When Cheap Goes Wrong: Tales of a Slum Landlord


Broken window theory: fill the crack with windshield glue.


M and I live in this old, rundown building on East Hastings. Our landlord, Wing, is really cheap (I have no qualms about using his name here because I sincerely doubt he does Google vanity searches. Besides, I’m just using his first name. At least I think it’s his first name).

Wing is so cheap he refuses to remodel the hair salon he runs directly below our place. I swear that nothing has changed since the 1960s. The benches in the waiting area are covered in green vinyl, a shade that has surely not been seen since the days of mood rings and Go-Go boots. The swivel chairs are covered in the same vinyl. Wing’s base of operations is the fake-wood panelled desk just inside the door. Truth be told, the place looks really hip, like the diner a few blocks up with the counter and stools and red vinyl booths with pegs to hang your jacket up. But I know that hipness is not what Wing is going for. It’s cheapness.

That’s not to say he isn’t attentive. Wing always responds immediately when we tell him there’s a problem, like the toilet is coming off its base or the tap in the bathtub is dripping. He employs a series of workmen who come into the apartment, confer together in Cantonese, and then jerry rig whatever is ailing. Jerry rigging drives me nuts. I come from people who keep everything in perfect condition all the time. When something breaks, you fix it so it looks like new and will last a thousand years. Not with this bunch. When some of the ceramic tiles around the toilet cracked, Wing’s guy replaced them with different tiles (granted, finding tiles to match these would probably involve taking a time machine back to the 1950s). But the worst part is instead of using grout to fill in between the tiles, he used caulking. I don’t know if he just didn’t have any grout (perhaps it is a rare element, like plutonium and polyester leisure suits) or if it was cheaper to use caulk.

Another time we noticed a small crack in the big picture window in our living room. By the evening, that crack had crawled all the way up to the frame. We were afraid the window was going to fall out and kill some hapless passerby below. Wing came up with a couple of his guys and they replaced the window (single pane, of course). Lo and behold, the same day a crack started in the same place and made its way, again, up to the edge of the frame. This time Wing brought in a carpenter, or at least he said he was a carpenter, to see if there was a structural problem that was causing the windows to crack. The guy said no. But there was no way Wing was going to fork out the money for two windows in one week. He cheerfully suggested we put a piece of wood over the crack to hide it. “Psychological,” he said. We didn’t put a board there (it would have looked ridiculous) but we did fill the crack with windshield glue, which made it look even worse. We comfort ourselves by saying that our place looks so skid from the outside that no one would want to break in and rob us.

I put my foot down when the cockroaches arrived. I’ve had to live with cockroaches in hot countries like Taiwan, Mexico and Egypt, but not in Canada. Never in Canada. I thought Canada was too cold for cockroaches. I was horrified when I saw one on the stove. M had seen one two days earlier in the bathroom. I talked to our neighbours, who are, to put it bluntly, pigs—at least if the smell emanating from their place is any indication. They said they’d had cockroaches since they moved in four months earlier, and that they’d gone to Wing and he’d told them to get some spray. I found the phone number of a company that does integrated pest management, got a quote, took the info downstairs to Wing and demanded he do something. “How much is it going to cost me?” he asked. I told him $180–that was for an inspection of the entire building, baiting and, if necessary, spraying. It came with a three-month guarantee. He hemmed and hawed, saying he didn’t have the cash flow, but I insisted. I even talked to his wife, who promised she’d get on his back. So he did it. Amazingly, he did it.

But the upside is that with Wing, cheap goes both ways. He rents us this place for $750 a month. It’s huge, about 900 square feet, and has a cool and unusual layout. He lets me use the roof over the auto mechanic’s shop on the first floor for my container garden and worm composter. We can lock up our bikes in the hallways. He lets us put as many holes in the walls as we want and we are allowed to paint the walls crazy colours. Wing is smart. He knows that whatever we do to the place will make it better. So when we finally move out—if we ever do—he’ll be able to rent it for more money.

The truth is I really like Wing. Sometimes I go downstairs and we gossip about the crazy neighbour who yells and screams and pounds on the walls and ceiling every time any of us—including Wing, who’s also his landlord—makes any noise. Wing lets me in on which Chinese restaurants in the neighbourhood have the best deals, and gives me the lowdown on everything that’s going on within a five-block radius of us.

He may be cheap, but hell, that only makes us kindred spirits.


2 responses to “When Cheap Goes Wrong: Tales of a Slum Landlord

  1. i love wing. he’s my favorite landlord ever. i’m t’s significantly cheaper other, and i have no probs with wing’s thrifty ways. i wish all landlords were like him, then more cool people could afford to live in this town/ more people in this town could afford to be cool.

  2. Pingback: Good-bye cheap apartment, so long East Hastings | Tales of Extraordinary Cheapness

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