The Art of Being Un-Wired: Chapter Nine

(Read the other chapters here.)

“Kenyatta Malthrope, Housing Dispensation Unit.”

The voice on the other end of the phone was deep; way deeper than anything I would think belonged to a woman named Kenyatta, even a Kenyatta with a bad cold, and if not this, then someone with one of Baltimore’s more chronic addictions – a tobacco addiction.

“Hello, my name is Estella Tinsdale. I own a house at 3505 St. Paul Street and received a code violation letter from you. I received this in error. I think perhaps –”

“No, there’s no error, Ms. Tinsdale. Matter of fact, I have your file open here on my desk, right on top of a big pile of code violations in your sector. We’ve been trying to get you to correct the violations on your property for the last 18 months, which gives you some idea how much latitude the City of Baltimore provides homeowners. When you didn’t respond, the status of your property changed from livable to condemnation, and with that, you’re now subject to the $300 penalty fee we recently enacted–which, if I do say so, really seems to be doing the trick.”

A wave of nausea washed over me, not allowing me to speak. So, he continued.

 “Let’s start at the beginning. Your long list of code violations will most certainly impact you getting insurance and, of course, your biannual property taxes will be assessed an annual nuisance fee of $900. Any questions so far, Miss Tinsdale?”

I took a deep breath, and then another.

“No questions?  Okay, is the roof still missing?”

“First things first, I’ve only purchased this property a month ago. So I would have no knowledge of letters sent, other than the one I received yesterday by certified mail.  I’ve lived in the property since settlement, and I assure you, I wouldn’t be staying in any property that wasn’t livable.  That said, I don’t know how I, we, got to this point.”

“So, the property has a roof?”

I tried not to let out a sigh of frustration. “Yes, Ms. Malthrope, it has a roof.”

“It’s Mr. Malthrope, ma’am.”

 “Of course, I misspoke.  I’m a little frustrated.”

  “Sure, so you’re sayin’ the property is habitable?”

  “Yes, definitely.”

 “If this is the case, ma’am, we need to get an inspector out there to check things out then we can get you certified as being in code and you’ll just have to pay the fee for your occupancy permit. Sound good?”


“Every residential property has to have an occupancy permit, Miss Tinsdale. Currently yours does not.”

“How much is the occupancy fee?” “I don’t know. Twenty-five dollars but no more than $50. Okay?”

 “Yes, that’s fine. When can an inspector come out?”

“Let me go to my calendar.” I listened for the rattle of papers; there was none.

“System’s slow. Ever since we put that $300 fine on for everyday not in compliance, you’d think we were giving away free foot spas with everybody calling in – Okay, I can get someone out on the 30th.  How’s that?”

“That’s in three weeks?  I thought I had five days to rectify this before the daily fine kicks in?”

“Yeah, but since you called we can suspend that as long as you keep the appointment.”

With the Minnesotans coming next week, I really didn’t want this hanging over my head.  “Is there any way we can do this earlier? I mean, I know that everything’s as it should be, but if not, I’d like to have enough of a heads up to get whatever taken care of.”

“You could hire your own inspector.”

“Really?  That would be acceptable?”

“Sure, but he needs to be a City certified inspector. And they’re pretty busy just like the in-house inspectors, with all those fine letters going out.”

“Okay, I’ll tell you what Ms. Tinsdale.  If your property is in compliance as you say, then I can stop by on my way home, you’re right on my way. But I’m telling you, I’m going on vacation tomorrow morning 6am sharp, boarding an Air Jamaica flight, so it needs to be right.  ‘Cause if there are violations that needs to be written up, posted to the system, then I’ll just have to hand this over to another inspector, and it will be like I hadn’t even come out, and you’ll have to start the whole process over again. Understand?”

“Yes. What time do you think you’ll be coming by?”

“Hell, vacation’s tomorrow.  Let’s get this over with.  I’ll come by on my lunch hour.  You’ll be there at 12:30?”

“Oh, yes. Thanks so much.”

 “Don’t thank me yet. Thank me when I hand you the certification slip for the occupancy permit. No need getting ahead of ourselves.”

Inspector Malthrope was at my door at 12:29, just in time for the corner guys to start their day, having taken up post directly across the street from my house.

 “Quite a bit of activity,” Kenyatta Malthrope said, gesturing to the young men as he stepped inside.

  I didn’t know how to reply, so didn’t.  I focused instead on his belly extended seemingly feet from his body.

“Nice,” he said, his eyes high beams, moving from one fixed point to the next. “Okay, give me the $2 tour.” I walked him around the house, where he turned on switches and bounced on stairs, knocked on walls and took water temperatures. “Where are the fire and carbon monoxide detectors?”  I showed him all of them, pointing out as I did the fire extinguisher in a cabinet under the kitchen.

