Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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Tenants from Hell, Go Home

August 08, 2005

You never know when an ordinarily risky activity is going to turn downright dangerous.

The tenants from hell arrived at the camp late Sunday and immediately started making their displeasure known: the place wasn't up to their expectations, we'd misrepresented it, etc., etc., etc. We bend over backwards to describe it exactly as it is: a rustic, old-style Vineyard camp near the end of a very long dirt road, with basic amenities and one of the most glorious locations on Martha's Vineyard: Deep Bottom Cove on the west, Thumb Cove on the east, and the main body of Tisbury Great Pond spread out to the south, with the barrier beach on the far side. Who knows what these people were expecting for well under $2,000 a week? (Believe me, by Vineyard summer standards, this is extremely cheap for a place where you can jump off the deck, sprint about 20 feet, and go swimming.) Probably celebrity neighbors and central air conditioning.

In making their displeasure known, the tenants from hell did not stop with my sister and me (we both got phone calls late Sunday night): they called the board of health and the police. Really. This never would have occurred to me. The place is not a health hazard; or, maybe more accurately, if it's a health hazard, so are most of the places I've ever lived. When talking with prospective tenants, my sister asks them who's in their party and then points out possible drawbacks depending on age, health, whatever; for instance, there are no railings on the (low) deck, which can make it risky for unattended crawlers and toddlers. The tenants from hell did not mention the elderly mother with Alzheimer's or the son with asthma. "Guilt turns to hostility," as a college friend used to say, quoting from (I think) The Boys in the Band. One of the most useful axioms ever uttered for demystifying human behavior.

Anyway, the health agent had to inspect because there'd been a complaint. The shocker is not that he found mold and mildew (this is an island, for heaven's sake, and it's August) and a few other minor problems (e.g., loose or no screens on some windows, a smoke detector that wasn't working) but that he can shut us down as a result. No more tenants, no more rental income, no way to pay the taxes on a property bought for $20,000 that's now assessed at more than $2 million. (Gee, if the place is so substandard, maybe we could get an abatement on the taxes? Dream on, honey. We could burn the place down and it would still, in the eyes of the town, be worth more than $2 million, thanks to a couple of properties in the immediate area that have changed hands for insanely inflated prices.)

So now we're trying to find out what we have to do to make the place rentable again, how much it's going to cost, and whether and how we can come up with the required cash. Part of me is saying quite emphatically, "This place is an albatross that none of us can afford -- let's unload it before it sucks up any more of our money and time." But I really don't want to truck with the kind of assholes who will plunk down their $2 million (more or less), raze the camp, and build a 3,000-square foot all-amenities trophy house like the one just up the cove. What I really want to understand is why so many denizens of hell come here hell-bent on making this place just like the one they left behind, and why so many of them don't seem to realize what they're doing.

More later; much more, I'm afraid.


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