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Something in the Water, Part 3

By Shamus
on Monday Oct 13, 2014
Filed under:


The story of Why I Moved continues…

Early August

Halfway down our staircase is a single step that's twice as long as the others. We've lived here a year and a half and I STILL trip on it.

The music roars from downstairs. I was just sitting at my desk, enjoying a hot cup of PVC herbal tea when someone downstairs decided to pump up the volume. Downstairs, Wilma has brought her sisterI assume. Betty to live with them, who likes to crank up the music until we can feel the furniture vibrate.

On the upside, she does this during reasonable daytime hours. On the other hand, my wife sometimes works nights and needs to sleep during the day. I try not to get upset about this. It's entirely possible that we're worse offenders when it comes to noise. We're on the top floor and we've got three teens. That can't be quiet. Moreover, they’re probably blasting music to cover up the the furious tunneling of the water company. Judging by the sounds I’m hearing, I figure that they have uncovered a balrog, which they are now fighting.

I kept hoping the problems with my asthma would blow over. I really don’t want to move. Apartment hunting is ruinously time consuming, tedious, and stressful. Moving is expensive. I have multiple projects going right now and I can't bear to have everything interrupted with that hassle. So I've been foolishly hoping that the cat wouldn't be a problem. Or that it would be a nuisance instead of a danger. I've been telling myself that my recent allergy problems were just seasonal pollen, and that the apartments should be isolated well enough to keep me safe. I've been ignoring the signs, huffing on the inhaler, and hoping for the best. In the meantime, the dander has been building up.

The wake-up call for me comes one morning when I huff on the inhaler and find myself still wheezing afterwards. That's not supposed to happen. I can't blame this on stupid pollen anymore. This is cat dander and cigarette smoke, and it's getting dangerous. We need to move. We need to work fast.

We start digging through the classifieds. Like last time, most of the places allow pets. Most of the remaining ones are too small. The few that are left are far out of our price range.

Late August

One of countless places we visited / considered: Not enough rooms, ancient wiring, a massive lawn to care for, and a couple hundred bucks more than we can manage.

The search for an apartment continues. (To not produce any results.) It does succeed in devouring a great deal of time.

The smoking downstairs has gotten worse. I think Betty smokes clove cigarettes. I’ve never been around them before, but the smoke inflames my lungs like tear gas and makes my allergies go crazy. I haven’t drawn a breath through my nose in days, and the inhaler can’t do more than keep me out of the hospital. I’m walking hunched over all the time, always nursing a low wheeze.

Fun fact: Your nose is part of your body's filtration system. All that hair and mucus exists to grab spores, dirt, gnats, pollen, dust, and other crap you don't want down there in the sensitive pink flesh of your lungs. So when your allergies get bad enough that you can't breathe through your nose anymore, it means your body is screwing itself. In trying to eject the unwanted material by making your nose run, it's forcing you to breathe through your mouth and thus take unfiltered air directly into your lungs.

Speaking as an engineer, I have to say this is a terrible system that's in need of better-fail safes, and maybe even a complete overhaul.

Sigh. (Cough.)

The smoking is the attention-getter because we can smell it, but in terms of Shamus-killing contaminants it's really the cat that's causing most of my problems. I've been around smoking before. It's bad for me, but not really dangerous in mild doses. Then again, these aren't short doses. This is continual.

We need to find a place to live soon. I can't believe all of this is caused by a stupid cat.

Early September

I dunno what this stuff is, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to drink it.

I'm trying to tear apart the kitchen faucet, but I don't have the right tools for the job. I have to clean PVC fragments out of the fixtures every few weeks or so, or the water stops flowing. Right now we have to wait several minutes for the faucet to deliver enough water to be useful, and then run that water through a filter to get the fine-grain stuff out. You can't always see it with the naked eyeBut sometimes you can. See above., but if you cook a bunch of raw tap water down it will leave a ring of white powder on the sides of the pot.

The water company is finally done for the season. They’ve packed up their noisy machinery and their orange traffic cones and retreated to their lair at the Water Fortress. I’m sure next spring they’ll be back to make war on beleaguered commuters. The interesting thing is that the white crud in the water is still showing up. In fact, I think it’s worse than ever. We’ve asked around, and nobody else in the neighborhood seems to have this problem. The fact that white crud appeared in our water when the water company showed up was a coincidence. It’s extremely likely that this is a problem with our water heater.

I told the landlady about the clogged faucet, but either she forgot or it’s taking her a long time to get around to it. I’m tired of waiting, so I’m trying to sort this out myself. It’s hard, because I don’t have the breath for physical activity these days.

The landlady was apologetic about how things turned out for us, and was really annoyed to find out about the cat. As I guessed, she was pretty much powerless to do anything about it. I'm not going to guess at the family forces at work here, but from my point of view it doesn't matter. Our fate was sealed months ago when Wilma moved in with her cat, and there was never any course of action that could have solved that problem without creating a worse oneWhat was I gonna do? Sue them? Break in and assassinate the cat?.

I can't breathe deep anymore. The bottoms of my airways are closed, effectively reducing my lung capacity. I'm always hunched over and my back muscles ache from constant exertion.

The temp drops to teeth-chattering levels overnight. Not a fun time to leave the windows open.

Winter Is Coming. We’ve got the windows open and air blowing through the house. It’s chilly all the time, but if we shut the place up then the allergens will accumulate faster.

It’s hard to find a place large enough for a family of five, with space for an office, with solid wiring that can support the kind of electrical load we create, that hasn’t had pets in the last decade. Oh, and we’d really prefer not to live between the gun store and the biker bar, metaphorically speaking.

Shamus, does it really take a decade for allergens to clear?

