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August 6th, 2007

Landlord from Hell (Part 2)

The story so far: I wish to move out of the house I am living in, although my lease only expires in seven months time. Read the first installment to find out why I wished to leave.

The lease that I signed when I moved into the house had a specific clause in it dealing with early termination of the agreement:

early termination clause

Resident may terminate this agreement before Expiration of the original term by:
(a) Giving management at least one month's written notice to be effective only on the last day of a given month; plus
(b) Paying all monies due through date of termination; plus
(c) Paying an amount equal to one month's Rent; plus
(d) Returning residence in a clean, ready to rent condition;
(e) Paying for advertising necessary to rent residence.
Scans of the rest of the lease are available here.

When I moved into the house, I paid R5000, which covered the first and last month's rent (2*R2500) - here, the "last month" was the last month in the lease, i.e. March next year. This is detailed in handwriting at the bottom of page 1 of the lease.

Then, when I paid rent for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th months, I paid an extra R1000 each month, for R3000 in total, which covered the deposit that is standard in most leases. This R3000 was suppose to be given back to me when I moved out of the house, minus R500 "cleaning fee" (so I would get R2500 back). This is detailed in point 6 at the top of page 2 of the lease.

So, he has R5500 of my money right now.

On Monday the 30th of July, I gave him one month's written notice that I would be moving out, as per part (a) of the early termination clause detailed above.

I wish the "last month's rent" that I paid him at the beginning to be used as rent for this month, August, and the deposit that I paid him in R1000 installments to be used as the "amount equal to one month's rent" described in clause (c) above. He can then advertise and send me an invoice, and I will pay that. Thus, I think I have fulfilled the conditions of the above clause.

However, he came to me shortly after I gave him written notice, and told me that clause (b) above means that I have to pay R2500 rent every month from now until March next year, instead of simply paying the rent for this month, August.

In other words, he is interpreting "through date of termination" to mean the original date of termination of the lease. Since the phrase occurs in an "early termination" clause, I am interpreting it to mean the new date of termination as detailed in my written notice.

By his interpretation, early termination of the lease as described in the lease would entail me continuing to pay rent, even though I moved out, and paying the one month penalty and advertising fees, and so on, which does not make sense to me - the entire clause becomes absurd and unnecessary. I think that any reasonable reading of the lease would decide in my favour.

I tried to talk to him about this, but he refused to enter into any discussion about the lease. He said that I could move out if I wished, but if I did not find somebody to replace myself, and did not pay him the rest of the rent money for the rest of the year, he would hand me over to his lawyers and debt collectors, wash his hands of the matter, and let them get the money from me.

Having discussed this matter with several people, I decided that he was either simply incorrect, or bluffing in an attempt to get me to either pay him, or find somebody to replace myself. Either way, I felt that I had fulfilled my legal obligations, and that if he did send lawyers after me, the courts would settle in my favour.

I think it became clear to him that I was not going to be intimidated into finding a replacement for myself, or paying for the rest of the year. On Sunday morning, at 7:30am, he knocked on my door and woke me up. He said "we have a parking problem, get your keys, and come downstairs, NOW". I went downstairs, sleepy and bewildered, and he told me that I owed him one month of rent. I restated that I had fulfilled my obligations, and would not be giving him any more money. He then asked me if I had driven into the gate when I had come home last night. (He has accused me wrongly of doing this before, with absolutely no evidence.) I said I had not, and he asked to see my gate remote control. When I handed it over to him, he took it off my keys, gave the keys back, and told me that he would be keeping it. Then, he asked me again to pay him this month's rent, and I once again reiterated my stance. At this point, he stood up, and said that I had to remove my car from his property immediately, or he would call a towtruck and have it removed. When I asked him why, he said "Because I say so - you have no right to keep your car on my property if I don't want it here."

