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Dear George

Sent by registered mail:

To: Mr George Hegarty,

This letter serves to confirm my position with respect to the termination of the lease governing my residence at 12 Silverhill Crescent, Kenilworth, Cape Town, that we signed in April of 2007.

Clause 8 of the lease states the following:

         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.
Accordingly, on the 30th of July, 2007, I gave you written notice stating that I wished to terminate the lease effective on the last day of August, 2007. You have accepted this notice, as per your letter to me on the 6th of August, 2007. As a result of this, the lease will terminate on the 31st of August, 2007, contingent on my fulfilling the rest of the conditions of the clause.

As stated in writing at the bottom of page 1 of our lease, I gave you R5000 in April 2007, which covers “the first and last months rent”. Since August 2007 is now the last month of the lease, it is covered by this money. The notice I received from you regarding money for electricity and water was fulfilled immediately, so there are no more monies due from me to you through 31st August 2007, the date of termination described above.

On the 13th of August, 2007, I transferred a sum of R3000 into your bank account, which constitutes “an amount equal to one month's rent” as described in part (c) above. In addition, on the 12th of August, 2007, I removed all of my belongings from the property, and cleaned the room, leaving it in the state in which I found it. I will refund an invoice for a reasonable standard rental housing advertisement if presented to me.

As described above, I believe that I have fulfilled my obligations according to the lease which we signed. However, on the 5th of August, 2007, you confiscated my keys and ordered me to remove my car from your property. As determined by the Rental Housing Tribunal on the 8th of August, 2007, this constituted an act of illegal lockout, and you were ordered to return my keys to me.

Shortly after this, I went out of town on holiday. When I returned, I came to the residence at 12 Silverhill Crescent to find that you had removed my bed and several other items of furniture from the room, and had gone through my belongings and dumped them on the floor of the room. This violates points 4(2) and 4(3) of the Rental Housing Act of 1999. In addition, there was a notice in my room stating that you would be charging me R25 per day for parking on the property, and a notice on the gate control instructing the other tenants of the house not to open the gate for me. These constitute illegal unilateral alterations to the agreement we had between us.

At this point, some friends and I attempted to remove some of my belongings from the property, and you ordered them, with much profanity and a raised voice, to leave the premises immediately, threatening to call the police if they did not comply. Since they were bona fide visitors of mine, this constitutes a violation of point 4(4) of the Rental Housing Act of 1999.

I will be in further communication with you as regards the events described above, but I consider my obligations under the lease to be fulfilled. Accordingly, I will require you to refund me my deposit of R3000, plus interest accrued, at the end of August 2007, as detailed in point 5 of the Rental Housing Act of 1999.


Jonathan Hitchcock

Rescuing a bed

The one loose end left (apart from the possible court case he claims he will bring against me) in the landlord story was the fact that the bed that Adeline's mother lent me was still there at the house. Once I had that off his property, all he has on me is my phone number. Okay, and my name and ID number. But I'm okay with those.

Being a big double bed, we couldn't get it out on Sunday night without a bakkie, so we left it there. He had removed it from my room (without permission, of course), wrapped it in plastic, and shoved it in a room outside the house. Last night, I went to the house with Mark Ter Morshuizen, a friend of mine from CLUG, who offered me the use of his bakkie on Tuesday night. (I tried to phone George twice before arriving, to formally ask permission to enter the property, but he ignored my calls. Ah well.)

On arrival, and with much trepidation, we went into the house, to find that only Jeffrey, George's worker, was home. Jeffrey and I are on fairly good terms, and he knew what I was there for, and was about to help me carry the bed out, when he paused and asked "You will leave the keys here after taking the bed?" I told him that I would return the keys when my tenancy was finished, namely at the end of the month. He did not seem at all happy about this - it was clear that George had given him strict instructions not to let the bed leave the property until he had my keys. He tried to tell me that I couldn't take the bed, but I just walked past him, found the keys to the outside room, and started removing the bed. Jeffrey tried to tell me I couldn't take it, and then tried to phone George to tell him what was happening. He wouldn't open the side gate for me, so Mark and I just hoisted the bed over the wall and carried it to the car.

