HCMC Dining Guide

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Landlady from Hell

For most of the almost two years I spent in my old house in District 3, we had a good relationship with our landlady. Allison, my soon-to-be-former roommate, and I took to calling her 'Crazy' long ago because she came off as eccentric and a bit unhinged, but we always got along well enough. We paid rent and utilities on time and were never short a single dong. Whenever there was a problem at the house we let her know, and we paid for the repairs. Our neighbors had nothing to complain about. As a reward for our good behavior she largely left us alone, only stopping by to collect rent once a month. This all fell apart a few days before we moved out last Friday.

Early last week I got a call from the landlady's daughter, who speaks much better English than her mother's mangled attempts. She informed me that we would need to have the house cleaned, which we already knew. We never had a cleaner, choosing to maintain the place ourselves, so I asked her to arrange one for us. The following day Crazy (whose name is actually Hong) stopped by with some guy from a cleaning company. He inspected the house, proclaimed it extremely dirty, and said it would cost 9 million VND to clean. That's almost $500, an obscene amount of money. I laughed in his face and said no way, and he immediately dropped it down to 7 million, which was still far too much. They kept saying it would be a lot because it was so dirty, but we knew they were trying to shaft us. I lost any interest in doing business with people who were just trying to rip off the white guys, so I told Crazy we would just get our own cleaner. As she left she said she would talk to the company, which I assumed meant she would try to get a lower price.

We then talked to a friend and hired his cleaner for 3 million VND, or $150. I let Crazy know this, and she replied that she had already paid a $100 deposit for the company that had looked at the house earlier, and that we had agreed to pay them 5 million. This was news to me, and I responded that we had most certainly not agreed to anything, and she hadn't even told us she was putting down a deposit. This is where things started to go wrong.

Allison tried calling Crazy that evening to tell her there was no need for the deposit, but the conversation went nowhere and they both ended up yelling at each other. Then the woman's daughter (who is actually the owner of the house) called, and when Allison told her what the deal was she went ballistic. From across the room I could hear non-stop yelling coming from the phone, and as Allison repeatedly said, "Ma'am, please stop. Ma'am. Ma'am, can I talk?" she just kept ranting and raving before hanging up. Like mother, like daughter. We called back, and amazingly the owner ended up backing down and agreeing that we didn't need to worry about the deposit. Perhaps she was embarrassed by her outburst, as you aren't supposed to do that here. We thought things were now settled, but my how we were wrong.

The following day the cleaner we had hired arrived in the morning and got to work. Crazy showed up shortly afterwards and immediately started complaining that things weren't clean. From here on I'm going to capitalize all of her dialogue, since her normal speaking voice is a shout. I told her that the cleaning lady had just started working so, no, not everything was clean yet. Then she laid into me about the deposit debacle from two days earlier: "I AM A 62 YEAR-OLD WOMAN. I NO LIE PEOPLE. I NEVER LIE. I SAY 5 MILLION, YOU SAY OK, OK!"

Crazy's style of conversation is one of mercilessly pummeling you until you can't take it anymore. She repeats things over and over again until you do just start saying "OK, OK!" to get her to shut up. So I probably had said that, but certainly not to the idea of paying 5 million, mostly because no one ever mentioned that number to me.

"No, you never said 5 million. We said we would get our own cleaner."
"NO. I NEVER LIE PEOPLE. I A 62 YEAR-OLD WOMAN. YOU SAY OK."
"I didn't, but it doesn't matter now. We have our own cleaner, so just forget about it."
"I DON'T LIKE YOUR FRIEND. THE GIRL. SHE YELL AT ME. IF I SEE HER, I HIT HER!"
I glared at her, "Excuse me?! You'll do what? You don't threaten to hit people, especially not people who have been renting your house for two years. This is crazy."

I went to my room to get away from her, but there was no escape. She kept yammering on about the cleaning company and the deposit and how things weren't clean. Even the cleaning lady, a lovely woman named Cuc, couldn't take anymore of her. After looking through the house and checking all of the lights Crazy left.

She returned that evening, our last in the house, with an electrician who would look at the lights we couldn't reach that had burned out and see what kind of bulbs were needed. Allison and I went through the house room by room with Crazy and the light guy, making sure things were acceptably clean, etc. She went into the kitchen, opened a random cabinet door, saw it was loose and said, "BROKEN. YOU PAY MONEY. 100,000 DONG." I found a screwdriver and tightened the one loose screw, "It's fixed. We don't have to pay anything now."

In the guest room she discovered the remote for the air-conditioner wasn't working: "BROKEN. YOU PAY MONEY." I found two AAA batteries and put them in. "It's fixed. We don't have to pay any money." It was becoming clear that she was trying to find any way possible to get money out of us, and I was quickly losing whatever respect I had for her.

