of the bathroom sink. I should have gotten a shot of the inside of the medicine cabinet. It was rusted and filthy on the inside. The "light fixture" was just bare bulbs, and the "cabinet" under the sink was basically two sheets of pressboard caulked in place, one on either side.
The shower. It's not a bad-size shower stall, but note the four different kinds of tiles: pink, blue, navy, and brown on the ceiling. Also the shower bar was peeling and rusted.
The, er, commode. Note the absence of towel racks. There were only some adhesive cup hooks on the wall on the viewer's right, which would have left holes in any towels hung on them. Also there was no storage to speak of.
The kitchen in all its former glory. Note that the brown tiles in the backsplash match the ones in the bathroom ceiling. Such a carefully thought out colour scheme, although whoever installed the backsplash seemed to run short of tiles and left a square of concrete blocks uncovered.
The cupboard under the sink had no bottom — it just opened up onto bare floor. Out of the three drawers beside it, I think only one was functional. The light fixture you see over the stove and cabinet was masking taped in place. When I removed the tape, the thing sagged down. The stove leaked gas and wasn't safe to use.
I don't see how anyone could have prepared themselves proper meals in this "kitchen".
This is the light fixture that was in the kitchen, above the countertop. Although it was sagging out of the ceiling to begin with I had such a time getting it completely out that it seemed important to take a celebratory picture of the fixture and the rubble that resulted from my efforts.
The little door on the viewer's left is to the furnace room. The window had a broken pane of glass, and no screen.
The fridge originally sat beside the stove, but I moved it across the room and put it in the space you see here so as to make room for more cabinetry. The bed frame was left in the bedroom when I bought the house.
Here we see the back wall of the kitchen, and the bedroom door. The light fixture sticks down just where anyone could hit his or her head on it easily.
Moving on to the apartment bedroom, this photo shows one of the partially wallpapered bedroom walls with an old TV stand (left behind by the former owner) covering a gaping hole in the wall. Notice how there's no outlet in the wall. This becomes important later.
The power box for the house is in the basement apartment bedroom. It was an eyesore and I thought of and discarded many ideas for camouflaging it before I decided upon one.
This awful brown shag rug was in this room when I bought the house. In March 2007 a water pipe froze and burst, the basement flooded, and this carpet turned into a giant mould slug. I couldn't move it by myself, and the garbagemen would never have taken it, so, wearing gloves and holding my breath as much as possible, hacked it into smaller, manageable pieces with an x-acto knife, then hauled the pieces outside one by one.
The door on the viewer's left is a closet, and behind the other door are the water and gas mains for the house.
Here we see wallpaper style number two covering part of another wall. The wallpapered parts of the wall weren't primed.
As with the kitchen window, the bedroom window only had two panes of glass and the lock on it was broken. There was no screen.
The window blind wasn't in bad shape, but it wasn't installed properly at all — just hung on nails.
This is a kind of alcove between the two closets where the ceiling comes down especially low.
The light fixture hung down in the middle of the room where it would be way too easy to hit one's head on it. You can also see the ceiling register in this shot, which was held in place by caulk and nails.
I wish I had before photos of the old linoleum tile floors of the two bedroom closets. They were just plain vile — black with age and the filth of decades.
Here's the bedroom door with the second bedroom closet behind it. Note the paint crusted on the doorknob.
Chief Renovations Inspector Trilby lent his special expertise to the project by inspecting the ductwork with his x-ray vision.
Now let's look at the second set of the photos, which show the apartment as it was when I finished renovations and rented it out in October 2010.
As you can see, I didn't do a lot to the hallway. I just painted it with a shade of yellowish cream called "Popcorn Ball", replaced the doorknobs, and put a new latch on the furnace room door. Oh, and I fixed the corner of the wall by ripping off the metal strip that was there and nailing on some wooden trim.
I did the entire apartment in Popcorn Ball, with the exception of the bathroom, deciding it was just too small an apartment to be fussing about with different colours and trim paint and that it was best to keep the whole place neutral and plain so as to suit the greatest number of potential tenants.
