Dermot O’Sullivan is from Dublin, Ireland. He studied English Literature in Trinity College, Dublin. His work has been published in journals including Causeway/Cabhsair and Fence. He currently lives in Brazil.
When the new management installed security cameras, hacked down the buddleia that was choking the car park out back and began to mop the corridors of the building once a week, I joked that they were only doing this so they could raise the rent. Then I thought nothing more about it.
I only became concerned a couple of months later when I looked out my window to see Dave in the car park taking a leak against the wall. I’d never had any particularly bad experiences with Dave so I’m not sure why his presence there disturbed me so much. I must have known instinctively, I guess, that this man was not to be trusted, that his return was bad news. He had been the building’s manager under the former owner and had disappeared when the place went into receivership. Obviously the new management company had realised that it made sense to employ him and so there he was, pissing in the back yard in full view of anyone who cared to look. When he was done, he glanced around nervously, shook himself and then, without zipping up, left by the back gate.
A little bit about Dave. Dave’s defining characteristic was his inability to hold an actual conversation with anyone. If you said anything to him, he would simply respond, “Yep, yep, yep,” loudly, and then hang up or walk away. In fairness, he usually did deal with any issues that were brought up, but he obviously had no time for niceties. If your door handle was broken he would not bother to reply to your text requesting that it be fixed. Simply, one day you would come home and it would be done. And, likewise, if he needed to tell you something, he made his declaration in one, usually very loud sentence and then hung up or walked away. This pragmatic personality may sound eccentric or even endearing but Dave wasn’t eccentric or endearing at all, and the impression given was rather of a person who purposely refused to engage with others in a way that even faintly resembled normal, day-to-day intimacy. As would become clear later on, he had good reasons for acting this way.
Dave was a sort of sociological enigma too, to me at least. He was in his late thirties or early forties, and although he had a distinctly upper-class Dublin accent he dressed as if he were from a small town in Longford. On the other hand, his hair, unbelievably, was long and blonde, like a surfer’s, but unlike a surfer’s it appeared to encounter only moderate amounts of water. Dirty blonde I meant. Yet he wasn’t unattractive, no. Then again he did smoke with a nauseating fervour. We residents would often run into him at the door of the building sucking viciously on a Marlboro, hunched over with the effort, trying to get the last drags into him before he would head inside for what, knowing his style, would be a few thirty-second exchanges with a couple of the neighbours before he would be out on the street again, already lighting up another cigarette before the big, slow Georgian door would have a chance to swing shut behind him. He drove a tiny, battered car that was strewn with a modest but not quite clinical array of empty Club Orange bottles, papers, items of clothing…
Mildly intrigued I had sometimes tried to engage him in small talk when I bumped into him smoking by the door, the only time he seemed to stand still for more than a few moments. He would dutifully engage but only for a very short time ─ “Buses, I know, awful…” ─ and he would never look you in the eye, and despite the apparent animation in his voice (his voice was always apparently animated in that it was always loud), there was a flatness to his tone that made it obvious that his mind was elsewhere or that he wanted you to believe that his mind was elsewhere.
This fundamental question of how much of Dave was Dave and how much of Dave was tactics is not one I can hope to answer here, though I suppose what we ultimately think of this man depends hugely on what the answer to that question may be. Perhaps it can be found somewhere, scribbled into a diary amid a litany of his sexual fantasies, his secret rages. Perhaps. Who knows?
After I had seen Dave relieving himself, a couple of weeks went by before anything happened. Then one day on my way back from the grocery shop I ran into him smoking outside the front door.
“Hey, need to talk to you,” he said. “So that rent’ll be going up. Be eight-fifty come September.”
My rent was 550 at that time and I earned just over a thousand euro a month.
“I only make a grand a month.”
“Nothing I can do,” he replied, “Bank own it now. Everyone else has agreed to the increases.”
At this point, I felt a tap on my elbow. I turned to see an old man with a slate-grey beard standing before me. He asked me if the eggs in the box I was holding were free range. I nodded cautiously and made some sort of the reply to Dave who then began to explain to me the impossibility of a compromise. It was the first and last time I heard him talk at any length. But I didn’t hear exactly what he was saying as my eyes were on the old man who, without taking it from me, opened the box of eggs, took an egg out, closed the box once more, and then cracked the egg on the area railings. Next he raised the little prize above his gaping mouth and pulled the crack open wider until the raw innards slid out and squirmed onto his outstretched tongue. He slurped once and the egg was gone. Then he chucked the shell into the gutter and walked away.
I had been half-aware of Dave all this time and believe I may even have responded to him, but in my distraction I’d lost my place in the conversation.
I found my mouth saying, as if a question, “Seven hundred?”
“Seven hundred, six-fifty, even seven-fifty, there’s no way. Come September, it’s eight-fifty, that’s it.”
“Even until Christmas?”
“So you’re actually going to raise the rent from five-fifty to eight-fifty a month, just like that?”
Dave paused briefly. “Basically. Yep.”
“But I can’t pay that.”
“Nothing I can do.”
“Yep, yep, yep. Listen. Nothing I can do.”
He tossed his unfinished cigarette and walked away.