When we moved into the house in 2010 we had bought a TV and toaster oven from the people who had been living there, so we assumed they were ours. On the list of appliances on the lease it said Crazy had provided two TV's, but we had three, including the one we had bought. We told her we would be taking one and she completely lost it.
"NO. I HAVE THREE TV'S. YOU NOT TAKE ONE!"
"Mrs. Hong, it says on the lease that there are two. Look at the paper you're holding."
"AHH NO! TRAM (the agent who was our mediator when we signed the lease) WROTE IT DOWN WRONG. I HAVE THREE!" All the while she was on the verge of slapping Allison and tearing the lease in half, clearly illustrating just how much written contracts are worth here in Vietnam. Allison and I were looking at each other wondering what in the hell was wrong with this woman, and even the electrician looked amazed. If you look up 'crazy psycho bitch' in the dictionary, her picture will be the definition.

After another minute or two of screaming on Crazy's part we decided that, screw it, it's not worth it for one shitty TV. We were running out of patience, muttering curses and flicking Crazy off behind her back, but we tried to stay calm in front of her, since it was starting to feel like we were dealing with a cornered mongoose.

In the bathroom on the top floor, which we had never used, she found that the hose running to the shower head was leaking. "YOU PAY MONEY." We tried arguing that we had never touched the shower, but it was futile. "Fine, tell us how much you want us to pay." We went back downstairs and the electrician went out to get some light bulbs. Crazy sat down in the living room with Allison and I, and suddenly she was all smiles, trying to joke and saying something about marriage. This was basically when I realized Crazy is actually crazy. She at least has bipolar disorder, how else can you explain the contrast between raging about the TV one minute and turning on the charm the next?

She also kept going on and on about how much money she would have to pay a painter to re-paint the house after we moved out, which we couldn't give two shits about. "OK, you need to pay that much. It's called home ownership, and this place hasn't been painted in at least five years by the looks of it." She left a little later, and we were drained. Dealing with Crazy was exhausting, and she was turning into a nightmare. We were doubtful we would get our full security deposit back, and by this point all we wanted to do was move out. What had been a great two years in a good house in a fantastic neighborhood was coming to an ignominious end, through no fault of our own.

Crazy returned mid-day Friday as we were moving out, and things got ugly quickly. Amazingly she caved on the TV and said we could have it, though we didn't even care anymore. Then she demanded that I repay her the $100 deposit she put down on the cleaning company. "What? No, I'm not paying you. You didn't tell us you were doing that, and we got our own cleaner."
"NO. YOU MUST PAY. I NEVER LIE PEOPLE. I NEVER LIE. I NEVER LIE. YOU SAY OK OK."
Allison then suggested that we let Crazy have the TV in exchange for me not having to give her any more money, which worked.

We got a taxi to park down the alley and I waited by it as Allison and Anthony, our other roommate, carried things out to it. At one point Allison came out and said she was going to get the cops. Uh, what? Apparently Anthony had started to carry the toaster oven (which, again, we thought we had bought and was not on the lease) out of the house, and when Crazy saw that she started punching him with both hands while screaming that we couldn't take it and we should get the police. She had officially gone off the deep end.

Anthony and I took a taxi load of bags and boxes to our new apartment and then returned to the house to learn that Crazy had tried to leave the house with the lease. When Allison informed the woman that she had actually gone and talked to the police, she freaked out, possibly in the realization that she was in the wrong here. The three of us were completely fed up and absolutely exhausted. Crazy's behavior was some of the most pathetic I've seen in Vietnam, and she obviously had no concern for the supposedly important concept of 'face', which says that you're not supposed to scream at people or otherwise debase yourself.

The cops weren't going to show up for a couple of hours, and we didn't care about a toaster oven that much anyway, so we sat down and told Crazy to just give us our goddamn security deposit. Stunningly she gave us the whole thing back, and with 30 million VND in hand we stalked out of the house without saying another word. A major chapter of my life in Saigon had come to a painfully acrimonious ending.

I've never heard a story concerning a landlord even remotely similar to this one. Dealing with that woman left me pissed off for several days and was a truly awful experience. Why she decided to make our lives a living hell at the end of two good years is beyond me, and she had absolutely no reason to do so. I kind of wish there was some sort of transparent justice system here so we could take her to court, but that's a pipe dream. In the end I'm just glad all of that is over with and I never have to speak or hear of Crazy again. Good riddance, demon woman.

27 comments:

  1. In my opinion, her niceness towards you was just a cover for her to get an opportunity to rip you off. Usually, when locals see a white face or a Vietnamese expat, they see an instant cash machine. Learn to say no a lot, and never get cornered.

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    1. Yea I know how a lot of people see us. I think we handled ourselves pretty well though - we only paid for what we had to, and she really didn't get any of the money she was demanding out of us. Plus, we got our security deposit back!

