flewellyn: (Default)
My apartment building has been condemned by the city because of extreme, malicious negligence on the part of the landlord. Between the leaking roof, leaky plumbing, faulty wiring, cracked foundation walls, mold infestation the likes of which have never been seen outside of a horror movie or Rush Limbaugh's jockey shorts, holes in the walls, and general disrepair, the city has decided (after failing him on four inspections in as many months) to revoke the landlord's license. So, all of us tenants need to find other housing.

Stressed? Me?

Actually, no. Not so bad. In fact, once I got over the initial "oh shit"ness and got a plan going, I started feeling pretty darn good.


Those of you who have read me for awhile may find that surprising; as you know, I have had varying fortunes over the course of my life. The last couple of years have been very, very good, but some of you were reading me back in 2004 and 2003, which were...ehhh, not so much with the good.

In particular, in 2004 I was severely depressed, my health was shot, I was living on food stamps and what money my grandparents could send me, and things generally sucked all around. I did manage to turn things around, though, got a wonderful job, improved my health, dealt with longstanding issues of grief and loss regarding my mother, got onto a state assistance program for disabled people who need life skills coaching, and in general improved my life perhaps 1000%*.

Just how much, though, wasn't apparent until this news about the apartment came down. Two years ago, getting the news that I had to move would have caused me to freak out, shrink away from all human contact, and hide in bed for days on end. And for a moment, I did have the temptation to do just that. Fortunately, I resisted.

Instead, I started saying to myself, "Okay, what do I need to do here? First thing I need to know is what my legal rights are. Google, here I come!"

It turns out that, because of the circumstances, my legal rights are very strong. Minnesota has very good tenants' rights laws, as I discovered upon Googling up "Minnesota tenants rights". I got a handbook from the state HUD department, which was written as an explanatory guide. Then I downloaded the actual law chapter on the subject, Minnesota Statues Chapter 504b. Read up, and, once I knew my rights, started rattling some cages. I called Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, the county social services department, the state's Rental Advocacy hotline, HUD, Moorhead's Neighborhood Services division, even a member of the city council. I've gotten some good advice and references out of it, as well as lining up all my ducks to hit the landlord with whatever legal weaponry I can bring to bear, as much on behalf of my neighbors as myself. In this case, that's quite a lot.

See, when a landlord in Minnesota has his building condemned, he's required by law to furnish copies of the notice to every tenant within 72 hours. And to refund the damage deposits, in full, with interest, within 5 days. Plus, he was directed by the city to assist the tenants in finding alternative housing, and provide us with adequate notice. None of these things have happened; we tenants only got notice of the suspension when one of my neighbors, a young single mother named Amber, passed out copies that she'd obtained from her attorney at Legal Services, on the 24th. We still have not seen a dime of the deposit money. And the landlord himself only told us we needed to leave on the 31st. (NB: According to the city, their notice to him does not count, legally, as notice to us. Nor is he permitted to use his mandatory copies of their notice to him AS such notice.)

Thing is, this landlord has become a major alcoholic since his wife died last year. I can sympathise with losing a loved one, and I can certainly sympathise with depression, but climbing back into the bottle is no more helpful in such situations than climbing back into bed. Believe me, I know.

Still, it's hard for me to sympathise when the guy continues to try and scam us for money. The other night he came by with a bogus form he wanted me to sign, which stated that I agreed if I was not out by the 3rd of November (the city's deadline to him to get people alternative housing), I would pay him a fine of $450. He is attempting, of course, to cover his losses, since any tenants who are still in the building after the 3rd cause him to face $100/per day fines, per tenant. So he must have figured, somehow, that he could maybe intimidate said tenants into giving him money, so he could cover the fines and maybe even turn a profit.

Only problem is, Minnesota law is very specific about paying rent, or anything else, to a landlord after the building is condemned: don't do it, and he can't ask for it. If he insists, he would be liable for three times the amount asked for, plus moving expenses, plus other penalties, just for making the attempt! Never mind the criminal prosecution for harrassment and fraud.

Obviously, though, affixing my signature to a piece of paper he gave me without consulting an attorney would be Very Bad, so I told him that I would do no such thing, and that I would be reporting it to the DA. He wasn't happy about that.

So, all of the above means that he is in big trouble, and I intend to give it to him. In the meantime, of course, I needed to find a new apartment. Fortunately, Google is my friend once again. I've found a nice little one-bedroom-with-office place in very good condition, in a very good neighborhood: it's one block away from Clay County Social Services, and two blocks from the county courthouse and the police station, so obviously it's in a low-crime area. And there are TREES! I haven't lived in an area with real trees in years. Heat and water are paid, everything is clean and the appliances are all new, they explicitly allow pets (and will waive the pets damage deposit since my cats are considered therapeutic companion animals), and I get my own garage for free! The landlords are very pleasant and helpful, and are expediting my application because of the need to move quickly (the condemnation of my building has made local news, so everybody knows). And best of all, I can afford it.

Not only that, though, but my social worker has pulled off another miracle: the program I'm in, SILS (Semi-Independent Living Skills), provides a fund for one-time use for moving a client into a new home if necessary. She's tapped into that fund for me, so now I don't even have to pay the movers! And I can get a new couch for free too! And a boxspring and mattress for my new bed!

Not too shabby for a week's work, eh what?





