Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Amityville Rental

If you've ever watched the Amityville Horror (featured in a book and two movies), you know the familiar story of the Lutz family, who finds this beautiful Dutch colonial house on Long Island for a great price, only to discover something evil lurks within. Such is real estate. You just never know what you’re going to get until you move in.

“There's nothing like it on the market. Not at this price.”—Mrs. Townsend, Amityville Horror, 1979

My younger daughter, Chelsea, recently signed a lease on a beautiful apartment in the attic of someone’s home in Dover. It was remodeled with a brand new kitchen and lovely tiled bathroom. The floors were hardwood and it is, quite frankly, a very attractive apartment. The rent was reasonable, considering how crazy rents in Northern New Jersey can be. And she is basically happy there.

Dover has a train station. [
Before she rented it, the landlord’s father took us on a tour of the place. The family she rents from is quite nice, the typical first-generation-American, working-class family that occupies these parts. I was pleased with the apartment and the people who lived in the main house. One thing that struck me as odd, but only in passing, was a clause in the lease. It read that if Chelsea took legal action against the landlord, she would be liable for his legal costs. Maybe that is standard in leases these days, but I had never seen it before.

I think the first inkling that there might be organ music playing in a minor key, was when she called me up in a panic at 12:30 one night to say that there was running and scratching noises in the ceiling. I tried to calm her down. It was probably mice or squirrels. That's fairly common in suburbia. Since the landlord lived beneath her, surely he would have some stake in taking care of the problem.

“Your house frightens me, Mrs. Lutz.”—Father Callaway, Amityville Horror, 2005

A day or two later, the next phone call I got, she found out that the thermostat didn’t work. That meant if she turned on the air conditioning, it would not stop at a particular temperature. Instead it would keep chugging out cold air until it was frigid enough to store a side of beef. The problem with this is that she has to pay for her own electric. If the thermostat never turns off, then it should be heart-stopping to see her first electric bill.

Shortly thereafter, she found out that there was not enough hot water to take a shower. Normally, a tenant would have her own hot water tank, so this seemed a bit strange. Finally, this past week, when she decided to do some baking, she found out that the oven doesn’t work. The burners heat up, but the oven does not. Mind you, she just moved in a few weeks ago, so there are 11 more months on her lease to discover whatever other horrors might await in her new residence.

The landlord has been to her apartment to look into the pests in the attic and the thermostat, but so far nothing has been fixed. Fortunately, Chelsea is patient and philosophical. She understands the landlord has a full-time job and this is something he does on the side. She understands that what is wrong with the apartment may not be an easy fix. She also knows, due to the clause in the lease, she cannot afford any legal action should these problems persist.

“[sobs] Why is it all going wrong? We have to do something.”—Kathy Lutz, Amityville Horror, 1979

Looking on the bright side: Unlike the residence of horror fame, no one has been murdered in her apartment, no ghosts are terrorizing her and the walls do not bleed. There is also no demonic pig creature named Jodie with red glowing eyes. Hopefully, the landlord will be as honest as he appears and will take care of the problems in the next few weeks. If not, she will endure the next year unwashed, braving extreme temperatures, bereft of oven, with the unwanted companionship of several unseen, noisy wall pets.


  1. This brings back rental memories for me. My last Mary-Tyler-Moore-esque apt was an old Victorian, on the 2nd & 3rd floors. It also had critters in the walls... I remember asking the landlord to come over at a very inconvenient hour one night with a baseball bat. To me, the noises sounded as if they could have been from humans. I also had an awful neighbor who was, ahem--loud-- in her bedroom which was adjacent to mine... that's only funny the first couple of times!

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