Sunday, April 15, 2012

The downside of living in an older building

We have a nice apartment.  It has a nice "area privativa," what we also call our patio.  It is on a VERY quiet street, and we don't have construction or traffic noise to deal with.  It's close to many bus lines, to some nice restaurants (not that we go out that much) and a very nice bakery.  Our neighbors are usually quiet, and the sindica (building super) is very helpful.  And the owner of our apartment lives upstairs, which has been very, VERY helpful.

And the building is 40 years old.  When we were looking for apartments, I remember several people telling us to avoid renting older apartments.  In many people's opinion, anything older that 10 years is considered old.  In the US, older buildings can be charming, quaint, with lots of retro chic details.  And I think that those kind of places exist in Belo Horizonte, but the challenge is that unfortunately most rentals have not been well maintained.  I think there are many reasons for this.  First of all the imobiliárias (the property management companies) really only want to take your money.  In my opinion (biased, and very uninformed I'll admit), the imobiliárias exist to serve the interests of the owners, and renters have fewer rights.  And the rights that we renters have, have to be fought for.  You have to work your tail off to get things fixed.  You have to jump through lots and lots of hoops to have documents corrected and updated and notarized.  The imobiliárias are not here to help us renters out.  And that means they do everything possible to avoid fixing problems.   

Secondly, I think that renters in Brazil don't take care of the problems either.  Renter are already paying lots for rent, condominium fee (the fee for maintaining the building and public areas, which also pays for doormen, cleaning, elevator, the pool if the building has one and so on), and taxes (yes, renters have the pay the owner's taxes).  Renters also will want to paint when they move in (the previous renters used the cheapest quality paint when they left), but of course you have to paint when you leave because the walls have to look the same when you leave.  So why would a renter really want to take care of the place?  If you are already feeling taken advantage of, why bother keeping things up?  If you already know that when you leave you will have to pay out the nose for things that were broken YEARS before you moved in (and the imobiliária and owners will just pocket the money and not fix things), what the point?

We decided to politely disregard the advice that was given to us, and we decided to rent our current apartment.  Like I said, there are many great things about it.  And yet my list of problems to take care of seems to grow week by week.  Right now, and for the past 2 months, one of the problems has been our "extra" bathroom, referred to as the "service" bathroom.  It's the small bathroom next to the maid's room (yes, think The Help.  But we use the maid's room as my husbands office, so hopefully the beautiful music he makes there redeems any injustices committed...).  We found out while we were in the states that the pipes in that bathroom had rusted and they were leaking into the downstairs neighbor's apartment.  Within a week of returning, we had a bombeiro (plumber!  not fireman!) come and rip everything out and change the pipes.  Wow!  It was so quick it left our heads practically spinning!  But that's what you get when a grouchy Brazilian grandma neighbor is fed up with water coming into her home.  And then we waited for the pedreiro (mason, tile guy).  And we waited.  And waited.  The owner of the apartment wanted to make sure that she had a trustworthy guy that would do a good job.  And it's really hard to find those kind of people right now because of the HUGE construction boom in the city.  But finally after about a month, she found a pedreiro.  And after 2 weeks, he got the tile down, and the toilet back in.  Hooray!

Not so fast.  While all this was happening, a problem was growing in our other bathroom.  The sink had been leaking, and someone did a very crappy job attempting to repair a leak in the shower.  Water had infiltrated the floor, and was damaging the wall in the hallway.  Great.  So now that the service bathroom is repaired, we are going to have to repair the main bathroom.  But the problem is that there isn't a functioning shower in the service bathroom.  So starting tomorrow, I don't know how we are going to shower for the next week.  Fun times.

I am thankful that we have bathrooms.  I'm thankful that we have a roof over our heads.  It really could be a lot worse.   But when you are already daily dealing with language/culture challenges, it gets pretty tiring to have to come home to a place that is constantly leaking, breaking, getting repaired, getting broken again, smelling funny (mold!?), or being eaten by termites.

So if you are in the market for an apartment in Belo Horizonte, beware of the older buildings.  They are cheaper, but are they worth it?  And if you are in our neighborhood this week, and smell something stinky, it's probably just our family...


  1. Our house in the States was built in the 1920's, so I feel your pain about living in and maintaining an older home (although your apartment is just a baby compared to our house!) There was always something that needed to be fixed on our house back home so every weekend consisted of at least one trip to Home Depot. Not my idea of fun! - Melissa

  2. You need Dad living with YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Hey!

    I liked your blog!

    I'm Brazilian and I'm studying to be English teacher (I am attending classes at a University and I am studying the language too, because I am far from proficiency yet). I live in Belo Horizonte too.

    I was serching for texts written in English about Belo Horizonte because I am organizing, with all my classroom and my professor, a text book for belo horizontinos students of English courses on high school. So I arrived in your blog I really liked it.

    I think some things can be used in our text book, and I liked your blog because of this. But I liked it also because is very interesting to see the ponit of view of someone who cames from out my city about my city. =D

    I just put your blog on my favorites list and I will read a bit more later.

    See you!

  4. Nice to meet you Meireles! And it's true, I need a fix it guy like Dad, with skills to get people to do what you want...