I don’t know, honestly. It’s not like I can study this. Maybe you could fix a house for me by replacing the carpet, repainting, and blowing out all the duct work. (But if you're smart, you won't do it in that order.)

I must say that people are really bad at placing ads on Craigslist. One guy built a new deck on the rental property, so he took pictures of that but not of the inside. One three bedroom unit listed only four pictures: Front door, parking space, kitchen, toilet. Yes, just the toilet, not the whole bathroom. Only half the people bother to specify the neighborhood. Lots of people forget to say how many bedrooms. Some offer no pictures and nothing about where the place is located. Almost everyone allows pets.

And when a miracle happens and we do manage to find something promising, they don’t return my calls.

We meet a nice young guy. Nathan. He bought a house, fixed it up, put it up for rent. He did a great job. He doesn’t allow pets, but apparently the previous owner had a dog. I figure this out about three minutes after I walk in the front door. I just saw NO PETS in his listing and foolishly figured I’d be safe, so I didn’t bother to ask about previous owners.

I spend the rest of the day huffing on the inhaler and sneezing my eyeballs out. Yes, my symptoms have been bad, but there's still plenty of room for them to get worse.

Nathan's place has a large yellow garden spider living in a corner of the deck. They're scary looking, but harmless. I've always thought this variety looked a lot like the spiders in Ocarina of Time.

A week later we meet a nice old man with a great house for rent, and it’s exactly the same story. I don't bother to ask about previous occupants, and then halfway through the tour my symptoms intensify. I'm desperate and sick of this tedious process, and it's making me careless.

Apparently I'm not thinking clearly. I don't notice, but my wife keeps giving me strange looks and having to explain things to me repeatedly. Partly this is due to sleep deprivation; it's pretty hard to sleep when you're struggling to breathe. But it also might be due to a personal oxygen shortage. It also might just be personal discomfort. People always get a little muddle-headed when they’re sick. Whatever the cause, this whole thing seems to have shaved off a couple of much-needed IQ points.

Late September

My favorite thing about this place is the rope lights we have on the steps. We put them up last Christmas and I realized, “These look awesome. And they illuminate the entire stairway without creating an eye-searing floodlight effect.” So I just decided they would stay up forever. More people should have these. They’re cool.
My favorite thing about this place is the rope lights we have on the steps. We put them up last Christmas and I realized, “These look awesome. And they illuminate the entire stairway without creating an eye-searing floodlight effect.” So I just decided they would stay up forever. More people should have these. They’re cool.

I put my hands on my knees and lean forward, panting open-mouthed like a runner. My head bobs as I struggle to suck air. I just took out the garbage, and climbing the apartment steps has burned all my oxygen. It's going to take me a minute or so to catch my breath. That whole ridiculous D&D thing where a level 1 Wizard is killed by a housecat seems less far-fetched every day.

When I stagger back in the house, Heather sees me panting and scolds me. She could have taken out the garbage. Or one of the kids. But the truth is I'm tired of being useless and I hate having to ask people to do things for me. I feel guilty for putting the extra weight on everyone else. Heather works long shifts, and the last thing she needs is to come home and care for a useless man-baby.

There's still no place for me to live. We've got a big spreadsheet of properties with links and info and records of our interactions with the owners. We work our way through the list, crossing items off as we go: Taken, had pets, no callback, taken, scary neighborhood, had pets, had pets, no callback, taken.

What happens if this drags on into winter? We really can’t close the windows or my asthma will spiral out of control. We can’t very well keep them open when the temperature dips below 45°F, (4°C) which is bound to happen at some point next month. Even if everyone is willing to freeze like that, cold air is also an asthma trigger for me.

I can’t stay with relatives, because even they have pets. Brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, in-laws. Everyone. Everyone has pets. There is nowhere to go.

Image unrelated.

Asthma has a sort of “tipping point”. As your airways narrow, it takes more work to push air in and out. If you want to know what it feels like, jog until you're very slightly winded and then try breathing through a couple of coffee stirrers.

This extra labor increases your need for oxygen, while at the same time the violent rasping irritates the airways even more. You're working harder, which means you need more air, which makes the swelling worse, which means you have to push even harder. If the oxygen burned by the exercise rises above the oxygen you can take in, you die.

I suspect I've been near that edge a few times in my life, but I've never gone over. (Obviously.) I've gotten pale, but I've never turned blue, which is apparently what the end looks like. The usual treatment when it spirals out of control is to run to the hospital. That can save your life, but it's just delaying the inevitable if you're allergic to where you live. You can go to the hospital, get pumped full of drugs, and then stagger home and suffocate three days later anyway. What am I going to do, live at the hospital?

Meanwhile, the buzz is that the downstairs cat has had a litter of kittens. This tells us two things:

  1. They had at least two cats downstairs.
  2. They now have many more than two cats.

It's one thing to sneak a cat into your apartment because you think it can't possibly do any harm. It's another to thumb your nose at the rules and start your own cat farm.

We really need to get out of here.


[1] I assume.

[2] But sometimes you can. See above.

[3] What was I gonna do? Sue them? Break in and assassinate the cat?

Comments (112)

  1. Steve C says:

    I would have had to speak with Fred and Wilma in that situation. Even if I knew it would be completely unproductive I would have to try.

  2. blue_painted says:

    There doesn’t have to be more than one cat resident to result in cat+kittens, female cats are quite adept at managing that part for themselves.

    • Grudgeal says:

      Indeed. One of my neighbours had a female cat when I grew up; we arranged sleepovers with friends a lot when she was in heat because of the noise. Nothing ruins your night quite like cat courtship at 1 o’ clock.

      Nowadays I consider it a Categorical Imperative for all cats to be neutered if you never intend for them to breed. Yes, even if they only live indoors.