Poor Jeffrey was in an anguish, and kept trying to beg me to leave the keys with him, clearly very worried about what would happen if I didn't. I said "Jeffrey, you know me?" and he said, yes, he did. I said, "Jeffrey, I promise you, I will bring the keys back. I live in the house until the end of August. If I don't return the keys at the end of August, I am illegal, and I will go to jail. I will bring them back." and I shook his hand. This seemed to cheer him up no end, and he even helped us tie the bed onto the roof of the bakkie, and find a missing leg that had fallen off. I then shook his hand again, and we left the house.

It was at this point that Mark turned to me and said "You can calm down now, it's over", and I realised what a state I was in. I had been practically frantic in my efforts to get the bed out of the house before George returned and started kicking up a fuss, and I didn't realise how out of breath and shaky I was. When I realised that the whole thing was basically over... Well, the relief was palpable.

We dropped the bed off at my new house, and I picked up my new set of keys, and I will move into the new place this evening. To summarise: Hurrah!

Fleeing a landlord

The latest thrilling installment in the epic landlord saga. This bit is entitled "Fleeing a landlord" or "How I went to fetch my stuff".

First, to whet your appetite, here is the letter he sent me detailing how I owe him R24000. Click to enlarge, and if you want to see the really large ones, click here and here.

debt notice debt notice

On Sunday night, after getting back from Cape Agulhas, Shannon and James and I went around to the house to get my valuables and whatnot out of there, in case George took it into his head to have a garage sale or something. We rocked up at the house in two cars, with some suitcases, and went inside. Shannon and James went upstairs and I stopped to tell George that I would be depositing an extra R3000 in his account the next day and that I was taking my stuff now. (The reason for the extra R3000 was to pay off the part (c) penalty clause - I am going to claim it straight back at the end of the month, when he owes me R3000 deposit plus interest.) He started going on about how much I owed him once again, at which stage I just gave up. At that point, however, James came and stood behind me, wanting to ask which room was mine, and George told him to, and I quote, "fuck off". George clearly did not want any witnesses to our conversation, and he repeatedly told James to get out of the room, loudly and profanely. James and I went upstairs and joined Shannon, and we went to my room to begin to pack.

When I opened my room up, it was quite a sight. My bed was gone, the chest of drawers was gone, the two chairs were gone, and the desk was turned on its side in a clear "this is not going to be used" gesture. All of my belongings were unceremoniously dumped in the middle of the room in a large pile, including my computer and camera. In addition, there was a notice saying:

Mr J. Hitchcock
This is to advise that the parking fee for your car on my property 12 Silverhill Crescent is R25/day payable in advance. Wheelclamps may be used if outstanding fee is not paid.
George Hegarty
Aort Trust

parking notice Large version

Was he not listening when the magistrate informed him that changing the terms of the agreement we had about my parking arrangements was flat out illegal?

I took some boxes down from the shelves, and we started to pick through my stuff, deciding how to pack it. At that point, George entered the room. He pointed at Shannon and James and said (and once more, I quote directly), "You two: fuck off. Get the fuck off my property or I will phone the police and have you removed. You have no right to be in my house without my permission, and I want you off the premises right now." I told him that they were just there to help me pack, and he said he did not care, they had not asked for permission from him. I said, "well, can I ask for permission now - can they stay and help me pack?" and he said "no, I want them gone now". I was almost apopleptic with rage, and I don't know what I would have done, but James and Shannon just left, and I went with them, since I didn't know what else to do. Once we got outside the gate, I was on the verge of phoning the police myself, but James, ever the model of rationality and diplomacy, simply took my phone and phoned George himself. "Hi George, it's Jonathan's friend James. I'm really sorry for coming onto your property without permission, and I'd like to request that we be allowed to come on and help Jonathan pack." George agreed, and we returned to the house.

Basically, George needs people to grovel and beg him for permission, and then he's happy. What a guy.

Did I mention the large notice that he had stuck up over the gate button saying "DO NOT OPEN GATE"? That had appeared since I was last at the house (read: since George claimed that I had access to the property because if I rang the bell, somebody would open the gate).

