A Condo Without Love is Not a Home

Kevin Nguyen rents a condo for a year and deals with unpleasant neighbors, noise complaints, and mythical “meth teens.”

Photo by Rob Golkosky

The condo unit was far nicer than anything I had lived in before. There was a large kitchen, complete with modern appliances; a living room that looked into a courtyard; two bedrooms, one with a balcony that connected to the living room, and two bathrooms to match. Then there were the amenities: an event space, movie theater, gym, and two “rooftop terraces” with views of the Space Needle. The location was perfect (two blocks from a Trader Joe’s!) and it even had free garage parking for my roommate’s car. But I just kept thinking about how this would be the first time in my life where I would have a bathroom all to myself, like a real adult.

The rent was the same as what my roommate and I had been paying for our first-floor apartment, which had recently been broken into. We signed a lease as soon as we could.

The move-in was a sign of things to come. We didn’t expect it to take more than a few hours, but we also didn’t expect that the only allowed move-in path would be a back entrance down three narrow corridors. Packing up the U-Haul only took an hour; unloading it took eight.

Nearly everyone who lived in the condo was extraordinarily unpleasant. No one said hello to anyone else, and the residents seemed largely paranoid of one another. There was a strict “no tailgating” policy, meaning residents weren’t supposed to let strangers into the building, no matter how non-threatening they looked. One day I was carrying a pair of large speakers into the building, and I told the woman walking ahead of me that I could show her my key. She glared at me suspiciously and pulled the door closed.

The paranoia wasn’t completely unwarranted. Around the time we moved in, the building had been victim to a couple break-ins by teenagers who pillaged unlocked storage units in the garage. In the condo email newsletter, these teenagers would be referred to as “meth teens,” though I don’t believe there was ever any evidence that they were on any drugs.

A few days after a third reported break-in, I found a print-out taped to the condo entrance that read:

“Beware of any teenagers, homeless teenagers, homeless people with backpacks trying to get in these doors!”

I wondered about homeless teenagers with backpacks — were they allowed in? I took a photo of it on my phone and texted it to just about everyone I knew.

Unwisely, my roommate and I threw a small housewarming party. We never had parties at our old place, but now we had nice furniture and framed artwork.

There were probably fifteen to twenty guests, but we figured some noise was to be expected on a Saturday night. The next morning, I received three angry emails and, the following Monday, a warning call from the otherwise apathetic building manager.

“Just don’t have people over anymore,” he advised.

There was an online forum for residents, which I checked occasionally since it was built into the reservation system for the building’s movie theater (the only amenity I ever really used, until I bought a new TV). Most of the discussion was in response to the break-ins. Some posted good safety tips; others were hysterical. One resident said he found his Audi convertible parked at a funny angle, insinuating that a meth teen had hotwired his car and re-parked it in the same spot.

I never felt threatened by the myth of the meth teens, perhaps because I had a storage unit with a lock on it. And it only contained broken-down cardboard boxes.

There was one forum post from a resident detailing an encounter she had with a teenager who had hopped the fence on a Friday night. He was cooperative when she escorted him out of the building. But the resident had been shaken by the experience.

“It was pretty scary for me since I didn’t have my cell phone or pepper spray with me. I was lucky he was just a messed up druggie and not someone who wanted to attack me. I can honestly say I DO NOT feel safe living here any more!!!”

The condo residents’ paranoia was certainly an overreaction, but maybe it wasn’t just a product of elitism and ageism. Though I never felt unsafe at the condo, I did find myself empathizing with the angrier members of the forum. After all, a big factor for moving out of my old place was the break-in. The burglar had come in through an unlocked window, so I felt an urge to double-check each window every time I left the apartment. It’s hard to call a place home when it doesn’t feel safe.

In the year that we lived at the condo, we had three instances when more than ten people were at our apartment. They were never unreasonably large or loud gatherings, but I received at least one noise complaint by email each time.

A new person moved into the unit above me, and I wonder how many angry emails she received. Throughout the summer, she would blast jazz music until midnight on weekdays. One time, she had Neil Young blaring so loudly that I didn’t notice when my smoke alarm went off. It didn’t really bother me, and I’ll admit it was an entirely new experience listening to Harvest at that volume.

She also liked to have very loud sex. Even though it was October and starting to get cold, her window was open, and she’d do her best porn star impression. One night, I heard another resident yelling at her window. “Close your fucking window! You know that everyone can hear you, right?”

Which, of course, only provoked louder moans.

The reason our rent was so cheap was because the owner of the condo unit was trying to sell it, but, having had no luck in Seattle’s crowded housing market, he was renting it out until he could get rid of it.

Over the summer, we had probably two dozen prospective buyers come look at the unit. We were supposed to get 24 hours’ notice, which usually came in the form of a text message two hours beforehand along the lines of “Tour at 3 today pls fluff” (I don’t think the realtor knew what fluff meant). The tours would often show up at different times, not at all, or without warning. Once a tour showed up at 9 a.m. while I was still in bed watching Breaking Bad on my laptop.

Eventually, someone bought the condo, and we were forced to find a new place. We learned our lesson and hired movers this time.

Now I live by myself in an older building, without any of the amenities from the condo or modern luxuries like a dishwasher or washing machine. But I’m already more comfortable in my new building. Everyone in this building says “hi” to each other. Someone opened the door for me once. A couple nights ago, I was making a side dish for a dinner party. I realized that I didn’t have a can opener, so I texted the building manager, who lives down the hall. Ten seconds later, he knocked on my door and offered me his. When I returned the can opener, I told him about my old condo building, where no one made eye contact with anyone else. I brought up the story about the “meth teens” and we had a good laugh.

Photo by Rob Golkosky

Kevin Nguyen is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Reach him by email or follow his Twitter account.