      • Ravens Cry says:

        Yeah, I’ve heard unspayed queens can have a potential for some serious health concerns if they don’t breed, so, really spay and neuter your cat if they’re not for breeding.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Though you should still have your cat be impregnated at least once before that,since they dont have menstruation like other mammals,and this is a way to kick their organism in the right direction.

          • Akri says:

            Got a source for this? Everything I’ve ever seen says that it’s actually better to spay before they go into their first heat, because it reduces the chance of things like mammary tumors.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Well Ill be,you are correct.Granted,all my cats got spayed over a decade ago,so I was going by an antiquated science.

            • ET says:

              Similar for dogs. Get your animal fixed! One more reason I like that my city has fines larger than the cost of the operation. :)

              • Also, you can get ’em fixed even after they’ve bred and it removes a good chunk of the health risks! (According to my vet when I asked about what other health problems I should be looking for in my spayed after many litters female dog)

                • RCN says:

                  In my country the government has funded “Spaying Vans” to work on the cities and spay any pet at no cost (well, taxes, but that’s implied). I’m not sure myself, but I believe they also spay strays.

                  Though they do exist (I’ve seem them a couple of times), people say they are very hard to find. On the other hand, you can just call them over if you need to (but doing this has a small service fee of the equivalent of 10 dollars for them to come over to your house).

  3. Mersadeon says:

    I know what you mean with losing IQ-points. I have a relatively mild (in comparison to your stuff) allergy to cats, dust and mites, and before I got the medication I get now it was pretty bad. Whenever the allergy really came over me (mostly mornings and evenings), additionally to the normal symptoms, I would get a cloudy mind. It really sucked.
    I am curious about the rest of the story.

    • Canthros says:

      I had an undiagnosed heart valve problem (which caused blood oxygen problems, among other things), and spent a few years feeling like I was pushing my thoughts through a wall of white noise and constant fatigue.

      Waking up after the surgery with a clear head despite being full of morphine from the surgery was something else.

      • Mersadeon says:

        Wow, that sounds mind-blowing. I always find it interesting what we consider “normal” just because we’ve always had it.

        I remember I had to go to the doctor so that I wouldn’t get drafted. I took of my shoes. He took a look at my feet and said, shocked: “Jeez, does that not hurt? Why did you not come here before?”

        I meekly responded that I didn’t know it was a problem. In my head, it seemed logical that if you are bad at sports, your feet hurt when you walk.

  4. ngthagg says:

    I have no experience with asthma or allergies, so this may be a dumb question: are there any masks you can wear that will filter the offending substances?

    • NotDog says:

      Masks exist, but they’re more for “you’re allergic to car exhaust, but you must spend an hour on a road trip” types of situations.

    • guy says:

      A dust mask would probably help, but that’s not really a 24/7 sort of thing. Also, the interior would get coated with dust when removed.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      A gas mask would 100% do the trick,but those are:
      1)Just a short term solution(I think the filter lasts for a few hours,maybe 6)
      2)Really hot and uncomfortable to wear(since they are designed to seal your face)

      Fabric masks that one usually sees people wearing in smog filled environments are a bit more comfortable,but not as effective,and shorter lived(since they get filled pretty quickly).

      An electric air filter,however,is much more practical.And since you arent wearing it,its much more comfortable.

      • Ingvar M says:

        <pedant> You mean “filter mask”, a gas mask has independent oxygen supply</pedant>

        Yes, the exact time the filters work is highly dependent on the contaminant. Typically, there’s a (bunch of) particle filter(s) interspersed with activated charcoal. The charcoal is there to take care of horrible stuff like nerve gas and other things that kill you. The particle filters take care of less aggressive stuff, like assorted tear gases, animal dander and the like.

        Normal filter life time for a military filter mask tends to be rated in “if we use this in a nerve-gassed-down area, how long would we expect it to be before people die”.

        When used purely as a pet allergen excluder, I have no good intuition for the life time, but suspect it may well be well over 24 hours.

        There’s no way you want to sleep in a filter mask, though.

        • Decius says:

          Sorry, but the MCU2P gas mask (what the military uses for tear gas) uses a filter, not an air supply.

          I’ve heard the term SCBA apparatus used for “self-contained” air supply masks, among other terms for air-supplying systems, but “gas mask” has always meant a filter and full-face seal.

          • syal says:

            Yeah, [name] mask is what the mask is designed to deal with, not how it deals with it. Everything besides an SCBA is a filter of some kind.

            (It’s not an SCBA apparatus, Apparatus is what the A stands for. )

        • evileeyore says:

          Depending on the contaminant…

          I’ve been using the same filter mask during high allergen seasons and to mow the lawn (I’m allergic to the mites and no-see-em’s in the dry grass) for several years. I buy a new set of filters about every six months, just because, it’s not like the filters started to not work.

          Someone point this solution out to Shamus. Next time he’s in a terrible situation like this, spend 50$ and get a decent mask. Then keep your breathe and find a way out of the situation with your INT score intact.

      • Trix2000 says:

        Clearly you must pretend you’re in the Metro.

        …Or, well… above it, at any rate.

    • Grudgeal says:

      I have to wear face masks on occasion when working sterile (and a different type back when I did part-time work renovating old homes). They’re not something you want to wear for long, not only because of the dust that collects outside but because of the humidity that sticks to the inside. Also you (obviously) can’t eat or drink through them.