Since he had confiscated my gate key, so I would have no way to get the car in and out of the property in the future, I moved my car onto the road outside, and returned to ask him for a pedestrian key so that I could get in and out of the gate - the only means of access to the property. He said he would give me one "when he was ready", and refused to say when this would be. I told him that I needed to get in and out of the property, and he said that I could ring the bell if I wanted the gate opened, and somebody would open it for me. At this stage, I raised my voice and demanded a set of keys from him loudly. In response, he phoned the police station. He told them that I had "arrived home drunk" the night before and was being disorderly and disruptive and that he wanted them to come and deal with me. While we waited for the police to arrive, I also phoned the police station, and detailed the scenario. The sergeant said that they could not come and force him to give me keys, and advised me to see a lawyer the next day. When the police arrived in response to his call, I explained the entire situation to them, and they said that they could not settle a dispute of this nature, and that we should speak to lawyers. The policeman was very nice and sympathetic, but explained the exact law very clearly. He suggested that we sit down and discuss the matter, and offered to attend the meeting to mediate if we wished him to. However, he told me that if I shouted at my landlord again, and he placed another call to the police, they would be forced by law to arrest me. He told me very nicely that I should just walk away and calm down, to avoid this. At this point, George attempted to get him to arrest me then on the spot, by telling him that I was being a hazard to the household and was causing a disruption. The policeman did not comply with his request, and departed shortly afterwards.

It transpired that I know one of the other tenants who has just moved into the house, although neither of us knew that the other one was there, but she witnessed the entire scene on Sunday morning, and can confirm my reporting of the scenario.

Since at that point I had no really viable way to get in and out of the property, I took some clothes and toiletries, and left the house. I have not been back since then, and I am staying with friends until I can find somewhere else to live. Most of my property is still in the house, locked in my room.

This morning, I phoned the Rental Housing Tribunal and explained the entire story to them. They said that it sounded like I was completely in the right legally, and that I had good grounds for a case against my landlord, and suggested that I go and see them tomorrow morning, with a copy of my lease, which I shall do.

That is the story of my house - I shall continue to post here as events unfold.

Landlord from Hell (Part 1)

I moved to Cape Town in April of this year, and needed to find a place to live. I had a few choices, but eventually settled on a house in Kenilworth - a very nice double storey house with a garden, swimming pool, big braai area, DSTV, DSL, and so on. The current tenants of the house were George (the owner and landlord, a fifty or sixty year old Irish guy with a pony tail), David (the large Kenyan guy who told me about the room in the house) and Johan (whom I saw about four times ever, creeping around at night, never saying a word).

After a month or two, things weren't so good. David moved out (I found out later that he had used me to replace himself in the house so that he could leave without forfeiting anything in the lease), and Johan apparently disappeared with all his stuff in the middle of the night. This left me with George, who was just unpleasant, and who spent most of his time sitting on the couch in his socks and watching TV. The place was not homely.

George's domestic worker was called Isaac, and I got on well with him. I used to tip him R10 or R20 to take my laundry out of the washing machine and hang it up to dry. One day I came home and found that George had told him to leave it sitting in the machine. George told me that I was no longer allowed to ask Isaac to do stuff for me. He did not explain why he had gone behind my back and told Isaac to leave my laundry to rot, instead of telling me face to face that I should stop asking Isaac for favours. I found out later, from Isaac, that George had done this because he was angry with me for not helping him to install anti-virus software on his computer, and this was his way of "getting back". Shortly after this, Isaac disappeared, and George hired somebody else called Jeffrey to work for him.

The house was in fairly bad condition, for all that it was a good house. There was no hot water in the kitchen, so it was impossible to do any washing up, which made cooking unpleasant. The shower downstairs had no water pressure and no hot water, rendering it unusable. The bath upstairs had a leak and strange habits when you varied the hot and cold water, but was usable. The front door had to be literally kicked open each time. George repeatedly said that he would fix these things, but it just never happened.

One day, I came home, wanting nothing more than to cook and go to bed, and I discovered that my food was no longer in the freezer - it had disappeared. On asking George about it, he admitted that he had eaten it, because he had been "too lazy" to go and get his own food, and he thought it might have been left over from when David had lived in the house. He said he would replace it sometime. A few days later, he phoned me and told me that some of his bananas were missing, and asked me if I had eaten them. I was almost speechless, and could come up with nothing but a "no".

