The Mystery of
Quercus Gardens Apartments
                      by Patricia Hilliard - Copyright June 2017

Chapter 13 – Ms. Goodwin Takes Notice (1794 words)

Beth had sent out several resumes this morning and was now allowing herself the time to do a little research for the Tall Trees Tenants Association. The first subject was financial assistance to tenants who could not pay the rent. She found a few more government agencies that may help and some church charities too. It seemed that if a tenant wanted to keep a roof over her head, the rent was to be paid first, above all else. That might mean kicking cigarette smoking, giving up a beer habit, buying a less expensive car or looking for a cheaper apartment, if that were possible.

Beth sighed, then moved on to the next issue: the Health Board. The web site kept giving her links back and forth between the Health Board and the Building Code Department. But it did say that landlords and tenants both shared a responsibility to maintain the safety of the building. The landlord was obligated to make repairs and the tenant was obligated to report the need for repairs. Otherwise, the whole back and forth between the tenant and landlord was defined by the lease agreement.

Beth pulled out her lease to have a look. It seemed like an exact copy of the various laws that she had reviewed on the Tenant Action Network’s web site. Nothing exceptional.

Beth’s phone rang. “Hello, Beth speaking.”

“Hello, are you the director of the Tall Trees Tenants Association?”

Beth laughed. Director? Sure, why not. “I’m the one.”

“Great, I want to speak to you. I moved into this apartment two months ago. Before I moved in, I noticed some cracks in the living room walls. I was told, don’t worry we’ll have that fixed before you move in. Wouldn’t you know it, the day I moved in, the cracks were still there!”

“Cracks in the living room walls?” Beth thought of the apartment with the bath tub that was falling through the floor and the apartment with the mold growing on the ceiling above the baby’s crib. She wondered how anyone could complain about a few cracks.

The caller continued, “Yes, I was promised they would be repaired. Could you come over and see these cracks and have the landlord do something about them? Of course, it will be more difficult to make repairs. I’ll have to move furniture and lift the carpet so they can fix the cracks without ruining anything.”

Beth looked at the clock. She could use a change of pace and a good walk would perk her up.

“I can come over shortly. Where do you live and what’s your name?”

“I’m Catherine Goodwin. I live in Building G, apartment #6, first floor.”

“Ok, I’ll be there soon.” Beth printed out a repair form for Ms. Goodwin to fill out. She also decided to print a copy of the newsletter from the Tall Trees Tenants Association web site. Beth had learned long ago that if you are organizing, you must always have a pen on you. She opened her desk drawer and grabbed a pen. Now she was ready.

Stepping outside, Beth took note of the weather. Gray clouds were rolling in and the air was dry and cold. It “smelled” like snow. Yes, a snow storm might be on the way. She headed down Park Lane toward Building G. Finding Ms. Goodwin’s apartment, she rang the doorbell. Beth was appreciative that the doorbell still worked. 

“Hello, hello, I’m so glad you could come. I just wish Mr. Ramon Perez would be so fast and efficient. I’m a nurse supervisor at the hospital here and this apartment is just perfect for me. I used to have a house, a beautiful house in the suburbs. My husband and I kept it in perfect condition. I just can’t live with cracks and crumbling walls. No one should have to put up with that. Come, look over here. Do you see that crack?”

Beth followed Catherine to the corner were a crack the length of her hand came out of the electrical outlet.  

“Now look over here,” Catherine said pointing to another location.

Beth leaned back to look up at the corner of the door where a crack that looked like a lightning bolt extended toward the ceiling. Considering all the problems at Quercus Gardens, Beth knew how Perez’s “to-do” list had failed to include this tenant’s complaints.

“Here’s a repair form. You would need to fill it out and send it to the landlord.”

“Oh, please, can you fill it out for me?”

Beth looked at the woman is surprise. Why would it be a problem for this tenant to fill out her own form? Some people just expected too much.

“Please, take off your jacket and have a seat here,” Catherine said. “I want to learn more from you. I’ll get us some tea.”

Beth’s hope for a quick visit faded. Still, the tenants sounded like she was interested. Beth sat down on the sofa and pulled her pen out of her pocket. Using the coffee table for a desk, she began to fill out what she could on the form. Apartment address: Building G, apartment #6, first floor. Repair needed: check mark in the box next to cracks in walls.
Catherine brought the tray with tea, sugar and milk.

