I sat down at my computer and pulled up yesterday’s front page of the Tucson Citizen. Oh my God, there was my house, a half-page photograph above the fold, in blazing color. I can recall it in my mind as if it had happened yesterday. A view of my house similiar to the one above. In the front of the photo, is a S.W.A.T. officer with rifle at the ready, pointed at my house, standing behind a squad car with the driver door open. The rifle resting on the roof of the vehicle. Another S.W.A.T. officer kneeling at the rear of the vehicle. Weapon pointed at my house. Two S.W.A.T officers walking up the driveway on the right of the frame. Locked and loaded with vests and teargas. A squad car blocking the street at an angle with assorted police officers armed and ready. The neighbors, neighbors I recognized, were standing around in groups on both sides. The headline: “POLICE BUST MAJOR DRUG OPERATION IN SOUTH TUCSON.”
“Oh my God.” That’s the only thought that came into my head. I start to read the story and learn that seven Mexican nationals were arrested after a two-hour standoff with police. Thankfully, they were firing rubber bullets, and they were not receiving return fire from the house. Teargas canisters were finally used to get the drug dealers to surrender. In the garage they found several BALES of marijuana, not just dime bags, but BALES. They also seized several bags of cocaine, and wads and wads of money. Evidently, the story goes, they were watching the house for several months before the raid. Something my property management company was evidently unable to accomplish. Officers of the Tucson Drug Task Force were damn proud of their work. Street value of the drugs; in the hundreds of thousands. They didn’t contact me, the home owner, because they didn’t know if I had any involvement.
Maria sounded like she was choking back tears. It turns out the rent was paid in cash every month without fail, so they had no reason to suspect anything. “Okay,” she said, “maybe we thought that was strange, but we can’t do anything under the ‘Arizona Landlord and Tenant Act’ because they pay the rent in cash. They paid it every month. His “son” would bring it in. (Yeah, I’ll bet.)
We drove by the property several times, and nothing ever looked out of place. I even talked to one of the neighbors a month or so ago, and she said nothing weird was going on.”
They had not seen the man who had signed the lease since the day he signed it. His “son” told Maria that the old man was called back to Mexico for a medical emergency and would return soon, when she asked.
Maria explained that there were mattresses spread out on the floors in all the rooms. The refrigerator and stove were missing. The walls were filled with rubber bullet holes. Most of the rear and front windows were broken. The house, of course, smelled of teargas, and the worst news, “Your house has been seized by the State of Arizona for drug trafficking. It’s not as bad as it sounds,” she said. Then she did cry.
I think I did too. We were two mortgage payments behind, the second was in default and now we had extreme damage to the house and appliances missing. Not to mention I had to fight the seizure of the property with the state by proving that I was not involved in the illegal activities at the premises. You gotta wonder how up to 15 people, police said were staying there, could come and go without arousing any suspicion with the neighbors.
My next door neighbor, the one with the scruffy, burly dude friend that spooked my realtor years ago, made several comments to the press. “If I would have known I was moving into a drug neighborhood, I never would have moved here. I never liked those people who moved in anyways.”
I never knew if she was talking about me or the 15 odd Mexicans that had moved in since. The day I moved in, I overheard her in the garage saying just loud enough so we could hear, “Great. Bunch of white trash moving in next door.” We were bringing a good-sized wood bin to the side of the house at the time.
We were able to buy the house in the first place, because it was sold on a REC. For those of you unenlightened to real estate acronyms, this means it’s a “real estate contract” or an individual that owns the property free and clear is financing the home sale, carrying the paper. My “paper carrier,” when he learned about what had happened with the house (I did manage to get the state of Arizona to give title back) had his lawyer contact my lawyer (me) and offered to let me out of the contract. I thought he was out of his mind. He agreed to pay off the HOA fines, the second, the past due mortgage payments, and repair all the damage to the property. All I had to do was sign a quick claim on the property and my involvement would be over. I jumped at the opportunity. I jumped fast, long and hard before he changed his mind. Then I realized the tens of thousands in equity I was losing, and realized this wasn’t such a bad deal for the paper carrier after all.
I have had no desire to be a landlord since. It might be one of the reasons I’m such a good tenant, do all that work for nothing, and get unappreciated. Maybe my X-Landlady needs to find a kindly elderly Mexican man and his frail little wife to rent her house. One who doesn’t smoke. WTF