Now that Dave had disappeared I felt extremely bizarre, as if I had just emerged from a dream. I stood motionless for a time, staring at the eggshell on the roadside, a glistening finger of albumen still clinging to its fractured rim.
Then it suddenly clicked why the situation felt so surreal. It was not because of the sudden, unbelievable rack-renting the landlords were preparing to impose, and not because an old man had asked for and eaten a raw egg on the side of the street, but because, as the old man performed this curious act, Dave, so absorbed in his insistence on the rent increase, had not paused in surprise or wonder, or even bothered to glance at the spectacle, though he had certainly been aware of it. Such things, I realised, simply weren’t relevant to him. And to those things that were not relevant to him, Dave was utterly blind.
What came afterwards deserves only a brief mention. By the time Dave had displayed to me, on the steps of the grubby Georgian that I called home, the tenacity and narrowness of his vision, all the cards had already been dealt. What followed was inevitable, if not from the very moment the place went into receivership, at least from the moment the new management decided to reemploy Dave.
Letters, menacing text messages, notes slipped under the door, constant phone calls, threats of legal action, claims and counter-claims with the Tenancies Board. Dave would corner my neighbour when her husband was at work and yell at her. I could go on but I don’t see the point. Some tenants paid up almost immediately, others held out for a while, that’s what it all really boiled down to. I held out one of the longest. The only Irish person in the building I was a lot more confident of the law and always had the back-up of moving home with my parents. Advantages of undeniable proportions. When I eventually did take a case with the Tenancies Board, I received a late-night phone call from Dave saying my stuff would be thrown out and the locks changed the following week. It was a last ditch effort to strong-arm me out of my home and it almost worked. Imagining everything you own flung out onto the streets of inner city Dublin in the autumn rains is a pretty strong argument, though even at the time it was obvious to me that it was probably an empty threat. The question was whether I would risk finding out for sure. I called the Gardaí who told me that threatening to the dump somebody’s belongings and illegally lock them out of their own home isn’t actually a crime. They did, however, ring Dave, who predictably denied everything. Among other things Dave was a compulsive and manipulative liar. But after this he backed down and there was relative peace as we both awaited an official ruling on the rent increase.
Then I discovered how I could get my revenge. Having been informed by a friend that I didn’t need to pay the increase, and that, indeed, even if I stopped paying rent completely it would take months to get me evicted, I did exactly that. I stopped paying.
Dave’s response was a dignified silence. Then the various letters began to arrive, first warning, second warning, eviction notice, all scrupulously worded, in exact accordance with the law. Obviously Dave could be meticulous when he wanted to. He knew he had been beaten at his own game, screwed over by the very person he had tried to screw, and now he had to play by the rules. And, having lost, I really don’t think it bothered him at all. He had tried, he had failed, so what? He didn’t have time to wait around. Once Dave knew that I wasn’t going anywhere soon, he simply hung up and walked away.
However, I soon realised my naivety in thinking that I had gained any sort of real victory. There was a flush of triumph, sure, when I understood that I was actually going to be allowed to live rent-free, and the fact that I would be moving abroad before long made things even better. I needed to move out anyway so why not be kicked out for non-payment of rent? And, despite all the hardship this battle had brought, it ultimately permitted me to live my last few months in Ireland with my main monthly expense eliminated, something that would never have been possible without the provocations of Dave and the company he worked for. So, in short, I had reasons to be happy.
But of course, in the larger scheme of things, it was obvious that I was just a blip. There were thirteen flats in the building I lived in, and the letting company, from its high-rise offices in Sandyford, managed dozens upon dozens of commercial and residential properties all over the city. Certainly they must not have liked the situation, but only in the same abstract way that a large, chain hotel does not like it when a guest manages to depart without paying the bill. Ultimately, it didn’t really matter to them all that much. What mattered was the big picture and the big picture was that the vast majority of the other tenants had either paid up or been forced out. If you push rent increases across the board, your revenue will increase, end of story. For every person who refuses, another accepts. And of those who refuse initially, for every one who resists the aggression and threats that follow, five or six cave in, and they cave in pretty quick.
Inform. Push. Then threaten. And worry about the collateral afterwards. That was their strategy and it worked. It works. I was going to say it works most of the time, but that’s not true. It works all of the time, cases such as mine being not failures of the tactic but simply one facet of it, a downside to what is ultimately an extremely lucrative approach.
It is the business model of profit at any cost, even of potential legal cases, of trouble with the police, of being obliged to throw people out of their homes. It does not matter because ultimately it makes business sense. Up there in the squeaky-clean offices of Beacon View Business Park, with the raw stink of cash in the air, and who knows what money-spewing financial entities seeking to avail of “profit optimisation” services, up there it makes perfect sense, that’s the bottom line.
With the market picking up in this tired port city, now is the hour to reap.
But to get anything like this done, shiny offices by themselves won’t suffice, you need people down on the ground, you need the right people on your team, people willing to get their hands dirty, individuals who are willing to lie, intimidate, manipulate, roar insults and threats at other human beings in order to turn a profit. In short, you need professional thugs.
And Chartered Asset Management Ltd was lucky, because they had Dave and Dave, being Dave, for whatever reason he was Dave, was the perfect man for the job.
© 2018 Dermot O’Sullivan