When Things Don’t Quite Work Out

In the fall of 2004 I was 23 and coming out of a short-lived relationship. It was a relationship where nothing horrible happened, but nevertheless it failed hard to the extent that a friend from Australia (who happened to be in Calgary at the time for his book tour), after being introduced to my then-nearly-ex-boyfriend (at a book signing in front of a room full of prospective readers), immediately declared loudly, “You need to treat her better!”


After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I decided that was the single most excellent and epic example I would ever be able to point to of someone sticking up for me of their own free will, and that still holds true today. (Thank you, Adrian.)

But getting out of that relationship presented me with a problem: where was I going to live? At the time I had been sharing a place with Mr Didn’t Treat Me Better. Earlier that year I’d bought a brand new car and was basically at that point in life where I was ready to start doing other so-called “grown up” things…like having my own home, rather than being at some landlord’s mercy as a renter. Or moving back into my parents’ basement.

So, before I dumped that guy and moved out, I started looking around. But the other problem was that, well, I’d just bought that brand new car. I was also only about six months into a brand new job. That brand new job was making me more money than I’d ever made before (compared to minimum wage…), and almost eleven years later I’m still working at that company, but at the time I was a n00b and the Magic 8 Ball wouldn’t tell me if it would work out. I was being paid the entry-level salary…which wasn’t actually all that much. And, as a renter, well. I had no savings. Back then, rent in Calgary was still pretty atrocious (it’s even more atrocious now), even for a one bedroom postage-stamp sized apartment. But when rent is equal to or greater than a mortgage payment, you start to think about how dumb it is to burn money.

Could I get a mortgage? My credit rating was great but my bank still kind of sniggered and made rude comments behind my back. I went looking for a property anyway. It was obvious a “real” house, or even a condo, was out of reach. But how about a mobile home? They’re way cheaper and my grandmother had one in a park that was not the stereotypical white trailer trash kind of park you see on TV. There was one for sale in there by a little old man with dementia whose family needed to unfortunately put him into nursing care. It was 11’x68′ with an additional 10’x20′ add on, had three bedrooms, one bathroom, and six appliances.

A photo of an old mobile home with an attached car port.
My first house.

Now, I said this park wasn’t a white trailer trash kind of mobile home park, but that isn’t to say it didn’t have old units in it. The unit this gentleman owned was old: built in 1975. For a real house, twenty-nine years is not really anything to sneeze at, but for a mobile home built in the 70s? Totally different story. It might as well have been one hundred years old. Back then they didn’t build these things using the same standards as actual houses (unlike today). The walls had 2x2s for studs so they were only three inches thick; the ceiling was made of a paper fiber material, and so on. But it appeared to be in decent shape and had a price tag I could actually afford. The bank agreed to loan me the money, so I bought it.

I moved in on November 20, 2004. My own home, at the age of 23! The first night there alone on my own was a bit unnerving (“What the hell do I do now?”) but I still felt pretty chuffed. It was going to be great. Queen of my own castle! So what if the bathtub and the toilet were green and some of the walls were pink?

One afternoon the next October, I popped out to the grocery store. Winter had come early that year so there was some snow piled up on the house already, and it was decently cold out. But everything was fine when I left.

When I came home? It was raining inside my third bedroom.

I did what any self-respecting young first-time homeowner would do: I panicked and phoned my father.

A chinook blew in not long after and melted all the snow, which of course made the interior weather worse. We crawled up on the roof that weekend but couldn’t find a hole or a tear. Contractors were still swamped trying to fix roofs damaged by the torrential rains that past summer, so we decided to try tarring down some heavy plastic as a DIY seal until I could get actual repairs done. I was told the roofers would get to me in…May. May.

The winter of 2005/06 was heavy for snow, and the DIY seal didn’t work, so the raining inside never stopped. And, of course, there was the mold.

A photo of a ceiling mottled by mold with an orange tarp hanging below and a pulled out light fixture.
Mold growing on the ceiling early on during the leak.

The repair to replace the 200sqft section of roof was quoted at about $7,000, so I lived on bulk rice, bulk pasta, and frozen veggies for that winter to save up for it. The room stayed wet the entire time. I was losing so much heat through the ceiling I had to keep the thermostat at about 15°C during the day and 13°C at night else the furnace would never shut off. I ended up with ice on the interior walls and my front door froze shut one night. Every twenty-four hours I had about twenty-five gallons of really gross water caught in a bucket.

When spring finally came, the roof got replaced, the carpet got torn out, and so did the ceiling.

A photo of a torn-out ceiling showing black mold and rotted wood beams.
A photo of a torn-out ceiling with soaking wet insulation, black mold, and rotted wood beams.
The damage was extensive.

