Thursday, September 27, 2007

Unintended Consequences

I had it all planned out like clockwork. The lease I signed had me entering the new apartment on September 30th (Sunday.) The lease on my storage place ends on September 30th. The movers will be at the warehouse at 8 AM on the morning of September 30th to bring my stuff to my new apartment. I already transferred my address on my phone bills over to the new address.

Apparently the family living in the apartment had other plans. They were supposed to move out on September 15th, giving the landlord enough time to paint the place and fix it up. On Tuesday night, only 12 hours after my 3 AM landing at Ben Gurion Airport, Lalouche, my new Landlord calls me, "Ephraim, I know we have an arrangement, but the family is still there, and they have nowhere to go. I'm asking you to have rachmanut (compassion) and give them an extra seven days, until October 8th. If they're not out by then, then I will get them out, no question. I know our contract says September 30th, and if you ask me to, I will have the apartment ready for you by then, but just think about it."
"I'll call you back tomorrow," I answer.

I thought about it. Hard. My first instinct is just to say, "yes." After all, I met the tenants, a family of not-so-well-to-do Ethiopian immigrants, when I went to see the apartment, and they seemed like nice enough people. I don't want to be responsible for kicking someone out of their home. And we just got through Yom Kippur, with the understanding that Hashem deals with us with compassion when we deal with others with compassion. I consulted friends, family, my E-ma (mom), and thought it over some more.

There are a few problems here:
1. First I called my future roommate Yigal. It turns out he is now living on a friend's couch, gradually wearing out his welcome, and told his friend that he will be moving in with me on September 30th. He will be on the street, or at least will need to find a youth hostel or something, if we don't move in on Sepember 30th.
2. If they are already two weeks late moving out, then one more week isn't going to help them. They will definitely not be able to find an apartment during this week, during which the country shuts down as we celebrate Sukkot, and we will just end up removing them on October 8th, and I'll be a week behind schedule.
3. Both my and Yigal's parnassah (ability to support ourselves) is in danger. Me, if I can't get up and running when I said I would and I look to my employer like a disorganized slob. Yigal, if he comes into his new job exhausted every day from living in a youth hostel and can't do his job. Plus the lack of income while I have no office makes it harder to pay bills.
So I decided. I think the mitzvah of my responsibility to Yigal, with whom I had made an agreement already, and to my own aliyah to Israel, outweighs the mitzvah of rachmanut. I told Lalouche the Landlord that ordinarily I would be happy to be flexible on the move in date, but I just can't in this case. But if the guy has some furniture, a television, or anything he would like me to watch over in the living room until he gets a new place, I would be happy to help him.
Well, it turns out Mr. Ethiopian immigrant guy isn't quite as naive as he pretends. While I had been considering ways to help the guy, he had called a lawyer and got an injunction preventing the landlord from evicting him. Apparently, there are some laws on the books about not being able to evict immigrant tenant families, regardless if the lease is up or not.
Lalouche, my landlord, called me in a panic. I could barely understand him through his French-acented Hebrew, "I can't get them out! I don't know what to do! I'm soooooo sorry about this!"
I told him to calm down and call me back soon. Legally speaking, since I've already given him post-dated checks for an entire year's rent, and we've already signed and sealed the lease, I could probably give him a big headache for violating his contract were I the litigious type. But I'm not.

So now I'm in violation of my rental agreement with the warehouse, and will have to extend my lease and pay some extra fees, but of course, it being the holidays, I can't get through to them. I also called the movers and cancelled the big move. Now, I'm the type who likes to carefully plan and execute every move professionally, and I can sometimes freak out when my plans get messed up, but I just decided not to this time. As the generals say, the best battle plans are perfect only until the first bullet is fired.

A few minutes later Laouche the Landlord called me back, "Look, I have some other properties that are coming up for rent in nice neighborhoods. I even have a two-bedroom on Derech Beit Lechem (a pretty sweet location) that you might want to see. Why don't you come into my office Friday, and I will take you around, and maybe we can work something out."

As an aside, I think that laws of this nature, which allow some to operate above the rules while the rest of us who follow the rules have to suffer tend to backfire. I'm certainly not comparing my own employment and financial situation, which is pretty good right now, to whatever troubles the guy living in the apartment may be going through. It's always easy to look at the individual case of the struggling tenant/worker/farmer versus the big faceless, and assumedly wealthy landlord/employer/bank. But when a society writes laws willy nilly to allow a tenant to violate his contract, to force a company to retain an employee after his job is no longer necessary, to force a bank to forgive a defaulted loan, then that means that landlords will no longer rent to Ethiopian tenants, employers will be hesitant to hire new workers, and banks will charge exorbitant interest rates on loans. In the end, haphazard laws do great damage to those they are meant to help.

This also applies to failing companies which have their debt paid out by the government, or are allowed to trash their pension plans through bankruptcy.

In retrospect, I'm glad I decided to go ahead and ask them to leave. If I hadn't I'm sure that I would be in the same situation as I am now, homeless and officeless, except it would already be a week later before I realized just how homeless I really was. At least I know. Thank God I've no shortage of family and friends to fall back on, and my cousins told me I can stay with them as long as I like. So, tomorrow I'll go in and we'll see where life takes me.

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