Anyway, we returned to my room, and basically packed up every last jot of my stuff, crammed it into boxes and bags, and carried it to the car. While we were doing this, George came into the room again, and asked to speak to James downstairs. By this time, James was morbidly curious about what more George could possibly come up with, so he went along, and George asked him to please "reason with" me. He asked James to get me to sit down with George and basically make him an offer, to which he, George, would make a counter-offer, and we'd "bargain it out like gentlemen". In other words, he wants to make an informal agreement with me whereby he only rips me off for R10000 instead of the R24000 he is threatening me with. James told him that he, James, thought that I was quite happy with the way I was handling things. George's reply to that was that I was irrational, and he asked James whether he was aware that I was an alcoholic who goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. James said that he was not aware of this, and George pretended to be much abashed that he had let a dreadful secret slip. "I just assumed that as his friend, you would know about this, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything."

Did George think that by completely fabricating lies and calumny about me, he would get my friend to turn on me? What possible purpose could he have in his mind to make up stuff like this?

James and Shannon and I finished packing up my belongings, and moved them to the car. I hoovered the room, and gave some surfaces a wipe-down, and we left. The only thing left on the premises is my bed (or, to be more accurate, Adeline's mother's bed), which I will fetch this evening, with a bakkie.

I'm wondering whether I should give any (more?) commentary or editorial. George is clearly used to bullying and intimidating people into giving him money, and threatening them with court cases and legalities if they don't comply. I don't want to sound all proud of myself and stuff, but... Well, bugger that, I don't respond well to threats! The first thing I did when he started this was to read the Rental Housing Act of 1999 - has nobody ever done this before when he's demanded money from them? I can't believe he actually thinks he can act this way and get away with it.

I am absolutely exhausted, and my work and life in general have suffered quite badly, but I'm kind of enjoying the fight in the back of my mind. If he takes me to court, then so be it, I don't think he has a leg to stand on. He's broken the law several times already - going into my room and taking my bed and dumping my stuff on the floor and removing furniture is a clear violation of the lease, and probably amounts to an illegal eviction, so I think I might have a case to claim back not only my deposit, but the rent for this month, August, too, since he made it impossible for me to use the house during August.

I have yet to decide what I'm going to do about that, but in the meantime, I'm well clear of that house. I have signed the lease for a lovely house in Bell Road, with two really cool people named Naz and Chris, and I'm looking forward to moving in there and having an actual home.

O Me Miserum

Since I last wrote anything, five days ago, the following things have happened to me:

  • I had a job interview with Google over the phone.
  • My car got broken into - two windows were smashed and my CD collection was stolen
  • I went to Cape Agulhas and stayed at a backpackers there.
  • I received confirmation that I could move into an awesome little house with two very cool people, quite close to where the old house is.
  • I rescued all my possessions from my house and stashed them at a friend's house, but not before my landlord made another threat to call the police.
  • My laptop ceased to function under mysterious circumstances that may or may not involve me having to pay for a new one, depending on the warranty.
I won't lie, I'm feeling a little hard-done-by. I've had a trying enough time with the whole landlord fiasco - I don't need to rush around trying to get windows fixed and insurance companies to pay up, and at the same time deal with a possible cost of R7000 to replace a laptop. Not to mention being cut off from the world and unable to work while the laptop is away.

It's funny how one reacts when a lot of nasty things happen at once. It gets to the stage where you start thinking that the gods have a personal vendetta against you, and every little thing starts taking on a tinge of persecution. Even spilling your coffee, or having a light turn red just as you get to it, starts you off on a "WHY ME!?" rant.

Things aren't that bad, though. The Google interview was fine - the next round is tomorrow, and it'll be a 45 minute technical grilling. Adeline said I could leave my car with her while I went to Cape Agulhas, and she shopped around and found some windows that were cheaper than the R2600 that she was originally quoted, and had them put in while I was away. Cape Agulhas itself was beautiful and restful and enjoyable - lovely people and a lovely time. Now that I'm back, my laptop will probably be fixed for free on the warranty, and the insurance company are paying up for my windows. I'll be moving into the new place sometime this week. Until then, I'm staying with Adeline. Life goes on.

(What happened on Sunday night, when I went to rescue my possessions from the house, is the topic of another post, some other time. Suffice it to say, I struggled not to burst into tears in front of the landlord. More on that later.)

