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Posted by meghan at 04:01AM, Thursday, November 01st, 2001

My Bad Roomate

From the series "Little Sublet of Horrors": a criminal moves in, and not even the FBI can get him out.

Part One: December, 2000

Last night the police and FBI were here, in my house.

The roommate whom my boyfriend Brian and I have been trying to get rid of for seven months was caught breaking and entering into a house in the neighborhood. He was arrested and then released without bail by the judge. After they let him out, the cops realized he was an "accomplished catburglar," so an undercover police officer staked out our house yesterday.

Everyone entering or leaving was asked for ID. The bad roommate's boyfriend was not allowed in the house; all other roommates and my Dad, who happened to stop by, were let in. When the bad roommate came home, they arrested him again. I didn't even notice when they got him.

Later, the police and FBI showed up. One by one, they and rang the doorbell, till we had about 10 agents and officers in the house.

They had a search warrant, signed by an on-call judge, and it said they were to search for anything looking antique or unique or old and of value. They were both cordial and funny. A police officer named MaryAnn had to stand outside during the stakeout so I gave her mint tea. Even when everyone was inside, they kept their jackets on (long ones for the FBI, plainclothes for the police) and MaryAnn sipped her tea.

They thought they would have to break the lock on the roommate's door (a deadbolt he had installed without permission), but the door was just open. They looked through photographs, his datebook, rolodex, threw receipts all over the floor, looked in his closet, took pictures, and then went to the basement.

Brian and I had noticed that he's got all this stuff in the basement that either he'd have to sell at a big yard sale or he'd have to move into a very big house to put to use. There are 5 or 6 mantelpieces stacked behind the stairway, and some more by the washing machine. There are wooden tables and chairs, clothing, a few bicycles, and lots of other junk that nearly fills the basement.

Three of the mantelpieces (of more than a dozen) fit the description of stolen items from an October 15 break-in. Also fitting the description are two fireplace grates and a partridge in a pear tree. OK, the last part wasn't true, but there was a brass chandelier and some bowls and a little plaster figurine of a well-known bear that the FBI art detective pulled out of the box and announced, "Pooh." The rest of us in the basement giggled and he said, "What? What?"

The roommate did not get out on bail last night. Brian didn't sleep much because we didn't know whether he was going to be released. Would he come back to the house and start destroying things? He was arraigned in court this morning and we don't yet know whether he's going to have bail set and/or get out.

The police lieutenant who was here last night told us this morning that he'll be charged with either breaking & entering or burglary (burglary happens at night and in a residence) and in addition will be charged with larceny. There's so much stuff in the basement! I guess he could get out and come back here to get his personal belongings, but the lieutenant thinks that if he gets out, he'll just run like hell (read: flee the country).

That's the other supposition of the story: that maybe he's been getting orders from someone to steal all this stuff, and then bringing it down to New York (his mother in Brooklyn may help), where a fence will get it sold overseas. The roommate and his family are from Croatia. The FBI think there's a crime ring in stolen antiques that runs from America to Croatia.

This roommate was apparently going into people's homes, perhaps posing as a plumber or someone to the neighbors, and using a crowbar to rip the mantelpieces off the wall. His crowbar had red paint on the back. They found the crowbar, and in all the houses which have had mantelpieces ripped off the walls there's red paint on the wall. What kind of frigging idiot would rip mantelpieces off walls? And then store them in our basement?

He kept telling us he was going to move out, but we don't believe he ever meant to. He told us three times over the past year that he'd move out by a specific date. We finally brought him to court in October and got an execution of judgment hammered out in mediation that forces him to move out by January 31; otherwise, he'll be evicted by February 14. Happy Valentine's Day.

He hasn't paid rent for November or December, and he's told the landlord (who lives downstairs and is very sweet and Chinese) that he'd be out by the end of December so his security deposit and last month's rent could be used to cover it. Guess what? The judgement requires him to give us two weeks notice before leaving, so if he'd meant to leave, he should have told us by this past Sunday... He didn't mean to leave.

Maybe he'll be put in jail. Maybe he'll leave the country. Maybe he'll come back here until January 31st and we'll have to evict him. This is just so weird and unsettling. But in some way, it's good (really really bad?) to have our worst suspicions confirmed.

Part Two: January, 2001

The bad bad roommate is finally out! When he rang the doorbell the first time this past Thursday, Brian called the cops on him, believing there was still an outstanding warrant for his arrest. The bad roommate walked away before the cops came. But when they came, they said, no, there's no warrant anymore. Nice of them to tell us.

What we did have, however, was a restraining order that keeps him out of the house and away from us. Yes, it did take a full day out of work, hopping from courthouse to courthouse to get it. A judge told us at the first courthouse, before telling us to go to the second courthouse, that yes, the American legal system stinks.

Since we had the restraining order we were able to prevent him from coming in the house this past Thursday. It turns out that he was coming back to move out his stuff. This is very good because we were in the process of finding out how much it costs (thousands) to get his stuff packed up and moved away and stored for a year. (How do you recover your costs for taking responsibility for this abandoned stuff? Spend the hard cash and lost work time to sue for the money in court. Gee whiz) We thought about hiring a lawyer to figure out what folds and wrinkles in the legal system would stymie us if we were to try and get rid of his stuff.