That was when we realized the leak wasn’t new. The beams in the ceiling were rotted, and they crumbled when touched. One was actually broken almost clean through. Water had been leaking into the space for a good long while but the vapor barrier had been sufficient to hide the problem until I came along. Lucky me.

A photo of a soaking wet floor with the carpet and underlay removed.
The entire room was soaked.
A photo of a red bucket with leak water and ceiling debris floating in it, with more debris on the floor.
Rotted and moldy material would regularly collapse out of the ceiling.

Suffice to say, I never replaced the ceiling or the floor in that room. I couldn’t afford it so it became an unheated storage space instead.

The next winter, the hot water tank, which was hidden away in a fairly inaccessible corner underneath the kitchen counter beside the stove, rusted out and flooded another part of the house, including one of the other bedrooms. I lost the flooring in that room (which was replaced).

After that, roof leaks and mold in various locations became a regular and otherwise unending thing. I gradually lost the ability to actively occupy about 33% of my home. I was sick a lot. A lot. But I was stuck, too. A mobile home doesn’t appreciate in value like a regular house; it depreciates like a car (and no wonder). So if I tried to sell it, I was guaranteed to not get enough money to pay off the mortgage. I had to stay put.

Which I did, for nine years.

I paid off that mortgage in the middle of October 2013, a full year earlier than the bank expected. But my victory was robbed from me by a new roof leak that started up about two days after I made my final payment.

I went to a very dark place after that. I became very ill again, physically and mentally too. Later my coworkers would tell me that during this time my skin was grey. I was not a fun person to be around. I wouldn’t stop coughing until about August 2014.

Rock bottom? I was there. My first foray into home ownership definitely hadn’t quite worked out. There was no other choice left but to admit defeat and get out since it was paid off.

I wrote that history out to give context to this next bit.

My last day living in the mobile home was December 21, 2013. I sold it to a mobile home builder who paid me $15,000 cash for the privilege of being able to send my first home to a landfill so they could put a brand new $200,000 unit on the lot and sell that one to someone else. I took the money and walked. In the meantime I had been able to get my ducks in a row, and the bank was no longer sniggering at me, so I bought a brand new apartment-style condo.

I took possession of my new condo on January 10, 2014 and moved in during a blizzard. What relief I felt. What a huge step upward. Granite countertops. Modern appliances. Nine foot ceilings. Walls thicker than three inches. An interior temperature higher than 18°C! Heated underground parking! Sufficient hot water supply to actually fill the bathtub! No mold!


It took about a month and a half before I found myself missing my old place.

Don’t get me wrong: moving was the best thing for me. But while the grass is definitely greener in many ways on this side of the fence, I’ve simply traded one set of damaging problems for another.

After I moved in (after the walkthrough inspection), I noticed a recurring knocking sound coming from the ceiling in the bedroom. I didn’t pay much attention to it because I was living in a sea of boxes and had a million other things to do. But by the end of February I was basically unpacked and had time to put attention on that nagging issue. I heard it at least every hour…and then every hour turned into every twenty minutes the colder it got outside. It keeps me up at night, even with earplugs. As I write this, it’s banging away.

I was told it “obviously” was a problem with the heating system in the unit upstairs. So they sent a guy, who did some stuff, and they said it was fixed.

It wasn’t. To date it remains unresolved. When the temperature is above zero, the sounds don’t happen. Minus five and below? I’ve been told just about everything under the sun: the neighbors can’t hear anything therefore the problem doesn’t exist (so I’m lying even though I provided recordings?); the problem must be in my unit (my heating is installed at the floor, not nine vertical feet away at the ceiling); if it’s not louder than fifty decibels inside my unit then the city bylaw hasn’t been broken so I would have to pay for everything (what??).

Then the downstairs neighbors earned the nickname Sexual Olympians. The woman sounds something like a squealing puppy or squirrel. Recently they started roleplaying as farm animals which I’m sure is lots of fun for them but really is anything but that for me. Her boyfriend also seems to expel a fair amount of gas (maybe he roleplays the cow). One of them is a smoker and coughs constantly. Of course, when they’re not having sex at any hour of the day or night, she’s wailing and screaming at him about anything and he’s blaring the TV or his video games. Some mornings I’m not even out of bed yet and she’s already tearing into him about something.

Then there’s that tap tap tap sound. Not from the ceiling, but from downstairs. You know the sound I mean: that telltale credit card or razor blade edge on table sound that everybody learns by watching shows like CSI. That’s exactly what it sounds like, anyway.