It was round about this time that George cut off my access to the house's internet connection, stating that it would be "safer" for him to leave it disconnected.

To summarise, living in that house was utterly miserable, and I only went home to sleep, bath and change - I spent all the rest of my time elsewhere, with friends, or maybe reading a book in a restaurant, or otherwise passing the time until I felt I could go home and just sleep. In the last month or two, several new tenants have moved into the house, and some token efforts to fix up the problems have been made, but it is really just a case of too little, too late. I decided that I needed to move out.

Read the next installment to find out what happened.

July 27th

July 2007 GeekDinner

Well, another GeekDinner has come and gone. The July 2007 GeekDinner went off fairly smoothly last night, and I think everybody was fairly pleased with how it turned out.

The venue (Krugmann's grill) wasn't completely organised: they had people eating in part of our part of the venue right up until about 6:45, and then had to ask us all to go and stand by the bar while they rearranged all the tables, as they hadn't realised we had projectors and equipment. To be fair, our booking was for 7:30, although I don't know why, as we've said that the dinner was at 6:30 for 7:00 from the beginning. Anyway, that said and done, everything else went off fairly smoothly: the food was decent, the service was not bad, and there was plenty of space for everybody to sit where they could see the speakers and screens.

We were quite worried at first about the venue layout: there was a big partition halfway across the venue which cut the two sides off, and meant that anywhere that we put the screen would only be visible by half the attendees. In the end, it worked out fine, because we had two screens and two projectors, with a split, and the speakers stood in the middle where everybody could see them. There was still a sense of "us and them" in terms of the two sides of the venue, but it wasn't too serious.

That brings me to the awesomeness of Antoine and Ryan, and the guys from SimplyAV. They donated a screen and projector each, and the splitting equipment to enable the two-screen system, and came and spent an hour or so beforehand setting up and testing everything.

The speakers were pretty good. Dave Carman gave a good (if a little too long and technical) talk on the community wifi mesh down in Scarborough, which was very inspiring. Ian Gilfillan gave a nice talk about his experiences in writing a technical book. Alan Levin stood up and started a discussion about whether peering was actually needed in South Africa right now, and managed to let Andy's heckling slide right past him. Then came a talk I had looked forward to, but been somewhat worried about: Johan Wegner and Sam Paddock from GetWine. I invited them to come along to the dinner, and asked them if they'd like to speak about their experiences selling wine on the internet in South Africa's current technological climate, but I wasn't sure whether they would just give us a marketing blurb, or what. As it turns out, their talk was perfect. Johan gave us an overview of the business and its history, and how it got to where it is today, and Sam talked about the technical side of the business, and ended with lessons he'd learned from trying to sell things over the internet. It was very interesting, and prompted some good questions. It certainly didn't hurt that they had generously sponsored the wine for the event (and offered to sponsor future events too!). Finally, Aslam Khan gave a really good talk about Behaviour Driven Development. It was engaging and interesting, for both the non-technical and technical listeners, in spite of the fact that it was basically about writing proper unit-tests for your programs. (Update: he has written about the dinner and linked to his slides.)

I was very pleased with how the evening turned out, and as I said, I think everybody enjoyed it. We didn't have as big a turn-out as last time, and I would have preferred to have a few more non-technical talks than we did (for those in the audience who don't know what all the acronyms mean), but I think it was a success for all that. Photos will be up sometime this weekend.

Now, of course, we have to start thinking about the next one...