A shot of the bathroom. I installed a hook on the inside of the door. The bathroom is painted "Seafoam Breeze", which is a pale gray blue that I figured would qualify as a neutral. Also, the floor of the shower, which wasn't going to be painted or changed, was pale blue, so it matched that.
A full-length shot of the bathroom vanity. I put in a new light fixture, replacing the middle light with an outlet plug, put up a new medicine cabinet, installed a new sink, faucet, and vanity cabinet, and also put up a toothbrush holder and towel ring.
The fan cover is the same as before, with just a fresh coat of paint. I could not find a new one that was the right size.
I put in this over-the-toilet storage cabinet, and added a toilet paper holder. And there's a brand new white toilet seat in place of the old black one.
I installed these towel racks. There weren't any towel racks in the entire house when I bought it.
This bathroom is so very small it proved impossible to get a shot of the entire shower stall. I added a shower caddy to one corner, and put up a new shower bar. Also, all the tiles are the same colour now.
I put in a new, handheld, three-speed shower head. Besides being fun to use, it will make it easier to clean the shower. I also hung a cut-to-size $1 shower liner up. I did toy with the idea of making a nice shower curtain, but realized that a fabric curtain would block all the light and make it impossible for whomever's showering in there to see a thing. Clear plastic was the only option.
Here we are back out in the kitchen area. Like the hall, it doesn't look that different. I've cleaned and painted it, repaired the broken window pane, and added a screen. The furnace room door has a new latch. Above that little door you can see two little plastic boxes hanging on the wall. One is a thermometer, and the other is a doorbell. I thought the tenant's guests would need a way to announce themselves. The small appliance beside the fridge is a dehumidifier. I put a new smoke alarm on the ceiling just in front of the fridge.
The fridge itself had to be cleaned. If I remember correctly I spent over two hours on that particular job. The inside was reasonably clean, but the outside was covered in a greasy coating because the fridge had formerly sat next to the stove.
I installed a fire extinguisher here.
I originally bought this shelving unit for the condo I used to own. I have no real need or use for it in my current home, and since it fits so nicely into this space I thought my future tenant could use it for canned goods or whatever.
In general as I planned these renos I did my best to create as much storage as possible. Adequate storage is one of the things that make a place comfortable. However, there was only so much I could do to that end.
And here we have the new kitchen cupboards and stove. I left the former fan where it was and just scrubbed it clean. The old stove is gone. This stove was the one that was in my kitchen when I bought the place. I bought a new one for my kitchen, then had this one moved down to the basement. It was only 6-7 years old at the time when this photo was taken in September 2010, worked perfectly, and I cleaned it very thoroughly.
I reused the old sink and faucet (it was an hour's work to scrub them clean) but everything else is new. I installed all these cupboards and the countertops, and tiled the backsplash with these acrylic faux metal tiles. The backsplash photographed disappointingly badly — it actually looks much nicer in person, and the tiles set off the countertops and wood tones beautifully. The tiles seem to scratch with heartrending ease, but I suppose I can always prime and paint them down the line if they need it.
I installed a new recessed light and repaired the ceiling around it to the best of my ability, which isn't saying much. The baseboard trim by the sink cupboard is new. The old piece had to be ripped out when the cupboard went in, and it splintered to bits. I couldn't get more exactly the same, but fortunately the new piece wasn't right beside any of the old, so I just got some as much like the old as possible and went with it. I also bought a new aerator and sink stopper for the sink.
Another view of the kitchen cupboards. I bought a power bar for the outlet because the stove required one outlet and the fan another, which left nothing for any appliances the tenant might have. I also replaced the ceiling register and light by the bedroom door.
These pictures don't convey a sense of just how uneven the walls and floors are, and how hard a time I had installing the cabinetry because of it.
I could not put the upper cupboards flush against the ceiling because then the doors wouldn't open. As it was I left a two-inch space and the doors barely cleared. I had to jack up the front of the long, lower range of cupboards up by half an inch before it was level, and the cupboard with the sink had to be jacked up more than an inch.