  5. Zak McKracken says:


    I was mostly certain that cat dander wouldn’t go through the ceiling but if you can smell them smoking, that proves me wrong :(

    Also, what is the extend of a landlord’s obligations in the US?
    In Germany, they need to provide for everything that’s part of the building, plus fixed installations (Walls, Windows, Toilet, showers, sometimes kitchen as well, heating unit, even if it’s per flat). Which can be nice because if the heating breaks, it’s their fault. Which can backfire because then they get the cheapest unit on the market and the tenants have to pay the gas bill…

    In the UK, the landlord is often even providing much of the furniture, and even replacement lights and light bulbs. Veery strange. This also means they’ve got more reason to look after how their tenants treat their stuff. It also means we recently got to wait one week to have a blown fuse replaced (the thing was so ancient that you can’t get them in stores any more). Our last landlord was a blessing and fixed most stuff the next day, even things that he didn’t have to. The current one … not so much I’d love to pay less rent and take charge of some of those things in return, but then I’d be improving someone else’s property that we’ll probably move out of in a few years…

    • Ciennas says:

      Yeah. There was an otherwise excellent couple that I lived beside a couple of years ago- we were all linked together in an apartment complex chain.

      We always knew exactly when and what they were smoking.

      It got so bad that I had to open all of the windows, becasue on some nights upon returning home I could see the color of the air in the apartment had gone significantly greyer than norm.

      To say nothing of the smell. Everything reeked of tobacco.

      While they were pleasant people, and after I told them about the trouble they made an effort, I was relieved that I would no longer have to do second hand smoke that bad for a while.

      Relatedly, it’s a function of age: As the earth moves around the building, it will create holes or cracks to seep through.

      Not that the landlord believed the problem.

    • Hal says:

      Things aren’t dissimilar, but the problem becomes one of follow-through. Shamus’s landlady clearly isn’t enforcing the rules, and that’s become a problem. Bringing in the legal system is the next step, but that brings its own set of problems. It can take some time for legal remedies to work through the system, meaning it could be years before a solution is reached. The relationships of the other parties would likely mean inducing a lot of hostility towards Shamus & Co. While waiting for all of this to resolve, Shamus would still have to live above these people!

      It’s sad that obnoxious people often get their way by merit of being too difficult to kick out, but that’s the world we live in.

  6. Ciennas says:

    Shamus, I’m reading this, and now I can start saying things:

    YES! you can in fact take somebody to small claims court over matters of literally life and death.

    In fact, it is encouraged! Fred and Wilma and Betty would have to get rid of the cat, on the grounds that it was clearly not allowed, and that it is killing you.

    Further, federal landlord-tenant regulations force a landlord to make every effort at fixing a problem as soon as it’s discovered (Or ‘in a timely fashion’) Failure to do so constitutes a failure of the rental contract, which stipulated certain conditions that no longer existed (Being free of pets, not being constantly nuisanced by the neighbors, the right to working plumbing fixtures and all other amenities that the rental property came with as long as they were part of the initial enticement to live on the property, the right to let you to continue to live and breathe like some kind of regular oxygen loving person,)

    So yes. The answer was in fact lawsuit. You informed the landlord of conditions that were both in the nature of reasonable upkeep, and part of the intial contract that got her your business in the first place.

    And all of the family wrath would have been on Fred’s flagrant disregard of the rules that almost killed a man.

    • Akri says:

      “And all of the family wrath would have been on Fred's flagrant disregard of the rules that almost killed a man.”

      Even if the family chose to be irrationally angry at the landlady instead, she still would have the responsibility to get rid of the cat. “It will cause me family drama” is not an excuse to stop doing your job. Especially when failure to do your job means someone could die.

      I hope that she at least has the decency to stop claiming a “no pets” policy, to spare other allergic people from wasting their time.

    • DrMcCoy says:

      “And all of the family wrath would have been on Fred's flagrant disregard of the rules that almost killed a man”

      Yeah, no, this is unfortunately not how people works.

      • Ciennas says:

        I know. Tribe before reason.

        Eventually it would have settled down, and it wouldn’t necesarily have been anger- irritation, maybe. Being asked to remove a cat isn’t the worst outcome. And he could have helped cover the costs of flushing the house.

        I find myself sharing Randall’s thoughts on the matter:

        ‘Dear God, I wish to file a bug report.’

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The thing about courts,though,is that they take time.A lot of time.Shamus till would have to move,regardless of the courts decision,since the place was heavily contaminated.We would still be reading the same posts,with the difference of a few paragraphs here and there talking about lengthy discussions with lawyers.

      The only ideal solution wouldve been if he talked to the people downstairs and they had an epiphany and decided to move instead.Or if fred caught wilma in bed with barney and kicked her out.

      • ehlijen says:

        Not only do the courts take time, they also only remove the source of the death particles, not the particles themselves.

        By the time that’s over and the cat’s gone, the place will still be the Forbidden Zone to allergic people for years if not decades.

      • Fists says:

        So you’re saying Shamus should have seduced Wilma? I’m not sure how ethical that would have been, and Heather would have been a bit upset :p

    • Lanthanide says:

      In New Zealand, I’m certain Shamus would be protected under the residential tenancies act. First step is to lay a 14 day notice to rectify, and if that fails, you can lodge a claim with the tenancy tribunal. It’s fast, only costs $20.44 to lodge a claim and generally lawyers are prohibited(!).

      Even if there wasn’t any other specific clause he could claim under, there is a right to “quiet enjoyment of the property”, which was clearly being impeded by his being unable to breathe.

  7. MichaelG says:

    I’m surprised you could just break your lease and move. My lease here (all 50 pages of it) is for a year, and there’s a section to the effect that “the full lease must be paid even in the event of death of the tenant.”

    If your asthma gets that bad, should you have an http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxygen_concentrator at home?

    Don’t get me started about real estate ads. Even the professional ones from apartment complexes are nearly useless when trying to figure out if the apartment is wheelchair accessible. Asking the management is frequently useless as well.

    And they won’t show me the actual unit, since it’s still occupied, or being cleaned or something. Not realizing that mirroring the floor plan of the bathroom from what’s in the brochure can make it unusable for me.