July 20th

Fight spam and read books

Well, I fixed my spam problems, it seems. I am now using CAPTCHAs on blog comments. A CAPTCHA is a way of checking whether the person accessing a web page is a "real" person by asking them to do something which computers find it hard to do. Traditionally, this has involved asking them to type out a word in a picture, because computers have always had trouble with image processing. However, software has improved at reading images, and this approach has started failing. Some other ways to determine whether the user is a real person have been suggested:

In order to prove your authenticity, please provide the answer to the following formula: formula
And then there's:

a new captcha approach

I am using neither of these methods, unfortunately. Brad pointed out ReCAPTCHA to me, which is now the recommended implementation of the CAPTCHA system. As described on their page, people perform word recognition all the time when they answer CAPTCHAs, and ReCAPTCHA uses this to assist in scanning the world's library archives into digital format. When some pages of some books are scanned in, the software can't always work out what the words are supposed to be, so these words get used in CAPTCHAs, and we let the people of the world work out what they are. If you're wondering how unknown words can be used in a CAPTCHA, go and read the link above.

Anyway, the point is, we're helping to digitize humanity's knowledge, and fighting spam at the same time. It's like hitting two birds with one stone. I notice that Facebook also uses ReCAPTCHA in its sign-up form. I think it's awesome.

Please let me know if there are any issues using the new CAPTCHAs when submitting comments?

Update: More captcha amusements and yet more.

July 11th

Virgin Money card in the bag

I got an SMS today.

If this surprises you, read this and this.

The SMS was from UTi couriers, telling me that they would be delivering my card today, and I should have proof of residence, proof of income (bank statements or payslip), and a copy of my ID. This led to a frantic search for my passport, which I could not find for a good half an hour. It turned up inside the bag that Tom used to wrap the bottle of Jack Daniels that he gave me for my 21st birthday in 2001. Obviously. (Okay, I can hear you all judging me, I've learned my lesson.) As it turns out, I have a copy of my ID anyway, so I didn't need it.

Anyway, the UTi chappie arrived, and I signed all sorts of bits of paper, and now I have my card. Remind me to put any other problems I have up on the Intartubes, too.

(I'd just like to add that, once the problem had actually been sorted out, Virgin Money were very efficient and apologetic and all that. So, good on them and stuff.)

July 10th

Virgin Money reads my blog

I got a phonecall today.

If you missed yesterday's gripping read, go read it now.

So, ja, I got a phonecall today.

Unfortunately, I missed it, because I was in Pick'n'Pay getting lunch, but I got the voicemail afterwards:

Jonathan, this is (somebody) from Virgin Money, I've just been reading your blog, and I'm slightly embarrassed. Somebody will phone you this afternoon to sort it out and have your card delivered to you in Cape Town in the not too distant future. Have a good afternoon.
I would have really liked to talk to her (and find out why she'd been reading my blog).

Anyway, I just got another phonecall from Ntsoaki at Virgin Money, who was great, and she's going to reel the UTI people in and put a redirect order on the card, so that it actually gets to me this time. Unfortunately, I'm going to need my ID card to take possession of the credit card, and as I mentioned earlier, I lost it. I need an affidavit from Mr Policeman saying it's lost before I can use my passport or driver's license. So that's another mission to make.


There's a type of wasp called Sphex, or "the Digger Wasp", who lay their eggs in burrows in the ground. They then sting other insects, paralysing them, and leave the insects in the burrows, for the larva to feed on when they hatch. However, before they drag the paralysed insect into the nest, they nip back down into the burrow to check the place out, make sure it's all clean and tidy or something, and then go back outside and drag the insect down.

If, while the wasp is inside, inspecting its nest, you move the paralysed insect a few inches away from the hole, the wasp will come back up, have a look around, and see the insect some distance away, and go and fetch it. However, when it gets the insect back to the hole, it has to perform the next step in its pre-programmed dance: it has to go down and inspect the burrow again. If you keep moving the insect away every time it inspects the burrow, it will remain stuck in its preprogrammed loop forever, never noticing that anything is wrong.

We use the Sphex wasp in philosophy as an example of behaviour which seems sensible and rational (it's a good idea to check out the nest before dragging a paralysed insect into it backwards), but turns out to simply be a set of hard-coded rules. One hypothesis is that all human behaviour is like this - it seems rational and it seems like we have free will, but if you alter the parameters enough, it'll turn out that we're just obeying the physical rules of our nervous systems and vastly complex brain.