Then the corner by the long cupboard was so crooked that I couldn't put the cupboard flush against it. I nailed a length of pine 2" x 4" to the wall so that things couldn't fall into the gap, then jam the cupboard in as close as I could.
A closer shot of the kitchen sink. I hated to put that cupboard in so close above the sink, but it seemed more important to have the extra storage space than to leave the space open.
I could not put the cupboard flush against the wall because there was some concrete buildup under the drainpipe that came out of the wall. So, I built a 4" ledge out of $3 worth of precut pine 2" x 4"s, tiled over it, then painted the tiles and caulked the gap. It looks okay and it adds to the kitchen's utility to have that extra little bit of counter space.
This bench is another item I had in my condo and didn't have a place or use for in the house. I thought a tenant might appreciate the use of it.
Notice that the wallpaper is gone. Both kinds, even. I painted the bedroom in Popcorn Ball. I know this room doesn't look all that different from how it appears in the before shot, but it took me about 30 hours to prep, prime and paint this room, and another 10 or so to change outlets, make and hang the curtains, refloor the closets, replace the light fixture, install the closet door hooks, etc.
I added a latch to the utility closet door because it would not stay shut on its own.
I ended up making curtains for both the window and the power box. The very first potential tenant I showed the place to said, "Hey, two windows!" upon walking into the bedroom, so I think I was successful in camouflaging the power box, yet still leaving it accessible.
I also put in two new window panes and a screen and had the lock fixed.
The revamped closet. I remember painting those closets. Because the ceiling of them was even lower than in the rest of the room, I had to stand with my feet at either end of the closet to make myself short enough to be able to stand in there. I think it took three hours for me to put that first coat of primer in the two closet interiors. Besides painting, I put in a new hanger bar, refloored with new adhesive tiles, and added a hook to the door.
The alcove. Also you can see that I've replaced the light fixture and the ceiling register, and the formerly black, paint-splashed outlet and the light switch, which you can't see in this shot.
The second closet also got a new floor and a hook for the door, and there's a hook on the back of the bedroom door as well. And I replaced the doorknob. Yes, this place has ALL the amenities.
When I stripped the wallpaper off this wall, I found an electrical outlet underneath. I thought perhaps it wasn't working, because it might then make SOME sort of sense to cover it up, but it was working. There are only two outlets in this large room, for heaven's sake.
I fixed the hole in the wall with a very inexpert drywall repair job. I really, really suck at doing drywall.
"I am Chief Renovations Inspector Trilby, and I am trying to decide if I approve of this renovation."
And now, let's move on to the third set of pictures. Which show the apartment as it was when my first tenant left it in January 2014 after occupying it for a little over three years and two months. My former tenant disappeared in early January, and when he hadn't been heard from in two weeks, I took the emergency measure of going into his apartment to make sure he wasn't lying in there unconscious or worse. He was not in the apartment. The following photos will show you what I did see in the apartment.
The bathroom as my tenant left it.
The bathroom sink, as of January 2014. Hard to believe this sink was only installed in August 2010.
Another view of the kitchen.
The stove and cupboards.
The stove after I'd cleared away the debris. When I think of how I spent about four hours cleaning this stove until it was immaculate before this tenant moved in....
The interior of the stove.
The corner by the fridge in the kitchen.
One corner of the bedroom.
By the door in the bedroom.
The back corner of the bedroom.
I contacted my tenant's brother on Facebook and he didn't know where my tenant was either. I called the police to file a missing person's report. They sent a couple of officers over to my house at midnight that same night (I received them in my pajamas) to tell me that my tenant was not in fact missing but was in police custody, as he had been arrested. I made a flurry of calls to try to figure out what my legal options were, and prepared to visit my tenant in the detention centre where he was being held in order to get him to sign some documents, but he was released on bail before I could. He then contacted me via Facebook to tell me he was with his surety, agreed to give up the apartment, to pay me the back rent he owed me, and to come get his things and do some cleaning. He did not do any of these things. As of this writing I have not heard from him since Janaury 28th of this year.