“You’ll need to fill in your name, date and sign it here,” Beth explained and slid the paper across the table to Catherine. Beth took a cup of tea. She sipped it without milk or sugar.

Catherine signed and slid the paper back to Beth.
“When will the repairs be made?”

“We’ve had pretty good success with this form. Usually within two weeks.”

“Will I have to deal with that Mr. Perez? He is so rude. I was a little worried about not having my husband around anymore to deal with the contractors. That’s why I decided to sell the house and get an apartment. I had my own apartment when I was first starting out in life. It was great,”
 Catherine said. She put milk and sugar in her cup then sipped it. “I really loved the convenience of just picking up the phone and calling for repairs. The realtor promised me that this complex has a work crew here that takes care of everything. I never thought I’d be contacting a tenant association for repairs. But just between us, Mr. Perez seems a little scary to me. If you know how to deal with him, I’d rather have you do it.”
Beth gasped. She wondered if the story of the murder of Mrs. Mary Gilligan had reached this tenant who had just moved in a few months ago.  

“So how do you deal with Perez?” Catherine asked. “I suppose your group has an attorney.”

Beth looked at her. A person of this caliber would not want to hear that the association was made up of a bunch of grumpy tenants. They were sassy enough to send out a form demanding repairs. An attorney? Well, if you counted Alice’s connections, sure.

“We have all kinds of help,” Beth said. It sounded good. She could see that Catherine liked her answer. “Just give me a call if they don’t do anything after two weeks. But they should make the repairs soon. I’d like to know when the repairs are finished. We like to count our victories.”
“Certainly. Thank you very much for coming today. I must say, I’m impressed with your organization.”

“Thank you,” Beth said. She smiled. “Would you like to mail this or would you like me to do it?”

“I’d appreciate it if you would mail the form,” Catherine responded.

“Certainly,” Beth said. Of course, someone like this would expect the Tall Trees Tenant Association to be a “full service” organization. Beth would have to go to the post office to get a stamp. The nerve of some people!
Catherine opened the door and Beth stepped through.

“Have a good day,” Catherine said.

“You too,” Beth responded.

Beth made her way through the cold wind. Small flakes of snow darted around her and sliced her cheeks. What had possessed Beth to offer to mail the form? She wondered. Was it just the fact that this tenant seemed so much more sophisticated than all the others had been? The others were quite happy to fill out their forms and mail them in the postal service. Beth headed toward Main Street and walked up to the post office where she purchased a stamp with her own money and mailed Ms. Catherine Goodwin’s repair request form to the landlord. 

She headed back home in a flurry of big heavy white flakes that threatened to cover the ground. She thought about the cracks in the walls and the mold on the ceiling. These problems would not have even occurred to her, if she hadn’t taken on the task of organizing the tenants. Quercus Gardens looked nice from the outside.

Now she turned onto the sidewalk that led directly to her apartment, a small piece of paper caught her eye. It was rising and falling in the wind. Most of the time, Beth never saw any litter. It was probably dropped by pedestrians as they passed near Quercus Gardens. She hoped littering was not going to be a new problem. Had John Oldham listed it as one of the outdoor problems on the petition that he was circulating? 

The little paper suddenly flew at Beth and pressed itself against her leg. She looked at it in disgust, tried to kick it away, but couldn’t. She bent to retrieve it. Looking at the print, she realized it was a bill of lading from an oil company. Apparently, earlier today, more oil had been poured down the pipe to the basement oil tank that held heating fuel for her building. It said: Quercus Gardens Apartments. Bill to: Cramer, Johnson, Rossi LLC. This had to be the real name of the property owners. What luck! Beth ran indoors with the paper. 

She sat down at the computer and began researching the name. Cramer, Johnson, Rossi LLC. They were an investment group, focusing primarily on rental properties in the state of New Jersey, holdings include…a lot of property, most of which Beth had never heard of before. The fact that they now had a name, was both empowering and defeating. It was someone that they could serve court papers on, if they ever needed to sue the landlord. It was also just a corporate name, cold, defiant and unreachable. But here was a real address with an office that she could visit. Beth wondered if it would be a good idea to pay them a visit, even if she just went there as a “job hunter.”