    • Alexander The 1st says:

      “I'm surprised you could just break your lease and move. My lease here (all 50 pages of it) is for a year, and there's a section to the effect that “the full lease must be paid even in the event of death of the tenant.”

      I suspect the fact that the landlady broke her side of the lease contract made breaking their lease contract is totally okay with her.

      • Shamus says:

        For the record: It was a one-year lease, and we passed the one-year mark in March.

        • MichaelG says:

          Ah. So it’s a year-plus lease. Mine renews every year for another full year. So there’s only one point in each year when you are allowed to move without penalty.

          • Steve C says:

            That sounds incorrect MichealG. Unless you actually sign a new lease (new ink it) then it should default to a monthly lease for a residential unit. That’s pretty much the common way it works across multiple jurisdictions. Landlord-Tenant contracts are highly regulated the world over. It doesn’t really matter what your lease says since landlords have been putting in non-binding terms since forever. What matters is your local regulations. I would bet a bucket of quatloos your lease is actually monthly.

            • Cuthalion says:

              That’s interesting. Ours requires the first year to be a straight-up yearly, iirc. After the first year, you can switch to month-to-month, but it costs extra. I think it goes up from like $550 to $650. I wonder if that’s legal?

            • MichaelG says:

              I do sign a new lease each year. They let you choose the term — 6 months to a year — but it is a new lease and you supposedly can’t break it.

              It’s quite possible that California law overrules some of the lease terms. I think there is this game going on where the law gives renters rights, and the landlords create even longer leases that shift the balance back to them. They probably are relying on the fact that lawyers are so expensive that it’s not worth your while to sue over an apartment lease.

              I have lived in complexes that are 6 months, then month to month, but on paper at least, this isn’t one of them.

              • Steve C says:

                Actually the reverse is true. It’s not worth it for a landlord to get a lawyer to sue a tenant over a few hundred dollars. A tenant may not have the money to pay even if the landlord wins. But a landlord always has the value of the property to lien against if a tenant sues them. A landlord that gets a lawyer is either overreacting or trying to avoid an ongoing problem that will lose more money than the lawyer will cost.

                The game is that contracts are written that include terms that are questionable at best. They eventually get challenged in court. The court strikes them down (which makes the same clause unenforceable everywhere) and nobody else ever notices. People at large continue seeing those terms in contracts (like no pets) and assume they are valid. Eventually a regulation is added that codifies the court’s precedent. 30yrs ago it was no kids allowed, or no blacks allowed etc. Eventually it sinks into the general consciousness of what’s allowed in a lease and what’s an overreach.

                Thing with leases is that there’s been so much law built up around it that pretty much anything that isn’t a boilerplate lease is now invalid. If there’s a term that seems questionable or restrictive, it probably is. Consider what would happen if your lease expired and you refused to sign a new one and refused to leave. This is a really common situation. Once a tenant is living there, trying to remove them against their will is an eviction- with or without a lease. More laws apply. The tenant may have the right to continue living there if they continue paying the rent. (That’s the law where I live.) I’m not saying that’s the case for you, just that it is suspect and worth checking. Checking the validity of every term of a lease that you may bump up against is one of those things worth knowing.

                You said California right? If you have a lease then you can legally break it in certain circumstances.

                There are also Landlord-tenant organizations everywhere that give free advice. Check your phonebook or google around a bit. If you can, find one that’s local to your area that knows your local court and how they rule on things. There can be a great deal of variance between two court buildings using exactly the same laws.

            • swenson says:

              Wouldn’t it depend on state (and township/city)?

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Fun fact:Human body is a ridiculously shoddy mechanism.For example:
    Indicator that something is wrong with your body is pain.Indicator that something is wrong with your kidneys is a pain so intense that you cant walk,you cant sit,you cant lie,you cant sleep,you cant do anything but writhe in agony,thinking of nothing else but how to cut out your kidneys so that the pain would finally stop.And thats when you dont have a big kidney problem,like a stone in them.

    The pain also inhibits your rational brain,the one thing you need in order to deal figure out and deal with whatever is ailing you.Its a stupid stupid system and indeed needs to be rebuilt from scratch.

    • Ben says:

      Normally, pain is a pretty elegant mechanism. Say you have a huge cut on your leg. You should keep it relatively immobile so it can heal properly, and pain is a constant reminder of this. However, in a life or death situation you can still command that leg to move, even if it’s not ideal for the long-term healing of the wound. To run for your life, you have to mentally fight through an amount of pain commensurate with the level of additional damage you’re doing.

      Obviously, it’s not a great system with things like headaches or stomach aches, which you can’t really do much about and won’t particularly exacerbate by moving.

      I also think the calibration is off in a lot of cases. It seems like lots of conditions could settle down to little or no pain when you’re totally at rest.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Calibration is definitely way off.Yes,kidneys are a vital organ,but you definitely should not be crippled just because you lowered your fluid intake.A muscle spasm should not hurt for longer and more with more intensity than an arterial cut((not so)fun fact:with a very sharp blade you can cut your thigh artery and bleed to death in minutes,experiencing less pain than stubbing your toe).And pricking your finder should definitely hurt less than having a clogged artery in your brain(which actually causes no pain,but can easily kill you).

      • ? says:

        “Relatively” being important. If you brake a bone and *actually* immobilize a limb, your body will will assume that since you are not using it you don’t need it fixed and it won’t supply nutrients required to heal the fracture. Nature did not consider that using screws to attach a metal bar to your bone will ever be available as treatment(“what is this titanium alloy you speak of?”), so said metal bar must be designed to be flexible enough to allow some micromovements.