Fighting a Landlord

This is a follow-up to my previous two posts here and here. Unfortunately, I'm completely exhausted and worn out, so it may not be as long and complete as I would like.

On Monday morning, I phoned then Rental Housing Tribunal, a government department set up to aid tenants and landlords to settle disputes. I described my situation, and was told that I almost certainly had a case, and that I should go to the tribunal physically and talk to somebody there.

On Tuesday morning, I went there, and explained my entire case again. They were extremely friendly and sympathetic, and they told me that if my landlord had taken away my keys and told me that I could no longer park my car on the property, he was changing the terms of the rental agreement without cause (illegal) and had also performed an illegal lockout (also, yes, illegal). They gave me a form to fill in charging my landlord with illegal lockout, and told me that they would contact me if they needed to know anything else.

On Tuesday afternoon, I received a phone call from the Rental Housing Tribunal telling me that there was a hearing the next day, Wednesday (today) at 10am, and confirming that I could be there. I said I could, and they told me that my landlord would also be there. They were very efficient, and I applaud them.

Today, Wednesday, I went to the Rental Housing Tribunal, getting there about 9am (because I underestimated the traffic), so I sat and waited in the foyer for my hearing at 10am. At about 9:30, my landlord phoned me. At first, I just let it ring, but he phoned back, so eventually I answered it. He said he had received an order to be at the hearing today at 10am on a claim of illegal lockout. I said "okay". He asked me what I had told the people. I refused to talk to him, so he asked if I would talk to the police if he got them to phone me. At this point, I handed him to the person from the Rental Housing Tribunal, who spoke to him at length. Finally, he said that George wasn't going to come to the hearing, because he didn't think I had a case, but that he had persuaded George to come along in the end. So at about 10:20, the hearing began.

I'm too tired to give a detailed description of what happened in the hearing. Suffice to say that George led on a very aggressive note, demanding to know why he was there, and why his time was being wasted, and who said that he had "illegally locked me out", and so on. He also presented me with a letter detailing everything that I owe him, to a total of R24000, although he added that water bills of about R1000 would be added on to that shortly (although no water bills have ever been paid before?).

We eventually got to discussing the rent issue, and Donovan from the tribunal tried to find an amicable solution that would benefit us both. He basically agreed with me completely about the interpretation of the lease, but he did point out that we needed to find a solution amicable to both parties (George and myself). He used the word "remedy" - if I was leaving early, I needed to remedy the loss of income to George. The normal way to do this if you leave early is to find somebody to replace yourself in the house, and Donovan suggested that I do this. I implied that I did not wish to inflict that trial on anybody else, and George spent a good ten minutes telling me that if I impugned his good character again, he would summon the police and have me arrested again.

At this stage, the tribunal members left the room for a few minutes for a discussion, and came back saying that they had re-evaluated the early termination clause and decided that instead of finding a replacement for myself, I could just pay the rent for September (i.e. an extra month's rent), and that would be sufficient. I would still get my deposit back (less damage to the property), so in the end I wouldn't actually pay much extra at all (although I'm sure George would find lots of "damage" to remove from the deposit). They suggested that I make things easier for myself by finding a replacement, but I said that I would much rather pay an extra month's rent than put somebody else in the house. This was amenable to them, and they turned to George, who seemed to think that this solution was perhaps tolerable, but brought up the point that I hadn't yet paid August's rent. I sighed deeply, and once more explained that I had given him an extra month's rent at the beginning of the year, and that this would count for August. The tribunal agreed with me, but George said, no, that money was for March next year, the final month in the lease. Everybody pointed out that the lease was being terminated early, so the new "final month" was August, but George resorted back to the position he had made three or four times already: "It's in the lease, we have to abide by it". No amount of pointing out that the lease meant something else would persuade him. When a member of the tribunal asked him whether I would then lose the rent for March of next year, or whether I should return to live in the house in March of next year, George got very indignant that she used the word 'lose' and mentioned that it was all about the lease. Again.

By this point, the tribunal had realised that nothing was going to be achieved by rational debate, and they decided to move the hearing into court. We adjourned for fifteen minutes, and then went into court. It was a hearing overseen by five members of the Tribunal, and:

"A ruling by the Tribunal is regarded as an order of a Magistrates' Court."

