The Bathtub Treatment
by Hank Rosenfeld
I will dip my pink-&-white body in your tub; I feel a bit gritty after the affairs of the day. W.C. Fields
This all started just before Christmas when I found a note slapped on my apartment door: workmen were coming to take away my bathtub on December 27th. I thought, this is absurd. Right? So, I called my landlord. He told me Santa Monica City Code required 24-inches of space between bathtub and “water closet”. I only had 17.
“I’ve taken baths here,” I told him, “for 25 years.”
“It is what it is,” he said.
(Since 1994 I have enjoyed a weekend ritual featuring scented candle, Epsom salts, KCRW’s Garth Trinidad or Liza Richardson with background music. And this was no over-the-top, cast-iron Roman tub; we’re talking good old American Standard. Porcelain.)
Instead of getting angry, I got busy. First, I called the family attorneys. My brother and my sister said, sorry bro, landlords have the right to bring buildings up to code. Next, I called SMRR (Santa Monica Renter’s Rights) for support. I left a message on their hotline, got a message back, sent another message, got one back, and that’s the last time I vote SMRR. My coffeehouse friends said bathtub eviction was a first world problem; here it is Christmas, I’m fortunate to have a hot shower and a roof, god bless us everyone.
I did what any DIY citizen should: I typed up every bad thing the landlord ever did and took it to City Hall. Beth at the Rent Control Board was really caring, considering it was Christmas Eve. She read my written complaint, stamped it, suggested I send a copy to the City Attorney, and directed me down the hall to Building & Permits. A Building & Permits clerk checked her computer and found, “no permits pulled” for my Ocean Park address. Not as congenial as Beth, the clerk said I should get in touch with Santa Monica Code Enforcement, and made me go out to the rotunda to call. Which ticked me off. Leaving, I said: “Merry Christmas!” sarcastically.
Derrick at Code Enforcement appreciated my needs. He assured me, if workmen showed up without a permit, he’d “send out a crew to shut it down.” Semi-relieved, I went to spend Christmas with family in San Diego.
On December 26th I got a call from the City Attorney’s office. A “consumer specialist” there cited California Civil Code Section 1941.1, stipulating landlords are forbidden to use, “lies or intimidation to make a tenant move out.” She helpfully offered, “Reasonable Modifications,” which forces a landlord to put in a new tub – but the tenant has to pay for it. Finally, I called the contractor and begged. I had family in town. My girlfriend just cooked a ham. (I was still in San Diego; you do what you gotta do when you’re renting in Santa Monica, right?) Couldn’t they wait until 2019? The contractor said the bathtub had to come out the next day.
“It’s not up to me. Talk to the landlord.”
“His mailbox is full. It’s the holidays.”
“It is what it is.”
That last sentence made me go – to quote a family expression – nutsy cuckoo. I went off on the guy, in a rage of f-words in f-sentences. I was shaking as I hung up. My 6-year-old nephew, watching all this, said: “What’s the matter with Uncle Hank?” I explained civil code enforcement. Ten minutes later, the contractor called back to say they’d wait until January. I thanked him, apologized, and high-fived the six-year-old. He said, “Go hard or go home.”
Indeed. I was happy because I got to spend New Year’s with family in San Diego.
On January 2nd the contractor came to my apartment with a Building & Safety Inspector. A “water closet” required 24 inches of space, the inspector explained, showing me the code in a pamphlet. I showed him a letter from my doctor saying I required, “hot bath treatments because of injuries sustained playing college football.” Inspectors don’t care about notes from your doctor. In my journal that night I wrote: Didn’t take final bath. Didn’t want to feel how good it felt. Need to get used to not having it.
But nobody showed up the next day. Or for two days after that, so I called the contractor to ask what was up. “We’re going to spin the water closet,” he said. “Keep the tub.”
I called my mother to give her the good news, because she had given me my first bath. I had learned this: you can fight City Hall. Or your landlord, at least. But I shouldn’t blow my stack to get what I want. I joined an anger management group and sent the contractor a fruitcake.