        I realize it is not about pain, but it’s another example of poor design resulting from evolution throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. Or doesn’t bounce off the wall too far.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Another example of poor design of humans is the blood vessels in the eye being in front of the photoreceptor cells.Imagine if we modeled our first cameras to be similar to that.We still would be thinking of ways to erase the power wires from the images they provided.

          And this is not something universal to every animal,since some eyes have vision unobstructed by their blood vessels.

          • ? says:

            Eh, what’s a little photoshop for a lump of fat that already has to flip the picture, smooth out twitching used to cover up the blind spot where optical nerve is hooked up and compensating for misalignment (almost everyone is cross-eyed to lesser or greater extent, only a freak can grow two perfectly symmetrical eye sockets) in real time. I’ll bet that once we invent fully functional eye prosthetic, we’ll have to recreate all this nonsense or it would cause nausea and migraines…

            Look at the bright side, without those blood vessels retinal scans would not work. Squids will never have this experience.

          • On the plus side, it makes it way easier to check for increased inter-cranial pressure. I spent many years having lights shown into my eyes to check for venous engorgement and/or loss of venous pulsation.
            (Not saying it’s the greatest design ever, but it’s not universally bad either)

    • Ciennas says:

      You too, huh?

      Yeah. The human body is one of those mechanisms built by both the lowest bidder and first caller. ‘It works’ until it doesn’t

      I had a wildly fun summer of constant kidney stones. I sympathize.

      I’m thinking at the least a patch- a snooze button for your pain response.

      I found myself thinking ‘I KNOW, THANK YOU’ for the whole duration. That or a system that lets you vacation outside of your body for the duration of the problem, only alerting you if the situation deteriorates.

    • Scourge says:

      And then someone placed the recreation facilities near the garbage disposals. Talk about badly designed.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        And then the operations center gets its wires crossed,and you enjoy partying in the wastes(thats a tame version).

      • Purple Library Guy says:

        Could be worse. Many critters have just the one hole for both, and I believe flatworms use the same orifice for excreting and eating.

        The whole setup with lungs in humans is pretty badly done; lungs are designed for quadrupeds. In most animals colds and other congestion are less of a problem because the lungs are about even with or slightly higher than the mouth, so fluids can just drain out. With us, we could really use some kind of spigot at the bottom of the lungs so fluids don’t accumulate, but there you go, the whole “standing upright” schtick is a pretty recent feature and evolution hasn’t had time to refine it.
        And for the record, all my friends tell me I do NOT appear to be a spambot.

    • Mephane says:

      Here is one of the most disturbing stories about how the human body is a complicated, chaotic, illogical mess I have ever read:


    • Raka says:

      Alright, smarty-pants. Here’s your spec doc. Using my proprietary assembly language, design me a system that will build, operate, maintain, replicate, AND UPGRADE itself, and do so well enough to out-compete all other systems, where “success” this competition is defined in an environment and using metrics that I won’t reveal to you, although I promise that they will change, frequently and without notice. Also, here are some arbitrary yet extreme limitations on the size of your code base, so this system has to incorporate its own compression algorithm, and even then you’d best learn to love procedurally generated systems and frankly ludicrous re-purposing of functions.

      And if you’re going to complain, that Nature guy we gave the last contract to had the same requirements, as well as the limitation of starting from our completely unrelated product from a few billion years ago, and a promotion process that only allowed changesets to affect individual lines of code, and would only approve them if that particular changeset constituted an improvement in and of itself using the still-unrevealed and ever-changing metrics of “success”. Also: no backups, and occasional random reversions by way of meteor.

    • ET says:

      So many problems with the human body. Air system and food system share an intake, causing death by choking. Female reproductive system not large enough for unaided childbirth. Blind spots in eyes, because the nerve is located in front of the sensing apparatus. Jaw and mouth sized wrong, so teeth come in crooked…

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “What was I gonna do? Sue them? Break in and assassinate the cat?”

    Gotten a good air filter as soon as you found out about the cat.You should still do it,just in case something similar happens again*.They are expensive,but not as expensive as moving.

    *And even if it doesnt,a good air filter will remove anything else that may flare up your allergies.

    • Shamus says:

      We had a HEPA filter running in one room, and a “fan with a good furnace filter” gizmo in another while this was going on. I strongly suspect that this is a diminishing returns proposition: The more filters you add, the less additional benefit each one gives.

      • Brandon says:

        And if you load up on HEPA filter devices, you have to start being much better about dusting and sweeping and the like, so that you aren’t providing extra material to clog up those filters too soon.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Oh.Well then,I was thinking that having a filter would prolong your stay,but it seems that it already was doing that.My bad.

        Someone did suggest making your house have positive air pressure,but Im not sure if you can do that with a regular home.

        The only other solution I can think of is buying a place while its being built.But that depends on where in the city you live in,and most often means you have to live on the outskirts of the town,which is not feasible for many people.

        • Tom says:

          Positive air pressure is a neat idea, but it probably doesn’t help much if the very fabric of the building is saturated with allergens before you even move in, which seems to be the most cruelly recurrent theme of Shamus’ quest for lodgings. I also shudder to even imagine how much such a system would cost, both to install and to operate.

          • Epopisces says:

            The other thing about positive air pressure models is that the air pressure has to come from somewhere. Generally from pumping air in, usually from outdoors. Even assuming no one smokes near one of the intakes your AC/heat bills skyrocket.

        • Steve C says:

          Positive air pressure is how I solved a similar problem to Shamus’. I lived in a basement apt in a house with two apts above me. New people moved into both and one smoked and another cooked the smelliest nastiest food. I had access to the furnace and the venting to the outside for that room. I hooked up a fan so it sucked outside air in and into the furnace room (which was way too hot).

          It worked and I was able to keep the odors out of my apt. I was surprised just how well it worked. However I don’t recommend it if you are paying the utility bills.

