Minnesota, USA

Taking on the man: A tale of two renters

Taking on the man is hard. The man has the money. The man has the power. The man built the system, and therefore, has the system always working in his favor.

Taking on the man is like a card game in which you don’t know the rules, the deck is stacked against you, and your opponent has already been playing for years. You can increase your odds of winning by studying the rulebook, but the buy-in is pretty steep, and the man is playing with house money and house odds. Sometimes, it’s just easier to not play.

deck stacked against u.jpg

But on the rare occasions when you choose to take on the man and beat him at his own game, damn does it feel good. Damn does it feel right. And every now and then, when the stars are properly aligned, that actually does happen.

My girlfriend recently took on the man. Over the past year, she and her roommate have been locked in a battle with their former landlords—a company named Minneapolis Real Estate—over a $1,500 damage deposit that came back about $1,000 short.

If you’d like a more detailed account of the whole episode, you can read it here in the statement that I wrote for their recent court case, but basically all you need to know is that my girlfriend and her roommate got totally screwed. They attempted to dispute the damages, but each effort was met by a company stiff-arm. The company rejected the letter outlining the initial disputes, they regularly and purposefully ignored phone calls, they refused to participate in conflict resolution, and on the few occasions when the girls were able to corner someone into a conversation, they were treated with the utmost condescension and rudeness.

This case looked destined to end like the majority of cases likely end between relatively powerful landlords and their relatively powerless tenants. Renters, by nature, are usually not powerful people, and landlords, as property owning elites, are. But to the girls’ credit, they persevered. Every time they reached a dead end, they got back on the highway, pulled out the roadmap, and searched for an alternative route. And when they finally arrived at small claims court earlier this week, the results proved that they had indeed reached their desired destination.

The court awarded my girlfriend and her roommate with $2,780—nearly all of the $3,070 for which they filed suit. While the money will obviously be appreciated, both the girls will tell you that the most gratifying part of the experience was the satisfaction they gained from being validated—the affirmation that they were indeed being treated unjustly, and that justice, at least in this case, was going to be served.

I’m really happy for them, but I also unfortunately doubt that most like cases have similar endings. My girlfriend and her roommate were extraordinarily organized, having spent hours on the phone and computer exploring their options, saving and copying all relevant documentation, and even gaining entry into their old apartment in order to photograph the so called “damages.” Over a nearly 12-month period, the girls put in a lot of time and endured a significant amount of stress and frustration playing out a process that never guaranteed them anything for their efforts. It would have been very easy to just give up—to take the money they were originally afforded and chalk up the lost dollars to the inevitability of being screwed by the man every now and then. Luckily, they didn’t do that, and luckily, that didn’t happen.

The man isn’t always a landlord, nor is he always man. He can be a boss or a business owner, a police officer or a politician—any person or people in a position of power who use that power to do not-nice things to the people below them on society’s totem pole. Taking on the man can be a tall order—a task in which one must tread carefully and cautiously, maintaining a healthy dose of both optimism and realism. Hopefully this story can provide some of the former to those out there engaged in their own battles with the man—inspiring them along the way to hopefully winning their fights.

Of course, there’s no shame in having to give up and living to fight another day. Not everybody has the time and resources and knowhow to take the man on in every situation, and even when they do, the man will still probably win more often than not. That’s what makes him the man, after all. But know that the man doesn’t always win. The man has his kryptonite, and that kryptonite is justice. In cases where an injustice has been done, there are means for justice to be sought. The man still cuts the deck, and usually has an ace showing, but for those with a basic understanding of the rules, a decent hand, and a willingness to play the game, don’t count yourself out too quickly. You never know, you might get lucky.

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