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  2. An amazing story, but actually this also happened to me during my years in China. I had three different apartments and three different landlords (two of which were women) during my 3 years in China, and every last one the landlords was a scumbag and a tightwad. When I moved out of each one of my apartments, they were in better shape than before I moved in. Yet I only got my security deposit back once, one time the police had to be called, and two times I seriously thought fists were going to start swinging.

    Now whenever I rent apartments, I pay close attention to the landlord's behavior. If I sense they are a tightwad, I will refuse to rent from them because I know there'll be trouble in the future.

    Anyways, I can totally relate to how you feel. All you can do is hope the next landlord will be better. Sometimes landlords will seem like God's gift from heaven. Well at least until the day you move out...

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    1. Damn, that really sucks. I would've been livid if we hadn't gotten our deposit back. It's such a shame when people behave like that towards foreigners. They don't seem to realize that, more of then than not, they'd be able to get more money out of us if they are honest. I'm fine paying for things that are reasonable and legitimate, but when you start acting like an idiot my wallet is staying closed. Plus it kind of makes you want to leave the country...

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  3. Thanks for sharing this important information with us. Waiting for more updates from you.
    We supply routine cleaning services to all type of premises in all business sectors.
    Strata Cleaning

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    1. Um, thanks? Can't tell if that's spam or not.

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  4. You forgot the part where Crazy stole Allison's phone and dug her nails into Allison. Damn she's crazy.

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    1. I know, there was just too much insanity to fit into one post.

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  5. It seems all logic goes out the door and whoever can scream louder wins. I've had similiar dealings in Vietnam, from renting a scooter to hotels. I'm a Viet Kieu that barely speaks vietnamese so they always think I got money and try to get me to pay beyond the standard for most things. I've come to realize the conversation ends pretty quickly when you tell them NO MORE TALK, LETS GO CALL THE CONG AN ( POLICE ). This always seems to put them in check. thanks for the wonderful insight into the word of crazy landlords.

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    1. No problem. It does seem that people here are genuinely terrified of the police, which is probably a bad sign for the country but I guess it's kinda helpful for us.

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  6. I'm surprised she returned all 1500 back to you. That sounds like a victory indeed. Congrats!

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    1. Also surprised. I lost 30 mill last year due to a clone of your landlord. I was also stopped from moving out by the apartment security guards, as "your landlord must give permission" and she was in Nha Trang. A phone call from her to security began with "they are stealing my things, they cannot leave until I get there - next week". Long story. As bad, if not worse than yours. I don't want to re-live it.

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    2. Wow that sounds awful. I wouldn't want to re-live that either.

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  7. I was just thinking, would you care to share our website SpotVietnam.com through your blog roll? I am actually a Vietnamese American as well and when I got here, it was highly trouble some (although not to the extent you have experienced).

    We're a residential leasing team out here in HCMC with the drive to incorporate the quality of customer service of the states, helping Expats find homes and ease into the country. If not, then no worries as well =).

    Thanks for sharing and keep blogging!

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    1. Well I really only link to other personal blogs, but I'll certainly bookmark your site and pass it on to anyone who asks me about finding housing here. Thanks for the link.

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  8. I've been waiting to hear this story. You shoulda called Morris Bart. One call, that's all.

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    1. Sigh, if only I had thought of that...

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  9. lol. welcome to commie country. this is what happen when you think life would be a blast in vn. lol.

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    1. Um, not sure what that had to do with Vietnam being communist. Also, I don't expect life here to 'be a blast' - daily life is daily life.

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    2. it is the culture born out of thousand years of wars w/ foreigners and explotation. Vnamese will always look at foreigners as exploiter. Isnt that why u/expats etc. are in the country anyway? For cheap living cause your dollar can go far there?
      That is why Vietnamese will ALWAYS consider foreigners as fair game. I dont see what she is doing is wrong to try to re-exploit you back. Basically it is just one exploiter to another. ie. "cho an cho"

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    3. Frankly that's a pretty ridiculous argument - simply because someone was exploited in the past means they have the right to exploit people in the future? Wouldn't that just create an endless cycle of people being dicks to each other? And how have I ever exploited her anyway? That's a terrible way to look at the world.

      If the Vietnamese forever consider foreigners 'fair game' they're going to turn a lot of people off to the country. I don't think most people here think like that anyway, since the majority of locals I've dealt with have been 100% honest. It only takes a few bad apples to ruin things.

      Also that's a pretty nice generalization of why 'us foreigners' are here - sure some are here for a cheap and easy lifestyle, but I've started a career that probably wouldn't have happened in the U.S. I don't just laze around all day, and life can actually be pretty trying here, even for a foreigner.

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  10. 100% agreed. That was a dick thing to say, but the person probably will never see your reply since they logged in as "anonymous." Chicken shit.

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  11. great story! .... although difficult to have the presence of mind, getting this all on video would have been great for viewing but also to play back straight into the ladies face ... have heard of people secreting prawns or raw meat in the premises of such landlords! ... chris, near sydney, australia

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