The upstairs neighbor is marginally better. He pees dead center in the toilet bowl, and while I realize a person can’t really “pee loud” on purpose, he does stomp around like Big Foot and sounds like he’s destroying every stick of furniture he owns on a daily basis. Or maybe he’s dragging bodies around up there, or rolling elephants over marbles after dumping them on the floor. I really don’t know what he’s doing in his living room. Based on what I know the downstairs neighbors do, I probably don’t want to know what he gets up to. His bedtime and morning rituals partially seem to consist of tossing his belt buckle and anything with buttons against any hard surface he can find, such as the wall or the closet door. He also changes his mind at least five times every day about which pair of socks and/or underwear to put on. Every time he gets up in the night to pee or do whatever I worry his bed will come crashing through the ceiling because it sounds like he’s rolling a boulder around up there. He’s not overweight, either.

I asked him once, politely I thought, if he might consider trying to walk a bit more lightly and not wear shoes into his unit. He told me to fuck off. Nice guy.

One of my bedroom walls is a common wall with the bedroom for the kids next door. One is maybe four and the other is maybe six. It took me about six months before I found out they lived there, which was a promising start. But kids are kids and to their credit they only started to get obnoxious once the summer weather heated up. You know, when it’s 11:30 or later on a work night and it’s 30°C outside and you’re allowing your young children to sing songs on the balcony or scream and beat each other up in their room, or the father is shouting at them because they won’t behave in general, and when summer is over this kind of stuff keeps happening, well… I have no patience for parents who can’t discipline their children properly and don’t know when to put them to bed.

Living in the middle of all of that means I walk on eggshells. I have a reminder on my phone to turn down my TV at ten every night in the event I’m watching a movie. I don’t even like to take phone calls (or I speak softly) because when my neighbors talk I can listen in on what they say between them. I rarely turn on the stereo, or barely turn it up. The last thing I want to be is a hypocrite (except when I lose my temper, in which case we have stereo wars and to date I always win).

I wish that was all of it, but it’s not. In the last six months one or more people have been breaking into residents’ cars (and it seems likely to be someone who lives in the building), using bolt cutters to cut padlocks off our storage cages, and vandalizing the building. So far I have escaped having this done to my car or cage. Several openers for the parkade were stolen along with other belongings. People who have to park second vehicles out on the street have had them vandalized too, and so badly the police have come knocking door to door to ask if anyone has seen anything. One resident put up a letter in the lobby appealing for information about someone shooting his car with a bibi gun.

Did I mention the downstairs neighbors use their balcony door to enter and exit the building, rather than going through their front door like normal people? So when nobody is home, that balcony door is unlocked and anybody could see them leave from the street, then come right in.

If I didn’t know better I’d say I was living in Forest Lawn. But, no.

What does the board and the property manager of the building do about stuff like this? They issue newsletters. They just hiked our condo fees by 34% but do you think there was any mention about adding security cameras in the common areas? Of course there wasn’t. Did they have us change the pins on our parkade door openers after the others were stolen? Of course not. So whoever has them can come and go as they please—and once in the parkade, that gives them free access to the rest of the building, because the interior door from the parkade to the elevator and stair lobby doesn’t require a key.

Ridiculous. Inept. Irresponsible. There are a number of other choice words I could pick, but this post is already long enough.

If it was just the racket in the ceiling on its own, I might gear up enough energy to fight the board into taking proper responsibility for it like they should and force them to tear it all out to make it right, because otherwise I really like where I’m living. The unit is beautiful; the location is not too bad for work and getting out of the city for travel; stuff like that. But even if they fixed that problem so I could get more than three hours of sleep in a night when it’s cold out, there’s still everything else. I don’t feel safe here and I wonder how long it will be before it’s my car or my stuff that gets ripped off.

January 10 marks my first year here, and I think back to my old mobile home. It wasn’t a fun experience there by far (though sometimes I say it was character building…), but in many ways it was much better than this. At least all the problems there were mine and the choice and power to do something about them was still in my control, save for available finances. Where I am now? I am at the mercy of the board and the property manager, and they have proven themselves to be…inadequate to the task. Sometimes I just think this community is too new still, too unstable. Too full of lowlifes who refuse to think about anyone other than themselves and don’t have a considerate bone in their bodies. Maybe when it matures it will be better. I don’t have the patience to wait and find out.

So, I’m selling. Someone else who sleeps heavier or isn’t as sensitive to sound as I am and maybe doesn’t mind the crap going on elsewhere in the building might be really happy here, and power to them if that’s the case. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work for me. My health is declining again because I’m sleep-deprived and stressed. I can’t go back to being sick like that, so I have to cut my losses and go, even if it means taking a financial hit.

I’m disappointed, because when I first moved in I was excited about living here. I expected to stay for at least three years and maybe longer. I had plans for how I wanted to decorate that withered away to feelings of “can’t be bothered now” after about three months.

Maybe I just knew it wouldn’t quite work out.

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