Which meant that I was the one who had to clean up the mess he left, somehow dispose of all his belongings, and then clean, paint, and repair the apartment and get it ready to rent out again, meanwhile doing without any rental income whatsoever. I have chronic fatigue issues and don't have a car to use to transport his stuff, so this was neither a fun nor a short process.
The first step was to clear all the garbage out of the apartment. This was about 14 hours of work, and it was a nasty business. I couldn't just shovel it into bags as the recyclable stuff had to be sorted from the garbage, and my tenant's belongings were mixed into it as well. At the time I did this, in January, it still seemed likely he was coming back to get his things, and I had no right to throw anything away. I washed his clothes and saved all his papers and receipts carefully in a folder, no matter how crumpled and dirty they might be.
When my tenant first moved in I had told him the place was to be no smoking, and he promised to go outside to smoke. He did do so for for some time, but then stopped doing so at some point. There were hundreds of cigarette butts lying about and the place reeked of smoke and other things. The saddest moments of this whole experience were those in which I found my tenant's AA tokens and literature and notes to himself all mixed in with the cigarette butts and beer bottle caps and filth. There were tin can lids and broken glass and used hypodermic needles lying about. I wore gloves and a face mask, but I still got cuts on my hands as well as headaches and aggravated allergies during the clean-up process.
This picture shows some of the garbage I took out of the apartment. I'd say I removed about 25 bags of garbage and recycling in all. Besides the bags and blue box you see on the left, the green, gray, and blue bins you see on the right are all crammed full. It took me weeks just to get all of this garbage off my property as I can only put out a certain amount for pick up each week.
The contrast between how the Popcorn Ball paint colour looked when fresh and how it looked after my tenant had been smoking in the apartment for a couple of years. Ironically, this round spot is where the smoke detector was. The smoke detector had to be replaced as it was no longer functioning due to being exposed to too much smoke. It had been bought at the same time as the detectors in my part of the house, and they're all still working fine.
The basement apartment kitchen floor, mid-scrub. That's a scraper by the bucket — I had to use it for the worst spots. The unscrubbed parts of the floor have been cleared of garbage, swept, and vacuumed, so the contrast between how it was and how it looked after I cleaned it was even greater than what you see here. While I scrubbed I fantasized about how I'm going to sue my former tenant's ass.
The bedroom floor as it was when I cleared out all my tenant's belongings. The curtains proved to be ruined as they were still horribly smoke stained after I ran them through the wash. In Ontario the law is that once a tenancy has been terminated anything left behind by the tenant becomes the property of the landlord. I waited until nearly the end of March to start disposing of my tenant's things because disposing of it all was the last thing I wanted to do, for either his sake or mine, but I finally had to just start doing it. I took his clothes, dishes, cooking utensils and other small, usable items to the nearest thrift shop, four blocks away, on foot. I'd fill my backpack and carry a bag of things in either hand, and got the job done in maybe seven trips or so. His two CRT TVs and some of the worst furniture went out on the curb where passersby could help themselves to it (they did). His dirty old mattress set and the broken-down folding futon it rested on got picked up by the garbage men. I scrubbed up five of the best pieces of his furniture, photographed them, and sold them on Craig's List.
I don't know what my tenant did to the windowsill. In any event, rather than tell me about it so I could repair it, he had placed a can of beans over the hole. The screening had also completely disappeared from its frame.
Now let's move on to the final set of photos, which show the apartment as it looked once I finally finished the cleaning, painting, and repairing process.
We begin the tour again with the hallway. I hadn't so much as a drop of the old Popcorn Ball paint left, which, since I was going to have to repaint the entire place, meant I got to select a new colour. This colour is Almond Wisp, which I like much better than the Popcorn Ball. It's a taupe rather than a yellow, is appealingly fresh and light, and it's a far better match with the flooring and kitchen.