*You can so have a percentage greater than 100, when you're talking about degree of change and statistical trends. Hush up, pedants.
flewellyn: (Default)
Awhile back, I wrote a post in which I described the problems I've been having in the past year. 2004 was a hard year for me...a hard year indeed. Unemployed, disabled, broke most of the time, living in poverty, depressed, anxious, feeling worthless...oh, I could go on, but you get the idea. Among many of my problems, indeed the topmost on the list, was that I had no job. The last job I had, at USA Relay, was far too stressful and draining. I had thought that I could never work again, could never support myself; such thoughts were a major contributor to my depression. One of the things about depression, it tends to make you less able to take action to change the thing that's making you depressed. So, after a long time, I just stopped looking for a new job.

Funny thing about my life is, I often find what I'm searching for just when I've stopped searching for it.

Over Thanksgiving, I was contacted by a local business owner who had seen my resume online. He runs a company in North Fargo called Agri-ImaGIS (http://www.satshot.com), which does Geological Information System work, serving satellite pictures of farmers' fields to the farmers, or geologists, or the USDA, or whoever. The company has a large amount of data to serve (many terabytes), a large number of clients, a large and complex heterogeneous network...and, as of when he contacted me, three employees, including himself. Lanny, the owner (it's North Dakota, so there's not much formality), knows, in his words, "just enough about computers to be dangerous." Basically, he knows enough to be able to ask intelligently for what he wants. Ron, the database guru, knows SQL servers and relational databases inside and out, something I have never been able to do, but is not very familiar with Unix, specifically newer Unices (he's 60 years old, started his computer career in 1978, and has never programmed in C; Lisp, yes, but not C). Mark, the image processing guy, knows image processing like the back of his metacarpals, but again, not a network guy. So, you might wonder, how could this system exist, much less work, with nobody at the company to administer it?

Y'see, the old sysadmin, who I shall refer to as "Shawn" (because that's his name), had just up and quit on him two weeks before, with an hour's notice. What he left behind was a system that worked, but was overcomplicated, brittle, and extremely hard to understand. My resume listed the requisite skills, and when we met for an interview he liked what I said to him. However, since I had no prior work experience in system administration, he wanted to try me out for two weeks; give me an "internship" of sorts, so I could prove myself.

I started work last Tuesday, on November 30th. I've been very busy, but enjoying myself a great deal, since then. I administer a network of about 15 machines, a mix of Linux, OpenBSD, MacOS X on a G5 server (drool!), and even a MS SQL Server on Windows 2000 (they want to get rid of that, and so do I). My job, at first, was simply to study the system and figure out how it all works, documenting what I learned. If I did that well enough, and was able to finish before the two weeks were up, I could start looking at making changes to simplify, and restore sanity to, the system. The terms were, if I could prove myself well enough through that, I would have a job. Lanny said originally that he'd make up his mind on this coming Friday.

Then, Monday happened. I walked in to work that morning at 9 am to find the entire network was down. Kaput. Zero things working, everything and its cousin gone wrong. Website, application server, database server, internal network, net access, EVERYTHING. Having not the slightest clue what was going on, or why everything would fail like this, I set to work testing the servers. It took an hour and a half of examination and analysis to discover the problem: the DNS servers had gone down. Kinda need those. So I restarted them, then massaged the other systems back to health. By 11:00, we were up and running.

Well, I was apologizing to Ron for how long it took, but he told me that Shawn might have taken all day, if he could have finished it in one day. Then Lanny called. "Well, Avi, I gotta tell you," he said. "With what I've seen today, I've made up my mind. You're with us long-term, if you want the job. You want it?"

Did I?! This was like doing my hobby, but getting paid for it! I run my own little network at home, here, and have messed around with setting up servers and firewalls and such on my own time. Training, y'see. So, being able to do this in a production environment, with real, quality equipment? Hells, yes!

It's been a hell of a time, too. I've learned more new things in the last week than I had in several months of study on my own. I never knew what an LDAP server was even FOR, until I had to administer one. Learning it, under pressure, took an hour. The same, more or less, goes for Java Enterprise servelets, qmail setup, OpenBSD firewalls, NFS and Samba, SSH tunnelling, and a gazillion other things I could rattle off if I felt like it. Pardon me for tooting my own horn, but...*TOOT TOOT*!

I am, as [livejournal.com profile] limpingpigeon says, feeling awesome!

The work environment is great: very few people around, lots of computers, and we're in the old airport building, before Fargo had the new terminal built. We're right next to the airfield, so there's jets and prop planes taking off and landing all the time. The ND Air National Guard has their base next door, so I even got to see a flight of F-16s take off! The building is still used by the FAA, a flight insurance company, and a private plane retailer, so there's a real "aerospace" feeling to it. We're the only non-flight related company in the building (and since we work with satellite imaging, there's still some "aerospace" in there). There's lots of windows, fantastic sunsets, and always a full water cooler. I often bring lunch back to the office with me, to work while I eat. The guys there are very informal, very relaxed, and we always talk about what's going on before I change anything. That way, they know to tell me instantly if something goes wrong, so I can fix it. Plus, it's just nice not being surprised.

Even when I have nothing to actively do to the machines at the moment (because I'm planning something, or not yet fully sure of how to go about it), I still have research to do for what I want to do. What I want to do, of course, is make the system work according to what Lanny's customers need, and in a way that's easier to understand for all concerned. It's kind of an art, I think, sculpting a system so that it's as simple as it needs to be, but no simpler. The last guy, if you'll pardon my saying so, had no sense of good taste.

So, to make a long story short (too late!), I have not only a job, but about the best job I could have dreamed of getting. I can once again support myself, I get to play with computers all day, and I even have my own keys to the place! I have free reign to do as I feel best, so long as I don't break anything, and so long as it ends up making things better. Since that's what I want to do anyway, not a problem.

This, my friends, is why I have been humming "We Are The Champions". That and "Princes Of The Universe". Queen is kinda my triumph music!

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