What's my point? The good people at UTI have a set of rules which they follow, which makes the whole system run smoothly, and it seems to be a pretty clever way of doing things. But if you break the system slightly, alter the parameters, and do something unexpected, the whole system gets stuck in a loop. In a way, I rather wish I hadn't told the Internet that they were stuck, and just let them run until the world wound down. Just to see, you know?

Update: Here's the end of the story.

July 9th

Virgin Money and UTI: a study in inefficiency

On Wednesday the 16th of May, I was having a beer at Banana Jam while waiting for the railway boom to open, and messing about on my laptop, when Adrian pointed out the Virgin Money website. After idly checking it out, I filled in the application form and sent it off, to see what would happen - there are no fees, so it couldn't hurt. I don't really need another credit card, and don't plan to use it, but what the hell.

Two weeks later, I was informed that I had been approved, and that my card would be delivered to me by a courier, and I should have some form of identification ready to receive it. A few days later, I got a phone call:

Hi, is that Mr JD Hitchcock? This is Nametag from UTI on behalf of Virgin Money. I have your card, and I'd like to make arrangements to deliver it to you tomorrow. Can I confirm that your address is in Fourways, Johannesburg?
When I filled in the form, they asked for my work's physical address, so I gave them the address of the head office in Johannesburg. Anyway, I corrected them, saying that I worked down in Cape Town, and they said:
Ah, okay, I see. I will make arrangements for the card to be couriered down to Cape Town, and we will contact you when it gets there so that we can deliver it to you.

A week later, I got a phone call:

Hi, is that Mr JD Hitchcock? This is Nametag from UTI on behalf of Virgin Money. I have your card, and I'd like to make arrangements to deliver it to you tomorrow. Can I confirm that your address is in Fourways, Johannesburg?
I explained that I was in Cape Town, not Johannesburg.
Ah, okay, I see. I will make arrangements for the card to be couriered down to Cape Town, and we will contact you when it gets there so that we can deliver it to you.

About a week later, I went up to Johannesburg for a week, to do some work at the head office up there. While I was there, I got a phone call:

Hi, is that Mr JD Hitchcock? This is Nametag from UTI on behalf of Virgin Money. I have your card, and I'd like to make arrangements to deliver it to you tomorrow.
Now I was feeling like an idiot, because after making a fuss about them getting it down to Cape Town for me, I was in Johannesburg when they wanted to deliver it. However, the call continued:
Can I confirm that your address is in Fourways, Johannesburg?
They cocked it up again. What a relief! However, as it turned out, my schedule and their schedule wouldn't allow them to deliver it to me while I was up there (I was on a course for much of my time), so I resorted to my old tactic of telling them that I was in Cape Town.
Ah, okay, I see. I will make arrangements for the card to be couriered down to Cape Town, and we will contact you when it gets there so that we can deliver it to you.
Cool, man.

About a week later, when I was safely back in Cape Town, I got a phone call:

Hi, is that Mr JD Hitchcock? This is Nametag from UTI on behalf of Virgin Money. I have your card, and I'd like to make arrangements to deliver it to you tomorrow. Can I confirm that your address is in Fourways, Johannesburg?
I explained that I was in Cape Town, not Johannesburg.
Ah, okay, I see. I will make arrangements for the card to be couriered down to Cape Town, and we will contact you when it gets there so that we can deliver it to you.

Look, I'm going to cut this story short. The fifth, sixth and seventh times, when they phoned to ask if they could drop my card off in Fourways, I explained that I was in Cape Town, and said that they had phoned me four/five/six times before, and that I had had exactly the same response from them each time. When I told them that this was the nth time they were phoning me, they started getting a bit embarrassed, and said they'd elevate it to their supervisors, so I thought that things might start happening.