        • Purple Library Guy says:

          Brand new places come at a premium. Likely to be expen$ive.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Brand new places yes,but places that are still in the process of becoming brand new,no,those are actually cheaper.Thats how Ive got a place for about half the price it was once it was finally finished.But,like Ive said,they usually occur only in the outskirts.

      • Steve C says:

        >> The more filters you add, the less additional benefit each one gives.

        Na. They just don’t work as well as people want them to. See my other comment on this page.

  10. Spammy says:

    I’m in agreement with others that if your medical problems are life-threatening you should have let the landlady know, or attempted to sue and take them to court over endangering your life by ignoring the landlady’s rules. I understand though. I don’t think I can live in a place with a large live oak on the lot because once spring comes around and it starts to flower it’ll kick my allergen asthma into gear and I’ll be yawning all the time to try to get enough air into my lungs to feel like I’m not slowly suffocating myself. I lived in that place for three years and didn’t realize until the last spring. But at least the doctor was nice enough to give me a bag of a dozen Advair sample discs to get me through the season.

    Garden spiders are cool. They’re colorful and don’t mess with you, make interesting webs. And yeah, some of them really do have a real Skulltula thing going on.

  11. The Mich says:

    Oh my God! I hope you’re feeling much better now. Take care.

    And shame on the neighbours.

  12. shiroax says:

    Interesting thing: no mouse-over text on the spider. Nothing important, just anomalous. And yes, I am boring enough to find that interesting.

  13. Ygor says:

    I have a question about your allergy: Do bird feathers and reptiles affect you too? I am really asking out of curiosity, since I don’t know really how terrible allergy can be, because apparently I have all the big immunity responses as if I had an allergy, yet I don’t show any symptoms so I just ended up with massive immunity system that doesn’t try to kill me because of trivial things.

    Here in Slovakia, the landlord is responsible for enforcing the rules, and if it says no pets, then it is enforced pretty heavily. And I think you would need a formal consent of all the people living in such tenant building if you wanted to have a pet.

  14. Leonardo Herrera says:

    What about getting something like this?


    (Only partially kidding).

  15. Zak McKracken says:

    Funny how these posts make me want to find solutions to help you out, even though I know you’ve already found one…

    Have you ever tried nasal irrigation to help with the nose thing? Certainly not something that will allow you to go live in Cat-Land but it could break the “nose is clogged up and mouth lets too much stuff in” problem. Doesn’t work, of course once the nose is sealed tight but before that, it can remove most of the stuff the nose is just trying to get rid of.
    Doesn’t really solve the problem but makes life easier, as far as I can tell from my own experience.

    Just feels a little weird sometimes…

  16. Riktol says:

    Did you make it clear to the owner that the cat was going to cause you to move elsewhere?
    Sometimes people need to know that inaction is going to affect their income.
    Also, you write well, so rather than talking to the owner, why don’t you write?

  17. Isy says:

    You’re entirely too rational and reasonable, Shamus. At a certain point you should have just set everything on fire.

  18. Steve C says:

    To everyone saying Shamus should get a HEPA filter or something… It’s not good advice. The problem is airchanges. Those stand alone room filters are a drop in a very large bucket and don’t have enough airchanges to make a difference. Furnace filters don’t make enough of a difference to matter either. It’s all placebo effects when it comes to HEPA filters in a residential home. (An environment that isn’t a residential home is a different story.)

    I did the math for a HEPA unit I was considering and compared it to a window. Opening my window 1.5 inches created more airchanges per hour than the $1000 in room filter. A furnace does more airchanges but still isn’t good enough. A furnace filter is designed to protect the furnace from dust and particulates, not the occupants. Any source (like a pet, smoking or just cooking a dinner) overwhelms what filters are capable of. If you want a clean room environment you need to build a clean room that doesn’t have any sources of particulates- ie no people.

    Also professionally cleaning your airducts does nothing. It only helps if it’s stuff like construction waste in there. It won’t do anything to help with pets, or allergies or dust.

    >>This research showed that the amount of particle in the duct system can be reduced when an upgraded filter is installed in a forced-air furnace circulation system.The results also showed that, because the particle source tend to overwhelm removal by air filters, this reduction will not necessarily result in a significantly reduced indoor particle exposure.<< source

    I found out all this when I was in a similar situation to Shamus a decade ago (with smaller stakes) and did a fair bit of research.

    • Timelady says:

      Enh. I know this is anecdotal, but convincing the teacher to put an air cleaner in the classroom when I was a kid really did make the difference between staying in school and my asthma inducing (yet another) to the hospital, I swear. Then again, that was one of those lovely school monstrosities with terrible air quality, ventilation, and unopenable windows. And also obviously not a residential home like in your example.

  19. Hamilcar says:

    Wow, Shamus. I never realized what allergies were like until reading this. I see how bad it can be now. Before, I always thought of allergies as some little nuisance that some others have. You have enlightened me now, Shamus. Also, if I ever end up renting out a place I will have a strict “No pets allowed” policy in remembrance of you and other allergy sufferers.

    That being said. I would have assassinated the cat. With poison.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “That being said. I would have assassinated the cat. With poison.”

      Why?Is it her fault that her masters are inconsiderate?

    • Isy says:

      Even for those of us with “less serious” allergies, I think it’s still reason enough to get pissed off when someone flagrantly ignores it like this. I have a mild allergy to perfumes and scented cosmetics – by which I mean a whiff of it makes uncontrollable rivers of snot run down my nose and gives me blinding headaches for a few hours. This is enough to make me very irritable. I don’t usually make a fuss out of it because free country and all that, but if someone is flagrantly wearing it in a place they’re not supposed to, I feel I have a reason to get pissed off. In Shamus’ case, where his allergy is legitimately life threatening, I feel he has just cause to get out the tar and feathers.