The front door had gotten bashed in when my tenant tripped on the steps and fell head first against the door at some point during his occupancy. Some spackle and paint worked wonders.
My former tenant had been using the bathroom door hooks to hold his coats. They weren't designed to hold anything that heavy and had consequently torn out of the door. The door wasn't going to hold a re-installation, so I just bought this over-the-door hook.
The freshly painted bathroom. I still really like the Seafoam Breeze colour and I had half a gallon of it left from the first time I painted this bathroom, so I used that for the two new coats of paint. There's nothing really "new" in this shot. Everything got taken down, cleaned and/or painted, and then put back together the same way. The one change is that the toothbrush holder is no longer there. I somehow managed to lose the special little screw used for putting it up, found I couldn't replace it, then found I couldn't buy a replacement toothbrush holder at any of the three stores I looked for one (not by itself anyway — they want customers to buy a whole set of fittings). No big deal. It wasn't really designed to hold the thicker toothbrushes everyone uses now anyway.
A length-wise shot of the bathroom. Ah, cleanliness and fresh paint, how I love thee.
The over-the-toilet stand shelves had gotten somewhat stained, so I bought contact paper in a coordinating shade of blue to cover them. They can easily be torn out and replaced when they get worn or stained in turn.
This bottom shelf has a rounded edge, there wasn't a logical place to cut the contact paper, and I thought a raw edge of paper would look bad, so I used the lines of the design to create a special cut edge.
The commode, which has a new toilet seat and flush mechanism. I should not have had to replace a toilet seat that was bought in 2010, but it was such a huge relief not to have to clean the old one. Excuse me while I pause for a convulsive shudder.
The door of the medicine cabinet was also stained, so I lined it with contact paper too.
The shower has a new shower curtain and shower curtain bar. The showerhead is the same.
The shower caddy is the same as well, though it needed a vigorous cleaning.
When I was doing the apartment reno this time, I kept trying to think of ways to make it better than it had been. I didn't come up with many ideas because I kind of emptied that keg back in 2010, but I did get the bright idea of putting in this hook rail. It'll give my new tenant a handy place to hang her jackets and coats so she doesn't have to traipse in and out of the bedroom to get or put away her coat every time she wants to go out or comes home.
The kitchen. Let me tell you, it may not look like much to you, but I revel in the sight of its order and cleanliness. I did sell the bench that was formerly in the kitchen via Craig's List. After it took me an hour to scrub it clean, I decided I didn't want to be responsible for maintaining furniture for future tenants.
The dehumidifier, fridge, and shelving rack looking the same as they did before. This is a nearly new fridge, the one from the previous pictures having died in September 2012. There's also a new smoke detector in the same place as the old one.
The kitchen. The one change I've made here (besides repainting and oh so much cleaning) is to replace the faucet, as the old one was in a very sad state. This is something I can't blame on my tenant though. I had reused the old faucet that came with the house when I put in the new kitchen in 2010 and who knows how old it was. I will say for my old tenant that although he left the place filthy, he wasn't hard on the place in terms of causing damage. Most of the repairs I had to make were consistent with normal wear and tear and accidents.
The bedroom. Last time I painted the place, I used just two paint colours: one for the bathroom and one for the rest of the place, reasoning that it should be kept neutral. This time I realized that with this kind of place where tenants aren't going to be painting and can't do much in the way of decorating (i.e., they can't put art on the walls, they won't be able to keep plants alive) that I should be trying to make the place look a little more attractive and interesting. When I was showing the place, the few bits of visual interest that I had added were the items people seemed happiest and most vocal about: the copper-coloured acrylic backsplash and the blue in the bathroom. (One potential tenant said it was "such a perfect blue".)
So, I loosened up a little and painted the bedroom walls and ceiling in Sage Tint, with the doors and closets in the Almond Wisp. The colour was a little less sage and a little more mint than I would have liked, but it will do. It made the bedroom look much fresher and brighter and more inviting than it was the last time I painted it.