Oh, yeah. Did I tell you? The roommate came back the day after his arrest in December, without any cops having told us he was out. We had a dozen professionals in our house the day before, and none of them thought to tell us that this idiot had gotten out, not on bail, but on personal recognizance. After his second arrest and arraignment. What was it that the judge said?...

When the roommate showed up that day in December, we called the cops right away but had to let him in because he still lived here. We couldn't keep him out. So he and his boyfriend cleaned up the mess in his room that the cops had left, and took away any other evidence that might have been left, including his date book, which said, on October 15, the date we'd been told that he'd broken into a house, "pick up van 1am, take bike, urns, sweaters, (other stuff I couldn't read)". This was only three days after we'd been to court with him the first time to evict him. I do declare, that boy had no morals.

So we'd called the cops and let the bad housemate in. The bad housemate cleared away stuff, took a shower, ate dinner, and then took off. The cops never came. Next day, i spoke with the lieutenant on the case in the local police, who wanted to know why we hadn't called the police, didn't we know the guy had a warrant out for his arrest? Boiling, seething frustration? Mmmm?

So the guy's taken off, after he told us that night (under my questioning) that he was not going to pay any more rent, nor was he going to pay the past 2 months that he owed. I couldn't get him to write it down that he was leaving, and he referred to the mediated agreement, which said that he had to give us two weeks notice, but nowhere did it say that he had to do it in writing. He's left his room full of stuff, goodness knows how much of it stolen, and he's left us a basement full of obviously stolen goods, such as the aforementioned dozen or so mantelpieces. There's only been one victim here to reclaim the three mantelpieces, concrete urns, and other furniture that the guy stole from him on October 15. Everything else has been left in the basement. Calls to the police and FBI reveal that they have nothing more that they want from our basement.

At this point I start seeking professional legal advice. My other two housemates confront me and ask why am i seeking legal advice, do I want them to pay for it? A bitter, then understanding conversation ensues in which I remind them that they've not paid for any of the costs so far of getting this guy out of our house, and they question why Brian and I have been so pro-active in trying to get him to leave, wouldn't it be easier to just ignore him and he'll go away? Understanding comes in the realization that we're all in this together, that not enough communication has been going on between the active and passive parties, that the only way to get him out is to force the issue, and we all resolve to do better. Communal television watching ensues.

It's the very next night that bad housemate shows up with his brother at the door with no warning. Brian calls the cops, the bad housemate leaves, and the cops show up. After the cops get here and tell us there's no warrant against him, we're able to get in contact with his lawyer. We work out with the lawyer that the housemate and his brother from NYC can come in and take away all his crap if and only if the lawyer comes in with them and supervises. Half-hour later they all show up, and the 60-something lawyer helps them cart the stuff down the stairs and into the truck.

A little after 9 they all finish and we talk to the lawyer, asking if all the rest of the stuff like the bed left in bad housemate's room is abandoned and can we throw it away? He says yes, and we do so immediately. They were still putting the final touches on stuffing the last mantelpiece into the over-full truck (remember all those mantelpieces the cops said they didn't want? Owners don't get to recover them: bad housemate gets to sell them) when we brought the dismantled bed downstairs and set it out on the sidewalk for trash day. Ooh, that felt good.

Upstairs with all the housemates, we clear out his tschoschkes from the kitchen ("home sweet apartment" placard, broken wooden dolphin, old food containers). Downstairs to the basement, and we throw away ratty chairs, stolen dishes, an ugly tasseled lamp, and, strangely, two sets of half-charred logs. Fireplace logs. We pick up some after-eights mints from the floor and throw those out too. We figure out that not only did he steal mantelpieces, but he stole entire fireplaces, including the trinkets on top, like bowls of candy and "pooh". Reminded us of that infamous bad Christmas character. Furry and green, no, but the other traits fit! Heart several sizes too small, too, I believe. But there was no character-upgrading denoument at the end of his time with us. And he did ruin our Christmas. (We moved all our computer equipment and camera equipment to a friend's house for the holidays while we were away for two days, afraid he'd break in when people were least likely to be around)

We all went back upstairs to our reclaimed kitchen, and opened the door onto his empty room. His bad perfume was a little overpowering at first, but it went away. I got the sherry from a birthday party two years ago and we all drank a toast to having a real home.

In the week since he's been gone, Brian and I were able to spend a night elsewhere without putting all our stuff in boxes and relocating it. In the kitchen, dishes aren't left piled up and food hasn't been stolen (not only was the guy a criminal, but he was terrible to live with, too). We've had the locks changed. All of us have stood around talking a few times (not gone to our rooms in dread of encountering the bad housemate). Life is getting back to normal. I don't think we'll rent the room out to anyone; one housemate from upstairs may move into the larger room that is vacant.

The moral of the story is: have really big friends and call them right away if you want a bad person out of your house. Because the law can't do it. And the cops can't do it. And even the FBI can't do it. Aw, fuck.

the author is a photographer; her work can be seen at

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