  20. default_ex says:

    Man I know how it is with intense allergies. I have a very intense allergy to something released by freshly cut grass. Puts me in bed for days after being exposed to it. No one gets it though, they see me start sneezing and a touch of light sensitivity, they don’t see the coughing spells that turn my face red later on or the endless stream of klenex tissue I go through as a result. I’m just trying to be lazy or overly picky to them. The medications for this kind of thing aren’t the best, they help manage symptoms but you still feel like a zombie with a vampire sucking it’s life out.

  21. Timelady says:

    Just want to say–I feel you, Shamus. I’ve been dealing with asthma and allergies, well- and ill-controlled at various times, for my entire life. And allergy-triggered-asthma sucks.

    And…I know that you guys were doing absolutely everything that you could, and I don’t want to sound like I know better or anything…

    But…when your emergency inhaler doesn’t relieve things all the way, even if you’re still walking around and breathing, then, yeah, textbook definition of when to go to the hospital or doctor. (…Unless you’re like me, also, and would have trouble affording it most of the time unless you were flat on the floor. Or can’t get to the doctor’s anyway because of distance and the like. Or something else.) But otherwise…yeah. From my experience, they’ll pump you full of drugs…and then make you do a followup visit with your doctor where you’ll end up talking about all sorts of things like your environment, current medication, other factors, and what can be done about any of it. Environmental control’s the first step, and the most important one, IMO. But sometimes it’s not enough, and medications need to be tweaked situationally, and yes, sometimes you’ll end up coming home with a new/different steroid inhaler/nebulizer and otherwise trying to find something that works for you.

    • Purple Library Guy says:

      Don’t forget, Shamus is an American. I understand getting involved with the medical system there can quickly give financial woes that make his previous mortgage difficulties look like a lost game of tiddlywinks. So, kind of a last resort.

    • Chris says:

      Treating the symptoms and not the cause is insanely expensive. And more to the point, there is no medical treatment that would magically cure someone with severe allergies or asthma. The best medicine could hope to accomplish is helping him endure the hostile-to-lungs environment.
      He is far better off relocating.

      Really hoping the next installment reveals a happier situation. :)

  22. Zekiel says:

    Poor Shamus! Lots of sympathy from a fellow allergy suffer (but one whose allergies are thankfully far less debilitating).

  23. Chris Rasmus says:

    For what it’s worth, here’s a link I found interesting and possibly useful (not just for you)…


    That’s where I found it…which led me here:


    I have no monetary interest, or otherwise, in the link(s) so take them at face value. I’m just a 42 year old man with 3 daughters who finally realized (primarily after my 15 year old finally beat me at the sprint…in public…two times in a row) that he’s not the ninja he thought he was anymore. And thus my quest for knowledge began.

    You know…the quest for how to keep from getting older. Or at least slow it down as much as possible. Sometimes I run into cool links (like Buteyko).

    I’ve only JUST started dabbling in trying to increase my CP. It’s crazy hard. From what I understand you’re basically suffocating yourself to train your body to increase red blood cell production. Among some other things. That was actually what interested me the most. Our last 3 Colorado Road Trips were just ridiculously cool, but it felt like everywhere we walked we were actually running. We’d go 50 feet up the trail and be panting like a dog. Heh. If I could train for Colorado while living at sea level…awesome!

    Anyway, thought the relevancy to your asthma would be at the least an interesting read and possibly (hopefully?) more!

    Take care.


    While I’m at it, I’ve been a big believer in vitamin c (mainly sodium ascorbate, the non-acidic kind) since my kids were teeny. I’ve got several anecdotals related to feeding them vitamin c by the gram. Vitamin C also seems to be a big help for asthma.

    Don’t know if you’ve ever seen this guy’s site, but if you’re interested after reading http://www.doctoryourself.com/asthma.html, check out some of the other (numerous!) links. Very good reading.

    And finally, http://orthomolecular.org/resources/omns/v01n08.shtml. Step by step instructions. The cool thing with vitamin c is, the worst thing that can happen to you is pretty much diarrhea.

    I’ve always got my C by the kg from http://www.bronsonvitamins.com/vitamin-c-crystals-2085.html. This is the same kind that you can actually make an IV bag with (i.e., non-acidic), and the kind I still feed to my kids orally by the gramful very frequently.

    Again, I’ve got ZERO financial or otherwise interests in ANY of the above links. Well, except for curiosity! I just find it fascinating how some of the simplest/most natural solutions can be so effective.

    Good luck Shamus! We love you!

  24. Scrub says:

    Shamus, you fortunate fool! When you’re breathing so poorly that you have trouble thinking straight, that’s a cardinal sign that your brain lacks sufficient oxygen. At that point you’re half a step from passing out, and if you deteriorate any further you wind up with things like brain damage or death.

    You’re just lucky it didn’t get quite bad enough. But still, you probably shaved off a few IQ points permanently.

    You should have gone to the ER. Or, at the very least, you should have seen your own doctor for a course of steroids and other meds. It wouldn’t solve the problem but at least it would reduce your chance of sudden death due to hypoxia.

  25. Mischa says:

    So far you’ve only talked about your Albuterol inhaler. On the off chance you don’t know, I’d like to point out that Albuterol is just a rescue medicine. It doesn’t really fix things, it just temporarily opens your airways back up. When you’re that bad off, you really should be using a steroid inhaler also.

    Not that steroids are a good long term solution, but at least you wouldn’t have been in danger of a hospital visit while you searched for a new place to live.

    I only have light asthma myself and now that I’ve stopped consuming dairy, I just need to use the steroid if I get sick in the winter time.

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