 “Looks good.  The fire extinguisher needs to be mounted.”

“Yes, I’ll see to it today.”

 “OK,” he began, writing on his tablet. “I’m going to approve you for an occupancy permit. You’ll receive the notice in ten days. When you do, you’ll need to go down and pay the permit fee. Once you do, I’ll get an in-compliance notice from the system. Then I’ll change your status in the computer. Okey dokey?”

 “Great. I really appreciate you coming out with so little notice.”

“No problem. I wanted to get a jump on my vacation. The wife’s already packed and ready, only thing she won’t do is my packing.” He began walking toward the door, taking in the house one more time. “Well, you certainly have a nice place here, Ms. Tinsdale.  Real nice.”

I thanked him.

 “Remember, the Housing Dispensation Unit is here to help.”

 “Mr. Malthrope, why is it called the Dispensation Unit?”

 He laughed. “We’re the Dispensation Unit because we do everything possible to help the residents of Baltimore City. We go over and beyond what most City Housing Authorities do to assist our citizens. It’s only when all options have been exhausted do we pull the poker out the fire and get to sticking.”

 I felt my eyes go big.

 He smiled.  “No, no, Miss Tinsdale. I’m just having a bit of fun. No harm. Just a little  Housing Authority humor.”

 “Oh, sure,” I said. “Well, if you didn’t already have plans, Mr. Malthrope, I’d ask you and your wife to be my guests, and stay a couple of nights.”

He looked at me quizzically, “Oh, yeah?”

 I laughed, “No, I don’t usually offer up my hospitality to relative strangers, but I’m starting a bed-and-breakfast. My first guests are coming next week. That’s why I really need to get this occupancy thing cleared up.” I went to the hall closet and pulled out the plaque, Wordsmith Bed & Breakfast and handed it to him.

“Nice,” he said, turning it over in his hand, “heavy too, real brass?”

“Yeah, I want everything to be right.”

“So, you have your permit for operating this home-based bed and breakfast?”

 “Yes, I do. It’s one of the first things I did.  I certainly do.”

Kenyatta Malthrope pulled out the iPad he had used to fill out my in-compliance information and began typing. “This is 3505 St Paul, right?”

“Yep. That’s me.”

He continued his one fingered typing, pecking faster than I had seen anyone before.  “Okay, well it says here that,” he stopped to read more closely, “Well, you certainly have a business license.”

 “Yeah, that’s what I have, a license from the City to run my home-based business.”  I felt my face growing warm.

 “Right, but that’s not the kind you need for a B&B. What you have is a permit to ‘Operate Hostel.’ What you need is the ‘Operate B&B’ permit.”

My mind began spinning. I truly thought maybe I was Alice and had fallen down the rabbit’s hole, only my tumbled ended with my taking a spin atop a 3.5 hp garbage disposal.

“Right, but there is no B&B permit. That’s why I got the Hostel permit,” I explained.

 “Right, what you should have gotten was the ‘Operate Hotel’ permit.”

 “But this is not a hotel.”

  “Right, again. You need a variance.”

  “A variance?” I countered.

“It’s like this, Miss Tinsdale. We’ve got a hostel designation because of all the kids, students in the area. We got the hotel permit because of all the tourists – but B&B, who opens a business to house two or three people for a couple days and feed’em?  Hell, that’s just folks visiting for a while. How’s anyone going to make money doing that?”

 “OK, I need to get a variance. I get it.  But I’ve got people scheduled to stay next week. What am I supposed to do?”

 Kenyatta Malthrope put his iPad away.

“All I can say is don’t feed ‘em Miss Tinsdale. Not unless you got that variance. You need an industrial equipped kitchen set up for feeding people if you’re looking to get paid.” He then shook my hand and turned to leave. I followed him to the door, watching the inspector as he began crossing the street toward his car, only to barely miss getting hit by something that fell from the sky. I looked at the orangish pulp that had exploded in the center of the street then to the young corner guys who also had just barely dodged the bombing.

“Missed again!” one shouted, staring up at the rowhouse adjacent to mine. “Just keep on chuckin’ em, crazy old bastard!”

“Man, better be cool,” the oldest, perhaps twenty, said to the first, “he might machete your black ass,” to which the other four or so still hanging around nodded and continued to laugh.

I looked up also, the sun making me blind me to whoever was playing bombardier on the roof.

“Oh, Ms. Tinsdale?”

I turned back to Mr. Malthrope, now standing at his white Baltimore City government car, one hand shielding his eyes from the sun’s glare. “While you’re waiting on that variance, you might want to figure out what’s going on that roof next door. I’d hate to think about those hostel guests of yours getting hit on their noggins with—pumpkins?  Not very hospitable.”

“B&B,” I mumbled, watching as he drove off, taking one last squinty look skyward.

to be continued…