As we were being sworn in, George raised his hand and said he had two questions. The first was that he was an atheist, and so he refused to swear on a Bible. The second was that he didn't understand why he was in court, and requested that he be told what he had done wrong. The clerk read out the charge of "illegal lockout" to him, and George immediately informed the clerk that he had not locked me out illegally. Then he started arguing with the clerk about the complaint, until the clerk shut him up angrily by telling him that he (the clerk) was not the complainant, and had never seen the paper before in his life, and was just reading out what was in front of him.

No, honestly. I'm not making this up. That is exactly how it happened.

After being sworn in, I was asked to give a statement, which I did, explaining about how George demanded rent from me on Sunday, then confiscated my keys, demanded rent again, and then ordered me to remove my car from the property. Some of the Tribunal members had fairly wide eyes at the end of the story, and then they turned to George and asked him what he had to say about this. He said that he had done this, and didn't see what was wrong with it. A Tribunal member asked him why he had told me to remove my car from the property, and his answer was, I quote directly, "Because I told him to". She asked him again, why he had made me move my car, and he once again said "Because I told him to". She told him that this was not a good enough answer. They then asked me how long I had been parking on the property, and how long I had had a buzzer for. I knew that this was in order to determine whether there was an (unwritten) agreement between George and I that I be allowed to park on the property - four months is enough time to indicate that an agreement exists.

They asked George what had changed that made him change the rules for me, and he said that I had given notice, so he had ordered me to remove my car. He got fairly indignant, and said, "Are you telling me that it's illegal for me to ask him to get his car off my property?". There was a slight pause, and the magistrate said "yes". George seemed slightly floored by this, but rallied magnificently, and began to argue with the magistrate about what was and was not illegal. The magistrate did not seem very impressed with George's legal knowledge, and eventually shut George up and told him that he was guilty of illegal lockout.

A brief interlude here: In changing the terms of the agreement and refusing to allow me to park on the property, George violated the law behind the contract - you cannot do this without a court order and a written agreement between the two parties. Furthermore, in denying me access to the property except through a third party (I needed to ring the bell to get in), he performed an illegal lockout, and was in violation of the law.

I seem to have the order of events wrong, but I remember at one stage, George tried to give me a pedestrian key to the gate, but was stopped by a Tribunal member who pointed out that I had had a remote control, not just a key. After some lengthy discussion about this, George returned to the topic by saying that I had refused to accept the key from him earlier in the discussion. Now the court clerk got exasperated and pointed out that I hadn't even touched the key, because the Tribunal member had stopped the key transfer by bringing up the buzzer.

Finally, the magistrate ordered George to give me a gate buzzer, and said that although he had performed an illegal lockout, he was going to put it down to misunderstanding on George's part, and gave him some stern words about taking the law into his own hands. He then declared the court closed.

Now, George spoke up again. He said, "have we settled this matter?" And the magistrate stopped in his tracks, turned back and said yes, we've settled it favourably towards you, in fact, I advise you to leave it there. But George said "What about my rent?". He actually demanded that the magistrate order me to pay him his rent. The magistrate was somewhat dumbfounded and told George that he was wasting taxpayer money trying to jump the queue and trying to force the magistrate to make unilateral rulings on his petty lease disagreements. George said "Oh, you're going to settle his issue, but not mine, that's not fair, why is that?" Then George waved a brochure around and said "I've read your pamphlet here, and it says you are here to settle people's disagreements, why don't you do that?"

I swear I'm not making this up, it's in the minutes of the hearing.

The magistrate basically stared at George and said "Well, to be frank, he was here first. If you want to file a claim, you're welcome to do it. Stop wasting my time now, this hearing is over" and left the room. I followed shortly after, and that was that.

I spoke to Donovan briefly by phone this afternoon. The matter of the illegal lockout has been settled in my favour, and although there has been no settlement in terms of the rent dispute, Donovan says that the law is clearly in my favour. So, I should just wait for George to file his claims against me, and fight them as they come, and I will win. It's such a lus, though. I am so exhausted right now. Ah well.

I'm going to Cape Agulhas tomorrow, until Sunday, and when I come back, we'll see what happens. Thanks to everybody for the words of support and offers of aid and accommodation. More updates as events warrant!

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.

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.

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.)

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.


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