Today, I received a phonecall:

Hi, is that Mr JD Hitchcock? This is Llewellyn from UTI on behalf of Virgin Money. I have your card, and I'd like to make arrangements to deliver it to you tomorrow. Can I confirm that your address is in Fourways, Johannesburg?
Now, I know I should have been keeping track of their names, and the dates, but I wasn't. I'm pretty sure that I've had this Llewellyn guy before, though. Also, from email/instant messaging logs, I have managed to nail down four previous dates that they've phoned me:
  • Wednesday, June 13
  • Thursday, June 21
  • Friday, June 29
  • Monday, July 9
So, today was the eighth time they phoned me. From now on, I shall keep a detailed record of my correspondence with them, and see how it goes.

Frankly, I don't actually want the card. I don't need more debt, it would just be a useful backup to have. So, I'm not at all annoyed that they haven't given it to me. I'm more faintly amused by how badly they're screwing it up. What could be happening is that every time the card gets to Cape Town, they check to see where it's supposed to go, find my work address, and send it back to Johannesburg. I don't know. I'm debating not telling them how many times they've phoned me, and just saying "no, Cape Town" each time, to see how long it takes them to sort it out. Maybe I need a hobby.

More details as events warrant.

Update: Here is the second installment, and here's the final chapter in the saga.

July 6th

Music History

When I listen to music on my computer, my music player automatically submits every song I play to last.fm, which keeps track of everything. This means that I can see on my profile what my favourite artist/song has been for the last week, or ever, and so on. It can be quite disturbing to have conclusive proof that your favourite song is not what you thought it was, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Not only is it interesting, however, it is also useful. The site has a very useful and clever feature: it can suggest new music to you that you will like. Since it has complete information about the music history of all of its members, it can compare your listening habits with everybody else's and make comparisons. If you listen to 90% of the same music as somebody else, your musical tastes are probably very similar - the site can thus suggest that you try out some of the other music that the other person listens to. Scale this up to thousands of people and thousands of songs, and you get a remarkably accurate method for gauging music taste.

I'll leave it to you, if you're interested, to find out the other nifty features of the site (it streams music to you if you want, for example). What I wanted to share right now is lastgraph.

I have been submitting my music (on and off, mostly on) since April of 2004... I can now use lastgraph to draw a graph of my complete listening habits. Which I did. And you can look at it, if you want. It's available for download here in PDF and SVG forms, or you can see a PNG rendered version of it below (click to enlarge).

Music History

July 5th

July GeekDinner

The third in the new series of Cape Town GeekDinners, "Carnivorous Cantaloupe", will be happening on Thursday the 26th of July, at 18:30 for 19:00, at Krugmann's Grill, at the Waterfront.

Details can be found on the wiki page.

Please put your name on the wiki if you are going to attend the dinner, or if you are willing to give a talk.

In addition, feel free to sign up to the geekdinner-announce mailing list.

June 21st

Random Acts of Kindness

Today is the midwinter solstice, but it's a beautiful sunny day outside, in the fairest city in the southern hemisphere. However, today is lovely for more reasons than just that.

Adeline works at Primedia broadcasting, which incorporates Kfm, CapeTalk, Highveld and 702. Mel Jones is part of the KFM Breakfast Team (comprising Nic Marais, Mel Jones and the producer Ian Bredenkamp) and every day, she does Random Acts of Kindness as a station feature. Leaving aside the question of whether you can schedule spontaneity, the breakfast team decided to make today, the winter solstice, an official Random Act of Kindness Day.

I think I should just quote Adeline - she puts it best:

They asked listeners to drop off tinned and non-perishable foods at the studios for the homeless as part of Random Act of Kindness day, and the response has been unbelievable - imagine a 5x10m space just FILLED with food, and stuff is still coming in. It might sound like someone puked up a Hallmark store but it really restores your faith in people, seeing that kind of generosity and enthusiasm. So today is lovely because people are lovely and I am happy to be one.

I asked for a photo, and she sent this (click to enlarge):

KFM RaOK donations

She says:

I had to go up to the mezzanine level to get this much in and there's still more outside the frame. You can't see it but to the left is about half the same amount of food as well, it's coming in faster than they can sort it.

Well done, Cape Town!

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