The curtains that I had made in 2010 were ruined, so I made new ones. I was going to go with a plain cream fabric but fell in love with this fabric at the store and talked myself into buying it. After all, wasn't it still neutral without being drearily so, and therefore totally in keeping with my slightly altered decorating scheme?
A closer shot of the curtains. I repaired the window sill, put new screening in, and found an extra screw with which to secure the window lock, as one had gone missing during my tenant's occupancy. I also used wall anchors this time to secure the curtain rod. One side had pulled loose last time, but that shouldn't happen again.
My former tenant's floor lamp and power bar. Since they are now mine, they're part of the fittings of the apartment. This big room only has one ceiling light and two outlets, which isn't quite enough.
The closets fared best of all the areas in the apartment since my tenant just shoved a bunch of stuff in them and left them shut. They only needed a light cleaning and repainting.
Closet number two. The hook that was on the back of the bedroom door had also pulled out. I didn't put it back up.
Trilby is sitting on my former tenant's chairs (which my new tenant has purchased from me), feeling sad that he will never see my former tenant again. Trilby was terrified of my tenant for the first year he lived here as he is of all strangers, but eventually got used to him, and after that whenever he saw him would go straight to him and be all "YOU WILL PET ME NOW".
"What do you mean, 'I have to get used to a new tenant'?!"
Trilby leads the way as we finally leave the apartment with the last few things and last cleaning complete.
Now that the renovations are done, my next project will be to sue my former tenant for the back rent he owes me (5 months' worth), a cleaning and disposal fee, the cost of repainting and such repairs as were necessitated by his lack of reasonable care of the place, my court costs, and interest on the total debt going forward. There is a good chance I will never get any of this money, but I can't bear to not even try, as that will mean letting my tenant simply walk away from what he has done to me without any consequences. Then too, as it is quite a significant amount of money that my former tenant owes me, it will be worth suing him if I can even get 10% of the money back. Wish me luck, as I will need it. And if anyone tries to tell you "all landlords are bastards", perhaps you might speak a word for us. As you've seen, sometimes landlords get screwed over royally, even when we've treated our tenants very well.
And I bloody well better not have to redo this apartment again for quite some time.
Update July 21, 2017: For the last three and a half years I've made regular attempts to find my former tenant, but never had any luck. I hadn't given up, but there's a statute of limitations regarding how long a landlord has to sue an absconded tenant, and I had grimly faced the reality than even if I could find him at this point I would probably not have any legal options for recovering any of the money he owes me.
And then he contacted me.
He sent me a long email explaining what had happened to him three and a half years ago recounting what's happened since. He'd gotten charged with something he hadn't done. The charges were eventually dropped, but meanwhile he'd lost his apartment and all his belongings and the two jobs he'd had. He sank further into addiction, became homeless, got kidney failure, watched every friend he made on the street die, and finally wound up in rehab after one particularly extreme bender. He's been sober for two years now, and he's been making reparations, and wanted to make things right with me. He still doesn't have a lot of money but he's begun to make small but regular monthly payments to me.
Though I had published his full name in an update to this post, I've removed it. I even feel bad for all the angry emails I sent him (I'd occasionally get to thinking about it, work up a head full of steam, and fire off an irate missive as way of relieving the pressure). Yes, he screwed me over royally and I was having a hard time financially, but while I had a roof over my head and food in the fridge, I was dunning a homeless guy for money. It's something for me to keep in mind when dealing with tenants in future, I think, especially now when the tenants I currently have are also a serious problem, though in a different way.
Update March 2, 2018: Last July my former tenant made just one payment of $100... and then he disappeared again. No response to my emails. No response to my phone calls -- and then the number he gave me was disconnected. My working theory is that my former tenant has again relapsed into addiction, and is very probably homeless again on the freezing winter streets of Toronto. It's tragic for him as well as an added hardship for me. This time I have refrained from sending him any nasty emails, but I am going to once again add his name to this post. My former tenant's name is John Andrew Colin Benn, and he is known as Andrew Benn. Andrew, if you should see this, know that you'll have to put matters right with me before I remove your name again.